By Clarke Gayford
No one in Niue could recall anyone trying to spearfish in January, but here I was on holiday, and I simply couldn’t resist.
Niue’s a strange anomaly of sorts, being a single coral atoll literally all-alone inside an ocean triangle created by the corners of Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands. Off-peak it has just one flight a week, so it’s an odd feeling hearing it leave, knowing you are now stuck on this tropical paradise.
At face value it is a spearfishing mecca. With coral bommies and deep drop offs just metres from a shoreline, hugging its entire 64km of coast.
With no real commercial fishing pressure it boasts an amazing abundance of sea life. There are also multiple dedicated fishing and spearfishing FAD’s (fish aggregation devices), easily accessible by small boat. The water is warm and crystal clear. I’m talking 75m of visibility-clear, dangerously clear in-fact, but I’ll explain that shortly.
So the problem is not in finding places to spear, it’s in finding places you are allowed to spear. Because as with spearfishing anywhere in the world, it’s important to respect local customs. And this is where it can get a bit tricky.
You see spearfishing has no history in the Niuean culture, and while work has been done to educate locals there are suspicions that come from this lack of understanding. For example fishermen are so wary of spooking fish that when a type of smelt run they even ban all ocean swimming. Now this is not to say you can’t get stuck in, but it’s essential to use a guide.
Thankfully two brothers on the island have recognized spearfishing as a growing tourism opportunity with specific needs. The Pasisi brothers, Paul and Brendan, run a fantastic tailored operation from their 18ft custom Frewza alloy boat.
Recognizing that most travelling spearos just aren’t set up for the tropics they provide weights, bungee floatlines and flasher rigs. Perfect for travelling light. I also found that with the water being 28C-29C I could leave my Beuchat 5mm semi-dry at home, opting instead for a 2mm suit I normally surf in.
So what about the fish?
Being an unknown time of year we experimented between the FAD’s and coastline at different changes of light. And while I saw skipjack and yellowfin tuna out at the FADS, sadly none of the usually abundant mahi mahi, wahoo or billfish were around at this time of year, so we stuck to the coast.
Inshore was a heap of fun to dive, and offered a couple of different approaches. One method was to hug in close, not unlike a snapper snoop, getting right up into the reef, checking cracks and crevices for fish such as bluefin trevally, GT’s and coral trout.
But my favourite method was drifting along the drop offs, looking down 40m to the bottom, utilizing a flasher rig while chunking fish. This soon drew an interesting crowd.
Everything from schools of barracouda, amberjacks, rainbow runners, reef sharks, green jobfish, and those elusive dog tooth tuna.
The doggies seemed to like dusk best, and are distinguishable by their white spotted tails and distinct ‘waddle’. Having Brendan in the water with me was a huge advantage as his locally trained eyes were picking up fish long before I could.
The highlight/lowlight of the trip happened during one such drift. A big doggie came in just as I had come up from a dive, which Brendan estimated at 35kg–40kg. In hindsight I should have breathed up properly before descending again, but this is the danger of being able to see your target even when it could be 50m away.
Diving down to 20m it turned and came in on me but then arced away just out of range. So, as often works on kingfish, I turned away ignoring it. This caused the chubby waddler to eventually glide in under me. Drifting down I placed a shot between its pecs watching the slip tip exit and engage.
And this is where the trouble started.
Having shot it at 24.5m I was swimming back up watching my fully inflated 2 Atmosphere float come hurtling down towards me.
Under enormous pressure the short bungee was maxed out and the float was a good seven metres underwater with no signs of stopping. Then to my horror the hardline suddenly separated at the stainless swivel. So much for it being rated to stop a marlin. In a panic I grabbed the now unattached end as it came past, pulling me back down. Realizing the futility of this, I let it go but was now deep again and scrambling for the surface.
This was a dumb move, and I was bloody lucky to get back up. I could feel the onset of a blackout kick in as I gasped for air on the surface, which thankfully was monitored by Brendan. I’d been down for a total time of 1.32 minutes, and this gave me a big wake-up call about the importance of taking time to breathe up.
The tropics catch a lot of people out in this way. Not only does the visibility mean you see fish you normally wouldn’t. But the lack of thermoclines also give no indication of how deep you are going when focused on the chase.
Having a competent dive buddy is essential. I loved my time above and below the water in Niue. However missing that dog tooth tuna has left me feeling like I have unfinished business, so I’ll definitely be back. Especially as I can’t wait to see what its ‘winter’ months hold. To be continued… (August hopefully!)
Always plan for some relaxing.