Diverse Life - Part 1

One of the coolest aspects of New Zealand life that I am sure many others can relate to is the diversity of activities and hobbies you can fill your time in with. There is always something new to experience, places to explore and people to meet. Such is the life of the outdoorsman.

Having spent the winter months chasing game in the hills it was time to exchange rifle for rail gun and head to sea. Despite having been brought up in the sea catching crayfish and collecting paua,  spear fishing is a whole new world to me. Through the hunters network I was lucky enough to connect with Bradley Lang, a Kawerau local and experienced spearo. It didn’t take too much convincing to drag me out of the south for a taste of northern life.

First on the list was snapper and from all accounts their spooky nature makes them extremely elusive so I wasn’t getting my hopes up. With an early start hooking up “UN-REEL” at Pete’s place we were off.

Hunting snapper is an art and Brad took the time to show me how to find a good ambush rock and set a burley by smashing up kinas. The time it takes to lure in the snapper is amazing, only minutes after setting the burley fish were on it. I approached the rock silently out of site taking hold of the kelp to peer over into the burley below. The vis was average and I was only moments too late spotting my first snapper disappearing into the gloom.  Not letting that deter me I replenished the burley and reset the trap. It took me a few goes and a few lost fish before finally there it was, the gold shimmer of a snapper hoeing into my kinas.

Remaining concealed behind the rock I pushed my gun forward lining up the shot. The fish rose up slightly realising something was wrong providing a perfect broadside shot. I let rip sending the shaft through him securing my first snapper on the spear. I exploded out of the water, reeled him in and swum back to Brad for high fives, what a rush.

After knuckling my first snapper I shot to Hamilton for a full on weekend of ski racing on the Waikato before returning to Brads for our next mission. Next on the hit list was White Island for the night with hopes of pulling up my first kingfish.

Conditions were perfect, the sea was glass and the water was clear. Our first stop was a sub-surface rock with a large school of kings circling above. The aim was to descend the 15 odd meters to the rock and hopefully stick a shaft in a curious fish. This time the struggle wasn’t finding a target but identifying the shooter amongst them. The rule was anything over 1m in the water is game and this proved easier said than done. Not wanting to harvest the wrong fish I passed up a number of shooters ending in all the decent fish becoming shy and unapproachable. Brad was lucky enough to claim a decent king around the 15kg mark and it was neat watching him fight the powerful fish in the water.

Moving on we spent lunch fishing deep for a hapuka before heading back to the island for round two. On our return we run into some decent work ups, trevally were breaking the surface and eager to add one to the pot I bailed off the back. Holding tight I waited for them to work into me. A school of small king fish drifted past revealing a wall of silver as the trevally worked side to side. I flicked off the safety ready to make my shot when unexpectedly a brute of a king appeared below. Wide, deep and long 100% a shooter and I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass. He approached cautiously turning side on to get a good look before heading back to the depths. Remembering Brads advice on where to aim I lined up a quartering away shot and squeezed off. The shaft left the gun making its mark and stoning it cold. I noted the spear hadn’t gone right through so pulled in the line very cautiously praying it wouldn’t wake up. Then disaster struck, the shaft dislodged itself and I was forced to make a panicked dive for my sinking fish. I swum up quietly getting in a good position to take hold sliding one hand under its gill plate and grabbing the tail at the same time. Once secured I headed for the surface and the fish come to life thrashing about in my arms. I did my best to signal the boat and thankfully Brad was keeping an eye on me and come to my aid hauling the fish on to the boat. What a blast and what a story! not how I envisaged claiming my first king at all.

The trevally were still going hard on the surface and making the most of the day I again bailed over the side and waited for the school to approach. This time our target species was secured, both myself and Matt Barr making contact with two good sized trevally. This time the fish put up a decent fight and retrieving it was quite a battle.

I know what you’re thinking can this day get any better? Well the story isn’t over yet! With plenty of daylight left and having done pretty well already we set anchor and went for a light snorkel around the island. Brad gave me the grand tour identifying the numerous species of fish I had never laid eyes on before, feeding the sandaggers wrase by hand was especially neat. Swimming through underwater caves filled with huge moki, moray eels making their way through the kelp beds what an amazing playground.

Working along the weed lines where rock turns to sand I happened upon a large packhorse crayfish that defiantly came out to challenge me. Now this is something I know how to do, leading in with my shoulder I hit him underneath getting a firm grasp on both horns dragging it back to the surface. This Is by far the biggest crayfish I have ever caught and quite a handful to deal with when trying to stuff him into Brads undersized catch bag.

The conditions were perfect so we anchored up for the night. The flying fish proved to be great entertainment skimming across the water, the flood lights dragged them into the boat with kingfish and sharks in hot pursuit. After a huge day on the water sleep came easy and with first light we were at it again. This time we targeted an area further north on the island to try and land some more crays. I was enjoying pushing my breath hold and at one point leaving the end of my 15m float line for a cave much further down.

Crayfish live in the deepest cracks and caves and catching them means locating them so you have to get down there and look. Up and down, surface to sea floor checking every nook and cranny without a crayfish in sight but I did get a surprise when a familiar orange fish came floating out of one of the caves I was entering. Whilst watching the White Island edition on the “Big blue backyard” documentary series at Brads earlier in the week he pointed out the same fish that just swum past as a golden snapper and apparently they are delicious. I was kicking myself for not bringing my gun with me and boosted back to the boat for it. It took me a few goes swimming around the surrounding caves to locate it again but finally I found what I was looking for shooting him point blank. I almost blew out my air supply trying to wrench the firmly lodged spear from the rock behind but got him back to the surface eventually. Another first for an already extremely successful trip.

On our return home we stopped for another deep water drop hauling in some large gem fish filling the remaining space in the fish bin, plain sailing home with a taste of victory. It didn’t take long to clean things up and we were off on our next adventure hauling the boat up to the Coromandel. Stay tuned for the next instalment of our trip.

Jason Searle