by Reid Quinlan
Some people rave about New Zealand’s Cuvier Island âon a good day’, but I’d only had a few dives there and, to be honest, they were pretty average. In May I headed out on a glassy day to try again. I opened up my growing armory of pole spears and selected an 8 ft aluminium pole spear stock and fitted an 18 inch spring steel tip section with a slip-tip. This is my ‘big fish’ rig.
When hunting snapper, I believe in simply ‘doing the miles’ until I start seeing small ones. That day I swam for an hour and half before finding a fishy spot, where small snapper were milling around in the shallows. I whacked a silver drummer and cut him up for burley around a small rocky outcrop. I figured I’d leave it to ‘cook’ for half an hour to see what comes in.
Paddling on around the point, I drifted silently into a narrow channel over a 15 metre bottom, and silhouetted against the blue was a school of snapper all stacked up like we normally only see at the Poor Knights! With little cover, I approached slowly and the big ones drifted off. Aside from one big snapper up in mid water which was too weary to approach, the rest of the school was simply too far away. With a pole spear, you get to watch a lot of fish. You must accept that you seldom get close enough for a credible shot on the really nice ones. Oh well, back to my first spot.
I’d picked an outcrop where I could approach unseen within the shadow of the cliffs above. From here I could hide whilst using the 15 metres of visibility to scan the area for lurkers before my dive. Small snapper were drifting all around, and it was looking good. On my breathe-up, three larger snapper came around the corner to check me out, one at a time swimming into the shade, seeing me, then swimming slowly away. Importantly, my relaxed state had not broken the mood and they had not perceived me as a threat. Diving to the corner of the outcrop, a much bigger snapper drifted into view out over the reef 15 metres to the north. It finned into the current two metres below the surface, looking away from me. I could see its big wide back shining in the sunlight. This was a very big snapper, and I was starting to get excited!
But, my situation was precarious. The fish was not feeding at the burley so I could not sneak up on it. It was far too far away to approach without it spooking. Instinct took over, and I realised I had to ‘whisper’ this one in. Now this is what spearfishing is about.
I dropped to the rock face, head hidden in the weed, keeping my fins in the shade. I exposed the tip of the spear in the sunlight while I remained on the edge of the shadow. The fish angled around and looked at me, doing a suspicious circle out over the reef. I had his interest. After a minute or so the fish turned away from me again. I returned to the surface for a breath. Diving again, two other snapper came over for a look at me. When they got within a few metres they drifted away again, unfazed. The big fish was starting to edge closer, but was still 12 metres away. I eased back into the shade and took another breathe with my face hard up against the cliff, out of sight
I knew the next dive was going to require me to use my snapper skills to the absolute limit. I dropped back to my shallow perch in the shade, and wiggled the spear tip in the sunlight again. Everything was going to plan so far, but it all depended on how close of the big fish. the big fish would come to me before it spooked. With a long pole spear, the fish must be less than two metres from the spear tip.
The big snapper was on its way at last. It made a beeline for the strange shape it could see. I stuck my head into the short kelp and counted time, trying to extend my breath hold. The fish got half way, then it stopped midwater. I was committed now because if I pulled up it would spook. All I could do was wait. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the fish slowly start forwards again, accelerating towards me now. I was running out of time, but waited because I knew it was coming â like it was caught in a tractor beam. Eventually the snapper over-committed itself. Out of the corner of my eye I could see it was within about four metres of me. It just started to angle away as I adjusted the angle of the spear slightly, but it was too late – I pushed out towards the fish to close the distance a metre, throwing the spear at the same time.
The spear hit quite high in the back, and the big fish took off towing my spear and the attached float line. I played the fish gingerly, letting it run and run and slowly bringing it back in. I soon had it close and could see it was a good holding shot. Holding it in my arms, I could see it was a very big fish! I weighed it on two sets of scales at 9.68 kg and 10.2 kg. Either way, it’s my biggest snapper ever. Now I, too, can rave about Cuvier Island ‘on a good day’.