Bent rods and big smiles

By Matt JonesNZ Fishing World
Bent rods and big smiles

As Matt Jones discovered, a shared charter with Ultimate Charters on Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf left all on board with sore arms, snapper for dinner and plenty of bragging rights.

Being a fishing journo has certain perks. Spring was in the air and a few of Daiwa’s latest rods, reels and slow-jigs had been patiently waiting in the corner of my office for an opportunity to be field- tested. The only problem being Auckland’s fickle spring weather and my fellow married-with-children mates offering a string of excuses.

With a deadline looming the call was put out to Ultimate Charters to see if they could assist. “No problem, leave it with me” was the welcome reply from the friendly voice of  Operations Manager, Danny Liota on the other end of the phone. In less than 24 hours Danny had organised a day trip with a bunch of like-minded blokes and it was hard to wipe the smile off my face when I got the reply: “All set to go.”

It was no accident that the SOS was sent out to Ultimate Charters. They specialise in these sorts of trips and with their diverse range of vessels and experienced skippers they’re able to cater for almost any occasion on the water. Being Auckland-based they also have the Hauraki Gulf as their playground and as any good snapper aficionado knows spring time in the Hauraki Gulf spells work-up season.
Grabbing a spot on these shared charters is also a great way to meet like-minded blokes, exchange intel and learn a few new tricks.

Meet and greet

As the rest of Auckland was stuck in traffic I joined fellow fishos Simon, Ashley, Manuel and Kurt on board Playtime - a trusty Surtees 6.7 Gamefisher skippered by Captain Mike “Mayhem” Trail. One of eight boats in Ultimate’s fleet, Playtime’s adequately equipped for chasing work-ups with a 250hp Honda four-stroke to minimise the travel and maximise time with a wet line.

After the introductions and obligatory safety briefing we ventured out into the Hauraki Gulf while telling tales and comparing each other’s tackle. With the sweet smell of freedom in the salty air, we left the traffic jams in our wake and headed towards the sunrise and the top of Coromandel where the work-ups had been in full swing.

Such are the laws of fishing that success is never guaranteed, and indeed for the first hour or so it felt like it was going to be a tough day at the office. The bitterly cold sou’wester’s presence was casting a cold spell and along with it, a building sea. Not to mention the fact that Manuel had just unashamedly polished off a banana!

I was already playing out the phone call to the editor in my head, but nevertheless our skipper Captain Mike “Mayhem” Trail had a determined look in his eye, a handy pair of binoculars and a calm approach. The reason for his laid-back attitude soon became apparent – years of commercial fishing experience meant he knew where the bait and snapper were likely to be holding and like any good fisherman he had the skill and patience to find them.

Soon after we found the gannets but they weren’t up for it yet, so Captain Mayhem positioned us over some likely sign and gave the nod.

Being the bloke from the fishing mag with a bag full of shiny new Daiwa rods, reels, Knuckle slow-pitch and Pirate slow-jigs brought with it a fair bit of expectation. So it was with great relief that my bright orange lure’s decent was interrupted by a solid take resulting in a happy bend in my Saltist Hyper rod.  

As the J-Braid started peeling off the Saltiga 10h there was only one doubt left in my mind… Was it indeed a solid fish or had I simply forgotten to set the drag properly? Having learnt this lesson the hard way previously I resisted the urge to tighten up, instead choosing to enjoy the fight. By now the unmistakable sound of peeling braid had attracted a fair amount of attention so time would tell whether I was about to be high-fived or rightfully given a fair amount of stick.

To my relief a 6.2kg snapper eventually surfaced and all was good in my world. Unfortunately our attempts to photograph and release it proved unsuccessful so it was destined to be put on ice for dinner.

Despite the promising start the rest of the snapper population was in no hurry to be caught. The building Sou-wester was doing its best to spoil our fun but both the skipper and boat were well prepared to outsmart the conditions. A second drogue was deployed while Captain Mayhem brought out a bag of squid and a bottle of Secret Sauce to level the odds. By threading a small sliver of squid and applying a smattering of Secret Sauce to our slow-jig hooks all on board soon had a few fresh fillets waiting on ice.


At bang on 12pm the switch flicked and it was indeed lunchtime for gannets. In between netting fish Captain Mayhem had been diligently keeping a look-out with the binoculars and gave the call to wind up to move. With the anticipation levels building we carefully sped around the dive-bombing gannets, while our skipper lined up the Surtees for the drift.

As our path aligned with the sweet sounding feeding frenzy it was soon mayhem on deck with quadruple hook ups, bent rods, fat snapper flapping about the deck and smiles all round.  Captain Mayhem was indeed in his element and for the next couple of hours we all enjoyed the spectacle and excitement of being amongst nature and fishing comradery at its finest.

It’s fair to say that everyone on board was going to be popular at the dinner table that night with a seriously cool bedtime story to boot. We’d reached our bag limit by 2:30pm and with a snotty trip home on the cards it was unfortunately time to head back to reality.

Given the snotty conditions Captain Mayhem had no qualms about taking the long way home around the bottom end of Waiheke to ensure the ride home was as comfortable as possible.
The verdict

From the first phone call to stepping off the boat with a chilly bin full of fat snapper at the dock my Ultimate Charters experience was nothing but enjoyable. I’d certainly have no qualms about heading out with them again anytime.

Sure, anyone can catch fish in a work-up situation but Capt. “Mayhem” worked hard to ensure our families were already fed before the gannets went into full-frenzy-mode - work-ups aren’t ever a sure thing.  At all times our skipper was obliging, knowledgeable and to top it off, a top bloke. Three of the four other punters on board were also regulars which speaks volumes for their operation.
First time punter Simon Entwistle also departed with a smile on his face. “I will be going again with these guys, it was great to be put on the fish and shown how they do things. All in all it was a great day out.”

Cheers Ultimate Charters.

For more information

Ultimate Charters has a range of vessels and trips on offer to cater for most occasions.

To learn more visit: or call 0800 262 844

Catch the latest news

Packed full of the latest fishing news and tips on the best spots. Fresh to your inbox every week.

Sign up with email