The big-game angler usually takes a launch to go in search of the action. As the fish are top predators, they are usually found where schooling fish congregate.
Lures and bait
A popular technique is to troll – pull a lure that mimics the prey of big fish. Live and dead bait are also used for billfish and tuna.
A common technique for catching sharks is to throw berley (scraps of bait and fish oil) into the water, to create a trail of feed that will attract smaller fish. A fish with a hook attached to it, amongst the berley, can also be a successful bait.
Reeling in the catch
Once a fish is hooked, the angler is strapped into a chair, which is bolted to the boat. The butt of the rod is put into a holder, in order to lever the rod. If the fish runs, the reel lets out line, and a drag system means that the fish expends a lot of energy. Still, battles between the angler and a big fish can take many hours, and the line can always snap, or the hook pull out at any moment.
The Bay of Islands Kingfish Club formed in 1910. As different species were caught, its name was changed in 1924 to the Bay of Islands Swordfish and Mako Shark Club. Today, as the Bay of Islands Swordfish Club, it is the second oldest existing game fishing club in the world, after California’s Tuna Club of Avalon (1898).
A few other clubs sprang up in northern New Zealand in the 1930s and 1940s. A national body, the New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council, formed in 1957. Growth was slow, but boomed in the 1970s. By 2005 there were 61 affiliated clubs representing some 33,000 members.
Club members gather to discuss tackle, hot spots and weather and ocean conditions. Most groups are clustered around Northland and the Bay of Plenty. They also organise tournaments, which often attract overseas anglers.
Records and rules
Those seeking world weight records must comply with strict regulations about tackle and how fish are landed. These are set down by the International Game Fish Association.
There are also strict New Zealand Big Game Fishing Association rules, and local club rules. In 2005 New Zealand anglers held three world records: striped marlin (494 kg), southern bluefin tuna (348 kg) and bigeye thresher shark (802 kg). New Zealand record weights for different species are also documented.
During the 1970s and 1980s anglers became concerned about dwindling catches of game fish, and longline fishing trawlers were blamed. By the late 1980s and 1990s, lobbying led to restrictions on where and when commercial fishing boats could take certain game fish. This included a 1993 prohibition on landing and selling marlin (blue, black, and striped) in all New Zealand waters.
However, in the 2000s tuna boats were still catching swordfish, reportedly as by-catch. Sportsmen strongly oppose the practice, claiming that since the late 1990s the growth in the commercial swordfish catch has reduced their opportunities.
In the past, catches were nearly always killed, and the obligatory photos taken of the successful angler and trophy at the wharf. The recreational community has become more aware of conservation, and most fish are now handled carefully, then tagged and released. Clubs have a target of at least 50% release, which is often exceeded. Tags allow information to be updated on recaptured fish.