A broken collarbone did not stop a Whakatāne teenager from reeling in a black marlin that weighed more than 360kg – a feat that now sees him on track to break the record for a New Zealand junior on a 37 line class.
Wyatt Johnston, 15, says he used his left arm – which was in a sling – to guide the line, right hand to winch the Tiagra in granny mode, and relied on the strength of his legs to help land the fish.
“The technique was excellent,” he said in an interview with Fishing & Outdoors. “Might just adopt one-armed fishing as the new go-to technique.”
But Johnston says the day on the water started slow when he, his sister Corisa (17), and his father Heyden set out for their first day of summer fishing from their home port of Thornton on the morning of 29 December 2020.
“The first plan of the day was to head directly for White Island, get some lures in the water inside the 100-metre mark, and then turn east and head towards what we hoped was some 19- to 20-degree water and yellowfin tuna.
“On our way out, we saw lots of good signs. The gannets were going in the opposite direction to us, although, we were seeing lots of skippy and good water.
“Then at 100 metres deep behind Whale Island, a double strike of yellowfin; neither stuck much to our disappointment.
“After spending the next hour in the area, we started getting reports of huge workups and lots of action further east, so we left what we had and headed towards the action.
“Sure enough the reports were right, but there was no tuna to be seen. Three hours of working the area and with no fish seen, we made the call to head back west and leave the action.
“The currents seemed to be moving fast and as we headed further west, the water got colder and greener.
“Then the calls started to come in from the boats working the area we had left – the yellowfin were on the bite, multiple strikes and plenty of fish being landed. With no opportunity to return to the action, we kept heading west.”
In hindsight, the decision to not go back paid off well.
They headed inshore to make sure they caught the tide at Thornton and started pulling lures when they were in 50 metres of water.
On noticing a work up start on their starboard side, Johnston suggested making one pass through the action and the gear to be left out.
“As we come alongside the work up, a tuna lure went off. Expecting a skippy, I slowed the boat so it could be retrieved. I stepped out the back just in time to hear a 37kg Shimano Tiagra start rattling as the line began peeling out. I quickly realised this was no small fish. Then a kahawai landed on the deck.
“Looking down at the Tiagra, it was a steady solid stripping of line; this fish did not even know it was hooked and it must be large,” said Johnston.
“Kahawai work up and large fish stripping line equals marlin and probably black.”
Johnston set himself up with a Black Magic stand up gimbal and harness.
“All this while, the fish still didn’t know it was hooked. Several hundred metres of line was out and we were ready to put some weight on the fish.”
The ensuing mayhem of driving the boat clearing gear and trying not to drop the fish will be well known to many game fishers.
What followed was a game of tug of war and it wasn’t until the two-hour mark did the fish start to succumb to the pressure they had maintained, says Johnston.
“He changed direction and we were finally able to turn its head.”
At two hours and 20 minutes, Johnston was the leader.
“We now had the skipper holding the leader, the angler with one arm, and Corisa being taught how to gaff and tail rope her first marlin ‘on the job’.”
The reality of the size of the fish hit only once the fish was caught.
“After much cursing, struggling, and improvised rigging of ropes, we managed to get the head up on the duckboard and through the transom door. But that was it. We couldn’t get it any further, so this fish was going to be surfing home with us.”
A quick call to the Whakatāne Sports Fishing Club saw boats ready to launch and help the team get the mighty fish on the boat.
At 20mm shy of four metres long and 1.8 metres girth, the fish was only just able to fit under the Whakatāne Fishing Club gantry.
“Tipping the scales at 364kg, we now have a potential New Zealand record Junior Black marlin,” said Johnston. “What a day! Lucky the skipper changed the plan after all.”
The fish was dished out to family and friends, Johnston added.
“The front end is at the taxidermist and will be displayed in the Whakatāne Sports Fishing Club to inspire a new generation of junior sports fishos.”
Johnston, who says he has been fishing since he was “old enough to walk”, works at Hunting and Fishing, Whakatāne, and plans to be a charter operator as soon as he can get a skipper’s ticket.