Words and photos by Victor James Ives
I guess when you think of New Zealand you think of the All Blacks, and how they dominated South African rugby recently. If you are a bit more of a nature lover you think of endless snow capped mountains with lush green forests. You think of gin clear rivers snaking through these mountains. And if you are a fly fisherman more importantly, you think of the world famous trout fishing New Zealand has to offer. Little did I know that salt water fly fishing had just as much, if not more, to offer.
We were fortunate enough to call this paradise of a country our home for half a year and after spending a lot of hours on the rivers, fly fishing for big browns, it was time for a new challenge. I came across an article on the internet about catching Yellowtail King Fish on fly while they were shadowing the big sting rays on the flats in the Golden Bay area. I followed a link to some videos on YouTube and that was it. I was hooked. I had to give it a go. I plucked out a map and looked up the Golden bay area. An hours drive from where we lived… Perfect! First chance we got we were over there.
I soon realised that things were not as easy as they seemed. Golden Bay is a long stretch of beach that forms a big spit up to the very northern most tip of the South Island. It was massive! With some info and tips from the locals I started fishing the river mouths for a start. Apparently they move in with the pushing tide, feeding on on big schools of herring. I fished for hours on end, all the pushing tides, with no success. I fished on the vast flats, spotting loads of stingrays, but it just seemed too enormous.
On the last night of our weekend there the king fish did move in… And believe me, you knew about it! It looked like a mob of assassins had just moved into the river mouth. Schools of herring were exploding from the water. I stood in amazement and watched as the big predators reeked havoc amongst their prey in a feeding frenzy. They were gone just as quickly as they came in…
I realised then that I had to spend some time there. Get to know the area and what the fish were
doing. I also realised after catching a big Kahawai (Australian Salmon) on a 6 weight rod, that I was totally under gunned. I needed bigger gear…
The next weekend I was back with bigger gear and bigger flies. Once again fishing the river mouth and the flats but with no success. No kingies… I was starting to think I was chasing ghosts.
A week later and the new year approaching I was back for my final dance with destiny. This was it, my last chance to catch the fish that has been haunting my dreams for months. I hooked up with a German friend to try and increase our chances. Two days. Crappy weather. More Kahawai. No Kingies… As fisherman we all wait for that one day… That one day that everything just comes together. The next day was that day. We woke up with the sun rising over Golden Bay. It was perfect. The ocean was a mirror with a light breeze blowing over it. The tide was low, as we got ready to go to the flats.
We got things going with a couple of big Kahawai readily taking any fly we presented to them as the tide started pushing in. Things were looking good. We started working our way out with the tide. My friend Max hooked up with a big Kahawai while I was busy with a quick phone call. I was still busy on the phone when he shouted out loud… , “ Victor, there are three Kingies following my Kahawai! Come quick!”. I almost dropped my phone in the water as I rushed over to see what was happening. As I got closer to him I could barely believe my eyes. Three Kingies were indeed following the struggling 50cm Kahawai. Could this be happening? It sure was… I quickly stripped some line out and put a cast out towards the hunting King Fish. I stripped a popper through them but they didn’t seem interested. They turned with the already tiring Kahawai and I had another go. Then everything seemed to happen in ultra slow motion. I could see my popper struggle through them as it pushed a little bow wave in front of it, with a small bubble trail behind it. I could see it catching the attention of one the kings as it turned towards my fly. Was this really happening? It sure was. I held my breath as I stripped another two short strips as the Kingy thrashed onto my fly. I set the hook, and as expected it took off like a fighter jet on full throttle off an aircraft carrier. It smashed through about 30 meters of line within seconds. The fight was on. They really are hard and dirty fighters so I tried to work him towards a patch of sand so he couldn’t break me off on the stones.
It felt unreal as I struggled with a King of the flats… I didn’t have a net but managed to work the fish close enough to grab it by the tail. As I lifted him out of the water the flashing yellow and green lines glimmered in the sunlight as it glared back at me with big black eyes. At around 70cm it sure wasn’t a trophy fish, but to me it meant the world.
The feeling was surreal. What a stunningly beautiful creature. We took some shots and let the King go to give another fisherman a good fight on another day. What a privilege to have battled with one of these magnificent creatures. A dream come true… Back at camp that night we were sitting on the river bank, having a cold beer as the sun was setting over the mountains to the west. It was still sinking in of what just happened. There was a moment of silence as we both just sat with big, smiling grins on our faces. What a day! What a feeling! What a fish! I will treasure it forever…