Anglers: George Bourke, Grant Fale, Luke Farmer, Nick Jones

Skipper: George Bourke

Location: Three Kings Islands, Northland

Species: Kingfish, Hapuku, Marlin

Techniques: Livebait, Stickbait, Trolling

Author: Nick Jones

This tale documents the third instalment of the annual Three Kings expedition for the Hauraki Express team. Luckily the forecast right at the tail-end of our allocated window was looking nice, and we had a laid-back, high-spirited crew for the next four days. I was joined by fellow Hauraki Express skipper and jovial red-head George Bourke, keen angler and dad-joke maker Luke Farmer, and my old friend Grant Fale. Unluckily Aaron Styles, the galley whizz from last year’s expedition, was otherwise occupied with the completion of his new Just Another Fisherman store. He should’ve gone cold turkey but couldn’t resist the temptation of calling Luke or George for regular updates…until of course we left cell reception behind alongside mainland NZ.

It didn’t take long to load up our livie tank and secondary livebait system (aka rubbish bin lashed to the duckboard) with the large jack mackerel that our departure port Whangaroa is famous for. Upon leaving the entrance we enjoyed a reasonable haul with a big easterly swell, a relic of the recent storm, following up on our aft quarter all the way to North Cape. Upon reaching the Cape we noticed some bird activity and a big school of kahawai working the area. The call was made to drop a few mackerel and see if we could stretch the arms. Boy, what a warm-up to the main event it proved to be with nice kingfish smashing the livies and George nailing a fat 26kg model.

The call was made to preserve our prime livies for the Three Kings and we headed towards Spirits Bay – where we would tuck in for the first night before blasting out to the fabled Three Kings archipelago (hopefully with a few brewskis still intact). Knowing the north coast is prime 20lb snapper country, we snuck in a brief softbait session, but the swell and murky water weren’t doing us any favours. We continued onto the anchorage after tangling with a few pannies even a Motuihe Channel stalwart might sneer at. Anyway, we had bigger kingfish, marlin, hapuku and those hump-headed trevally we enjoyed tangling with so much on last year’s adventure to dream about.

We woke up to a clear starry sky, dropping swell and George’s famous percolator brew. And we were off, making good time and arriving at the islands just as the ol’ ball of fire was peeking over the horizon. What a scene – towering rocky cliffs rising out of clear blue water, rushing currents funnelling through gaps in the broken islands and rock archways, thousands of birds, and masses of trevally heads breaking the water’s surface. Fair to say our first pair of slow-trolled jack macs didn’t last long!

We had a blast that morning, catching lots of kings around the 20kg mark until Fale loaded up on something more substantial. After a dogged fight around the reefs, some hissing runs, ample coaching/abuse, and some heavy lifting from the Daiwa Saltiga set, up popped a beautiful 32kg kingfish. The hog was duly photographed and released – our blanket approach for all kingfish caught on the trip.

By this stage our livie supply was well and truly decimated, so we rigged up our softbait and stickbait sets and continued our nosing around the islands. Lining up a school of trevally, it didn’t take long before mine and George’s reels were screaming as the big silver platters headed for the bottom. With both those fish successfully photographed and released, a different kind of screaming could be heard from the bow. Luke had a pack of kings attacking his blue 100g On Top Lures stickbait, and luckily we were all privy to a wicked surface take. We left Luke to it, knowing it might take a while to heave the fish up given the awkwardness of the rocking bow and long rod (but mainly so we could lay down our own offerings to the kings!).

Eventually the kingfish succumbed to Luke’s angling prowess and I hoisted the fish onboard, successfully avoiding contact with any flailing treble hooks before the paparazzi got into their work. After this fish, the bite slowed with the turning tide so we decided to head over to the main island and do some livebait reconnaissance. With koheru and small trevally on the agenda, all the burley trail could muster up that evening were kingfish, blue and pink maomao, and a solitary blue cod.

The next morning, we tried again for koheru but only managed a few, so we opted to head out to the King Bank for a spot of trolling and deep-water fishing. At our first stop we only managed a brace of small kingfish, so we moved on in search of some likely looking bottom sign. Alas, our bottom fishing efforts were only rewarded with another modest kingfish and a tail-hooked shark. We’d gone from heroes to zeroes in the space of a day; therefore we decided that catching a marlin would get us back on track. Out went the game lures, and the plan almost came into fruition on the western edge of the Bank – a lit-up stripey charged into the Bonze D-Shackle lure in the long corner position, took a couple of swipes, peeled some line without hooking up, then disappeared never to be seen again. Fale would have to keep waiting for his first beaky.

That evening we stayed in a calm Southeast Bay and had a good dusk session catching livebait-sized trevally to replenish our supply. After a good snooze we woke to a pod of bottlenose dolphins gallivanting around the boat and enjoyed their aerobatics while Fale rustled up some bacon and eggs. We thought it prudent to have one final crack at the elusive koheru around the corner. We were glad we did when an hour later there were around 20 prime blue and yellow bullets darting around the tanks. The stage was set for a battle royale with the kingfish, but our morning of slow-trolling was slow apart from a double hook-up of reef thugs for George and Fale – both boated after some hectic manoeuvring.

Our time at the Three Kings was up, but at least we had a chance at a marlin and some hapuku to look forward to on the way home. Unfortunately, no gamefish came to our attention but yours truly managed to snag a PB puka over a 100m deep reef on a live koheru. The fight was a bit of a let-down after an initial peeling of line, but it was a great goliath to finish off our trip, feed the families back home, and stretch out the coccyx trying to lift. What a trip!