It may have been 70 years ago but Alison Carruthers can remember landing a marlin off Mayor Island’s Southeast Bay as if it happened yesterday.
Alison was one of the very few women in New Zealand to land a marlin in the 1940s. She caught it on a 36 thread, Dacron linen line with 108lb breaking strain.
“I did actually catch a sword fish and got a silver badge that said I caught a fish, which I gave to one of the children,” Alison says.
“I remember it took about an hour and a half to two hours. We used an old-fashioned Zane Grey fishing rod. It was very thin but very strong. You rolled it in and kept on turning the handle.
“I could feel the fish and it started to jump in the air. It possibly weighed nearly 300lb but I can’t remember the exact weight. They weighed it on the beach. There was a video taken of us all standing there with our rods and all the fish lined up. They were so plentiful then. They are such beautiful fish.
“I remember it was hard work and exhausting. My father was having the odd little glass of whisky in the background with excitement and telling us how to catch our fish.”
Alison also has vivid memories of catching a shark that was very aggressive when pulled on board the boat.
“I caught a shark, the one with a great big long tail. The photographer on board was trying to take some photographs and this tail came right over and just about hit her.
“The boats were wonderful back then. They did everything. They weren’t smart launches, they were quite old and not like the launches they have these days with all those seats out the back for the deep sea fishing.
“There was a Mr Chad Ban and Curly Stedman who had the boats that used to take us out.”
Alison inherited her love for big game fishing from her father, Cyril Dentice, a founding member and life member of the Tauranga Sport Fishing Club, previously known as the Tauranga Big Game Fishing Club.
He still holds a club record for catching a 304.1lb blue marlin on a 60kg line in March 1975.
“I had an extraordinary father really. He was very keen on deep sea fishing and he was very well known at the club. Before he died he always wanted to catch a black marlin and he did,” Alison says.
The club was based at Mayor Island from 1922 until 1991 when the new clubhouse was opened at Sulphur Point.
Alison says her family came from Wellington in January and February to fish off Mayor Island.
“We used to come up from Wellington a lot. I would go over to Southeast Bay with my sister and my mother and father. They are wonderful memories.”
She has a precious cutting from a newspaper celebrating her father’s record-breaking feats that began in 1940.
At the age of 78, he capped a long and successful fishing career in Mayor Island waters by landing a 669lb blue marlin after nearly three hours battling the fish.
“There were plenty of big fish around then,” Alison says. “His best year was 1949 when in 11 and a half days in February he caught 28 striped marlin. In those days there was a limit of four marlin a day which was a rule my father helped create to protect the fish stocks.”
Alison’s memories of her salad days spent at Mayor Island came flooding back last month when her husband Peter surprised her with a unique treat for her 90th birthday.
“We have been together 40 years and just celebrated our anniversary but have known each other since we were about 10,” Peter says.
“Alison speaks about Mayor Island from time to time about the good times they had there. I thought a bit of a sentimental journey perhaps. I started off thinking about going by sea but they have wooden seats in the boat and it takes three hours to get there and you have to have five hours on the island then three hours back.
“I thought there has to be a better way by helicopter so I got hold of Aerius and they were happy to take us across in 20 minutes.”
Alison loved being back at beautiful Southeast Bay after 70 years away.
“It was absolutely wonderful. I wasn’t scared of the helicopter. I just wasn’t sure if I could do it or not but I did. I am thanking Peter very much. He made me sit in the front seat with the pilot, who was such a lovely boy. He came from the same place as us in Greenhithe, Auckland which was quite amusing.
“The flight was beautiful. It was such a really wonderful day. We sat and had a picnic lunch on two chairs that caretaker Vicky (Harimate) had organised for us. She made it possible for us and we are so grateful to her.
“She put off everything so that she could enjoy us on the island because of my being there 70 years ago. I was able to tell her things about the island.
“I just sat there and looked at the beautiful little waves coming in and it was so relaxing. Southeast Bay is very protected from the winds. It left me feeling very, very peaceful.”