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In snapper paradise - Great Barrier Island

December 19, 2019
In snapper paradise - Great Barrier Island

We’re making steady progress on our course to the mighty Great Barrier Island from Waiheke’s Matiatia as a toothy southwesterly whips up the following sea on FQ Fishing’s well-equipped 10.5m Senator.

The Coromandel gets more distant as a giant, grey mass slowly appears through angry blood-orange clouds and stands imposing and staunch. The Barrier has introduced itself to us and the excitement onboard is palpable.

Great Barrier Island has an almost mythical status among many New Zealand fishos.

Out of range for most trailerboat anglers and located in a stretch of water that has the potential to cause problems for even commercial fishing boats, it’s a spot that demands respect.

It’s an imposing landmass, especially when approached on a stormy evening as rainclouds gather. The Barrier, as it’s known by most who fish her coasts, is a genuine wilderness located around 100km from central Auckland. It’s home to just 800 or so islanders who live mainly in Tryphena and who do it pretty tough.

For those who are lucky enough to venture to the island, a fishing paradise awaits. Far enough away from major populations to escape overfishing but close enough to reach and fish around within a day. The Barrier is the real deal.

In pursuit of snapper

FQ Fishing skipper Nigel Boland invited me along on a trip as we approached the end of September. The mission was simple: Steam out to the Barrier on a prospecting trip to see if the big snapper were there and on their way in close. The answer, as it turned out, was just as simple: Oh yes they were!

Nigel and first mate Kasey Coghlan prefer to motor out to the Barrier in the late afternoon and anchor down in a sheltered bay for the night so that they can be on the best spots around the island first thing in the morning. This tactic makes perfect sense and was to prove invaluable.

After a couple of hours of steaming through some reasonably gnarly seas we arrived in complete darkness in a little bay known well to FQ Fishing as Whangaparapara Harbour which sits north of Tryphena on the western side of the island. It snakes inland and almost turns back on itself, away from the roaring swells making it the perfect place to seek shelter for the night. Once we’d found a good spot to anchor, thoughts almost immediately turned to food and, as so often is the case, beer. A plan of attack for the following morning was devised between Nigel, Kasey and FQ Fishing’s other guest on the trip, Stew – a friend of the crew.

A plan is formed

The tactic was simple: We’d steam out of Whangaparapara Harbour under the cover of darkness and head a couple of clicks round the corner to French Bay on the strength of some intelligence I’d received about big fish being landed there in the last couple of weeks.  After that, we’d go out deeper and try some slowjigs on the new gear I had to test.

This plan was formulated as Kasey put a meal of nachos together in the Senator’s snug galley. Dinner was washed down with a couple of beers and complimented with some tall tales and jokes from Kasey that were most certainly not for print.

A little bit of bait fishing secured a few livies for Stew for the following day and with that it was time to hit the bunk.

With a bang it begins

There’s something special about
creeping out of harbour under the cover of darkness in flat calm seas. You feel a sense of balance with nature and the sea that doesn’t seem to be there during daylight.

Perhaps it was just as well that feeling of balance was there as we were about to be rocked by the sheer number of solid fish we were to catch in the following three hours. But that wasn’t to come until we endured a bit of trial and error in a couple of spots.

My high hopes for French Bay were dashed as only one pannie snapper was landed in 45 minutes of effort.

Time for a change. Nigel looked focused as he took to the helm and pushed us out to the 40m mark around 4km off Blind Bay. From the first drop of the slowjig it was all on. Bang! The reel started to scream and line was being stripped off at an exhilarating pace. Right away it was clear this was a decent snapper but before a net could be summoned to land it, the other lads started to hook up. Four anglers on deck, four fish being fought. This was fishing at its best.

Without warning, birds appeared from all directions. In the distance were dolphins working the baitfish. Within minutes the skies were alive with gannets and terns and the sleepy morning chill had been changed to red-hot action.

When fishing is this fast and furious, it’s hard not to be whipped up into a frenzy of your own. As 8lb, 10lb, 12lb snapper were landed one after the other, it was almost becoming too easy.

The curious thing about this activity was that it was too spread out to really call it a work-up and long after the birds had moved off, the large snapper continued to be brought onboard. A number of large breeding fish were put back to fight another day with many of the smaller ones going into the chilly bin.

Switch is flicked

For a solid three hours, the action was almost non-stop. The predicted early morning bite time was bang-on but it lasted for far longer than expected.

But just as quickly as the feeding switch was flicked on, it was flicked back off and things went quiet. A rather fatigued crew was able to recover slightly.

It might be a fishing mecca but Great Barrier Island is not immune to the usual feeding patterns that most fish follow. Now is a good time for a quick brush-up on some of the old basics when fishing outside predicted bite times.

In the space of a single morning we landed more than a dozen snapper over 10lb, some as big as 12lb. Not a single fish weighed less than 5lb and a number of the bigger ones were put back to contribute to the Gulf’s breeding stock.

All of the fish were caught between 3km and 5km off Great Barrier Island’s west coast.  This was champagne fishing, there’s no doubt about it. The rest of the day was quieter with the odd moment of excitement as the fish sporadically hit the bite but the sedate pace offered an opportunity to cook up some fresh snapper for lunch and admire a hefty bryde’s whale that popped up to say hello.

Charter your success

Great Barrier Island’s location makes it a fishing destination that you shouldn’t consider lightly. It’s a long way out and it has such a vast coastline that it can be daunting. If you are a trailerboat fisho then it’s unlikely you’ll be venturing out there on your own craft unless you have something of reasonable size.

The Barrier is a destination that lends itself to charter fishing. FQ Fishing are experienced in fishing around the island and their trips can be tailored to your preference.

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