You haven't lived
the full 360 degrees," Ernest said to me in the spring of 1945, "until
you've hooked a marlin and played him and brought him in." The phrase
became one tenet of my assorted faiths before that year elapsed.
really fished for marlin," the New Zealand Tourist Office people said this
year in New York, "until you've fished out of our Bay of Islands." Why
not? Lately I had fished with delight and success in the Caribbean off Little
Cayman Island and in the rolling Atlantic off Virgin Gorda Island. A few weeks
and some 12,000 miles later I padded in my tennis shoes from the comfortable
new hotel at Waitangi, Bay of Islands, New Zealand, along a path shaded by
casuarina trees to the hotel's dock, a city block away. Waiting there in his
launch, Avalon, was Captain Leslie Tautari Blomfield with a friend, Noel
Harris, secretary and treasurer of the Bay of Islands Swordfish Club, of which
I promptly became a member.
The Bay of
Islands, with its empty golden beaches, its diverse topography and its rich
shoreline vegetation, was quite unlike any fishing waters I had before
encountered, and Avalon's neat and shipshape afterdeck seemed small after so
many years of fishing from the spacious stern of Pilar, Ernest's boat and our
happiest home of all. But there, waiting for action by Avalon's fishing chairs,
were an ancient aluminum Hardy reel, full of 80-pound-test line, very like the
one we had used for trolling deep, and a shiny Penn Senator 12/0 reel carrying
130-pound-test line, both on sturdy rods, and I felt instantly at home.
It was a bright,
cheerful morning, sweet with the scent of flowering gorse, a WNW wind pushing
wisps of high cirrus clouds across the sky and ruffling the turquoise surface
of the bay and the immense fronds of tree ferns, so tall I kept mistaking them
for palms, along the shore. "A good wind for fish here," Les said, and
although I thought it must be too cool for marlin to feed near the surface we
chuffed down the bay, looking for schools of bait in the haze of hope which is
the climate of every fisherman's mornings. Only the day before, the 16 launches
that are available for charter from the village of Russell on the bay had taken
eight striped marlin, two mako sharks and a 302-pound swordfish.
fishing, I was accustomed to seeing the bait in its box, already prepared with
the hooks sewed in and the leader ready to attach to the line. At the Bay of
Islands the captains catch their bait on their journey to the open sea,
logically, since the bay teems with schools of bait. I was enjoying the ragged
coastline and many-shaped islands and noting with approval that Avalon, built
in Auckland in 1927, the same model boat with a 50-horse-power Morris diesel
engine as that in which Zane Grey had fished, was making very little vibration
in the water. Suddenly ahead of us birds were diving and the water roiling and
boiling with jumping fish. It was a three-acre school of pilchards on which
black-capped terns, gannets and shearwaters were feeding. The silvery little
fish had been driven up to the surface by a school of kahawai, a small-mouthed,
iridescent beastie described by various authorities as a species of sea trout,
also sea perch, also Australian salmon. I had never seen one before.
Since we wanted
kahawai for marlin bait, Les and Noel Harris put out handlines with paravanes
attached, and while other launches came racing in from all over the bay I
trolled a small Japanese feather from a little Ocean City 908 reel and brought
in a couple of three-to-four-pounders. These fish on my light tackle were as
strong and as much fun as a hard-pulling amberjack twice the size. With four of
them flopping about in the live-bait well in Avalon's stern, we headed out to
sea, our faith as bright as the sunshine on the choppy surface.
water used to come right in here," Les said as we left the mouth of the
bay. "Used to take fish right off Ninepin." It is a great brown cone of
rock jutting up from the sea beyond the northern peninsula enclosing the bay.
"Used to have acres offish, big stuff, right here. Schools of sharks thick
as herring. Now the good water's well out. Nobody seems to know why."
Ernest and I had
fished for marlin in the navy-blue Gulf Stream, which curls and eddies through
the Caribbean off Cuba's north coast. We had fished for the 1,000-pound Pacific
black marlin in the cold Humboldt Current that sweeps past Cabo Blanco, Peru,
propelled by a cold wind that blows, its fetch unimpeded, straight from the
South Pole to the Equator. We had fished in the swirling currents of the Indian
Ocean between East Africa and Zanzibar for the sailfish that abound there. I
had never known before that the great pelagic fish such as marlin would cruise
and live in seas without noticeable currents. My maps showed that tendrils of
the Pacific Southern Ocean Current broke away and moved along both the east and
west coasts of New Zealand, subsiding as they approached the stronger east-west
currents near the Equator. But these tendrils have no name, no identity, nor
any history. "We've a deal to learn about them yet," Noel said.
"But I understand that the government is going to begin a study, both of
the currents and of the fish."
About six miles
offshore we saw a school of Arctic bonito and headed for them while Les rigged
a rod and reel slightly larger than the one with which I'd caught the kahawai.
We got into the school and I brought aboard one fish before our shadow or their
whim sent them down from the surface. We saw a hammerhead shark, and I asked
Les to maneuver away from him. They are not a sporting fish in my book. Brought
aboard, they smell horrible. They are ugly. They do not jump, they simply pull
so hard you think they will tug your arms out of your shoulder sockets. I might
as well have played the shark for the exercise, then cut him off at the boat.
We cruised the fine blue water, watching the birds, watching the smiling
porpoises loop above the surface, their square air-intake hatches automatically
opening and closing as they flirted with the boat, diving under her prow, their
dorsal fins just missing her keel.
lighthouses all three of us kept our heads turning, hunting the slim black
scythe of a marlin tail slicing through the water. We found nothing. Nearly 10
hours after we had gone out, Les Blomfield, wise and darling dean of the Bay of
Islands fishermen, one-quarter Maori and 40 years a professional guide, said,
back at the dock, "Better luck tomorrow."