Five Days at the End of a Long Pole
December 2008
Two of my buddies Giggles and Watto came over from Aussie to spend last week on our family’s 42 ft launch cruising around Great Barrier Island, a 19 mile-long island lying about 33 nautical miles from Gulf Harbour marina near Auckland City. Our mate Andrew also joined us for a couple of days.

‘Watto’ is a well known Sydney Spearo – sadly he couldn’t bring his pole spear due to an encounter with a surgical knife that left him worse for wear after an encounter with a Crown of Thorns starfish in the tropic that had left the Crown of Thorns worse for wear. Karma, I suppose. Anyway, that left me being the only one using what is now referred to widely as ‘just a pointy stick’.  That’s quite OK with me.

The weather pattern of the last 6 months broke, switching to freakishly light winds and calm seas. Good company – check. Good Kiwi white wine – check. Good Aussie reds – check. Perfect sheltered anchorages in easy reach of great diving – check. All fit and healthy with no sinus issues – check. All was looking great. On our first dive, we encountered the one planet which had fallen out of alignment – the visibility, which went from 20 ft/just OK in a bay that trapped us some clear water, to dirty and just plain ugly 6-12 ft out at our normal fishy spots. All we could do was work with what we had.

The shallows were riddled with crayfish, so we picked a few over each day to bring home, or simply to add to a stir fry. We had plenty of food, but fantasized over finding the big snapper who had been haunting our dreams for the least couple of months since we had planned the trip.

Despite the vis, every day we brought in several snapper – our main target for this trip. Most were in the 2 – 8 pounds range. The biggest would have gone about 11 pounds, which is OK, but not exceptional. I continued my usual theme of ‘every snapper with a pole spear is a good snapper’, and managed one or two pan sized fish most days. Giggles and Watto continued a more thorough approach – closely resembling ethnic cleansing – where they broke open dozens of kina (urchins) and speared some of the common reef fish as ‘burley’ to attract the big ones. This worked to an extent, but the big ones still managed to elude them, and although some 20 pounders were seen, none were taken.

One of my burley efforts miraculously produced a sunfish – which can be quite a shock in 15 foot vis. I thought I’d run into one of the sharks following Watto!

A trip to the legendary Needles at the northern tip of the island produced clear water, a John Dory for me, and strangely no current, so was dead and hopeless. This is an area known for large kingfish and big currents, so I had taken my big game rig – my Crist spear  with the slip tip, but didn’t get a chance to use it on anything. We settled for Miners Head, another bay to the south. I worked a reef in the bay and eventually had a pretty long and chunky looking kingfish buzz past on the hunt. I cut up some baitfish getting the small fish all revved up, and ten minutes later it returned, buzzing me from out of the gloom. I slipped behind the rocky reef and hid, knowing this would bring him closer. It did. I looked around the corner again and there he was cruising a metre from my spear tip. Decision time – to shoot or not to shoot? I didn’t want too much meat to take home, but would smoke up a big kingy if I got one. My eyometer measured it at +/- 50 pounds. Too small – no point in taking that one. I lined it up and let it cruise off into the murk, knowing that it would have been no challenge for my big spear and I really didn’t need the extra meat.

Much of the time I used my Manny Puig, because it is the right length for reef hunting and the single flopper is good amongst the rocks. Any of the quality big game spears in an 8 ft total length and single flopper shaft would suffice for this type of diving.

After five days of 6 – 8 hours a day in the water, my right hand was hurting a bit, but not too badly. I did get a worsening pain in my left shoulder from the angle of the cocking action required on big ½ inch rubbers. I have had this pain develop slowly over the last few years of exclusively using pointy sticks. I eventually solved this by slipping the steel shaft between my knees on an angle, using my knees to grip the shaft against the end of the thicker aluminium stock, and pushing the rubber sling down towards my knees. This worked well and stopped the pain from getting worse.

Our very last dive on the evening of the fifth day saw us at the gannet colony at the Broken Islands. Very dirty water had Watto worrying about sharks even though I kept telling him ‘there are no sharks in NZ’. Just like the first time he had come over here and he lost a fish and got buzzed by two others in the first week. But we couldn’t see them in this gloom anyway so they didn’t exist. On the first point I looked right into the eyes of a nice snapper and spooked it because I was too tense. My ‘snapper snooping’ technique had turned to ‘snapper spooking’.

I ‘snooped’ my way up to the current rocks and eased through a shallow gap. Small fish and big reef fish rushed all around me. None of them would do. Finally two large snapper drifted out in the sun as I hid behind a rock, but too far away, and they drifted on. Out in front of the reef I had one more chance at whispering these big boys in, slowly dropping into the weed, swimming to a rock and waiting silently but it was just not going to happen. I had strained my whispering bone from trying too hard in empty water all week.

It was a good week to help me relax in the water again and warm up for summer. I feel like I’ve lost some skills from last year, but slowly things are coming right again. Eight crayfish, six pounds of tender snapper fillets in the freezer to last until Christmas, and still visions of the big ones swimming in my head. Overall, I think that’s success.
A day's haul
Blair with a couple
I got enough for dinner
Watto with a good eater
Andrew trying to make a small fish look big!
Pete with a couple of pannies from a late afternoon burley at Oyster Island
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