Down Under Part Deux: New Zealand

Written By: Michael Ponce
Date: February 28, 2019

To put it simply, we (Fish Village) are on a mission to find the best kayak fishing destinations in the world which led us to New Zealand.

Let’s go back to August 2018 when I was in Panama with Robert Field and Ivy Harris targeting massive broomtail grouper, cubera snapper and roosterfish. One of the guests at the lodge was New Zealand native Martyn Gittens owner of BerleyPro (https://www.berleypro.com) a kayak accessories company. After some cold refreshing beers and a long talk, we connected and talked about the idea of joining him in Australia and ultimately New Zealand for a kayak fishing trip of a lifetime. Being that we all had these two stops on our bucket list, it was going to be very difficult to pass this up… so we took him up on his offer.

Fast forward to February 2019 and we find ourselves 6,500 miles away from Los Angeles getting ready to fish the Hauraki Gulf consisting of multiple islands including Great Barrier Island, Arid Island and Mokohinau Islands (aka the Moks).

Our first stop was a beautiful countryside Airbnb where we had the pleasure of meeting the Catch Fishing (https://www.catchfishing.pro) team. A very enthusiastic and passionate Grant Bittle spent some time with us explaining the lures and techniques required to make the most of our opportunity there. This overview helped set the tone for this trip as we quickly realized that the Kiwi’s wanted to make sure that we had a successful trip and that New Zealand shined for this small group of US anglers.

After a couple of stops to Railblaza and Catch Fishing, we started our journey to our basecamp for the next 8 days… Leigh Fishing Lodge (http://www.leighfishinglodge.co.nz). This quaint, well kept fishing lodge was a welcome sight for this group of anglers as it was the perfect accommodation for us and the perfect place to prepare for 7 days at sea. It was here that we connected with Viking Kayaks (https://www.vikingkayaks.co.nz) Grant Montague, Stephen Tapp and Paul Rountree. When fishing foreign waters, we don’t try to force the square peg, instead we do what the locals do, we fish what they fish and we fish out of the kayaks that they use. This meant that we had to step outside of our comfort zone and learn the local ways. Let me assure you that we could not have had a better group of people to help us get into the zone.The very next morning we grabbed a quick meat pie, packed up the utes and headed down to the wharf where we would rendezvous with the Bounty Hunter (http://bountyhuntercharters.co.nz) and her skipper Aaron Covacich. The Bounty Hunter was our mothership for the next 7 days ferrying our plastic boat fleet out to the islands within the Hauraki Gulf.

For those unfamiliar with mothershipping allow me to explain. Often the hard to get to places are the best when it comes to fishing and hunting, this is especially true when talking about kayak fishing. We work with charter operations that are willing to carry our kayaks, gear and anglers to some of the best fishing grounds on the planet. Once we get there we fish out of our kayaks and live off of the boat aka mothership.

After our gear was loaded up, we started our steam towards Arid Island. With baited breath we start to get our gear ready for battle as we are told that we are going to make a quick stop on the way there to pick-off a few yellows (sorry I am a Californian and that is what we call them at home) Kingfish as the Kiwi’s say. Within a matter of a couple of jig drops, we were hooked up. Each of us got a taste of what was to come. White teeth and big smiles was the name of the game. At one point we had three guys hooked up all getting worked by these ferocious reef donkeys.

One of the unexpected joys of this trip was the nonstop beauty that we witnessed in just the small bit of New Zealand that we had the luxury of visiting. Every fishery, every angle was gorgeous. The fishing was just as beautiful as the landscape.

Our first full day of fishing was nothing short of spectacular as we all found what we were looking for. In the distance or on the radio you hear “YIPPAH” or “I’M ON” which fires up the crew. Ivy and Rob start thumping the snappers as I get into my first fight with a reef donkey. As expected, team Viking starts putting on a clinic on how to fish Arid Island. For the next few days we learned from Stephen and Paul and applied their testimony to our fishing efforts and gems started to appear. Ivy gets his PB snapper, Rob sticks 5 Kingfish in one session and I land a 20 lb + Kingfish (small they say 😊). At this point, all we cared about was catching more and catching bigger (good problems to have).

After we left Arid Island, we sailed the most beautifully calm blue seas I have ever seen to the middle of the middle of nowhere where skipper Aaron told his that we would be deep jigging for trophy Kingfish. It was here that US angler Ivy Harris tangled with a deep-water Kingfish that tested his kayak grit… but make no mistakes about it, he WON that battle. We were fired up for that fight. After everyone was depleted of every ounce of energy and noodle arms began to set in, we moved to the protection of Port FitzRoy for a couple of nights due to some expected high winds and rough seas. This break was just what the doctor ordered.

From Port FitzRoy we made our final push of this fishing expedition and set course for the Mokohinau Islands, a legendary fishery that only a few kayakers have been to. From the moment we laid our eyes on it we knew we were at a special place. With rocks jetting out of the water surrounding by boiling water one could only imagine the magnificence of the violent collisions and volcanic forces that made this place what it is. Fortunately for us what was left behind is a fishery quite literally overflowing with life.

The conditions were tougher out here and tested our resolve as you had to work hard to land a good fish. The currents were ripping, the wind was howling and the fish were playing hard to get, the big fish that is. If you wanted a pannie snapper or a 20 lb. Kingfish, you could accidently hook one, screw up the landing and still get one. Fortunately we had Paul with Team Viking show us Yanks what a good snapper looks like pulling in a 20 lb + snapper cementing the legend of the Mok’s. This place is nuts – I ALREADY WANT TO GO BACK!

As kayakers we are all our own boat captain, safety team, angler, deckhand, photographer and sometimes cheerleader. This can be daunting and exhausting but the thrill and excitement you get when you hook into something good is hard to beat. When you combine that thrill with the joys of travel and the bonds you create while doing so… you get rewarded in the best way. I asked myself multiple times… “Am I fighting a Kingfish 50 + miles offshore in New Zealand?” “Wait, I am in New Zealand?” This trip was about connecting with people that MAKE the experience. We also wanted to learn about New Zealand and the companies that make trips like this possible. Never have I travelled before in my life and FAR exceeded my expectations. From the beautiful countryside, gorgeous waters, iconic islands, great fishing, amazing people and great partners, New Zealand was the adventure that changed me in a way that I could never put into words.

So in other words… we came for the experience.

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