I guess whenever you do something for long enough you begin to get a bit stale on it. The initial thrill wears off and the novelty wanes.
To tell the truth, this had been the case for me with spearfishing the last couple of years. With few fish left on my New Zealand must-shoot list and getting a feed no longer providing motivation, I’d become a bit jaded.
Yet suddenly, this summer everything changed. I rediscovered the thrill of the chase and the excitement of regularly landing new species and setting personal bests.
This change is tied to the joy of diving with a new spearo and vicariously sharing in their experiences and sense of achievement as they start to tick off species and slowly push their weights up.
Te Arai Point
When I met my partner Catherine she’d already been diving for a few months. She had all her own gear and while she’d shot a few fish on holiday in Norfolk Island, she was yet to land one here in New Zealand.
She was madly keen on spearfishing and wanted to spend as much time in the water as possible.
Te Arai point, north of Auckland, sits in the middle of a long stretch of sandy coastline. As such, it features quite a strong long-shore current and attracts plenty of fish.
We had our first dive together at Te Arai Point, north of Auckland in November. Te Arai is best at the top of the incoming tide and this day was perfect for a late afternoon dive.
Arriving at the car park we were greeted by very blue looking water and just a little bit of swell breaking cleanly along the beach. My plan was to swim out to the two rocks that break 200 metres or so offshore in order to catch the last of the incoming tide, then swim in as the sun set and the current slackened.
The swim out was pretty uneventful. We briefly checked the bommies that are scattered along the sand on the way out to the objectives.
I hoped to find an easy butterfish for Catherine to get on the board but they are pretty thin on the ground up those ways and I knew our best bet for a fish was out on the far rocks.
These rocks are a reasonable swim offshore and I was curious to see how Catherine would go. I shouldn’t have had any doubts as she kept up without problem and it wasn’t long until we were at the first rock.
The rocks around Te Arai Point are some of the few areas of structure along the long, sandy stretch of coastline running south from the Whangarei Heads. When there’s a bit of current pushing against them they attract all manner of pelagic species and are a very good spot to find a lucky (or unlucky) kingfish.
Diving around rock number one revealed very little fish life so I decided to push out to rock number two. With a bit more white water around it, I hoped it would be holding a few more fish.
Halfway through the channel between the two rocks we ran into a big school of kahawai and trevally and things started to look up.
As I neared the rock things really started to look up as I saw a massive John dory chasing bait on the surface.
I barely had to get my snorkel under the water to secure our dinner for the night.
At this stage of the game Catherine was still a little unsure which fish were targets. I watched from the surface as she descended, carefully lined up and stoned her first New Zealand fish, a kahawai. At this point I was absolutely stoked to see the patience and care she’d taken and her natural talent and potential as a spearo was obvious.
We spent another hour or so out there and I shot another Johnny. While a few kingies did show up, we never quite got her in the right spot at the right time.
The swim back however, turned into a marathon as I misjudged the strong the rip running along the beach and out along the point. We were both shattered as we finally dragged ourselves up the beach.
I’m pretty sure I’m going to hear about that swim for many years to come.
On the drive back to Auckland we discussed the dive and began to set goals for Catherine. The obvious medium-term goal for any new spearo is to work their way through the National's fish list and that’s exactly what we decided to start doing.
With kahawai now ticked off there were eleven more species to go. All fishermen want to catch big fish and it was no surprise that Catherine wanted the next one to be a kingfish.
North-bound for kingfish
After a couple more shore dives we’d found some butterfish but still hadn’t found her kingfish. Catherine’s skills and confidence in the water were growing exponentially though and with four days off in the pipeline I was confident we’d be able to tick that box.
A couple of nice porae to add to Catherine's list.
The weather during the days leading up to our next sortie was stormy with strong easterlies. This made the sheltered coastline inside Cape Brett the obvious destination. I had just bought a van to convert into a camper and a good friend Long John had lent us his 3.8m Naiad. With a clear weather forecast we left Auckland determined to find a kingie.
We drove to Rawhiti along the beautiful coast road where the enormous swell smashing the east coast beaches made it clear we wouldn’t be diving anywhere on this side of the peninsular. We pulled into the Kaingahoa Marae campground (if you haven’t stayed here, you should, its great!) in the late afternoon and set ourselves up.
The next morning I decided to head straight out to the Cape, partly to show Catherine the Hole in the Rock and partly because it is a very good spot to find a kingy.
The problem with Hole in the Rock is that the kingies tend to be quite deep; all the kings I’ve shot there have been below twenty metres.
A huge easterly swell was surging around the cliffs. Our 3.8m tender felt like a very small vessel indeed. On a calm, blue day the cliffs around Cape Brett are a beautiful sight but beneath steel skies and being battered by furious white water, they are intimidating and dreadful.
We didn’t spend long watching before heading back down the sheltered side. Bird Rock is a medium sized rock about one nautical mile off the coast. It is usually surrounded by bait schools and is a kingfish hot spot.
Today was no different with kahawai and trevally schools swarming on the surface. The problem was that the swell was wrapping right around the Cape and smashing into the rock making anchoring impossible.
Unwilling to leave that much fish life - the spearfishing mantra is where there are fish, there are fish - I decided to have a quick look just in case there was a big school of kingies underneath the kahawai.
Leaving Catherine in the boat I spent five or ten minutes diving and while I didn’t actually see any kingies I knew they must be there.
The water was dark and it was unnerving to be amongst so many fish in bad visibility and a strong surge.
I climbed back in the boat and told Catherine that there must be kingies present but it would be very spooky diving and while I’d stay right next to her in the boat, she’d have to dive it alone. She decided to have a look and slid over the side.
At this point I wasn’t expecting her to spend more than a couple of minutes in the water but she just kept going up and down, finning hard to stay on the upstream side of the rock. After half an hour she finally gave up and flopped back into the boat pretty worn out.
At this point I was absolutely gutted for her knowing how hard she’d worked and that the only options open to us now were right in close to shore with far less chance of a kingfish.
Stand and deliver
As we headed in close to the coast the weather seemed to brighten so we had a bit of lunch while we weighed up our options.
We decided to swim the coastline, me ahead to try and snoop a snapper with her trailing behind shooting anything else.
After swimming for about an hour I surfaced from a dive and heard Catherine whooping and hollering. Suddenly her head disappeared under the water as she tried to hold a big green fish above her.
At this point it’s probably best to hear her side of the story -
It had been a pretty hard day so far and I was swimming about 50m behind Matt along the coast, about 20m off the rocks while he snapper snooped ahead of me.
This is my comfort zone, swimming near a rocky coastline is my ideal place to be if I’m alone.
I have been accused of just floating (being calm and quiet on the surface of the water) instead of actively swimming and this is exactly what I was doing as I turned around to check behind me. To my excitement I saw a group of three kingies coming along towards me. Ideal.
I took a couple of calm breaths and went down. I felt no pressure; it was just the small school and I.
I didn’t rush the shot, waiting for the kingfish to approach me curiously and then turn to swim away. If you know me, you’ll know how much patience that requires.
Finally, my itchy finger squeezed, aiming just behind the gill plate. As soon as my gun clicked I tensed, prepared for the tug and ready for a fight.
As I swam up, floatline in hand, I couldn’t help but break the surface in a bubble of laughter. I had stoned it!
Yelling for Matt I pulled the fish up. Once it was brought to the surface I held it up above my head knowing I’d placed a textbook shot and proud to have finally landed my first kingfish. I didn’t release the death grip I had behind its gills until we had pulled it onto the boat.
When we went to pull out the spear we realised it was directly into its brain. The spear had not penetrated right through nor had the flopper opened. At this point I appreciated what a good shot it was and that it was unlikely to ever be repeated.
I don’t think I could have been any more rapt, even if it was my first kingfish. I knew how hard Catherine had worked for the fish and while I wasn’t there to see her shoot it, I was even happier for her as she’d done it entirely herself. She’d found the fish, shot and landed it without any assistance from me.
We’d had a pretty big day of it and with a crate of Speights back at the camp it seemed rude not to head back and toast her fish.
The next morning Catherine was able to pick up a couple of good porae, another new species, and I picked up a nice 8kg snapper.
Since then we’ve had more trips and ticked off her blue and pink mao maos, koheru as well as another kingy. This winter we’re looking for a snapper and later on we’ll start working our way through the weed-line species of John dory, boarfish and tarakihi.
Who knows, when Nationals time rolls around in January we might even have a go at all of them in one day.