West Coast Hunting
By Ron Opie
As the crow flies the ocean is in view three km away. The fog was hugging the Patea River with its clammy lifeless touch. Should be a good day when it burns off we thought. Within 15 minutes the six metre Yellowfin can be in the Patea River ready for the next trip. Heading towards the boat ramp it is a brief stop at the lookout. This is the first siting of the bar. The sea looks calm and compliant, so it’s green light, go!
The crew struggle into their wetsuits and board the boat for a quick test drive up the river and a run through the safety procedures, while Julie is filling in the two-minute safety form. The banter and mockery stops as the bar comes into view. Serious concentration descends on the boat, as Ron lines up the sets and times the crossing perfectly.
Before long the anchor is dropped over our favourite reef, ‘The Point’. Fog shrouded landmarks have been superceded by modern technology in the form of a GPS. Buddy teams are sorted and disappear in their pairs over the side of the boat. Ron, the oracle, remains on the boat visualising the dive he very much enjoys particularly when in pursuit of the plentiful but elusive big Bucks. On descent a large school of kingies swarm around – some a good arm span in length. But we must not be captured for too long as we’re after those big tasty crays. Red moki up to 18-24 inches in length meandering about in pairs always catch your eye. Butterfish are also plentiful on The Point, as they aren’t hunted much here. This allows them to grow to about 60 cm long. Cheeky blue cod place themselves in our direct path as a cat would playing with a mouse. Occasionally a nudge on the mask from these inquisitive souls reminds us that after all we are visiting them. On the bottom the challenge begins, heads down low and peering in any likely spot a cray may be nestled. Up over the rock to access my best approach. Must be a good 3kg. Grasping firmly behind his horns this biggy splays his legs as he tries to move back into the safety of his hole. The grip now only on one horn as I push and pull him from his den. My forearm was burning with the struggle as this cray lost the battle. Propping myself to suddenly stop I couldn’t believe my eyes.
My heart not only pounds but my arms turn to jelly. Under a ledge a cray rests. An amazing sight this cray would weigh in over 4kg. Blinking in disbelief at this majestic creature I make my move. No, not to be – but truly a sight I’ll never forget. Deep down my disappointment is dissolved, as I know there are still some monsters down there, enticing my return. The walls of colourful anemones momentarily distract me. All open and feeding as the current has ceased its vigorous flow. Now back to reality, can this relatively inexperienced crew outwit these cunning and self-protective crays? Only time will tell. At 21 metres on the sand and 15 metres at the top of the reef, the divers have 30 minutes bottom time. The trail of small bubbles change to big blobs of air as the divers surface, regs are discarded as verbal free flow begins. Catch bags are hoisted and compared and here comes all those stories! ‘Did you see that enormous snapper just on the edge of visibility? Must be a 12kg like the one that won the boat in last year’s competition.’
With quotas made and everyone safe and sound back on board, it’s homeward bound. Once at the bar, it’s quiet once again while Ron lines up the walls keeping square onto the sets.
Ron Opie Diving is renowned for the relaxed atmosphere in which he operates his dive training business. Set bang in the centre of a thriving dairying region, Ron has basically taken a paddock from his own dairy unit to establish the complex known as ‘Greenways’. The heated indoor pool was purposely built and has a well of 5.2m deep. A sauna and BBQ complete the area. A separate dwelling can house 28 backpackers (often students), including kitchen/dining facilities, retail shop, office, two classrooms and a large equipment room.
Using SSI (Scuba Schools International) for training and working under the umbrella of Adventure Education Ron Opie Diving is an NZQA provider, offering training from beginner level through to Assistant Instructor. On successful completion of the academic and pool training the students try their new sought skills at sea. Along with BBQs, Christmas parties and the occasional pool and darts challenges at the local being organised. Diving every week of the year provides ample opportunities for any divers to join trips anywhere from Northland, Taupo, New Plymouth, Patea, Kapiti Island, Wellington coast to Marlborough Sounds and Takaka.
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