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Fishing with Major Tom Charters
Big Game ~ Sportfishing Safaris ~ Saltwater Light Tackle ~ Saltwater Fly ~ Cruising

fishing with Major Tom in the Bay of Islands

First Marlin for the 2004/05 Season caught on "Major Tom II" on 7/11/04

World Record  369kg Broadbill on Major Tom II

Fishing in an Angler's El Dorado:

The Bay of Islands first won acclaim as "An Anglers Eldorado" after author Zane Grey's visits in the 1920's, and his penning of a book by that title.

Since then the reputation has been enhanced, not just by the size and quality of game fish that fill the world record books. but also by the variety and plentiful supply of light tackle fishing options.

Two major conservations efforts have assisted this reputation. The first was aimed at protecting marlin and tuna within NZ's 200 mile economic zone, with the banning of Asian long line fishing boats in the late 1980's, and the prohibition in 1990 of the commercial sale of marlin in NZ. These actions have been backed by the vigorous promotion by NZ fishing clubs of "tag and release" which may have meant fewer dead fish coming to the wharf, but has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of marlin caught.

The second major conservation effort was the introduction and vigorous enforcement of a quota system for NZ's commercial fishing fleet, which has ensured adequate stocks of snapper, kingfish and hapuka remain to both sustain a viable commercial fishery, and provide sport, entertainment and delicious table fare for the nation's recreational anglers.

Zane Grey soon discovered that NZ hosted the largest striped marlin in the world; in fact considerable debate was initiated as to whether NZ's stock was a different species. The debate was quickly settled, and NZ has since blitzed the striped marlin record books. The Tomcatch.jpg - 18.47 Klargest striped marlin caught on rod and reel has been 240 kilos (530 lbs),
although the world record is claimed by a fish of 224 kilos. Striped marlin exceeding 150 kilos are regularly tagged and released, and NZ clubs enforce a size limit of 90 kilos (200 lb) below which any fish kept do not qualify as official catches. Both blue and black marlin are also taken off the Bay of Islands coastline, with one magnificent 1000 pound blue marlin on display at the Russell Clubrooms of the Bay of Islands Swordfish Club. Unlike marlin, which are seasonal and visit our waters from mid December until May, the broadbill swordfish is a year round resident of the deep trenches on the north east coast. This magnificent gladiator of the deep is the ultimate prize of many game fisherman, and Major Tom II has been specifically fitted to provide visiting clients, who are dedicated enought to fish a night time drift when weather permits, the  opportunity to do battle with this toughest of all game fish. 

On April 2nd 1997 Major Tom II caught the third largest broadbill ever caught on rod and  reel in NZ. The 6 hour battle that was needed to subdue this fish on 37 kg line, won for Liz Stone the Old Man of the Sea Trophy which is awarded for the most meritorious catch throughout NZ and a New Zealand women's record.  This was followed in 2003 by the stunning capture by Jerry Garrett of a 369kg fish to set a new World Record for Broadbill on 37kg line.  This later capture was after the Major Tom crew had spent considerable development time perfecting night time lure and day time deep drop methods to expand the range of fishing options. Tomweigh.jpg - 19.61 K

Zane Grey also discovered the amazing fighting ability of NZ's mako sharks which provide excellent aerial displays to the delight of visiting anglers. Hammerhead, thresher, tiger, bronze whaler, white pointer and blue sharks are also caught by Bay of Islands boats, with a wide variety of tuna rounding out a complete range of big game fish opportunities.In 1998, anglers fishing on Major Tom ll won awards for the largest mako (233 kg), and thresher sharks(255kg) caught in the 1997/1998 season, as well as the largest short billed spearfish.

Yellow fin tuna regularly take lures being trolled for marlin, and big eye tuna exceeding 100 kilos will take both the deep drift baits used for broadbill at night, and lures being trolled for marlin. Skipjack and albacore provide excellent sport on lighter tackle.

Visitors intending to target game fish should visit between mid December and mid May, and advance bookings are recommended to ensure the boat is available.

Fishermen visiting the Bay of Islands outside this period will also find plenty of fishing challenges from the year round sport fishery available in the Bay and off the coast.

As previously mentioned, NZ's enforcement of strict commercial fishing quotas has ensured a wide range of year round sportfishing options.

Like striped marlin, considerable debate was held on whether NZ yellowtail kingfish could be the same species as their smaller northern hemisphere counterparts. The result of this debate has been separate classification of the 'southern yellowtail kingfish', with the largest specimens being almost exclusively taken from NZ waters. Photos in the swordfish club record early catches exceeding 100lb, and it was prized enough as a sporting challenge for the Swordfish Club to have been called the Bay of Islands Kingfish Club in its earlier days.

Even today 100lb kingfish are still caught, with Graham Fraser catching a magnificent 100 pounder on 10 kg (20lb) line in 1992. Good specimens of 20 to 30 kg are often landed in the main Autumn and early winter season, and regularly throughout the rest of the year. Kingfish are resident off the coast all year round and can be fished with jigs, lures, dead baits or salt water fly, though the biggest specimens are usually taken with live mackerel or koheru.

NZ also boasts the largest snapper in the world, with big reef fish reaching over 30 lbs. Although plentiful throughout the year, the spawning season from October to mid December lures the largest fish into the shallow waters of the Bay from the deep reefs off the coast.

Perhaps the greatest challenge on salt water fly or ultralight tackle are kahawai, also known as sea trout in recognition of their superb fighting ability, aerial displays, stamina and strength. Although mainly around 2 to 4 kilos, kahawai are believed by many to be the best game fish, pound for pound, that exists. Once present in huge schools, and used as both live and skip baits by marlin fishermen, kahawai stocks were severely depleted by purse seiners in the late 1980's. Their inclusion in the quota management system has seen stocksTomfish1.jpg - 8.70 K recover, with several hotspots around coastal rock outcrops providing almost guaranteed success for those wishing to target kahawai. Large trevally are the happy bi-catch of the kahawai fisherman.Tarakihi and red snapper are winter visitors to the Bay, and winter/spring also provides the best catches of groper and sea bass, both called hapuka by NZ fishermen. Hapuka are deep water bottom dwellers which move towards shore as the waters cool in winter. 

For those undertaking a full day charter at this time of year, a deep water drop for hapuka can bring rewards of fish up to 100 lbs and the opportunity to eat one of NZ's premier table fish. Large kingfish will often be taken on the deep water reefs as well. John Dory, pink maumau, gurnard, and porae are other premium table fish regularly caught around the Bay, with  clear wateralso providing excellent visibility for divers. The prolific, and clear waters of the Bay of Islands, attracts many scuba divers too, who can catch crayfish (NZ lobster) and scallops, or simply explore the many rocky outcrops within easy reach of Russell or Paihia.

Major Tom Charters
Geoff Stone

P O Box 163 ~ Russell ~ Bay of Islands ~ New Zealand
Phone 027 437 7844 ~ Fax 09 403 7790 ~Home Phone 09 403 8553 ~ E-mail: geoff@majortom.co.nz

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Last Updated 23/7/05