31 May & 1 June 2008
|Northern New Zealand is a bit of a paradise for spearfishing, with numerous islands situated within 50 km of the sheltered east coast. On Saturday we headed to Cuvier Island from Kaoutunu in the Coromandel Peninsular. The water went blue just past Great Mercury Island, and the water was glassy. Sarah wanted some paua (abalone), and her brother Tim helped her with those, while his girlfriend Anna did some fishing.
Some people rave about Cuvier, but I had only had some average dives there. I selected my 8 ft Crist spear and attached the 18” tip section with the icepick. Big snapper, and maybe kingfish/yellowtail, were the target species here.
Part of my secret is ‘doing the miles’ until I start seeing snapper. I did the miles on Saturday, swimming about an hour and half before finding myself in a fishy spot, with small snapper milling around in the shallows. These fish were in the 0.5 to 2 kg (1 – 4 lb) range – not what I was after. I whacked a silver drummer (a plentiful but inedible reef fish) and cut him up for burley around a small rocky outcrop. I figured I’d leave it to ‘cook’ for half an hour to see what comes in.
|Paddling on around the point, I drifted silently into a narrow channel over a 15 metre (50 ft) bottom, and silhouetted against the blue was a school of snapper all stacked up like we normally only see at marine reserves! A big blue moki and trevally were in there too, with dozens of small snapper drifting around under me. With little cover, I approached slowly and the big ones drifted off. I popped around the corner and hit another fish for burley, then dropped bits of it into the passage. Aside from seeing one big snapper up in mid water, the rest of the school was all pretty small and simply too far away for my pole spear. Oh well, back to my first burley spot.
I’d picked a spot where I could approach unseen within the shadow of the cliffs above. From here I could use the 15 metres (50 ft) of visibility to check out the burley before making my dive. Small snapper were drifting all around, and it was looking good. On my breathe-up, several larger fish paraded around the corner to check me out, each one swimming just into the shade, seeing me, then swimming slowly away. Importantly, my relaxed state had not broken the mood and they had not perceived me as a critical threat, just something to be wary of. Diving to the corner of the outcrop, a much bigger snapper drifted into view out over the reef 15 metres away to the north. It finned into the current 2 metres below the surface, looking away from me. I could see its big wide back shining in the sunlight. This was a very big snapper, and I was starting to get excited!
But, my situation was precarious. The fish was not feeding at the burley so I could not sneak up on it. It was far too far away to approach without it spooking. Instinct took over, and I realised I had to ‘whisper’ this one in. This is the challenge I live for.
I dropped to the rock face, head hidden in the weed, letting my fins sway back gently with the waves. I exposed the tip of the spear in the sunlight while I remained on the edge of the shadow. The fish angled around and looked at me, doing a suspicious circle out over the reef. This is good, I had his interest. After a minute or so the fish turned away from me again. I returned to the surface for a breath. Diving again, two other snapper, of 3 – 5 kg came over for a look at me. When they got within a few metres they drifted away again, unfazed. The big fish was starting to edge closer, but was still 12 metres (40 ft) away. I eased back into the shade and took another breathe, trusting my instincts that it was the right thing to do.
I knew the next dive was going to require me to use my snapper skills to the absolute limit. I dropped back to my spot just three metres deep on the edge of the shadows and stuck the spear tip out again in the sun. The situation felt good.
The noise brought the big snapper on its way at last. It made a beeline for the strange shape it could see. I stuck my head into the short kelp and counted time, trying to extend my breath hold. The fish got half way, then it stopped midwater. I was committed now because if I pulled up it would spook. All I could do was wait. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the fish slowly start forwards again, accelerating towards me now. I was running out of time, but waited because it was on its way. Eventually the snapper had over-committed itself. It was within about 4 metres of me and I watched out of the corner of my eye. It just started to angle away as I adjusted the angle of the spear slightly, but it was too late - I pushed out towards the fish to close the distance a metre, throwing the spear at the same time.
The spear hit quite high in the back, and the big fish took off towing my spear and the attached float line. I couldn’t see the tip clearly, so I played the fish gingerly, letting it run and run and slowly bringing it back in. I soon had it close and could see it was a good holding shot, and brought the big fish in. Holding it in my arms, I could see it was a very big fish! I was happy with my day. Sarah and Tim managed a good haul of paua, and we headed home on a rare glassy sea. I weighed the fish at 10.2 kg, and later on Andrew’s scales at 9.68 kg. Either way, it’s my biggest snapper ever. I slept well that night.
|The next day was the annual Seaquel Mercury Bay Open spearfishing competition. I was partnered with Andrew McDonald, a really good diver. By good fortune, the weather was still good, and the competition area was chosen to be Cuvier Island. We anchored the boats in the next bay up from where I had shot my big snapper. I selected my 8 ft Crist pole spear and added the short 12” Tahitian tip section as we would be hunting some large reef fish.
Andrew and I raced to the point I had explored the day before, getting a porae and a john dory on the way. When we got there I made a bee-line for the deep passage at the end of the point to get the blue moki. It is an easy fish to shoot, and the first person through would get it. I got it. I shot another porae, some butterfish, and we both got blue maomao which were marginal on weight. I dropped some burley on the same spot as yesterday, and later got a small (but legal) snapper off it.
Out off the point we saw a small kingfish. We chopped up a small baitfish and let it drift in the current. It was pretty quiet, but eventually the small kingy came back in. Andrew was re-stringing his gun after a missed shot, when a bigger one came in. I dived and waited but the bigger one swam away from me towards the bait. I slowly followed, watching as it gulped some fish, then it turned, so I turned away from it. Hanging at a depth of about 10 metres (30 ft) the fish swam straight in to check me out. I just waited for the fish to close the distance. At the magic moment I swung around and launched the shaft at it, hitting it in the gills with such force that the big fish – it weighed 9.6 kg (21 lb) - ended up half way down the shaft. I grabbed it immediately and wrestled it to the surface to end the fight. It doesn’t get much better than that with a pole spear!
I shot another blue moki and two good koheru, then a marginal trevally, and we chased some kahawai which eluded us. We ended up diving off the boats in the current and doing some midwater chumming, where Andrew skillfully got a good Trevally on the bottom and a nice snapper of about 3.25 kg (7 lb) out in midwater.
The guys who beat us in the comp are all outstanding divers. Peter Herbert and Ian Warnock won with 21 fish, Dwane Herbert and Julian Hansford came second with 20 fish, third was John Ross and Paul Symons, fourth was Blair Herbert and Pat Swanson. We were pretty pleased with ourselves, and with 16 qualifying fish we placed 5th out of about 20 pairs.
|Andrew and me (and my son Jasper) at the weigh in.|