Fishing Rod Decoration


By Graham Waterton


- By Graham Waterton

In 2002 I went to New Zealand for a family holiday that included many memorable days fishing. I only wrote about one. This article was published in The Journal of The Piscatorial Society in Spring 2004.


I've had another one.  You know one of those extraordinary piscatorial events that only happen a few times over decades of fishing are never forgotten.  It happened in New Zealand.  Not a trout, nor a salmon, no,  a sea fish.  My affair with saltwater fly-fishing continues.

It was a family trip.  A once in a lifetime, of course we deserve it, before the children get too old, if we don't do it now we'll never be able to afford it, sort of trip.  Took a year to plan, all on internet and involved every type of thrill seeking activity.  We traveled by most types of available transport, stayed in a wide variety of accommodation and saw, day after day, one of the most beautiful countries in the world.  I also experienced the best trout fishing ever.  Whatever you've heard about the quality and challenge of New Zealand trout fishing, believe me, it is all true.

I had also organized a few days saltwater fly-fishing in the Bay of Islands.  Although they do not have 'flats', SWF has become very popular in New Zealand.  They do occasionally catch marlin and tuna but the more common quarry on a fly is trevally, snapper, kahawai and yellow tailed kingfish.  At that time of year, before the summer heat brings the warm blue water from the north of Australia, the target was the latter group with kahawai being the most likely.

Having 'done' the South Island where I caught my two biggest ever wild brown trout, our route to the Bay of Islands took us from Wellington around the east coast, through Napier, Hawke Bay, Gisbourne, the East Cape, Bay of Plenty, The Coromandel, Auckland and to the North.  A journey planned to take us a leisurely eight days.  Plenty of time to potter, sightsee, explore the beaches and, perhaps, a bit of fishing.

Six months earlier I had been surfing for places to park our campervan, (no, no ... on the internet ... please keep up) and came across a website for a fishing guide called Mark Draper.  His website intrigued me.  I had found dozens of guides' sites before, but this was different.  Why not break the journey, give the children a day on a beautiful, empty beach and have gentle day fishing off the rocks?  Sounds good.

'Don't expect too much,' said Mark in his email, 'it all depends on the weather and it is a bit early, but we'll give it a go.  There's bound to be a few kahawai about and they can be fun.'

'Any chance of a kingfish?' I asked.

'Possibly mate, but they play by their own rules ... '

I met Mark at about 7:00 am, he having driven an hour and a half to get to me.

'No problem,' he said

We then drove up to Cape Runaway on the East Cape.  It has one of the most remote coastlines in New Zealand and is very reminiscent of the wilder rocky coasts of South Wales, Cornwall or the west coast of Scotland.  Instead of granite, however, it is knobbly, rough, black volcanic rock of which most of the North Island is composed.  Once off the road, 30-minutes on a good farm track, and another 30 cross country brought us to a grassy meadow by a small rocky bay.  In the distance a promontory of black volcanic rock poked out into the Pacific Ocean.  

When we met that morning he looked me up and down saying 'good' as we exchanged pleasantries.  Apparently it was good that I was not overweight, looked fit and seemed capable of lifting heavy weights.  I was about to find out why.

Mark's rather effective way of attracting these predatory fish to within casting range was to throw out berley, a 'stew' of mashed tuna and other unknown ingredients.  This came in two large plastic tubs, each weighing 20 lbs.  Then we had another 20 lbs of fresh pilchards, a vast range of fishing tackle, bags full of lunch, water, a long handled gaff and the biggest landing net I'd ever seen.  This was split between two large rucksacks and we set off.  Thankfully the second half of the 40-minute walk was downhill, or perhaps down cliff would be more accurate, but the first half was very up.

I sat by the sea and recovered while Mark started mashing tuna stew, several loaves of bread (well I thought it was lunch) and sea water in a large plastic bucket.  As soon as the first ladlefuls went in the little fish appeared from nowhere.  Soon would come the bigger ones.

I set up my 9-weight and then his 14-weight.  'Just in case a kingie turns up ... things look good for a kingie today,' said Mark.  He insisted that I practiced casting with the 14-wt.  Then it was placed to my side with a dozen neat coils and the 5-inch deceiver all ready to go.

Yellow tail kingfish are members of the trevally family.  Found also in Australia and less commonly on the East coast of America, they are probably the most respected and sought-after game fish in New Zealand.  Because of their strength they are traditionally caught on heavy big game tackle using drifted live baits.  Their normal reaction to being booked is to dive for the bottom, whether rocks or reef, where they are often lost.  A big kingfish is 100 lbs but on a fly rod only 10-30 lbs fish are normally landed.

The first hour or so passed with a few kahawai.  They're great little fish, 7 or 8 lbs is  a big one, and very fit, a cross between a bass and a tuna.  I then hooked a good one of about 4 lbs and had him almost at the net when Mark shouted 'Kingie'.  At the same time I was aware of a huge fish coming into view to my right.  It is difficult to describe my shock at seeing a fish of that size.  Having been used to seeing fish of a few pounds and about 18ins long, this massive creature looked very out of place.  I was rooted to the spot, transfixed by an uncommonly big kingfish.  One thing I knew:  that net was too small.

Mark grabbed my rod and told me to put out the deceiver.  I grabbed the 14-wt but before I could put the fly in the water the kingfish had grabbed the kahawai and was off.  After a few seconds of my little Tibor fizzing, Mark clamped his hand over the reel and the leader snapped like cotton.  Better to lose a fly than the whole fly line he told me later.

Suddenly the whole concept of catching a big fish on a fly rod started to dawn on me.  That fish was 5ft long and weighed an estimated 75 lbs. 'You don't stand a chance of landing a fish that size, they're brutes, street fighters, if you'd got that one it would have been a world record on a fly,' said Mark.  'You're farting against thunder,' he added colourfully.

We sat back on the black rock and roared with laughter at the folly of what we were trying to achieve, when to my amazement off to my right, the kingfish was back.  After his comments I could see no point in casting to that fish but Mark said, 'Have a go, it'll be good for a laugh.'  I was beginning to really like Mark.

The huge kingfish swam in and out of the area of water into which we could see.  You had to guess direction and speed, and try to get the fly to the right place and depth to intercept it. My fifth cast was good, he swaggered in, nosed the huge fly, and sucked in.

The traditional raising the rod strike to hook big saltwater species is not the way to put rod makers out of business, so a big pull with the left hand and my new opponent was hooked and off like a speedboat.  The reel attached to the 14-wt was a Billy Pate Marlin with 350 yards of 30 lb Dacron backing.  The disc drag was screwed down pretty tight but that fish took the lot and nearly wrenched the rod out of my hands as the fish hit the spool knot.  My heart stopped and the 20 lb IGFA tippet snapped.

'I told you so,' said Mark.

The next few hours were fun but most definitely an anticlimax, I caught trevally up to 4 lbs, more kahawai but I could not, and still cannot, forget that wonderful, huge fish.

The power and the strength were quite awesome.  But this huge fish had been at my feet sipping down small pieces of pilchard as gently as a trout supping caenis.  And I had been casting a fly to a huge fish I could see only yards in front of me.  It was really very, very exciting.

Later in the afternoon I had another chance.  Another good kingie arrived, which even with repeated casts and fly changes I couldn't tempt but a second joined it after 20 minutes and snaffled the deceiver on the first cast.  Another strip strike, a massive lunge and within seconds about 200 yards of backing was gone.  After 40 minutes of real fighting (you fight these fish, you don't play them) Mark slipped the big net under my first big yellow tail kingfish.  It weighed 35 lbs and after measuring and tagging, was released.

As you can see from the photo, it is a fish built for speed not comfort.  Just think what one double the size would be like ... I can, I've seen one.

I shall remember the one I caught for a long time but I shall never forget the one that mugged me.

Have a look at Mark's website at