The warm waters of summer and the peak of game season sees a change in the way we target some of our fish.
At this time of year the water comes alive with bait schools and the larger game fish that chase them. The easterly storms of early summer have pushed in warm, blue water and now the settled weather opens up all the offshore pinnacles and reefs that we’ve dreamed of diving through the long winter months.
The deep water around these areas and the pelagic fish that we’re chasing require different tactics to those used at other times of the year as well as some specialist equipment.
The main game fish chased by spearos is, of course, the kingfish. Here in New Zealand we’re blessed with the best fishery in the world for these brutes and as anyone who’s shot one over 30kg will tell you, they’re great fun.
While we can and do regularly shoot big kingies all year round it is now that getting a really big one becomes a main focus.
Kingies are a reef fish and the best spots to get them are on offshore reefs and pins in very deep water with plenty of current running over them. While it’s common to be able to shoot kingies in very shallow water, even from the surface at times, the big ones are usually cagier and will hang out well below the rats.
Getting in range
When faced with such big spaces of water the real challenge is being able to get within range of the fish.
With other species and in shallower water we can focus on covering lots of ground and trying to sneak up on the fish but in blue-water environments, this isn’t possible. We need to bring the fish to us.
Luckily most game fish, and especially kingfish, are naturally curious so they’ll do half the job for us but there are a few things we can do to stack the odds in our favour.
The main specialist gamefishing technique is known as slashing and flashing. This means using berley and flasher rigs to get the fish excited and bring them into range.
Berleying needs no introduction but the flasher rig won’t be as widely known. It’s a series of metal plates or mirrors suspended along a line that you drop below you that flash in the sun and attract the fish.
Almost anything can be adapted to work as a flasher and I’ve seen all sorts of rigs made up with everything from CDs to kahawai spinners and even a baby’s rattle.
The best system I’ve found consists of metal plates that are threaded on to a stainless cable backbone with a weighted marlin lure skirt at the bottom.
When you jiggle it, the metal plates flash in the sun but the noise and vibration caused by the plates sliding up and down the cable seem to really get the fish going.
The amount of weight at the bottom is critical – it needs to be heavy enough that it pulls the flasher down through the water quickly but not too heavy that you’ll tire your arm out working it. It should have its own float that you can wrap the line up around for transportation.
You need a bit of teamwork to make this method really work. My preference is to work in pairs but three is good too. In pairs you have one diver on the surface berleying and working the flasher rig and the other is diving. As soon as the diver surfaces he takes over flashing duties.
This way you will always have a diver underwater and there’s no confusion over who should be doing what.
I’ve used flashers for years, particularly when I’ve been guiding but I used to like them mostly because the flasher becomes a focal point for the divers rather than the fish.
I always thought that if you’re diving up and down and doing things right any kingies in the area are always going to come and check you out with or without the flasher but I was proven totally wrong a few summers ago while diving out at the Mokohinau Islands.
I needed some footage of a good kingy being speared so we headed out to a couple of pins we know usually hold kingfish.
I was the gunman to start off with so with flasherman and cameraman in tow I headed up current where we knew the kings would be. The top of the pin came up to about 10m below the surface then dropped down to a ledge at 23m before dropping away.
As soon as we got ahead of the pin we were immediately swarmed by schools of baitfish and knew we weren’t going to have long to wait.
On about my fifth dive a school of 20-odd big kingies came pouring up over the ledge and I shot one around the 25kg mark. After swimming my fish back to the boat it was my mate’s turn for a shot but we decided not to bother with the flasher.
We spent about 40 minutes diving down and lying on the ledge but the kingies had disappeared. We thought they might be on the next pin but my mate decided to swim back and grab the flasher despite me rolling my eyes at him.
I was forced to eat my words moments later though as no sooner had we dropped the flasher down over the ledge than the school of kings came rushing back up to check it out.
That’s what the flasher is so good for – luring fish up from the deep. You can swim around in the top twenty odd metres all day but if the fish are hanging at forty you’ll never see them without something extra to bring them up.
Simplicity of berley
The berleying is simple enough – you shoot a kahawai or trevally or something and start chopping it up. The smell will obviously attract fish and the commotion as you shoot more all adds to the attraction and, yes, it will attract sharks as well. This time of year really is the peak of the season where the best diving conditions and the best fishing intersects. Blue water is probably the most exciting environment for the spearo and provides the best opportunities for some real chest-thumping catches.
Let your body talk
The most important thing when gamefishing is your body language. These fish live in a highly predatory environment and they recognise a threat when they see one. We’ve got no chance of swimming them down so we have to use guile. In deep, clear water the time it takes to descend to the fish’s level means that hiding our approach usually isn’t possible so the focus is on hiding our intent.
We do this by always using slow, deliberate movements and never approaching a fish directly. We need to avoid eye contact with the fish as they’ll almost never approach while you’re looking straight at them. If there is structure that you can dive to and lie on or hold on to then you definitely should.
Hovering mid-water makes you very visible and you make all sorts of scary (to the fish) movements trying to stabilise yourself. Your breath hold will be much better if you’re lying on something too.
I’ve shot all my best fish when I’ve already been down but if you do spot a fish from the surface it’s best just to dive exactly where you are rather than trying to bomb down on top of it.
Pick a spot to dive to and go straight there, barely even look around if you can help it. Hopefully the fish will be interested in you and by the time you look up it’ll be right there ready for your shot.