The Bandit of the southern seas, Seriola lalandi, Yellow Tail Kingfish.
The New Zealand Loop Pro Team crack the little known sighted flats fishing in the North Island of NZ, under the unrivalled guidance of Clark Reid, the legend behind ‘Ray Riders’.
Images by Dave Tose & Craig Somerville
Clark Reid once described the Yellow Tail Kingfish as “a bandit”, “something akin to the ‘Beagle boy of the ocean”, “the school yard bully”. Having returned from Tauranga after experiencing first hand the trail of destruction left behind by the Kings, the phrase “bandit of the southern seas” is as close to a physical, never mind a literal, description as you will get.
Upon arriving in Tauranga, the first thought that crossed my mind after setting eyes on the harbour and the flats for the first time was a tremendous sense of awe. The fact that I had spent the past 2 months researching and planning this trip with Craig Somerville and Clark Reid did not prepare me for the sight, 20,000 acres of flats is daunting to say the least. I suppose the one factor that was most puzzling was that over the years I have read many articles discussing flats fishing destinations around the world, but none has mentioned New Zealand.
Working the flats Photo: Craig Somerville
I imagine the feelings of any prospecting fly fisherman when faced with endless fishing potential would be similar to the euphoria of a prospector striking gold. Until now I had never experienced that feeling, a daunting sense of the unknown, a real lack of relativity, and a deep excitement of what was to come.
A stunning sunset over the Tauranga flats at low tide Photo: Craig Somerville
I met Clark on 16th January at his home north of Rotorua where we put a plan for the day together and headed out. He was to give me a tour of the harbour to provide me with an insight into the culture, the on-site facilities and the fishery; a meagre morsel of the bigger picture present. This tour took all day, which left us a couple of hours in the evening for a cast. As eager as ever, my Loop Cross S1 10wt was up and rigged with an Opti Mega Loop reel, ready to rock and roll and unaware of what was to come we moved to the water. Faced with a falling tide we were left with the option of targeting the Kings along the channel edges as they hunt bait trapped while the tide falls.
The Yellow Eyed mullet, feeding, oblivious of potential bandit attacks Photo: Craig Somerville
For most fishermen, their first encounter with a target species is the one they remember most vividly for one reason or another. On this particular day my first encounter with the Yellow Tail King was one that matched Clarks description to a ‘T’. The tide was almost at low. The channel was clear as ever, with its margins lined with weed and rocky feature; ideal bait fish habitat made up predominantly of Yellow Eyed Mullet and juvenile Kahawai of which there was plenty. The small Kahawai, as ever, were readily taking the fly and as the hours went by the lack of bandits was noticeable. What happened next Clark described in his own words:
I found out today that it is not only the Irish who can dance a pretty mean Jig! The Scots can too... Angus Walton did a BACKWARDS jig while saying a few things best not repeated here as two 15 kilo Kings decided his legs were the best thing around to chase a school of baitfish against.
Having been faced down by two 30lb Kings at full noise while the bait were airborne 3ft out of the water hovering around me is one experience I shall never forget and one of those introductions that topped the list.
The Yellow Tail Kingfish on the fly is one of those species that gets under the skin. I mentioned a similarity to Atlantic Salmon in an earlier discussion, the way it penetrates the soul. While reflecting upon my first introduction, it would not seem possible to top an encounter of such magnitude. This is where we now get an opportunity to really delve into what makes this fishery special. In most fishing scenarios the relationship between the angler and his target species is three-way - the angler, the fish, and his chosen imitation to lure a predatory reaction. What makes Tauranga Harbour unique as far as a fishery is concerned, and what makes it truly stand out, is the four-way interaction of salt-water species that combined make this Yellow Tail King fishery absolutely unique.
A stunning Eagle Ray on the flats Photo: Dave Tose
In Tauranga, these specific Kings have the fitting name of “the Ray Riders”. To put this into perspective, imagine standing in 2-3ft of the clearest salt water, waiting eagerly for your first glimpse of the Riders riding upon their majestic coal black short tailed Rays, like battle hardened centurions riding aback of their chariots. Its tough to describe the feeling that consumes you when you see the first Rays. They are so graceful cruising fearlessly in their domain and you know that riding on its back could be anywhere from 2 to 8 bandits depending on the size of the Ray. They're locked and loaded preparing for the ultimate drive-by attack on unassuming bait fish or the Kings prize, the Flounder. This four-way dynamic, is made up of the Rays, the Kings on their back waiting patiently for startled, darting bait and you, the angler ready with fly in hand - the ultimate clash of fisher and fish.
Angus Walton putting out a back cast to a target Photo: Craig Somerville
The experience that follows an encounter with a Ray and its riders is second to none, the adrenaline rush is excruciating. The Rays are relatively visible in the gin clear water of Tauranga. The interesting and intriguing characteristic of fishing for Ray riders however, is that more often than not you don’t see the Kings until its time to get down to business. The experience that tops them all - you sight your Ray; intercept its path with the moving tide, stand about 20-30ft to the side of its route, make a cast 20-30ft in front of its nose, strip, strip, strip, strip, STRIKE and hold on!! The utterly outstanding thing about the Yellow Tail Kings in this environment is the astounding pace they build up in shallow water, both in pursuit of your fly and also when hooked and running for deep water. It doesn’t matter whether you are standing 20 metres or 300 metres from a deep channel, the King is going there and you need good tackle to eventually stop it. The one aspect of the King that is noticeable when hooked is the exhausting torque they have. The power, pound-for-pound is, without a shadow of a doubt, unrivalled on the fly. Craig Somerville summed it up with:
Target acquired, the Short Tailed Ray, talk about adrenaline!! Photo: Craig Somerville
Throughout our time in Tauranga, Clark Reid made it very clear that when considering the harbour as a fishery, fishing for Ray Riders is not a big numbers game. You should consider the riders more along the lines of Permit. It's not that Kings are tough to take on the fly, it's more the lower numbers. On a good day, you might land 3-4, while the Kahawai would be more like Bonefish, but with a fight to be rivaled!
A serious work out!! The Loop Cross S1 Flatsman 10wt doing its work!!! Photo: Dave Tose
Success, the colour of these fish is mesmerising, stunning!! Photo: Dave Tose
So to finish, it seems appropriate to bring up what all fisherman want to hear - the experience from the rod tip. After having hooked and landed a cracking Yellow Tail King, the words I would use to describe the fight are; gruelling, tackle-terminating, mind-blowing. To try and compare it to other species that you may be familiar with would be futile. In the case of the Yellow Tail King, the easy part is hooking up. I know that there are going to be those in the salt water fraternity who will immediately compare these fish to GT’s or Tarpon. All I would say to this is, don’t. Let's put this into perspective, both in and out of the harbour, you have the chance to connect to a King ranging from 12 to 80lbs. It's possible to land and release both Tarpon and GT’s up to and well exceeding 80lbs on the fly. I honestly can’t even imagine what it would be like to connect to a trophy King on the fly...and definately don’t have to words to describe such an experience.
So the question I have for you is: Do you have what it takes to take on one of the hardest-fighting and intelligent fly sport species on the planet?? If you think you do and want a hand to get started, then drop Craig Somerville at Castabroad New Zealand a line for some exclusive access to the harbour and the finest Ray riding flats guide in NZ - and bring a Loop Cross S1 Flatsman. You will need it!!! (www.castabroad.com)To finish with the word I started this series of posts with, simply Extraordinary.
By Angus Walton
Photographs Dave Tose & Craig Somerville (of Castabroad New Zealand).
Loop Cross S1 Flatsman 1290 #12, 9ft, 4pc with Loop Opti Big Reel
Loop Cross S1 Flatsman 1090 #10, 9ft, 4pc with Loop Opti Megaloop Reel
Loop Cross S1 Flatsman 890 #8, 9ft, 4pc with Loop Opti Speed Runner Reel
Can’t forget the ‘BIG BUGS’!!!