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How the experts catch trophy fish

December 19, 2019
How the experts catch trophy fish

Seven of New Zealand’s best trophy fisherman share their trophy fish secrets and stories

There is no better feeling in the fishing world than finally catching a magical milestone. That monster 20lb snapper, 30kg worth of horse kingfish or the king of them all, a grander or 1000lb marlin; so I’m told…

universally agreed trophy fish sizes

That’s right, not for lack of trying, I’ve never actually caught or reached any of those kiwi fishing milestones. This may not be the credentials you would expect for someone writing for NZ Fishing World, and not the credentials you’d want someone giving you advice on ‘how-to catch a trophy fish’.

However, don’t worry, in my own journey to bag a trophy, I’ve enlisted the help and advice of seven of Aotearoa’s top trophy fisherman. I plan to find out how they do it, and what I’ve been doing wrong.

Darren Shields


Darren Shields with a marlin caught while spearfishing

Trophy fishing credentials

I first started spearfishing with my dad when I was five years old, I’m 50 now and have fished just about every moment in between. Throughout that 45 years of spearfishing I’ve been fortunate enough to pick up six New Zealand spearfishing titles as well as one as a junior. I’ve always chased trophy fish; I still go after big snapper. At one point I held the national snapper record at 14kg.

Top trophy triumphs

The one fish that always comes to mind has to be the first ever yellowfin I shot, I was diving just off Whakatane. As far as I know it’s still a national record at 48kg, I’ve shot bigger ones since in Vanuatu; but that first one always sticks out.

Preparation for trophy fishing

A lot of what I do now comes second nature, but recognising weather patterns and how to dive them is vital to choosing the right spot to dive. For example, if there were big easterlies blowing I know I have to find somewhere with a lot of shelter like the inside of Great Barrier. I’ve shot all my biggest snapper in quiet sheltered water, if it’s rough and surging it will make it very hard for you to sneak up on your prey.

Sheer luck, or pure skill

There’s always going to be a little bit of luck, but there’s a reason you decided to dive in that particular spot, because you believed that there would be good fish there. It’s not luck, it’s intuition.

Darren Shields with a massive trophy snapper

One piece of advice

Always keep the sun behind you, swim as shallow and slowly as possible. Stealth is your biggest chance of success, you want to hunt behind every rock and gutter without disturbing the 20lb snapper that might be sitting behind it.

Chris Wong

Kiwi jigging expert

Chris Wong with a trophy kingfish

Trophy fishing credentials

Being the first person to bring Japanese style mechanical jigging to New Zealand I had to learn from the best; so I fished alongside some of Taiwan and Japan’s top jigging experts. Then I honed my own skills fishing at top spots like the Three Kings and the Ranfurly Banks. I love to chase the big fish but at the end of the day mechanical jigging can be a bit of a young man’s sport, and I don’t quite have it in me to spend days on the rails out in six metre swells any more.

Top trophy triumphs

The one that best stands out for me is my personal best 41kg kingfish. It might not be the biggest compared to some other guys, but it’s certainly my proudest fish. If you’d told me 15 years ago that I could catch a 41kg kingfish, I wouldn’t have believed you; and that’s the real joy of jigging.

What preparation do you do when targeting trophy fish?

In preparation for any big trip I always check my gears properly maintained and up to the task, should I hook that big trophy fish. You’ve got to make sure you have the gear to ‘handle the jandle’.

Sheer luck or pure skill

Catching a trophy fish comes from good management with a bit of skill and a big dose of luck. You do of course see the photos on social media of newbies heading out and catching 30 and 40kg kingfish, so it can be done. I think charters are a great way to increase your luck, most skippers have a wealth of knowledge and can put you right on the fish.

Chris Wong fighting a massive kingfish

One piece of advice?

Never be casual when fishing, treat every fish like it’s the big one; I’ve learnt that the hard way.

Kieron Olsen

Far North land-based expert

Kieron Olson with a massive far north snapper

Fishing Credentials

I’ve done a fair heap of land-based fishing, mostly around the Far North and the Coromandel. I spent a lot of time cutting my teeth on game boats around the Bay of Islands and Whangaroa. I’ve certainly caught my share of 20 pounders over the years, one of the better ones was a beautiful 25lb snapper around Cape Reinga.

Top trophy triumph

One of my most memorable catches would probably have to be the 138lb bronzey I caught on 8kg line, almost got me a NZ record. It was a real team effort, we chased that thing around the harbour for over an hour.

What do you do to prepare for catching a trophy fish?

I always make sure I have enough berley. I like to berley, and I berley often. When you’re going for big fish, especially when using light tackle, it’s always good to have a good team of mates around you.

Luck vs Skill?

No luck involved, all skill and technique. It’s the skill of the angler, the skill of the crew, the skipper, the gaffer. There’s so many factors other that luck that come in to play when you’re after that trophy fish.

Kieron Olson with a massive trevally on light gear

One piece of advice?

Change up your baits. At the end of the day you can do everything right, fish all the spots with the right baits, then one day you’ll almost be about to give up and you might put half a pilly on, and bang! I’ve seen it happen 100 times. It’s all about changing your baits.

Scott Sutherland

Charter skipper

Scott Sutherland

Trophy fishing credentials

I’ve run charter boats for the last 20 years, I’m currently skipper on Saltwater charters in the Bay of Islands. Prior to that I ran a fishing resort on the East coast of Africa, but that’s a story for another day. I’ve managed to pick up a bunch of national and world records amongst it all. One of the better documented catches would be the world record Pacific blue fin tuna reeled in by Donna Pascoe.

Top trophy triumph

With out a doubt the most memorable fish would have to be a swordfish we played for 12 hours. It was one of the most outstanding performances I’ve ever seen by someone in the chair, it was unbelievable. Everyone was stuffed after that, it was a good fish too, about 225kg from memory.

massive 225 swordfish caught by brett duncan with Scott sutherland as skipper

What do you do to prepare for catching a trophy fish?

The old saying generally runs true; if you want to catch big fish, you’ve got to use big bait. Always look at towing a decent sized tuna as live bait; pretty much all the big stripey captures I’ve been part of have come from bridle rigged tuna.

Pure luck or sheer skill?

It can be a lot of luck when you’re trying to get them to bite, but once you’ve got the fish on, all that luck goes overboard and it’s a game of skill.

World record tuna caught be scott sutherland and paddy bohane

Once piece of advice?

Get out there and do it yourself! Look at the way that trailer boats are these days, these boats are bloody amazing, they’ve got everything. They can get out there and do just as much as we can do on the charters, its making big game fishing so accessible, its awesome.

Neil Gorringe

Regular fisho

Neil Gorringe with a massive trophy snapper

I’ve been fishing my whole life, but it’s really since I joined the Hauraki Gulf Fishing Club that I’ve started fishing for more than the table. Much to my wife’s delight I spend a lot of time out on Polperro skipped by club president Lance Pattullo.

Top trophy triumph

It has to be my 32.5lb (8kg line class national record) snapper I caught in January. Before that I’d never caught any thing really close to 20lb. I remember being on board boats and seeing other crew members pulling in 20lb plus fish, but I never thought I would ever catch one, and to break 30lbs too; it’s unbelievable.

Neil gorringe's snapper weighed in at 14.75kg

What do you do to prepare for catching a trophy fish?

I always make sure my gear is up the task should I hook that big snapper. I always use Black Magic heavy duty trace.

Luck vs skill

If my record catch shows us anything, it’s that luck trumps all when going for trophy fish. The catch went against we would normally do. I was fishing without a double hook rig, and fishing with a tiny piece of squid. The fact that that monster snapper bit down on my hook has to be luck.

Neil Gorringe with a massive 14.75 snapper

One bit of advice?

Just go fishing! Get out there as much as you can, take every opportunity you get. Because you never know when your luck will be in.

Keep or release? Here's the facts

While you are well within your rights to keep any fish over the minimum size, providing it's within your bag limit; the keeping or releasing of XOS snapper has become a hot topic of discussion lately.

The debate predominantly centres over whether large snapper are more important for the reproduction of the fishery and hence should be released; after an obligatory photo as proof of course.

  • Yes, the angry Facebook comments are true! Bigger fish are better breeders. A 2014 report in the New Zealand Journal or marine and Freshwater Research concluded that the removal of bigger/older snapper may have disproportionate consequences for the overall fish population.
  • Older/bigger snapper generally spawn at better times, better places and often result in higher growth rates.
  • A 25cm snapper might produce 80,000-300,000 eggs per season, where as a 50cm fish may produce 4-6 million eggs per season.
  • Snapper reach sexual maturity between 20cm-30cm (2-5 years old).
  • Snapper can grow up to one-metre-long and 60 years old.
  • Not all snapper grow at the same rate. As an example it is possible that a 28cm and 58cm snapper could both be the same age.

SOURCE: Snapper: a review of life history and key vulnerabilities in New Zealand; DM Parsons et al

New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research Vol. 48, Iss. 2, 2014

Bevan Beauchamp

Charter skipper

Bevan Beauchamp with a trophy marlin

Trophy fishing credentials

I’ve been a fisherman my entire life, from skipping classes to head out in my little dingy as a kid, to skippering charter boats as a career. From the moment I caught my first ever marlin I’ve had the bug, I’ve always wanted to catch bigger and better fish, that’s the reason I started working on fishing boats and the reason I still skipper boats today.

Top trophy triumph

It’s hard to decide on one catch that stands out, but being part of four grander (1000lb+) black marlin captures over the years has been amazing. We landed these all on board too, anybody can let them go, but it takes a team with a lot of skill and determination to get such a huge fish on board.

What do you do to prepare for catching a trophy fish?

When you’re targeting big marlin the majority of preparation happens before you’ve even got on the water. I always make sure my tackle is ready for any fish that might come its way. Sure, you might catch nine out of ten striped marlin on smaller gear, but it’s that one out of ten monster that will make you look silly for going in under-gunned.

Pure skill or sheer luck?

Sure there is always those ‘lucky’ fisherman that catch a big fish every now and then, but I always look at the people that are consistent at catching big fish. They make their own luck by doing the right things, they put in the right preparation.

Bevan Beauchamp leadering

One piece of advice?

It never hurts to learn a few knots, the plait or the bimini knot are important ones. Also just learn the best way to use your gear, drag setting etc.

Rick Pollock

Charter skipper and American

As a child we would spend our family holidays fishing in Mexico. It got to the point where I had landed 100 billfish by the time I was 16. As skipper aboard Pursuit I like to keep things democratic in the decision making of what fish we are targeting. If the majority of the boat want to go after big trophy fish, then I’ll use all my experience to try and make that happen.

Top trophy triumph

While on a fishing holiday last year I was fortunate enough to achieve a lifelong dream of landing a 1000lb blue fin tuna. It was an amazing experience and I achieved the whole thing standing up, I was very fortunate. As a skipper I’ve had many national records over the years, funnily enough I actually broke my own personal national record with a client aboard Pursuit. One of the more meritorious catches we had on the boat was the all tackle world record 52kg yellowtail kingfish, that was a pretty impressive fish.

Just one massive kingfish caught with Rick Pollick (Not Rick in photo)

Just one of the massive kingfish caught with Rick Pollick (Not Rick in photo)

What do you do to prepare for catching a trophy fish?

A lot of people say bigger bait equals bigger fish, but that isn’t necessarily the case. I’m a great fan of the saying ‘elephants eat peanuts’. We’ve caught some monster fish off minuscule baits.

Sheer skill or pure luck?

My father told me something once and I think it’s very true; “you’re better being lucky than good”. I’ve seen anglers with pretty low skill levels do everything wrong and still catch huge trophy fish and I’ve seen anglers with all the latest gear, with all the right preparation, head home with nothing.

A happy punter aboard Pursuit with Rick Pollick

A happy punter aboard Pursuit with Rick Pollick

One piece of advice?

Just get out there, remember there’s no such thing as a bad days fishing; you might not catch many fish but you’ll hopefully learn something that will put you in better stead to catch something next time.

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