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Born to fish and be his best

Thursday 13 October 2016

Jake McFedries was 14 and still at school when he went out with Chris West for a day of scalloping on the Rongatea. Chris Carey recently spent some time with Jake.

 Chris West could see that Jake was different to the others.

“He’d work away at the table sorting from dawn to dusk; never complained; never stopped for smoko unless I told him to.”

Fishing during the holidays wasn’t enough for the young McFedries. He had found his calling and school, well that was just a place to eat your lunch. His father, Brett McFedries had been a fisherman and did not want his son to go fishing.

“I remember when Dad turned up at footy practice gave me a dressing down; you’re not going fishing and all that and I said well that’s what I want to do. I’m not interested in doing anything else. When he realised I had my heart set on being a fisherman he started changing his tune and he’s been my biggest supporter.”

Jake McFedries

With his 15th birthday just around the corner and a scallop season looming, McFedries jumped on the Okarito owned by Grant Roberts scalloping out of Tarakohe and Pelorus Sound but when the season finished Jake found himself at a loose end until a fortuitous phone call from Lex Bloomfield offering him a job on the Anna Marie.

“A top bloke. We were pair trawling snapper and when his nephew quit I got to stay on her fulltime scalloping, oysters, pair and single trawling.”

During the winter when the boat was tied up McFedries crewed on the Galatea with Steve Potter as well as the odd trip with Pat Bloomfield on the Hemnestral. McFedries believes that loyalty - working for someone you respect goes a long way especially if you’re looked after.

“I think his Dad wanted him to get an apprenticeship, but no, Jake had a one track mind. All he wanted to do was run a boat,” Bloomfield says.

“He soaked up knowledge like a sponge and he soon knew the boat inside and out; how to shoot and haul, how to catch fish, mend a net, set up doors and all that.”

It was 2009, and with the oysters ‘gone dog’ over winter, McFedries jumped on the Marconi to crew for Ross Coppell.

“We had a bit of drama down at Jacksons when we ended up on the beach. After I helped Ross bring the boat back up to Picton to get fixed Lex offered me the Anna Marie. He’d put the single gear on and said, well, off you go and sent me on my way. I was 18 and stoked. I got a mate of mine to crew for me and we filled her in two days.”

With Lex Bloomfield looking after all the compliance and quota paperwork Jake was free to catch fish. Coincidentally about that time Jake’s Dad became partners with Lex Bloomfield buying shares in the Anna Marie.

“He fished much the same areas as I did but he also roamed around a hell of a lot more. He took the Anna Marie away ‘tuna-ing’ once and three days later pops up 100miles off Kawhia. I thought what the hell’s he doing out there? He wasn’t afraid to go anywhere.”

You could squeeze 90 cases into the Anna Marie so the 140 cases of tarakihi, ghost shark and ‘other stuff’ that Jake landed into Picton had Bloomfield a bit wary.

“I asked him how he did that and he said I left them out of the cases and when I got in I put them back in. He was casing up as they were unloading” said Bloomfield.

It was a 14-hour round trip from Picton to Cloudy Bay for two, hour and a half tows and with a 12 hour wait to unload and if you lost the weather window it was hardly worth it. Bloomfield and Brett McFedries realised they needed a bigger boat.

“It was coming up to Christmas 2012 and I was in the ‘Strait’ doing a bit of tarakihi when they called me in to unload. I’d just got into Mot before I was on the plane to Christchurch because the old man and Lex had just brought the Te Aroha off Tony Threadwell.”

Te Aroha arrives in Motueka. Image: Lex Bloomfield

After six years on the Anna Marie, McFedries was given the Te Aroha but things didn’t going quite as smoothly as expected and the vessel changed hands. McFredries senior and Bloomfield decided to sell her and a handshake with John Brown, Operations Manager for Westfleet, sealed the deal. Te Aroha would have a new home in Greymouth.

“Brownie bought her on condition I went with her and while it was kind of sad to leave Lex because I’d worked for him for eight years I was pretty keen to go with Westfleet.”

McFedries describes Westfleet as a company that’s all about catching fish - getting the boats out as soon as they can while providing the skippers and crews with the support they need to achieve their goals.

“Brownie contracts to Westfleet so we’ve jumped on the band wagon with the way Craig Boote runs his boats instilling this work ethic with the Skippers and the crews. It’s about having pride in our boat and we keep her looking immaculate because everything has to be presented nicely from the masthead right down to the fish you land.”

Jake and the Te Aroha do between 35 and 40 trips a year.

“We usually sail on the 30th December to go ‘tuna-ing’; maybe a trip into Onehunga then do another trip into Nelson if it’s still happening up there. That’s one of the good things with working out of Grey, it gives you a break with trawling. This year we didn’t start until the second or third of January because we got a bit of a hiding getting up there but we’ve ‘tunad’ right up until April which is the longest we’ve done.”

For two to three months, Jake takes the Te Aroha back through the Strait, to his old stomping grounds chasing tarakihi and cod and landing it in Nelson. The rest of the year is spent down ‘the Coast’ working in with the other Westfleet vessels.

“We work around what the Galatea is doing and because she’s been doing the roughy, the Jay Elaine and us do the tarakihi and the boof (stargazer) for the fresh market fish. After that we’ll go back on to the flats (flounder and sole), gurnard, rig and the elo’s (elephant fish).”

McFedries says the inshore fishery is in good health.

“It’s come back real good; boof, rig, gurnard, elo’s. You’re chasing your tail trying to keep away from it at times. Westfleet will give you a shopping list, a bit of this, a bit of that so you’re moving around a lot but it’s all good and there’s no trouble catching it. Of course some seasons it’s up and down. The snapper up in Tasman Bay, well that’s just unreal. That’s really come back big time. The first year I went pair trawling we had 40 tonne to catch and never caught our quota. The next year we started in November and by January we’d got it. The following year we’d caught it by Christmas. Two years later we’d set up for eight days fishing and six days later we’d landed 38-40 tonne.”

The industry offers lots of opportunities for young people, he says.

“There’s nothing to stop a young bloke or girl who wants to go fishing from doing it. It just takes hard work and like anything really, if you want it you’ve got to work for it. Simple as that. And there’s still good money to be made, especially if you’re young and if you’re like me even with no qualifications from school.”

He prefers hiring a younger crew because he can train them up how he wants things done and that makes his job a lot easier, he says.

“I’ll always say to the new ones, especially if they’re young, that fishing can be a lonely place at times but you do get over it. You might be tired and wet and cold and getting a hiding every other day but there’s nothing like a big bag of fish hanging out the back to get the old blood pumping. It’s about getting your head straight and just working your way through the hard stuff. Leave your baggage at home.”

“Westfleet is all about young and upcoming fishermen; skippers and such. Craig and Brownie have really looked after me. They give you the drive to do well; to go out and catch fish and to be the best you can be.”



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