For me, any fishing visit to the Bay of Islands is accompanied by a high level of expectation. As the documented birthplace of sport fishing in New Zealand the location has a reputation to uphold, and more often than not, performs to expectations.
The township of Paihia, which anchors the region’s extensive tourism offerings, was my home for almost 20 years. It’s the place I cut my teeth as a fishing professional, spending thousands of hours studying every fish-holding crevice hidden in its waters.
It’s hard not to be nostalgic on a return to the Bay of Islands. The drive down Te Haumi Hill with its panoramic bay opening up in front of you always creates a warm glow and a quickening of my fisherman’s pulse. This is my guide to charter fishing the Bay of Islands.
Find your boat
For a day or evening trip boarding a charter boat, Paihia Wharf is most likely the spot to find your vessel and is the usual rendezvous spot for Angler’s Anonymous. Longer live-aboard trips will more likely be met at the port of Opua’s marina, about 10 minutes’ drive south of Paihia. DIY trailer-boaters are probably best to use the Waitangi boat ramp as it’s much closer to the fishing grounds than the boat ramps at Opua.
If Paihia Wharf is your destination, its easy enough to find; this busy tourist wharf really is the central hub of the community. Parking, on the other hand, isn’t so easy. The main car park is situated behind the township a few minutes’ walk away from the wharf. It’s also displeasingly expensive. The Bay of Islands could do well to learn a few tricks from more successful tourism destinations like Rotorua, where the operators and businesses charge customers for their services, then pay fees to the council, while most facilities, like parking, are free.
Meet Andrew Blake
Angler’s Anonymous owner/operator Andrew, is exactly as he describes himself online, a “fishaholic”. His big red boat is perfectly equipped to be his accomplice. The 8.86m Craig Loomes-designed Tournament Sportfisher’s been extensively modified for its task and is presented, complete with a quality range of tackle, as well as any line-fishing charter boat I have spent time on.
Chatting with Andrew prior to departure it was clear he had a well formed plan based on recent excursions. It was a good sign. An even better sign was that we were to been joined by regular customers Mike and Treena from the Waikato. There is no better endorsement than people who have enjoyed their experience with an operator enough to keep coming back, and are prepared to go the record saying so.
Work the opportunities
Even though the core of Andrew’s strategy was to fish softbaits, as they had been working well on previous excursions, our first order of business was to fully charge the livewell to ensure we had a solid back-up plan should the artificials not produce the goods.
It’s less than a 10-minute run to the primary bait grounds inside the line between Tapeka Point and the Black Rocks.
The sounder showed a good population of Jack mackerel, but not dense enough schools to suggest there were kingfish marauding, a phenomenon common to the area. Nevertheless, while two of us primed the livebait tank, the third in our party deployed a livebait just in case. Nothing grabbed the bait this time, but I love the attitude of an operator who explores every opportunity to catch a fish.
True to his word, Andrew pointed the Anglers Anonymous towards the middle of the bay and we set off looking for softbaiting opportunities.
Scattered fast-moving work-ups suggested the presence of kingfish. After a couple of attempts it was apparent we would have to time things well and still be very lucky to be successful. An executive decision was made to return to the plan and look for snapper holding on foul ground, which could be targeted with softbaits.
Those more used to a fishery dominated by large scale work-ups, such as the Hauraki Gulf, would probably question this tactic but the Bay of Islands is a very different fishery to its Auckland counterpart. For the most part, fish tend to hold on foul ground, only really moving in numbers across open country if there is a significant motivator such as a major source of food or to follow seasonal migration patterns like spawning.
Fish and teach
A long ridge of rocky ground running between the main island chain and Tapeka Point forms a barrier between the deeper sand/mud dominated middle ground of the bay and the sandy shallows behind the islands. It’s a very fishy area, particularly during the pre-dusk as the fish prepare to move into the shallows for a nighttime feed.
We set to working this area with soft plastics in earnest. Repeated drifts teased us with an occasional half-hearted take but failed to produced any tangible results. To be fair, the wind was probably a little strong for softbait drifting and, with the tide yet to start moving, the optimum time of day was still an hour or so away.
What impressed me was Andrew’s patient tutoring of anglers unfamiliar with the technique. Lesser operators are often happy to let customers flounder with new methods, taking little responsibility for a lack of results, instead laying blame at the feet of the inexperienced anglers.
With the ‘golden’ fishing hour approaching and the current strategy showing little sign of improvement, Andrew sensibly opted to implement Plan B with plenty of time up his sleeve to fine-tune if necessary.
After a sounder-based search of the local rocks, Andrew settled on a spot he liked the look of; an ideal candid for the planned strayline session.
With the anchor down and the boat settled satisfactorily, Andrew personally took care of the gear change over, rigging all the new terminal tackle himself from an extensive and impressively organised tackle locker. With professional gear set up, marks on the sounder and livewell brimming with wriggling baits success seemed assured. And it was.
Treena’s bait was grabbed before I’d even had time to rig my first one and by the way she was struggling to cope with the buckled rod it was clear she was on a good fish.
Andrew certainly had his hands full rigging fresh baits, coaching anglers and answering phone calls from potential customers keen to book a seat on the next day’s charters.
Mike was soon into the action as well, forcing me to ditch my attempts to catch a fish in order to get the video camera up and running.
With the sun rapidly setting Andrew knew his window to impress was tight and I can honestly say he made the most of it. True to the ethos that a dry hook catches no fish, his focus was all about dispatching caught fish quickly and getting fresh bait in the water. His sweat paid dividends with a steady stream of straylined snapper and kahawai being hauled across the gunwale.
As is often the case as dusk turns to dark, the kahawai started to dominate the session and the berley trail had to be stopped to put these voracious bait destroyers off the scent. I still hadn’t had a chance to catch a decent fish myself so the camera was put away in favour of some focus on the task at hand.
A winning strike?
Rigging my favourite butterflied mackerel rig on a pair of old-school longline hooks, a bait was deployed beneath the dark water.
Confident the offering had avoided the kahawai and was drifting slowly accross the bottom, I crossed my fingers for a big end-of-session fish bite.
A solid grab was followed by a steady run. I held my breath and looked away to avoid striking early. The run pace increased to match my racing pulse and I struck hard. The rod bucked and then bowed hard. Pay dirt for sure!
Species-defining tail beats surged up the line spelling reefy s-n-a-p-p-e-r in morse-like pulses. Line stripped off the reel in waves, the grin of a guy confident of the “catch of the night” spreading across my face.
Too soon, as it turns out. Without warning the rod snapped straight and my grin inverted to a scowl. Damn, that hurts. Well, I can’t say Andrew didn’t give me every opportunity!
Cleaning up the clean up
As we cruised back to town I graciously endured the ribbing of a man skunked on the night when others had enjoyed a solid session. Arriving at the wharf, Andrew’s exemplary customer service continued with him cleaning up all our gear and filleting the catch for Mike and Treen’s chilly bin.
I said my thank yous and goodbyes and headed to the hotel, knowing I’d long missed dinner service but happy in the glow of a thoroughly enjoyable charter session with a professional operator.
Charter operator profile
Who – Anglers Anonymous Fishing Charters
Where – Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Types of fishing – All day tripping options available in the region: Primarily snapper and kingfish. Also deepwater species like hapuka and offshore gamefishing. Saltwater fly is an option.
Boat – 8.86m Tournament Sportfisher
Phone: 09 433 2676
Well presented boat with quality tackle to suit most styles of fishing. Intelligently considered fishing plans based on knowledge from recent excursions. Andrew offers a top level of customer service.