Well that was fun - Tactical Ninja
May. 5th, 2014
09:50 am - Well that was fun
So you know how I was going up north to visit with Kiri and Evan and we were planning to go out chasing big fish? Well, that was just a facetious remark tossed off based on how Evan had caught that big broadbill a couple of months ago. I was actually just looking forward to getting out there on the ocean with these guys for the first time in forever. I thought maybe we'd catch a few snapper, a kingfish perhaps, and have a nice day out.
It didn't work out quite like that...
(clicky to embiggen)
Apparently sometimes you just can't avoid catching fish. This was one of those days. We had been fishing for hapuka and kingfish, had let go one kingie that was just over legal size (75cm), and were puttering along to the next spot and hearing on the radio about how quite a lot of people had marlin round their boats. Now, marlin in May are pretty uncommon - they're a seasonal fish here and usually they disappear through April. We thought we'd have a go at catching one, so I drove the boat chasing gannets while the others had some friendly banter about whose gear would get a swim as they put lures in the water.
I think that conversation never got finished because within 15 minutes we had a fish in the gear and after three good goes and a fair bit of "Hey guys, you know I don't really know what I'm doing up here eh?" from me at the wheel, we had hooked up. At which point I got shoved out of the driver's seat and told to go pull that fish in. 15 minutes of this thing going apeshit all over the ocean, followed by half an hour of me vs fish slugging it out, the above picture was the result.
As you know, gamefishing is right on the edge of what I'm ethically ok with doing in the name of sport and entertainment. The idea of putting an animal through pain and terror for the sake of my thrills is a bit icky to me - but at the same time, I can't deny I do get a thrill out of catching fish - especially really big ones. So the way I reconcile these conflicting views is that I only fish for food. I only kill things I'm going to eat, and if I'm not planning on eating what I catch, I don't target it. There is always the odd fish you catch accidentally (fucking tiny blue cod, I'm looking at you), but if handled carefully and not injured or overstressed by playing them for ages, they can be released and they'll be fine.
So anyway, this fish was destined for the table and it's a good thing - it was solidly hooked and getting the hook out of it could have proved troublesome. Once we got it to the boat it was dispatched and the three of us hauled it in using a system of ropes around rails and, well, brute force. Back at the marina, it took the three of us plus another guy and his daughter to get it out of the boat and onto the back of Kiri's ute. Then we added the coffee tree that Evan's wife had given to Kiri, all wrapped up till it looked like something from Dr Seuss. This is what people following us would have seen on our trip back to Auckland:
Kiri had wrapped its tail in gladwrap to keep it moist, because she's planning to preserve it and that needs it to dry slowly.
Once we got there, we put it in the chiller and went to participate in the bonfire that was happening on the farm. I should add here that it was also opening weekend for the local pig hunting club, and Kiri had sacrificed her pig hunt to go fishing with Evan and me, but nobody else had. So there were also two pigs in the chiller and lots of hunting stories getting swapped around the fire, while jacket potatoes and home-cured ham wrapped in tinfoil roasted among the ashes. Afterwards, we toasted marshmallows and quietly started to nod off. Most of the people had been up at 4am, so a late night was never going to be happening.
Yesterday morning we weighed the fish. Normally you'd weigh it at the marina, but it being May, the game club was all closed up and nobody was around to weigh our fish, or anyone else's for that matter. So instead, Kiri's husband Dave (who has his own digger) slung the fish up from the bucket as we all looked on and Chopper the bulldog pretended he didn't care while secretly deciding the fish was actually his...
The fish tipped the scale at 69kg - however, given the amount of moisture loss likely from its trip on the back of the ute and a night in the chiller, consensus seems to be it was probably about 75 when we pulled it out of the water. So, a small marlin, but quite fat and certainly fought well over its weight. I had overestimated its size by about 20kg. In my defence they always look bigger in the water, and my sore left bicep is still trying to tell me it was bigger than that.
So anyway, what do you do with 69kg of marlin? Here's what. First, you cut its bill and tail off to make it manageable:
The bill is the part that's normally kept as a trophy. This one is now getting in the way of everything in our fridge. Eventually I'll dry it, but first it needs a bit of work to remove meaty bits, and I was too tired for that carry-on last night.
Then, you use a long, sharp knife to remove the fillets from each side - just like a smaller fish but all on a large scale. Marlin aren't that different from other fish, except their spine has vertical plates rather than spikes, and they have denticles like sharks rather than scales.
I did get in and start this process, but since I was taking pictures for posterity and Paul was keen to learn how to do it, he ended up doing most of the work.
Once the fillet is off, it's time to slice it up.
This fish is going in the smoker, so the skin is left on. Each fillet is cut in half lengthwise, then sliced into chunks about 7cm thick. You can't eat too much smoked marlin in one go, so it's a balance between chunks that are the right size for the smoker, and also the right size for the eater.
The belly flaps are also about 2cm thick, so they get saved as well. Once it's all in smoker-sized chunks it's packed away in a chillybin and back into the chiller.
That may not look like a lot of fish, till you realise that's one of those super-sized chillybins - it's about a metre long, 60cm wide and 60cm deep. The next step is to add brine that the fish will soak in for flavour, and once they've had their soak, into the smoker they go. Kiri's going to be doing that bit this week, and I feel a bit guilty not to be there to help because I've some idea how much work it'll be to smoke all that and vacuum pack it. And yeah, some of that is heading our way.
But before any of that happens - sashimi for lunch!
Two happy ladies feeling pretty damn pleased with themselves as they nosh down on freshly caught marlin, wasabi, soy, and ginger. OM NOM NOM NOM.
So my backpack on the way home contained not only the winter work clothes I'd bought while Kiri was working on Friday, but also that chunk of broadbill that I'd been given from Evan's catch (which weighs about 3kg), a marlin bill, a kayak drogue that Kiri had given me, and a small overhead reel that Evan decided I need for catching kingfish with. Suffice to say I'm glad they didn't decide to search my luggage, eh?
I have known Kiri and Evan for over 20 years. I shudder to think how many hours we've all spent together out on the sea, trying to catch a marlin. We've all caught them at various times, but never together. This weekend, we fixed that omission. It feels good. First time we've been out together in god knows how long, and whammo! Marlin. Nice.
And on top of that, I still got the thing I went for - the opportunity to get out on the ocean with them the way we used to, and do that thing we all love doing so much together. The marlin was just a bonus, a way to make the trip even more memorable. The look on Evan's face as we chugged back into Tutukaka was priceless - happy as fuck and just a tiny bit smug. Says it all, really. ;-)
Oh yeah, so who likes smoked fish then? Cos there's no way it's all going to fit in our freezer..