Do you ever envy the people you see on the road, towing their boats? I’m not talking boat jealousy; rather that these folks are likely to be enjoying a feast of fresh fish for dinner.
After all, there’s nothing quite like pan-fried snapper straight out of the sea. So light on your tongue, and such a delicate flavour, mmm…!
My dad, who visits from overseas each year, agrees. This is a man who can happily eat fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner (yes, I’ve seen him do it!), and it’s his wish to go on two fishing charters each holiday.
I’m not a mad fisho, but I love eating fish, and we get to create cherished father-daughter memories. This summer we decided to fish with Doubtless Bay Charters in Mangonui, Northland – twice.
Mangonui’s a picture-perfect waterfront town scattered with heritage buildings. It’s nestled at the southern end of Doubtless Bay, which stretches from the Karikari Peninsula in the north, to Hihi in the south, encompassing Taipa, Cable Bay and Coopers Beach. Doubtless Bay Charters docks its 36-foot boat Asterix at the main wharf in the centre of Mangonui.
Where to stay
- Hihi Beach Holiday Park, 7km south of Mangonui: hihibeachholidaypark.nz
- Free camping is allowed for one night at the council-owned site with public toilets at Lions Park, Waterfront Drive, Mangonui. Dogs are prohibited, and fires are not allowed in summer (except gas cookers).
Our fishing charter
As soon as we stepped on board Asterix and met larger-than-life skipper Clint Dolfing (nicknamed Captain Badjelly), we suspected we’d have a fun day out. Clint’s sense of humour kept everyone entertained, and was also effective in keeping the boat running smoothly.
For example, he quickly trained us to wait for him to unhook any fish we caught with the instruction to “Keep your fish over the side of the boat till I come – we don’t want any accidental body piercings!”
With 25 years’ experience, including commercial and charter fishing, Clint’s just the man to help you catch your dinner. As well as knowing the characteristics of the fishing spots, Clint was extremely patient when lines became tangled, or when I made a ‘bird’s nest’ of fishing line.
It’s the ideal experience for complete novices, as well as for more experienced fisher people who want to go to the best spots. Bait, ice, rods and tackle are included, but don’t expect Clint to bait your hook for you: “Baiting the hook is an important part of the experience of catching your own fish,” he says.
What you’ll actually catch can vary, depending on the time of year and conditions. On the two charters we experienced, people caught snapper, kingfish, trevally, gurnard, hapuka, red pigfish, kahawai and more.
The quantity of fish varies, with no rhyme or reason, though Clint says he’s never had a no-fish charter. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily have fresh fish for dinner, as the fish aren’t shared around.
“Most people want to take home what they catch and don’t like sharing,” says Clint. He enforces size and bag limits, ensuring there are plenty of fish in the sea for another day.
So, did dad and I catch anything? On our first charter, everyone on board caught so many fish that we reached our bag limits well before the half-day was up: my dad was delighted he could indulge in so much fish! Our second charter wasn’t so fruitful – dad and I caught a snapper between us.
My advice: go fishing for the experience. The memories you make will last a lot longer than any fish you catch.
After all, you’re in a beautiful part of the world, enjoying stunning scenery, and that get-away-from-it-all feeling of being out on the water is pure magic.
How to fillet a snapper
- Ensure your knife is sharp, and place the fish on a firm surface.
- Make your first cut diagonally behind the pectoral fin, which is behind the hard plate of the fish’s head.
- Cut along the bottom of the fish, above the frame.
- Turn the fish around and cut down the back bone.
- Cut back up the back bone, in the opposite direction, making deeper incisions to separate the flesh from the frame. You’ll need to lift the fillet up with your thumb so you can see where to cut. Make small strokes so you keep as much flesh on the fillet as possible, and keep going until you’ve completely removed the fillet.
- Turn the fish over, and repeat the above steps on the other side.
- You should now have two fillets. Next, remove the skin from the flesh. Pull on the tail end and push the knife through, angled slightly downwards, until the flesh is free from the skin.
- You’ll notice the fillets have some pin bones that need removing. To do this, cut along each side of the pin bones in the middle of the fillet. It’s a long V-shaped cut to remove these bones.
- Wash the fillets in sea or salt water to maintain the flavour; don’t use fresh water.
Hint: Remove the guts from the fish if you are unable to fillet it straight away. Keeping the guts in the fish may taint the flesh.
How to cook pan-fried snapper
Season with salt and pepper, and pan fry in butter: this creates a better flavour than oil. Fry it on both sides, until the flesh is white all the way through. Some people like to dip the fish in flour before cooking, but I like it just as it is, with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Mmm!
Fish not biting?
If you didn’t catch as many fish as you’d hoped, there are fish ‘n’ chip options in Mangonui:
- Mangonui Fish Shop has a wonderful location over the water.
- Fresh and Tasty Takeaways next to the Mangonui Hotel is Clint’s favourite: “I reckon they have the freshest fish, and it’s good value, too.”
For more information, visit doubtlessbaycharters.co.nz
Win a half-day fishing trip for two valued at $250
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