New Zealand Southern Bluefin - The Day Waihau Bay Went Off!

As published in NZ Fishing News

Everyone once in a while a fishing adventure comes together that ends up etched in the memory banks for a lifetime. I will always remember Saturday 8 July 2017 as one of those days.


For the last three years I have been itching to tick a Southern Bluefin Tuna off my fishing bucket list.  I’ve seen signs of them in the Bay of Plenty in winter. We were coming back from Mayor Island one evening, tracking towards Tairua on dusk in 120m when I saw massive tuna birds, smelt the stench of rotten fish, and then looked down at my Furuno sounder and marked four huge fish. At the time I thought they were late season marlin. I now know better.

The last two years I’ve seen signs in 400m in the middle ground of Whitianga while bluenose fishing. But the real migration happens a lot wider. Last year I was lucky enough to spend time at sea with Tony Walker aka TK and pick his brains on the bluefin migration while we chased one around the Double Knolls. We came up empty handed having been a couple of days behind the fish.

This year I was determined not to miss out on that bite. I kept my ear to the ground. We’re lucky in New Zealand to have a bunch of commercial fishermen who are also avid rec fishos like Ben Carey (who wrote the preceding article), TK and John Lifton-Jones. These guys openly share information with the keen rec fishos. So they were the first people I got in touch with when I was planning a mission with my good fishing mate Anthony Honeybone. The word was there was some of the best ever numbers of Southern Bluefin out of East Cape. There was not too much decision making to be made. We were going!  My Senator 770 was readied for the big tow.

I’ve got a cool little project going with filmaker Mike Bhana, called “The Provider” - documenting the life of a fishing guide, so I put the call in to see if he was keen to join us and capture it all on video. I also started noticing there was going to be a convoy of like minded fishos heading down. It had all the hallmarks of a great social event. All we needed now was the weather and fish to play ball.

After an overnight drive we arrived at Waihau Bay boat ramp at 4am, and there were already a number of boats waiting to head out. A procession of more followerd, and around 5am most of us set out on radar past East Cape in the dark. By sun up the radio started to fire up. Luke Davis caught one on stickbait on the boat Black Jack. Optymstic was hooked up. Hard Yakka was on a quadruple. Boom. I didn’t want to be the boat that missed out!

Then the RG2 Kohe on the rigger popped, and holes appeared in the spread, the Bonze Darter on shotgun got hit and the Tiagra howled. Ants was hooked up on his first bluefin! 45 minutes later we had it circling below the boat, got the gaffs into it and hauled it aboard to a huge roar! Yeehaa, we’d done it!  



While we were cleaning up, sipping a celebratory steiny and the bilge was pumping out an oil slick a boat came past us and hooked up. “Time to put the lures back in boys!” No sooner had we set the lures than fish were climbing all over them. The Bonze Darter got hit again and stuck and then the RG1 lumo went off - DOUBLE! Ants and I did the Waihau Bay shuffle while we took turns at driving, and Mike captured the chaos while also doing the off driving stint.  As I had a rod in one hand and put a gaff shot in with the other we knocked one of the spare rods into the drink, in freespool! Ah bugger - we roped it off on a fender to come back to. Time to chase down mine and about 20 minutes later I put my first bluefin into the boat. Wow! What a day!

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The radio stayed hot all day with more hook ups, and with the All Blacks set to play the Lions that night, and a karaoke night at Waihau Bay we were in for one hell of a full moon party!

What I will always remember about this day is the great information sharing that went on between boats. GPS marks and hook up information was readily shared, and everyone was at the boat ramp congratulating each other, it was just a really cool fishing event. I can’t wait to do it again next year. The first full moon in July 2018 is in the diary. See ya there!