Walking the dog

by the Motiti Hermit

Well! Day three had dawned on our annual spearfishing trip with Phil Bendle on the Norseman. I groaned and turned over. Maybe if I stayed real quiet, everybody else would sleep in as well. But no, Phil clumped down to the cabin and cheerfully bade us ‘good morning’. Don’t you hate it when someone is so cheerful first thing?

Leitchy, Colin and I had been snorkelling six to seven hours a day in some pretty heavy currents. I was feeling like I had been playing tag with a Mack truck, although I felt slightly better seeing my dive partners weren’t exactly bouncing around like spring chickens. The first two days had been brilliant with 18 to 25 metre visibility and big snapper and kingies around. The snapper had been amazing to watch, with one just under seven kilos joining us aboard the boat. The kingies had been ranging in size from little buzz-bombs to fish around 27 kilos, but we had been pretty good, leaving almost everything alone. We were waiting for Mr XXXOS to come and party! Mind you, the itchy trigger finger syndrome had been making itself felt, so with two days to go we were going to start relieving that itch.

An extremely unhealthy breakfast of two coffees each was consumed (our partners weren’t around, so we were living dangerously). Then we were off to our first dive site. The weather was overcast and feeling miserable, with 15 knots forecasted and a ground swell sliding through. The rocks we were heading to seemed to have wall-to-wall white water booming off it. Phil took one look at our still bleary eyes and changed direction to a more sheltered start to the day. We motored up to a pinnacle about 100 metres on the lee of the main reef. Phil smiled as he looked down on us from his little out-house in the sky, and told us ‘Go for it!’ Looking like cross-dressers at a mermaid party with our long fins and other gear, the usual ‘see who can get in the water first’ ensued, with Leitchy winning that bout.

First impression of the pinnacle, as I nearly hit my head on it jumping in, was reasonably clear, gloomy water water with not much fish life. I powered away from the others, at a sedate limp as I was still half asleep, to clear my buoy lines from them. Since I was heading for the main reef, I carried on. Pushing through the slight current in the lee, the fish seemed to be quite shy, with pink maomao and others spooking very easily.

I slowed down a bit to wait for Colin and Leitchy to catch up, as things felt suspiciously like there could be big predators around, probably with shiny teeth, and it would be more polite to offer them a choice of breakfast rather than just moi. But the buggers had seen through my cunning plan and had stopped about 75 metres away to play with a patch of snapper. Oh well, with any luck, any bities would be away at the dentist getting their teeth sharpened. I carried on. Rounding the main rock, I ploughed into an ugly current chop. Beneath me was a flat table of white rock about nine metres down, with a big dropoff disappearing into the gloom. I slunk down to the edge of the dropoff as quietly as I could, sounding like twin rusty doors opening because of a light head cold. I peered over the edge with my gun ready. A big snapper tail, with its ‘ankle’ as thick as my wrist, slowly disappeared into the depths. Surfacing back above the table of white rock, I peered around but the chop and swell was too big to see the boat or my fellow snorkellers. Deciding to be safe, I pulled my floats in and raised my dive flag on the end of the boogie board.

This took about 20 seconds, and when I looked back down again it was just solid Kingfish City beneath me. There were about 40 coming at me, which seemed to be in the 27 kilo plus range. I sunk down to about four metres, ignoring the first lot, and tried to get an impression of size on the last third of the school, where the big ones tend to hang out. One that seemed to be a couple of kilos bigger than the rest flared to my edge of the mob. So I lined him up and let fly. The shaft went in behind his head, down through his body, just missing his spine (of course) and out the throat area. He shook himself like a wet dog, spiralled down a little to pick up speed, and headed for the edge of the dropoff like a pissed-off V8.

I bolted for it to clear the cord from the rock. He reached the edge, tipped up, and took off into the depths like they were having a free beer day down there somewhere. 16 metres of cord smoked through my hands (good thing my rope is water-cooled), one red blur, hello and goodbye Mr Float, and about another nine metres of cord before he entered the beer tent on the bottom. There he made himself comfortable around some unseen snag. With gun, shaft and cord, he was probably around 30 metres down. I got over the top of him and tied the boogie board off just when I felt some kelp give and he was off again.

I handlined him up as quickly as I could to keep him in clear water, with him handlining me down almost at the same pace. After him acting like a really aggro Rottweiler on the end of a very long leash, I could start to see his colour way down beneath me. Unbeknown to me, we had fought back close to the white barren pinnacles. He spotted these and gained altitude to wrap the gear around them, so fast I’m sure there was a sonic boom.

Still over the gloomy abyss, I wasn’t having any of that, so I locked up on the cord and presented my whole body side-on to the direction he wanted to go. The big ‘Rottie’ did a big half circle, pulling and pivoting around me. When he was pointed back to the open sea, I swam out, ‘walking the dog’ to clear water.

Making sure the handlined cord was safely downcurrent of me, I managed to get the gun fixed onto the short clip to the buoy, then thought, ‘Here comes the fun part!’

Slowly pulling him in, I expected the fish to go berserk at any minute. Gingerly, I got one hand to him (I didn’t want to risk both) and slid my fingers over his chin and into his mouth. I thrust my hand down and grasped his gill plates from inside. Yes! Yes! YES!! Mine!

Phil had been standing off body-guarding since the first float disappeared, giving me plenty of room but making his presence known – the cunning devil always seems to know when the action is about to start. So I gave him a wave and then started ploughing my way slowly back towards the boat. He backed up and climbed down to give me a hand. Phil took one look as the fish’s head broke the surface and said, ‘Sheeit!! Hold on, I’ll get some gloves.’ It was a fair performance to get the fish into the back of the Norseman. Climbing up, I had my first good look against a background I could judge him against. Oh yes! That blows my personal best away.

Lots of congrats went on for the rest of the day. Thanks guys! The kingi was officially weighed on the Mount Dive Club scales at 37.75 kilos, or 84.75 pounds. Still grinning until next time.

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