Zane Levett takes the brand-new PENN Slammer IV to NZ and tests its full potential on some XL kingfish.

I received the unbelievable phone call from a good mate of mine at PENN fishing, asking if I wanted to go to New Zealand and tango tangle with some of the biggest kingfish in the world. I replied without hesitation, HECK YEAH!This began to put the plan in motion and had the froth levels shooting through the roof.

I was thinking about the trip day and night in the lead up, imaging what could occur during my time spent in a place I’ve only ever dreamt of going to fish.With Covid lingering and the possibility of the travel bubble being closed, I was worried my dream of going to New Zealand was going to be crushed. Luckily everything went to plan, and the trip commenced.

Once I arrived at the NZ airport, I was greeted by Mark from PENN who drove us straight to the warehouse to pick up the boat along with the brand spanking new PENN Slammer IVs. The next stop was to stock up on enough beers to see over 5 thirsty anglers. We then punched straight to the place we would call home base, located at Mt Maunganui.

The first night was spent getting to know the crew which consisted of the boss man – Mark Stephenson, skipper – Finn Henderson, talent – Sam Wilkinson, pro photographer – Alistair Arkell and video lord – Benny Godfrey. We discussed the options on hand as the weather forecast wasn’t ideal. Not letting that get the better of us, our froth levels were still through the roof.

For day one, we decided to try and give the snapper a bit of a touch up on the inshore reefs, which didn’t go to plan as the wind picked up too much making it unsafe. We drove back to home base with our tails between our legs, but the lads were keeping me pumped for the coming few days. Every few hours we checked the weather forecast, and it was improving. It looked like a banger few days of fishing was coming our way.

The next day we arose before dawn; welcomed with the weather playing ball. Our plan of putting a big kingfish in the boat using the new PENN Slammer IV was put into action. The morning consisted of launching the 6.5m Surtees in the water packed full of the new Slammer IV reels matched with PENN Ocean Assassin rods.

Travelling with us, was a second boat which had the camera crew on it. Together we punched out to Mayor Island in search of the mighty blue kohero (baitfish).We tied on small 10g flutter jigs attached to the new and exciting 2500 sized PENN Slammer IV reels sitting on light PE 1.5-3 Ocean Assassin rods. We began to sound up the fussy little blue kohero’s, dropping into the small, scattered schools. Only picking one up here and there, we persisted knowing it was going to be well worth the effort.

With the live bait tank now looking healthy, the true realisation of what might go down and the potential for that fish-of-a-lifetime encounter, had the butterflies in my stomach in full flight.

 As we made way towards our first kingfish mark, the mild chop was eaten right up by the Surtees and we soon arrived at the battle ground. My nerves were unsettled, I was a little bit on edge to be dropping my first live bait into the waters of New Zealand.

My combo of choice was the Ocean Assassin PE 5-8 jig rod paired with the new PENN Slammer IV 8500. The reel was spooled with Owner Kizuna PEx8 braid which I attached a 150lb mono leader too, and slid on a 8oz ball sinker. I crimped my leader to a swivel which was attached to a 1.5m trace of 150lb mono down to a sharp 10/0 Owner Gorilla hook tied on the other end. The local expert Sam was also running similar equipment, but instead using a 7500 PENN Slammer IV.

Sam had the first bait in the water and ended up hooking up to a very respectable 12-14kg kingfish which he knocked over rather quickly on the new Slammer IV. A few quick photos were taken and back it went. The reel didn’t even break a sweat.

We composed ourselves and set back up for a new drift, which was soon interrupted by a quality double hook-up of solid kingfish. A 10kg fish and a 17kg fish hitting the deck after some tense moments with the wind and current trying to push the boat into some shallow reef. The session so far blew my expectations with the amount of rod bending which had taken place in a short period of time. Little did I know, it was going to get a whole lot better.

After a few more school sized fish by NZ standards, I found myself battling a proper model. Some strategic driving was needed to stay on top of the large fish, as we tried to keep it off the bottom and from reefing me. A few fancy manoeuvres made by skipper Finn, and a few tense moments later, up came a 22kg and 118cm to the fork kingfish, a respectable fish in anyone’s eyes. After some quick photos and a bit of video footage, the fish was sent back to its home with its complimentary research tag.

We ended up having two full days of kingfish rod bending action using a mix of techniques such as live baits, and jigs. For the last day of fishing, we decided to change it up and head to another one of the skippers’ old haunts off Motiti Island where we tried to crack a good kingfish on stickbait. Many casts later we only had a couple of good strikes between both Sam and I, with plague amounts of kahawai in between.

The wind began to pick up, so the call was made to head to some shelter and give snapper another crack, hitting one last stickbait zone on the way back home. A few snapper later, the boys called it and we began making our way for one last attempt at a trophy kingfish on stickbait. I decided to tie on a stickbait made by a good mate of mine which was a 220 mm imitation of a saurie or a garfish (piper).The ocean waters had calmed down a bunch by this point and we were able to see the mass amounts of bait life surfacing on the front edge of the rise we were fishing.

Punching the lure as far as I could on the 8’2” PE 6-8 Ocean Assassin stickbait rod, finally the ocean erupts like someone had just thrown a grenade on top of my lure and I came tight to an absolute horse of a kingfish. After a tiresome battle with the beast and some very hairy moments with the fish ripping serious amounts of line off the Slammer IV for the shallow water we were in, the new PENN outfit didn’t miss a beat and the fish was boated. A solid kingfish which we sling weighed at 25kg and measured in at 119cm fork length. It was a true fat brute of a fish which really demonstrated in one swoop what all the New Zealand kingfish hype was about.

The last few days of the trip were spent catching up on sleep and reflecting on everything that I had learnt through the week. It truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity and it was great to have a taste of a new fishery chasing a species that I have dedicated most of my life to here in Australia.

NZ, I’ll be back!

By Zane Levett – PENN Pro Team

Zane is a highly skilled young angler who lives and breathes fishing and the ocean. He works alongside his father Vic, running a sports fishing charter out of Sydney. When he isn’t at work, you will find Zane back on the water chasing that “fish of a lifetime”.


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