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GT Kontiki Comes Up Trumps

Many Kiwis would have, at some time in their lives, experienced the thrill of winding in a long line off the beach, eagerly anticipating what species would appear on each hook as the line snaked its way up the sand. Would it be a big feed of snapper, perhaps some gurnard or kahawai, or would there be just the remains of some fish as the result of some sharks having the easiest meal of their lives? It is this unknown factor that makes this form of fishing so much fun. Plus, it can be a bloody easy way of securing a good haul of fresh fish.

I have had many successes and just as much failure with long lines throughout my life. From reeling in a bountiful haul of snapper and gurnard at Mahinepua in Northland, to having the entire line picked up and wrapped around rocks off the rugged coast in Dunedin as a student. It is always fun though, no matter what the result, and is a relatively cheap and very accessible form of fishing for those that don't have access to a boat.

But man, how things have changed since I was a kid. We used to row the line out while it was attached to a large spool on the beach. In fact once my mate George Acland actually paddled the line out on his surfboard in the freezing, shark-infested waters of the Otago Peninsular! I've also got a memory forever etched in my head of my mate Clark 'Maggot' Massey taking the line out on a kayak and using a heavy metal shovel as an oar because we couldn't find the paddle!

Luckily, things have become a hell of a lot easier thanks to some Kiwi ingenuity. We now have electric torpedoes that do all the work for us. And instead of having to laboriously wind the line in, where one or two people would have to grab the line down at the water's edge and walk it up to the spool, while another was furiously winding, we now have electric winches that do all this with just the push of a button.

These electric kontikis really are a revelation and are a pleasure to use. The models most people are familiar with are operated by setting the desired time on the unit, usually 20 minutes, attaching the line, pointing the torpedo out to see and then letting it go while the baited hooks are threaded onto the many crimps in the line. This is a great way of getting the line right out passed the breakers and into prime snapper country. But it is not without its faults. The biggest problem, and one that affects many kontiki fishermen is that when waves hit the torpedo, its course is altered and can end up travelling straight along the beach instead of out to sea. There are countless reports of people having to walk for miles up the beach to retrieve their misguided kontiki. This is a major problem, but thankfully one that looks to have been fixed.

Immediately impressed
I was recently invited up to Omamari, north of Dargaville, to test out a new type of electric kontiki that has an auto-guidance system. Named the GT Kontiki, this amazing-sounding device has the ability to hold its course by intelligently altering its rudder to counteract the forces of currents and waves etc. From what I had been told you pretty much point it in the direction you want the torpedo to travel and it will follow that bearing reasonably accurately.

So we got busy setting up the GT Kontiki on the beach where some pretty decent-sized west coast waves were crashing and looking very daunting indeed. This would be interesting I thought, as we threaded cubes of mullet onto the 25 long line hooks.

One cool feature about the GT Kontiki that I was immediately impressed with was the handy trolley it can come with. The torpedo itself can connect to the trolley that also consists of the spool containing 2000m of 140kg line, the electric winch to wind it back in, the trace board and even a bait board. So you can fit the whole setup onto this trolley and wheel it to whichever spot on the beach takes your fancy. These are all optional extras with the GT Kontiki.

We would also be testing the tried-and-true Seahorse electric kontiki that, despite not having a guidance system of its own, is a very popular choice for kontiki fishermen.

Taking us through the system was Martin who helps make the GT Kontiki for Pro-Dive Watersports. After baiting up the hooks, we showed me how to set the system, I was amazed at just how easy it was.

So simple to use
Firstly the karabiner at the end of the line was attached to the back of the kontiki and the unit was walked down to the edge of the water. Then, with a kind of magnet pen, he set the desired running time (how long the kontiki will run before it stops itself), before pointing the kontiki in the direction he wanted it to travel and tapping the 'Bearing Lock' panel. Once the bearing is set he tapped the 'Start/Stop' panel and the powerful motor, that can produce 24kg of thrust, silently kicked into life.
The torpedo was then placed in the water and it raced off to confront the first set of waves.

The design of the hull and the weight of the three 12 volt batteries inside means the whole unit glides through waves rather than getting thrown sideways and getting into difficulty. While it smashed through the first small waves, the solid four-foot swell a bit further out looked like it was going to cause some problems. The waves were doing their absolute best to push the torpedo backwards, and were succeeding for about five minutes before the grunty little unit punched through and began its uninterrupted journey out to the depths.

After 20 minutes the line stopped travelling out, indicating that the torpedo had shut itself down and the baits settled to where they would hopefully attract the attention of the big snapper that are so often caught of this bountiful coast.

Martin told us that the ideal time to leave the kontiki out is between 30-60 minutes, so we left it out for 45 minutes before getting ready to wind in. Saying 'wind in' is a bit of a lie really because all we had to do was set the speed on the winch and turn it on. Another very, very useful tool that is unique to the GT Kontiki is the remote control that can turn the winch on and off. This means one person can control the winding in of the line and stop it to take fish and hooks of, before starting it up again without having to go near the winch itself.

Moment of truth
With the speed set to high, the winch was having no difficulty reeling in the line and we soon saw the first of the hooks make its way out of the water and onto the sand.

We soon had three kahawai, three small snapper (one of which was kept) and a gurnard in the bin. Not a big haul by any standard, but would be plenty for someone looking to feed himself and one other. But we had a few mouths to feed, so we got some more bait ready.

In the first test we hadn't used any sinkers, which probably accounted for the kahawai and the lack of snapper. So we attached one of the 300g weights that come with the GT Kontiki package to the start of the crimps before sending the torpedo out into the depths once more. Another sinker was attached after the last hook to ensure that all the baits would be on or near the seafloor.

Round two
The kontiki once again switched itself off after 20 minutes and we settled in to wait once more. We thought we'd leave it out for a while longer this time as there hadn't been any evidence of sharks in the first test.

After just over an hour we switched the winch back on and waited to see what we would have on our line this time. It was soon obvious that the sinkers had done the trick as a couple of decent pannie snapper appeared on the first two hooks, followed closely by two fat gurnard. Something big was causing some commotion in the swell a little way back though, a shark? We soon found out that we had hooked a pretty big stingray, another common by-catch for torpedo fishermen. Fortunately for us the big beast managed to pull the hook and soon disappeared through the breakers, allowing us to collect the remaining fish on the line. Another reasonable haul and a few more fillets for the pot. It was pretty obvious that the amount of fish these kontikis caught would soon pay for the cost of the unit, especially with snapper fetching over $35 per kilo these days!

Sea Horse
The GT Kontiki had already proven that it could hold a course through reasonable waves and catch a pretty decent feed. But we decided to send out the Seahorse kontiki to see how it would perform.

Without any guidance system, a little help from the user is often needed to assist it through the waves. By pulling on the line, the back of the kontiki is pulled straight and the course is righted to an extent. This is not a perfect fix, but it did the trick nonetheless and the Sea Horse was soon through and into fishing territory. I was very impressed with how well the Seahorse had cut through the waves, this is another very well-designed piece of equipment and they will be releasing an auto-guided kontiki into the market very soon.

We left the Seahorse out there for an hour before pulling it back in and discovering another scattering of snapper and gurnard that had been hooked. Again, not a haul that I would usually expect from the west coast, but a very good feed of fish nonetheless.

Although I am a committed rod and reel fishermen, I do see a place for this type of fishing. Not everyone is lucky enough to have access to a boat and this is a very easy way of catching fish. Because of the new auto-guidance system in the GT Kontiki, you can also fish in weather that is far too rough for getting out in a boat or surfcasting.

Tips for using kontikis
-Always make sure your batteries are charged before you head down to the beach.
-Use sinkers that are heavy enough to resist the current and swell.
-It can be easier to bait the line before you send it out by zig-zagging it up and down the beach and attaching the hooks. This can prevent people being hooked when trying to attach a hook to the line while it's running out.
-Use baits no bigger than your thumb.
-Leave the kontiki out for between 30-60 minutes.
-If you are using a kontiki without auto-guidance, pull the line reasonably hard if the torpedo is turned by a wave. This should keep it running reasonably straight.
-25 hooks is the maximum limit of hooks so use no more than this.

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