By Pat Swanson
The magical Aldermen Islands are off the east coast of New Zealand’s north island. The water is usually clear, and often a degree or two warmer than elsewhere. It also offers a variety of terrain from steep drop-offs to shallow bays dotted with boulders and sand patches. One of my favourite places is a place we call Swimoff rocks, a name that harks back to some near forgotten spearfishing competition. You won’t find this name on any chart. You’ll have to discover it for yourself.
Swimoff rocks consists of a relatively large shallow reef with rocks at each end and deep water all around. It always seems to cop the swell and current. I think that’s what makes it such a great spearfishing spot. It’s also pretty rare to see any other divers or fishermen anchored there.
On this particular day we anchored at one of the deeper areas. The tide was barely moving, but just enough to force demoiselles and sweep to congregate on the up-current side of the reef. The water was cool but also a good 10 metres visibility, perfect for fishing.
My floatline gradually trickled out behind me as I headed to a favourite area, a place where I had seen and speared some good fish in the past. The last time I visited the spot I surprised a beautiful 6.8-kilogram trevally. Big trevally are very difficult fish to get near, usually taking off like an exocet missile at the first sight of you. On the same day I had big kingfish swimming around me in a few metres of water near that very same spot.
Indications looked good on this day. I could see the baitfish sparkling off the front of the first rock I approached. I slipped down into the ecklonia and cautiously sneaked a look. A nice five kilogram snapper idled lazily in the current. Experience has taught me that snapper are often not alone so there may be a larger one lurking underneath or nearby. However on this occasion experience was my downfall and in my efforts to check the area out fully I spooked the fish, which was of course on its own. A bird in the hand…
The next rock looked even more promising. A school of drummer swept by, tails beating like a clockwork toy. Among the demoiselles a couple of dark grey shapes materialised into a pair of big blue moki. Still no snapper. I crept around the other side of the rock. About five metres away, just out of range, a big snapper (maybe 10 or 12 kg) was slowly swimming away. I thought that with a quick burst I could maybe get a shot into it. Just as I prepared to launch myself towards it a movement caught my eye. Another fish, just as big, was swimming straight towards me. I gave the gun a wiggle and as the flopper flashed in the sun the snapper accelerated in and turned broadside on only a metre away. The spear struck home and although it wasn’t a fatal blow the fish was mine. Once it was in my hands I quickly dispatched it, and marvelled at the size as I threaded it onto my floatline
I carried on along the reef and although I didn’t see any more large snapper there was plenty to enjoy. Pink maomao milled in slightly deeper water off the drop-offs. Schools of jumbo koheru and neon blue maomao chased krill near the surface, joined by a vast school of kahawai from time to time. Every gutter seemed to have its resident porae and sandagers and green wrasses patrolled the edges of the reef. Further along the reef dropped onto sand at 25 – 30 metres. Crimson cleanerfish and juvenile sandagers set up cleaning stations on the sand patches for the myriad of reef fish.
As I hauled myself onto the back of the boat I felt that deep glow of satisfaction you get from a successful spearfish, and from the enjoyment of a perfect dive. Back at the wharf the big fish weighed in at exactly 11 kilogram, a nice fish in anyone’s books.
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