We took JE Wilds out on his first trip to the fabled Three Kings, recognised as one of the best spots in NZ to reel in Kingys. JE Wilds and the gang found themselves hitting the Kingy jackpot..
I'd never been to the Three Kings Islands before; a crazy thought, as I feel like I have dedicated a decent portion of my life to kingfish.
As we all know, the Three Kings area is the ‘mother lode’ or ‘capital city’ when it comes to kingfish. These Islands are known for producing the largest congregations of extra-large kingfish in the world…
I recently had the opportunity to join Daiwa and Hunting & Fishing NZ on a special trip to these magical islands. At the time, I had just returned from a month of hunting stags for the roar and although R&R was front of mind for me, life had other plans: I was about to have the biggest workout of my life.
The cars pulled up at the dock and we all assembled late in the afternoon at Mangōnui in the Far North. The atmosphere was electric as we introduced ourselves and got to know one another. There was a mix of people from all over the country. The first group of fishermen was a bunch of lucky guys who had won their spots by entering the Daiwa promotion that had run through the H&F stores earlier in the year. Next, there were lucky H&F staff members and a couple of Daiwa employees to help with the gear and make the trip run smoothly. They literally towed up a large trailer full of the best Daiwa fishing gear available, which was very cool to see. Lastly, there was me. I was here to meet the people and to capture the whole adventure through images and video.
We steamed off early the next morning, most of us were tired from staying up late catching dozens of livebaits to fill the tanks. We were on strict orders that the more livebaits we caught, the better the trip was going to be. It was safe to say we all put in the hard yards and hopes were high. The first stop after a day's steaming was Tom Bowling Bay, a remote bay on the top coast of NZ. This was a good anchorage for the night and gave us another chance to catch more livebaits – apparently, livebaits were like gold here so the pressure was always on to keep the gold flowing in.
The engines started early the next morning and the captain had an early start to make the last step from the mainland out to the islands. It's about a 50 nautical mile run and we trolled lures the whole way out. The other boat was lucky enough to land a big striped marlin and wasn't so lucky when a yellowfin tuna spat the hook next to the boat. On the boat I was on, we had a strike from what we believed to be a yellowfin but unluckily missed the hookup. This was upsetting at the time, but we had no idea that in a couple of days we were about to have the experience of a lifetime.
The first stop was the King Bank, a deep-water zone that quickly produced some huge kingfish. We all had success dropping baits down to the thick schools of fish near the bottom. Livebaits, deadbaits, and jigs were all getting monstered, and some huge fish were landed. The action got better and better from this point on, and a lot of the guys hadn't caught kingfish before so were quickly finding out just how tough they fight. This was an epic day and we finished it off by catching large arrow squid in the lights at the anchorage against the islands – all while the sun was setting. The squid fishing went on late into the night and was surprisingly entertaining as we filled the bait bins up for the next day.
Morning two at the islands. Today we were planning to target hāpuku and bass in the deep zones first up, using both conventional and electric reels. With a few big ones being caught and everyone catching a fish each, we called it a morning once we had them on ice.
The next stop was the king tarakihi grounds – a species of fish I'd never caught before but it was on the menu for the big feast later that night, so we needed to catch a few. The meals were something to note; huge feasts prepared by the crew each day, morning, lunch, and dinner. Tonight, we were having fresh tarakihi and, luckily, we were successful with catching these tasty table fish.
Now this afternoon was by far the pinnacle of the trip. We had no idea what we were about to get into, but it was destined to be an evening of incredible action. Instead of steaming to the anchorage for a quiet lunch, we decided to go to the shallow zones against some of the smaller islands. The Saltigas came out for this round, and we were on strict instructions to show no weakness. The shallow, reef-filled area and big swells made for some tough conditions as the boat hugged close to the rock ledges. We were about to drop three baits off the stern and one off the bow to try and keep lines from tangling. Livebaits and deadbaits were at the ready and as soon as the skipper gave us the green light the baits were dropped down to the bottom.
Instantly, the baits were taken and suddenly there were four grown men squealing and hanging on for dear life as giant fish were attempting to pull them overboard. These fish were big, and every bait that was dropped got hit instantly. Everyone was catching PB after PB on huge kingfish. It got to the point where we all were so tired and sore that no one wanted to have a turn on the rod! The deckhands even got a couple of big ones each. Some fish were getting to the reef and busting us off, while others were absolutely destroying the angler hanging onto the rod. I personally had a fish take a bait that was purely unstoppable, even with my hand palming the spool and applying as much pressure as I could. There really were some giants down there.
This amazing bite went on for about two hours straight and was a dream to photograph. The golden light was casting over the islands and lighting up the water drops flying off the peeling reels, with the rough sea pounding against the islands in the background. At times there were three or four anglers hooked up at once and the fish just kept coming. We released all the fish from that magic session and the skipper was calling it the hottest bite he's experienced in ten years. This moment was exactly what I had in mind when thinking of the Three Kings Islands, and I am super blessed to have experienced it with such a good crew of guys.
The following morning, I caught a topwater king during breakfast at the anchorage, and there were plenty of similar moments that rounded out one hell of a trip. I will say this: if you've ever thought about booking a Three Kings trip, I highly recommend it. It is most definitely something you need to add to your bucket list!
Words & Images by Joe Edlington