|Bay of Plenty|
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Bay of Plenty
Kiwi anglers finally bring to light another fishery that’s yielding plenty of saltwater surprises. It’s early morning, even before the sun’s rays caress the waters of Pilot Bay in Tauranga Harbor on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island.
Our charter vessel moves toward the harbor entrance, passing beneath Mauao, an imposing lava dome that stands sentinel at the tip of a narrow spit of land separating the harbor from the Pacific Ocean. Captain Russ Hawkins, the owner of Fat Boy Charters, maneuvers the boat as only one can who’s fished the area for over 30 years. We soon cruise past the statue of Tangaroa, the Maori God of the Sea, and ease our way into open water.
A shower of sunlight breaks the cloud cover, spotlighting an area of ocean about 20 miles offshore called Astrolabe Reef. Hawkins points that way, saying it’s near our destination. The air of anticipation on board noticeably increases because New Zealand anglers coming here immediately conjure visions of record-breaking southern yellowtail kingfish, yellowfin tuna, hefty striped marlin and ample numbers of tasty snapper.
Hawkins and mate Jim Gibson seem keen on lowering our expectations of the day ahead – a modest characteristic of Kiwis – but it doesn’t restrain our excitement. The sapphire waters become electric with schools of panicky baitfish fleeing predators below and dodging gannets trying to pick them off from above. About two miles north of the Astrolabe, we stop at a spot to bottom fish an area that consistently produces good catches of red snapper, trevally and tarakihi, all prized for their delicate flavor. We quickly bait up three-hook rigs with squid and skipjack tuna, and to the disappointment of a flock of hopeful sooty shearwaters, the morsels soon slither into the depths.
Within moments of the first lines hitting bottom at 290 feet, two rod tips vibrate with a familiar tap, tap, tap, followed by a hearty tug. It’s a long haul to the surface, but the reward is seeing three silvery tarakihi swirling in the blue waters – three on each rod, that is.