History Part 1
Whilst the Mercury Bay Swordfish and Mako Shark Club was formed in 1924, it is worthy to précis some of the highlights from Whitianga’s historic past.
950AD – The canoe “Te Matahorua’ captained by Kupe arrived from the central Pacific. Hence the name Whitianga which means ‘crossing place of Kupe’.
1350 – Visit of the “Arawa” canoe.
1769 – Captain Cook arrived in the “Endeavour” to observe the transit of Mercury, giving the name Mercury Bay to the inlet.
1832-1922 – The Kauri timber industry flourished in Mercury Bay, producing 600,000,000 feet of log timber for export.
1840 – HMS “Buffalo” was wrecked on the beach opposite where the Hospital now stands. This event is perpetuated in the name Buffalo Beach.
1867 – First hotel established in Whitianga.
1887 – First Post Office established in Whitianga.
1895 – Mercury Bay Hospital opened.
1908 – Farming industry commenced in Mercury Bay.
1916 – First motorcar driven from Whitianga to Coromandel taking five hours, two hours longer than the horse drawn stagecoach service.
1924 the then proprietor of the Whitianga Hotel, Mr Ernie Chadban, was one of a small group who got big game fishing going from Whitianga.
History Part 2
A small band of local enthusiasts held a meeting in the cargo shed at the end of the wharf, which later was to become the home of the Club, and the Mercury Bay Swordfish And Mako Shark Club was formed.
From humble beginnings there were no specialized game fishing gear. Boats towed Kahawai baits tied to hapuka lines and when a fish struck they tied the line to a four-gallon drum and left the fish to fight until it became tired, before hauling in their catch by hand.
History Part 3
By 1930, Mercury Bay started to develop as a tourist resort and deep-sea fishing centre.
1926 news of a new fishing mecca had spread and so the influx of boats and people.
1928 the now famous American western writer Zane Grey and his companion Captain Laurie Mitchell arrived to sample the abundant Mercury Bay waters before heading to Tahiti. Such were the fish numbers they vowed to return.
It was Zane Grey who introduced ‘proper’ game fishing to New Zealand. Where previously fish were hooked and hauled to the boats with ropes, gaffed or harpooned, Zane Grey introduced quality rods, reels, lines etc and developed techniques to fight the fish rather than following the fish until it was tired and then landing it.
When he first arrived in New Zealand, Zane Grey did not rate the Mako as a fighting fish but by 1929, after catching a few, he rated this fish so highly that in 1933 he devoted a trip to catching these prized fighters.
By this time Mercury Bay had an international reputation with visitors from all over New Zealand and as far away as Argentina.
History Part 4
With the onset of the Depression in 1932/33 and World War II breaking out this form of recreation was put beyond most people.
In 1947 the Club saw a revival following a spectacular catch by a local Whitianga skipper, Bill Clark. A black marlin estimated to be 1000lb (453.6kg) which took over 12 hours to get to the boat and half an hour for an exhausted crew to boat along with a number of injuries and a search party, rejuvenated the gamefishing craze in Mercury Bay.
1947 saw the Club adopt its new name “The Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club” with Mr Roy Dale, the local publican becoming the new President. Current Club Patron, Richard Simpson, was at the inaugural meeting.
During this period many famous names would surface. Ken Collier, a past vice President and President caught his first striped marlin aboard Connie Simons launch the “Ngaire” in 1960. Connie Simons was a very skillful skipper and during the 1940’s was the only professional deep-sea fishing launchwoman of that time. She ran her 36’ launch out of Whitianga before heading north to Tutukaka. In the season 1949/50 her boat recorded the most catches with a total of 36 fish.
In 1949 Don Ross arrived from Auckland to set up a fishing career with his boat “Ngaroma’. Ngaroma was built in 1913 and served Don well until he purchased his new vessel “Miss Lidgard’ in 1963.
For 21 years, Don held the top launch score and held records, some of which exist to this day. Don was one of the first people to actively fish for tuna. Along with Ken Collier he attracted many people to the bay to search for ‘the fish of a lifetime’ and with a lot of success in the 1962/63 season over 200 tuna were recorded in the Club’s catch records.
History Part 5
On the 3rd of May, 1957 our Club, with four other clubs, became the founding members of The New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council.
By 1960 Whitianga had a modern fish processing plant and so began what we now know as our commercial fishing industry. Charter boats, crayfishing boats, long liners etc plus the small boat and shore/land based anglers.
Stories of some of the characters are many. Some of these characters included the late Roly Smith who caught numerous marlin from his 12 foot clinker dinghy and who has a number of his rods and reels on display in the club thanks to his family and our neighbours.
Jack Jackman is another legend who with his friends, Nelson Tye and Gilbert Rivas, caught their 519lb Bluefin Tuna off Richards Rock. This fish is mounted in our clubrooms.
Peter McTavish, a Tauranga potter made the cast for this fish.
The Club was to weigh and record many great fish – Broadbill, Black Marlin, Blue Marlin, Striped Marlin, Mako Shark, Tuna and Kingfish.
Sir William Stevenson was an active club member who held numerous records in his time. Among these was an Australasian record for a Black marlin weighing 1231lbs caught at Cairns. Others in Sir William’s team included the late Jack Crawford whose contribution to game fishing saw him become an IGFA official for New Zealand.
History Part 6
By the 1970’s-80’s the club structure started to change. The club now had a good number of lady and junior anglers and the sport of fishing had become a family affair.
At this time light tackle fishing was also becoming popular. Better equipment and the availability of specialized gear encouraged people to enter this sport.
An Anniversary Weekend tournament offering a $1,000 prize for the heaviest fish was a big prize in the 1980’s.
In 1990 the club hosted its inaugural One Base Tournament. This event attracted local teams, national and international teams. As one of the five New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council founding clubs, gamefishing was to put Whitianga and the Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club on the fishing map.
The name change to Mercury Bay Ocean Sports Club was an attempt to cater for recreational fishing and water sports and to attract a wider public involvement in the Club.
History Part 7
In 1995 the Mercury Bay Ocean Sports Club, previously known as the ‘Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club’ and prior to that the ‘Mercury Bay Swordfish and Mako Shark Club’ held its 70th Anniversary. To mark this date, Margie Thomas wrote a small booklet as a means of capturing the club’s colourful history.
July 2003 the Club moved to its newly renovated premises (opposite the wharf) and so the new/modern era begins.
In 2004 the Club name reverted back to the Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club to more accurately reflect the club’s primary activity.
We need to thank Margie Thomas for her booklet – ‘The Mercury Bay Ocean Sports Club Celebrates its 70th Anniversary’ along with the many people who have provided material to enable this very brief history to be put together.
The club holds a significant amount of memorabilia and members and visitors alike are welcome to view this material whenever they like.