|A 3-Pronged Approach
5 March 2005
|The Day the Bluefins won the Mudgeway Trophy|
I was a bit worried that my recent change to a Hawaiian Sling for the annual Far North Competition was going to be disastrous. Lost fish, poor skills, and bad luck were all expected. I have changed to the 3-prong for a while as I was losing some fish off the slip-tip.
Perfect weather and clean water greeted us at the Hen & Chicks on Saturday. My partner was one of our newer divers, Andrew Tetzlaff, who is just finding his feet, but was keen as a bean, which is all that is required.
We swam to Sulphur Rocks and into a sheltered bay where a Porae skittered around on the sand out of range of the 3-prong. Kahawai cruised past and under a school of weighable blue maomao were two big koheru, a small baitfish which can be hard to find over the minimum weight of 450 grams (gilled & gutted). As Andrew sorted out a blue maomao, I collected a koheru on the 3-prong, and my catch was underway! As I added another blue maomao to the float, we were on the scoreboard.
The current was steaming through a narrow pass between some rocks, so I approached what looked like a good drop-off with stealth. Leaning into the current over the lip of an underhang, big silver drummer wound their way out of the underhang, followed by some reasonable sized trevally. "Now those trev's would be a nice fish to land", I thought. Not daring to believe I would get a shot, I relaxed and employed all my best telepathy tricks, lie there unmoving, avoid eye contact, wait for the fish to get curious - oh no, it's accelerating and starting to spook as it swims past me - hold it, it's getting quite close now, wait, wait, wait! And Whammo! Stoned it! A 2 kg trev is the next fish on the float. I think it's gonna be a good day after all.
Next rock in the gap, a single butterfish drifts up in silhouette out of the weed on the top. These weed fish are few and far between at this island group for some reason, and this one turned out to be the only legal one I saw all day. I dived and lay in the weed and watched as the current blew the kelp fronds around me. Finally, on about the fourth dive, I saw the fish again and I made doubly sure of the shot before letting rip, and stoning the fish. Yum, these are great eating. "Add that to the float please Andrew".
Feeling pretty happy by now, I was not at all surprised when on my next dive a long green back appeared in my peripheral vision. Followed by a yellow tail. Hmmmm, this 15 kg (33 pound) kingy will be a test for the 3-prong!
I waited, and waited, swimming slowly away from it at a depth of 8 metres (25 ft). It came in close a foot out of range, then circled away, watching with that big eye. I looked away to the left and thought 'empty', thoughts - I am sure fish can sense any aggressive feelings. The fish stayed close and just watched as it circled. I kept concentrating on range, and finned gently towards it, but it eased away, then back. I waited again, and as it approached tried to close the gap between us, but the fish spooked, and it was over. What would have been a 'gimme' shot with my gun was out of reach on this kingy.
We continued around the corner and I spotted a 1.5 kg (3 lb) porae on the bottom at about 12 metres (40 ft). I dropped slowly and followed the fish calmly, finally it turned and wore a 3-prong in the shoulder. On the way to the surface I slipped it off the prongs and held it in my hands, then promptly dropped it like a total idiot! Several breaths later I chased the fish down, finally securing it after 2 misses and a final 'sure thing' shot.
Moving on, I swam into an area of large koheru. I dropped on one school and whacked a biggie about 700 g (1.5 lb). The fish broke off as I had hit it high. I watched as the fish flitted around in circles as I breathed up. Chasing it down to the bottom, I missed, missed, hit and dropped it, only to see it flit away into the weed at about 15 metres (50 ft). Watching and diving, I couldn't find it until 5 minutes later, when I saw a flash in the weed. I dived down and secured the fish at last. Thatís our second legal koheru - our limit for this comp.
Another deep dive in the same place produced a school of small trevally - small, but legal and good on the smoker! I took a good shot and the 3-prong locked the biggest one up. I don't think I have ever shot 2 trev's in a comp before today!
Our fish catch was starting to look pretty competitive. After fleeting glimpses of kahawai, we found the school, and I lay on the rock waiting for the close pass as they schooled over and around me and Andrew untangled his gun after missing. Newbies, they always get swept away in the current while loading their guns. I took shots I thought were almost in range, and missed, and fell short, and missed, and tried and tried, but didn't connect with any of these fast moving and skittish fish. Frustrated, we kept on trying and missing, both of us. Oh well, it was my choice to swim with a novice and not use a gun. Andrew was cramping up now after 4 hours in the water, so I was doing most of the diving.
We kept on going and slogged it out for a mile or so around the point in a desert with no current. Not much there. We eventually made it back past the front of the island again, and into a spot with that fishy feel about it. Sure enough, a kingy came in and we played the same game again. I couldn't get it close enough for a shot and Andrew missed it.
A big Porae cruised the bottom, so I dropped on it, followed it slowly, stopped, and waited for it to turn. It did. The 3-prong connected high and went right through. The paralyser effect was lost, and the fish struggled on the shaft. I drove it into the rocky bottom, conscious that now I was getting quite deep for this type of exercise. The fish struggled, but I got my hand on it and secured it in both hands before kicking up slowly and calmly. At the surface I looked for the spear - it had fallen out. Damn. I added the fish to the float before collecting the spear from 20 metres down (66 ft).
By now we had just over half an hour to get back to the boats, so we turned around. Tired young Andrew turned for home and bolted with vigour like a horse!
At the weigh-in, we found that we were placed mid-field, at 9th out of 19 pairs. Had we got two kahawai and a kingy we would have placed 2nd or 3rd - but I think we can be happy with our result.
Dwane and Peter Herbert (Herb) won the event, three other pairs from our club (the Bluefins) took the next 3 spots. But the best thing was that the Mercury Bay club had put the Mudgeway Challenge Trophy up for the best team score. Bluefins won! Hoooray! After 10 years of trying, we successfully recovered NZ's oldest spearfishing trophy (some say the world's oldest?) - it was first awarded in 1956. A massive night ensued obviously, with a prize giving sponsored by Wild Blue and other local sponsors. We went back to our motel late, and tired, but a very, very, happy club!
When I think back about the best moment, it was hunting the big trevally in the current and the underhang. It reminded me of coral diving and hunting Omilu, like I imagine Gene Higa doing it. I reckon he would have got a kick out of it too. I also think he would have liked seeing me eventually land every fish I hit. We can learn a lot from our legends, letís never forget them.