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The big three - Snapper, kingfish and crayfish

22 December 2015
The big three - Snapper, kingfish and crayfish

Summer brings warmer waters, species variety and, of course, demands from the family to fill the table with seafood for Christmas. Here are some tips for divers hoping to catch snapper, kingfish and crayfish this December.

Over the last few weeks the seas around our coastline will have undergone the most drastic change of the year. The water temperature will have risen sharply sparking the algae to bloom. While this turns the water a murky green colour, it’s full of life as the fish move back into the shallows to feed. This migration is led by our many of our sought after species...


After a lean winter snapper are ravenous, and need to put on condition before they spawn. Any seasoned snapper fisher knows the difference in colouration between the dark, brown kelpy fish that live on the shallow reefs all year, versus the clean, pink fish that spend most of the year over the sand. Right now they can all be found in the shallows together, and in range for the breath-hold diver to hunt – although be warned, these wary fish are difficult to spear.

Here are my top five tips for bagging a feed of snapper:

1. Approach every rock as though there’s a trophy snapper behind it There’s no telling which rock is concealing your fish so assume they all are. Make sure you dive well before the rock so you can peek over the top. Inch forward slowly, exposing as little of yourself as you can and look everywhere. Remember you’re looking for a stationary fish – by the time movement has caught your eye it will be too late.

Also, snapper often aren’t alone; take in the whole scene before you make your move – there’s nothing more frustrating than shooting a 2kg fish and seeing a 10kg thumper you hadn’t noticed bolt.

2. Be quiet Snapper have great sense of hearing and the lateral line running the length of their flanks can pick up the tiniest vibrations. Learn how to swim without splashing on the surface. When you dive, spit your snorkel out and when you surface make sure you pick your head right out of the water before you clear it. When you duck dive make sure your fin tips have completely submerged before you start kicking to prevent any splashing and on the bottom pull yourself along with your free hand.

3. Use cover and sun angle Never let yourself be silhouetted against the surface. As you swim along keep your shoulder hard up against the rocks casting as little shadow as possible. When you dive try to follow the bottom contour and keep in the kelp.

Always keep the sun behind you - you’ll have the best visibility but any fish will have to look into the sun. Whenever you peer over a ledge try and pause for just a few seconds after your initial scan in case a snapper swims into range.

4. Look for rocky guts with access to deep water Jagged reef with nice sandy gutters are ideal for snapper to park up and snooze in. While you want to hunt them in shallow the big fish don’t tend to stray too far away from deep (20m+) water. Try to avoid large areas of bald white rock and find the spots with plenty of kelp.

The pressure points along the reef that are catching the most current will hold the most fish – look for the little fish. Demoiselles and oblique swimming triplefins are great indications you’re in the right area.

5. Put in the hours and cover the miles When it comes to snapper snooping there is simply no substitute for time in the water. The most successful spearos put in long dives and cover a lot of ground. You have to just keep swimming forward, concentrating and having faith that the next rock could be the one.


The warmer waters also herald the arrival of our premiere game fish – the kingfish. They’re the street fighters of the New Zealand fish world and will beat up an unprepared diver, tangling or breaking gear while attracting every hungry bronze whaler in the area. They are also one of the most exhilarating fish to fight and their big size makes them the best target to feed a crowd.

Here are my top five tips for filling the BBQ with kingie steaks:

1. Find current and structure The kingfish will never be found too far from schools of bait fish. These bait fish will congregate on the up-current edges of reefs or other structures where nutrients are pushed past. Again, demoiselles are often the first giveaway but if you see multiple different species schooling in one area, especially koheru, you know you’ve found the sweet spot.  

2. Don’t chase them and hide your eyes Kingfish are extremely curious but they still know a threat when they see one. Never swim directly at the fish or eyeball them. If you see them swimming while you’re on the surface, try to pick where they’re going and dive to intercept them. Better yet, swim straight down and rest on the bottom waiting for them to come to you.

Try to make yourself small against the rock or kelp and avoid eye contact. Throwing handfuls of sand, clicking rocks or jiggling your flopper are good ways of luring them in.

3. Pick your shot To actually land a kingfish your shot has to be spot on. If you shoot them in the stomach the chances are they will tear off. If you shoot them and don’t hurt them they could bend your spear or worse. Make sure you get as close as you possibly can before you shoot – Hail Mary shots never stick on kingfish.

When you aim try to punch the spear in about where its ear would be just behind the gill plate. That will go through lots of important parts and if it doesn’t stone the fish outright it will certainly slow it down. It also means the fish is pulling in a straight line and is unlikely to bend your spear.

4. Keep swimming into the current Once you’ve got your fish on make sure you keep swimming into the current as you pull line in. The power of a big kingfish has to be felt to be believed and the last thing you want is for a loop of floatline to catch on your wrist, ankle or neck as the fish makes a strong run.

The place to fight the fish is to hold it just a couple of metres off the bottom. Play it gently but do not give it any slack or let it get to the bottom. Once it has tired slowly pull it up hand over hand swimming forward the whole time so the line floats out behind you. Once you get to the fish, get your hand in its gills, wrap your legs around it and hug it to your chest while you iki it.

5. Use the right gear Whole articles are written about the right gear to target kingies.  Make sure you use a gun of at least 110mm barrel length with at least a 20mm diameter rubber on it and use a standard rope floatline with a 10 litre+ float. Don’t be talked into using a bluewater rig with bungees for kingies as they are no good around the reef; they will stretch and easily tangle.


Without a doubt the most requested contribution to any Christmas table is the crayfish. Their hefty price tag make them a luxury out of reach for most kiwis, but their abundance along the coastline means they’re relatively easy pickings for anyone with a mask and snorkel.

Crayfish are a great introduction into underwater hunting. Here are my top five ways of supplying the table centrepiece:

1. Dedication I once heard the saying “you can’t ride two horses with one arse” and it applies perfectly to spearfishing and crayfishing. While you might luck onto the odd cray while you’re snooping, if you’re serious about finding some crays you’re best off to ditch the gun for a while and concentrate all your energy on doing just that.

2. Take your time It takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust looking into a dark hole so don’t rush past. When you do find a cray don’t lunge straight in. They’re seldom alone and a good diver can grab two or three on a breath if they work in the right order. Look at where a cray might be able to escape to and plan your assault in advance.

3. Just smash ‘em Once you do decide to grab, the best strategy is hard and fast. As soon as you touch those feelers the cray is going to flick back real quick so you need to be quicker.  Aim to either get your hand over the top of its back or under the base of its horns.  If you have to hit it from the side, fine but you’ll probably knock some legs off. Aim for a few inches behind the cray to allow for its attempt to get away.

4. Keep your snorkel in your mouth While Spearfishing it’s best to spit your snorkel out (less noise and lower chance of inhaling water while recovering from a blackout) but while crayfishing that’s definitely not the case. Surfacing from a cray dive you might have a cray in each hand preventing you from putting your snorkel back in. Another classic is having a finger pinched and coughing and spluttering on the surface with no snorkel while you battle to get him to release you.

5. Spend most of your time on the bottom, you simply will not spot crays from the surface.  You need to get right down to the bottom and stick your head through kelp and under rocks.  It is a very active form of diving and I’ll generally spend 20-30 seconds under water with about 10-20 seconds on the surface when I’m on a good spot.

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