Why spearfishing in the Bay of Islands is more than what meets the eye.

Spearfishing The Bay of Islands

Text and photos by Reid Quinlan

What is it that makes spearos such a weird breed?

Well, I think we can all relate to one thing that cements together our culture – wild boat rides! Go anywhere in the world where the wind’s howling and you will find someone suiting up on a boat ramp, or already out there amongst it, gritting their teeth through bone- jarring landings. Crashing their way out through waves that most people would think are too big in boats that most people think are too small.

Maybe the experience is more intense for us than other divers. Our rewards borne of hard work and personal struggle, a level of attainment worthy of some sacrifice. A hell of a sacrifice in the eyes of most Рleaving the boat ramp on a wet and gusty day, your car and trailer the only vehicles there. Meanwhile girlfriends are sitting in the caf̩ drinking coffee and reading trashy magazines.

The trip always feels just right, no matter how rough. The ride feels like a spearo’s boat should feel – the little boat handles the crashing waves because you know it’s seen worse, you’re in your wetsuit already, you have your facemask on while driving because the howling wind is blowing the driving rain into your face, and with every skillfully mounted wave, just after the high pitched whir of the motor when it chews on air, you bend at the knees for a plunging freefall – another heavy landing. Then you wince behind your mask as head and shoulders are dowsed with spray.

Nevertheless, it’s always worth it – this is life and it’s the best that it gets!

A fun boat trip was about the highlight of our Saturday dive – other than picking up a record eight legal scallops on one breathold at our trusty scallop spot in the Bay of Islands. A quiet snapper snoop in dirty water produced nothing of interest but it was relaxing and nice to be in the sea again.

So with the wind swapping to southwest on the Sunday to calm down the northeasterly swell, which has been running for a few days, we hammered out to Deep Water Cove. A quick dive on a really pretty reef in 10-12 metres (33 – 49 ft) of visibility produced a couple of John dory for my dive buddies – and the feel of the place suggested a return visit will be in store in the future. My 600m sprint to catch the boat after the anchor pulled was a nice warm-up, until I heaved my body up and over the shiny aluminium side and looked down to see the black blade of one of my Esclapez fins hanging at a funny angle. Bugger. Lucky I made it to the boat.

After a few shots with my camera, I swapped back to my gun. I just wanted a fat koheru for sashimi, and a struggling fish might bring up any kingies schooling nearby. Lining up on a fat one, I lined the small fish, which went shivering down the spear line and spun around on the spear. As I pulled up the spear shaft, Bill was diving. I watched him swing his gun into the gloom below me. He flinched, and I guessed he was on. ‘Yeehah! Go Bill!’ As he got towed away, the whole school of 50 or so kingies came pouring out of the depths, white chins appearing first, then long green backs followed by heavy duty yellow tails. The heavies had arrived. I hoped Bill would land this one because he really wanted a nice fish.

Blair was next down, lining up on the biggest close to him, and loosing the steel spear. Blair’s fish ran deep, but he played it well on the float line, and after a few minutes, the gun appeared 15 metres below. Blair was being pulled under water when he put on the pressure. The fish rose over the deep drop-off and I swam down with my gun to check out the shot and see if it needed a second anaesthetic. The fish was well hit in the back. I watched from the surface and another dark back swam up to his fish. I dropped to check it out – about the same size, it was a nice big kingfish. I half-heartedly lined it up for a second and paused. ‘Should I? Nah, we don’t need another 20 kg of kingfish meat’. If it had been much bigger, I would have thought about it more seriously. It’s just so nice to see a healthy school.

Pointing the boat back into a 25 knot wind and powering up the outboard, we swung into choppy seas that had been building from the south-west all day. It was going to be one of those long hauls back to the boat ramp, where my car was still the only one there. As usual, I found the best speed was with the throttle set at full tit, so we skipped most of the troughs. You just have to grit your teeth and enjoy it; it’s a cultural experience.

Blair and Bill jumped in and searched through the schools of kahawai, sweep, pink maomao, blue maomao, koheru, parore and trevally for a kingfish. They usually show up here.

Swimming with a stump of a fin the rest of the day my foot looked like an amputee. I clicked off a few photos. Later of course, I noticed the camera was set at rewind. Overall, it wasn’t a wildly successful first dive for me.

Around the corner, and the swell had eased a little. When we anchored the boat it hung limply eight metres (25 ft) off the rock at Cape Brett – it was caught between the 20 knot wind and strong current blowing on to the rock and the two metre (six ft) sloppy back waves reverberating off the face. This rock pinnacle rises from about 80 metres (260 ft) and gets its fair share of waves each year. As often happens on rough days, we were the only boat out there.

Blair was pulling the fish in, and the shot was still holding well, but he wasn’t pulling too hard in case the shaft ripped out. Finally he got it to the surface, and it was a nice fish – quite fat and deep, and in perfect condition. It weighed 23.6 kg (52 lb) and it’s the biggest shot so far this year in our club.

Back at the boat, Bill had lost his one by fighting it too hard. Bugger. I dropped in with Bill in a second spot, but all was quiet and the visibility was closing down. Time to head home and collect some scallops on the way.

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