Damien Sinclair, winner of the 2023 Ninety Mile Beach Snapper Bonanza, with his winning fish and competition organisers Dave Collard (left) and John Stewart. Photo / Peter de Graaf
A builder from the Wairarapa has won New Zealand’s top surfcasting contest — and a whopping $30,000 — after landing a 7.485-kilogram fish on the final day of the Ninety Mile Beach Snapper Bonanza.
The overall win capped off an unforgettable week for Damien Sinclair, who also collected $2000 for the biggest fish on Saturday and a share of the $4000 prize for the top team overall.
Sinclair, who is only a second-time Bonanza entrant, told the Advocate he would split his winnings with his teammates because it was a team effort and he owed his success to them.
The other team members, a group of long-term fishing buddies who call themselves the Bounty Hunters, hail from the east coast towns of Māhia, Gisborne and Napier.
“It’s overwhelming, I still can’t believe it. I’m shaking,” he said, moments after his win.
Sinclair, who lives in Martinborough, said fishing on Ninety Mile Beach was the epitome of surfcasting.
“If you can crack a 20-pounder (9kg) on the Ninety, that’s pretty special. And when you’re competing in the Bonanza, you’re up against the best boys in the country, so it’s an awesome challenge. Just landing a fish is a challenge some days, let alone a big one.”
Sinclair said he knew the fish had a good weight behind it as soon as he hooked it — “like a sack of potatoes” — but because of the currents, he wasn’t sure it was a potential winner until it was at his feet.
He was “100 per cent sure” he’d be back next year for another crack at landing the elusive 20-pounder.
Sinclair’s 11th-hour win ended a nail-biting four-day wait for Auckland angler Craig Larson, whose 7.160kg catch on day one had him at the top of the leaderboard until just after 3pm on the final day.
Larson still takes home $2000 for Tuesday’s heaviest fish.
In dollar terms, the competition’s biggest prize is a Mitsubishi Triton ute worth around $50,000 and won by lucky draw, with two contestants selected each night for Saturday’s final ballot.
This year’s ute winner was Bruce Stone of Australia, who quipped he’d take his prize home in his carry-on luggage.
The other big winner was Robert Proctor of Herekino, who took home $10,000 for landing the fish closest to the tournament average of 2.833kg.
Event organiser Dave Collard, a district councillor and publican, said the fishing had been great this year, with 413 fish landed overall — 257 of those on the first day — and only one “rats**t” day.
A big swell on Wednesday created dangerous conditions, with four-metre wave faces and huge sweeps. Far North Surf Rescue plucked two anglers from the water and just 23 fish were landed that day.
With the 2022 Bonanza cancelled due to the Omicron outbreak, there was a great deal of excitement and anticipation ahead of the event’s return this year.
“It’s almost a family reunion of people who haven’t seen each other for a while,” he said.
This year’s contestants came from all over New Zealand — with particularly high numbers from the South Island — and as far away as Western Australia.
Collard estimated the event injected $2 million into the Far North economy, not even counting the spend-up by local competitors.
About 65 per cent of the 1200 fishers were from outside the region, and most brought an entourage of friends and whānau.
“When you add up entry, fuel, accommodation, beer, food, fishing gear and bait, it mounts up pretty quick.”
When Collard and Stewart rescued the event in 2011, fearing it could be picked up by another district, they planned to do it for just three years. That was 12 years ago.
This year’s winning fish is well short of the biggest in Bonanza history — that was a 12.03kg monster landed by Darin Maxwell in 2012 — but it’s not the smallest winner either. That was a 6.175kg snapper in 2017.
Heaviest fish: Damien Sinclair, Martinborough, 7.485kg; Todd Warmington, Dargaville, 4.875kg; Michael Rameka, Awanui, 4.725kg; Dar Christensen, Kaitāia, 4.45kg; Marihi Langford, Te Hapua, 4.41kg.
Winning team: Bounty Hunters, 14.32kg.
Average weight: Leighton Matthews, Kaitāia, 2.699kg.
Fish weighed: 40.
Heaviest overall ($30k): Damien Sinclair, Martinborough, 7.485kg.
Average weight ($10k): Robert Proctor, Herekino, 2.833kg.
Winning team ($4k): Bounty Hunters, 47.23kg (Second: Team Nothing, Kaitāia, 31.485kg. Third: Kaitaia Hunting & Fishing, 29.755kg).
Teams Average ($3k): Naki Boys, New Plymouth, 7.349kg.
Ladies average ($2k): Gillian Fisher, Kaitāia, 2.929kg.
Mitsubishi Triton winner: Bruce Stone.
Seahorse Kontiki winner: Conrad Marsh.
Fish weighed: 413.