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Destination Three Kings Island

By: Professor Bobby Naude

After a mind-blowing trip to the Three Kings Islands off the north coast of New Zealand in 2016, I had no choice but to revisit the rich waters around these islands again in 2017.
Image: Bobby Beast Image: Bobby Beast

Visiting a popular spot only one year later, I was hoping that the fishing would be on par with my previous visit, but it got even better. I again joined a group of jigging and popping purists that formed part of a trip organised by Roy Skea from Jigstar Africa. At the end of the trip we were, however, not as ‘pure’ as we had all thought, since the marine diversity around the Three Kings forced us to swallow our jigging pride.

Mixing it up

After boarding Enchanter at Mangonui, we excitedly started rigging our jigging and popping outfits with great expectations, but Lance Goodhew, the captain, suggested that we spend some time catching live bait while still in port, just in case the jigging did not deliver. Having great respect for this leader of the pack as far as New Zealand sea dogs are concerned, we immediately followed orders, and quickly filled the live bait tanks with more than enough live bait. Some time after leaving port, Enchanter’s sister boat, Cova Rose, boated a nice striped marlin that spewed up a number of big arrowhead squid just before release. This had the old sea dog’s mind racing and upon anchor that night we proceeded to stock up on the squid explosion that was obviously taking place around us. It quickly became apparent that all living creatures were gorging themselves on this free for all and in the end forced us to reconsider our jigging addiction. The squid were simply candy to the yellowtail kingfish.

We started off jigging and were soon boating nice kingies on jig. Roy also hooked a nice kingie of more than 30kg while slow pitch jigging. Just to prove how effective this method of jigging is, he humbly mentioned that he has caught 47 different species using slow pitch jigging techniques. Definitely something I am going to try on future visits. There were no complaints on board as far as the jigging was concerned but Mike, one of our group members who is also fluent in Chinese, silently sent down a squid to test the old seadog’s theory. He was immediately into a big kingie in the upper 30kg range. The rest of us took notice and this motivated us to jig even harder.

Mike, however, proceeded to boat another huge kingie on squid and we abruptly lost two members of our jigging posse to the dark side. Needless to say, there were no jigging purists left at the end of that session and we all boated a number of fish between 30kg to 40kg on squid. At the end of the trip we would boat almost 60 yellowtail kingfish in this range and many more above 20kg. Unfortunately the elusive 40kg+ fish had lockjaw, but we were cut off by a couple of fish that were believed to be well above 40kg. It is therefore essential to stock up on squid if they are around. Even if you are very tired at night, ensure that you catch enough squid to provide for ten squid per angler per session. We actually ran out of squid after our first day, but the live bait was a very useful stand in, and they were also eagerly grabbed by hungry kingies.

Adapt or die

Catching kingies on squid and live bait provided a new dimension for us as jigging purists and was a lot of fun. It also showed that one should be ready to adapt to different circumstances that arise on a fishing trip.

In the end we caught more fish on bait than on jig, but the jiggers were more than satisfied with the number of fish in the 30kg range that were caught. The Jigstar group that went fishing a couple of days before us managed to land two fish over 40kg on jig and a number that were more than 30kg. They did not even bother using bait.

For us the bait fishing added an exciting dimension to our trip and made an already unbelievable experience to one of the best fisheries on the planet even better. The suggested method would be to slide two eight-ounce sinkers down the leader already attached to your jigging outfit.

Place a bead between the sinkers to prevent their openings closing up when they bang together. Next attach a heavy-duty swivel and a 1.5m length of 150-pound leader with a 12/0 inline circle hook at the end. The crew will show you how to rig the squid or live bait.

Broadbill swordfish

Since we were fishing around the new moon, the chief hyena suggested that we put some effort into trying to catch a broadbill swordfish at night.

The importance of having an experienced captain for trips around the Three Kings cannot be stressed enough. Both Enchanter and Cove Rose should be the first choice in this regard. Not only do they know the area around the Three Kings intimately, they also know how to catch swordfish and they take great pride in their work. On our previous trip to the Three Kings we boated a broadbill of around 140kg after a fight lasting five hours and forty minutes. This time around we managed to boat a true gladiator of the deep of around 230kg after a fight lasting nine hours and forty minutes. The broadbill could not resist one of the juicy squids: the fight saw each of us taking turns on 80 pound stand-up tackle. It was very special to be part of this shared experience.

There are not many anglers around who are going to battle a swordfish for more than ten hours on stand-up tackle; and sharing the fight is perhaps the way to go where there are other eager anglers on board.

A hard day’s night

It is hard to imagine, but the sheer numbers of big fish caught kept us busy from the moment we woke up in the mornings until the sun went down. One member of our group literally fished himself into dehydration, fortunately he was back on his feet after some tender loving care, but such situations should be avoided at all costs, since medical assistance is very far away.

Our last day, for example, started with a jigging session in 300+ metres of water.

We hooked into a number of hapuka (Māori name for gropers) and seabass that weighed more than 40kg – it took serious effort to raise these fish from those depths. If you take four drops to such depths, with each drop resulting in a proper fish, you are already very tired at the end of the session. If you then immediately move on to normal depths of 80 to 120m and proceed to hammer the kingies on jig and bait until the sun sets, you will hardly have enough energy left to eat. Perhaps you should ask yourself whether your physical condition would enable you to do battle with ten kingies in the 30kg+ range – all in one day.

Only on Three Kings

After our rigorous and adventurous trip, one thing stands out – any fisherman should be adaptable. A lot of money is spent on such trips and adapting to circumstances is one way to ensure that you get value for your money – and moreover, that you embrace and enjoy the opportunity.

The bad thing about crazy fishing trips to places like the magnificent Three Kings Islands is that you are spoiled for life. Where else can you catch monster seabass, hapuka and other bottom dwellers in 300 metres of water, proceed to catch giant kingies, striped and blue marlin later in the day and then top it up with a broadbill swordfish at night? Nowhere else.

The good thing is that Captain Lance’s operation takes great care to preserve this fishery for future generations. Specific areas are not overexploited and they release all fish where possible. One is also not allowed to fish with substandard equipment that will result in fish swimming around with broken-off jigs.

The future, however, is one thing that is uncertain and I suggest you get to the Three Kings as soon as possible.

Due to their vast experience and also logistical considerations, it is recommended trips to the Three Kings be booked through Jigstar Africa.

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