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FISHING TRIP REPORT: New Zealand, April 1999.
By Steve Starling

In late April, 1999, I travelled to the North Island of New Zealand to fish the Air New Zealand International Saltfly Tournament out of Waitangi, on the Bay of Islands. My fellow team members in the Carpentaria Seafari's Team were Capt. Greg Bethune from Cape York, Ernie Allen from Sydney and Powell Blue from Los Angeles. (By the way, Powell formerly lived in Sydney for 12 years, so we regard him as an 'Honorary Aussie'!)

A fly casting distance competition was staged immediately prior to the Saltfly Tournament, and I'm rather chuffed to report that I was able to win this event, narrowly beating fellow team-member, Greg Bethune. Considering that the event attracted 44 competitors from all over the world (including a famous Florida tarpon/bonefish guide), Greg and I were both amazed and rather pleased to top the field!

On day one of the two day tournament, out team drew a rock fishing location, which we were transferred to via rubber ducky from one of the game boats (a rather precarious process, I might add!). After berleying for almost an hour, our rock spot came to life and we began hooking kahawai (Australian salmon) in the one to three kilogram class on our four kilo tippets. These fish are fantastic fighters, and they came past us in wave after green-backed wave. When fishing stopped at 4.30PM, our four-man team had caught and released an astounding 223 fish, consisting of one or two silver trevally, a trio of snapper and more than 215 kahawai! This was a record-breaking catch by a land-based team in the history of the Saltfly and, I might add, one of the hardest, most physical days I've ever spent with a fly rod in my hand!

Our efforts on day one saw us in second place that night behind the Northern Ireland team (who had fished from a boat that day and caught in excess of 300 fish!). Also, Greg Bethune's individual catch of 67 fish for the day made him "top rod" for the first session, while my 60 fish had me in third or fourth slot.

Unfortunately, the weather went to pieces that night, with a fierce easterly front and heavy rain hitting the Bay of Islands. All teams were forced to boat fish on the second day, as land transfers were impossible. In most cases, this meant two teams (eight anglers) per boat, with each team rotating every half hour. Also, the hours of the event were curtailed and the fishing limited to sheltered bays. Nonetheless, lots of fish were still caught, and our team managed 104 (almost all kahawai), despite a run of bad luck involving pulled anchors, disrupted berley trails and broken rods.

The Kingfish Lodge (NZ) team were fortunate enough to have a boat to themselves that second day, fishing two-on, two-off and working their collective butts off to claw past us into second place, behind the unassailable Northern Ireland contingent, who still managed 200 odd fish on day two, despite the weather and all other handicaps. However,  in my mind, the stand-out captures of the tournament were definitely the pair of massive snapper taken on fly by the Day Family Team from the USA. The largest of these weighed 29 pounds on the old scale and was beaten on a four kilo tippet in a little over half an hour - truly an amazing piece of angling!

Overall, we were quite happy with our third-place final position and regard the experience as a definite learning process. If we ever go back, we'll certainly have a few tricks up our sleeve - especially in order to match the Kiwis, who've clearly learnt a thing or two from their involvement in the America's Cup over recent years!

All-in-all, the Saltfly was a well-run and very enjoyable affair staged in beautiful, fish-rich waters. It is helping to put New Zealand (already famous for its trout) on the piscatorial map as a world-class saltwater fly fishing destination.

Following the Saltfly, we spent a relaxing few days at Turangi, on the shores of Lake Taupo, chasing rainbow trout on fly. The fishing was rather slow, but none of us particularly cared after the highly competitive frenzy of the Saltfly. For me, the high point of this final session was a lovely three kilo rainbow taken in fast water on a light tippet and tiny nymph - certainly a contrast to the rip-tear-bust of the saltwater scene!


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