Moment of truth: How the World Spearfish champs played out

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l to r: Geoff Crawford, Ian Warnock (Manager), Dwane Herbert, Jackson Shields, Rowan Virbickas

With Jackson Shields

Boats launched, gear meticulously checked. It was the night before day one.

As a team we discussed our ideal plans to make sure we didn’t get in each other’s way. We selected a series of GPS points on our Garmin watches and sounders. We all had different starting points, and decided the shallows were the first port of call. There were plenty of fish in the shallows that we thought were likely to get spooked early on what with the amount off diver activity.

After a nervous sleep we woke to an amazing day; virtually no wind and a very small swell. This was good, as a big swell would benefit the locals’ skillsets more.

Jackson with a big snapper found snooping right up in the shallows this time of year. You don’t need to dive deep to find good fish. This one weighed in at 9kg.

Chaos and fluster

It was chaos in the morning around the dock as expected. We set up the boats and waited for our designated boatman who makes sure we abide by the rules. It was no surprise we started over an hour late.

After playing bumper boats with over 70 other boats the starting signal was given and we were off! I bundled into the water at my first spot. Unfortunately I was finding it difficult to stay calm and missed my first two shots of a flighty Sargo and a Mullet. Then picking up a couple of fish got my confidence restored but I didn’t compose myself well enough to stick to the plan.

I had a series of holes I had scouted beforehand where good Sargo and Salema were to be found. But of course on competition day I was flustered and couldn’t find them all, or the fish were extremely flighty out of them. The fish I was getting were of marginal size, so I had to make the call to move on in the hope of finding more substantial fish.

On the next spot schooling mullet were on the surface but many were under size, so picking them off was difficult. I managed a Moray eel that was big enough then made my final site move for the day. My boatman dropped me on one of my Conger eel marks in about 15 metres of water. I landed right on top of the big eel and secured it with a couple of shots.

Working deeper

I figured I could work this deeper reef area for the rest of the day in an attempt to accumulate fish as fast as possible. In this deeper area we had seen bigger species which would be worth good points.

I spent close to four hours in the area diving between 18 and 32 metres. I would pick up a fish every few dives so I hoped the move was smart enough. But it was a bit disappointing finding out later that in the shallows fish were a lot better at the end of the day and plenty of divers got good fish there. So the decision making on my part turned out to be poor.

Back at the weigh in the process dragged on til nearly 1:00 am the next day and we had to be up at 6:00 am for another five hours of diving. By then as a country we were doing well, sitting in third place after Italy had a diver disqualified. Individually we were all in the top 20.

Spooked Mullet

Day Two came quickly, destined for the more difficult area where high cliffs went almost vertically to the sand. Big long beaches make up a significant part of this zone with caves in the cliffs going in more than 30 metres, some too far and scary to swim up the back of since they are below the surface. This was a challenging zone where fish spooked very quickly, and with only small stretches of productive area. But Mullet were prominent so they became a main target.

I started off in a goodinside area for the Mullet with a school of about 100 of them swimming past. But I made the classic error of trying to target the more difficult fish first rather than taking those on offer. This resulted in a difficult day.

Then I made the second mistake of competition diving and that was to leave an area that had the right target species. The plan was to head to the best Mullet spot I had scouted in the lead up to the competition but sure enough there were 10 boats there already and the Mullet were few and far between.

After about an hour into these types of competitions the challenge really begins. There is no area that hasn’t been checked and there are no secrets. Often, plans go out the window and you are left scratching for fish. This became a difficult day for all of us. I managed only to get onto a good shipwreck in 25 metres at the end of the day; hindsight is a great thing…

Sam Power with a typical big Snapper which are moving into the shallows this time of year. This one weighed 11.8kg.

Final rankings and thanks!

The final day was tough for our New Zealand team resulting in us dropping down the rankings to end up 8th out of 23 countries. We were up against 70 of the best divers in the world. Individual results were: Dwane 15th, Jackson 25th and Rowan 26th.

It was very much a team effort and a big thanks goes out to our support crew Ian Warnock (Manager), Geoff Crawford (Reserve), Scott Mackereth (scout), Herb (support and boatman), Julian Oneil (Boatman), Annie Herbert (Cook and ground support) and others.

Local seasonal update

Back in New Zealand we are coming into a big transition time of the year for our fisheries. Both Packhorse and Red Crayfish have and are coming into shedding their old shells and the females are carrying eggs. This results in plenty of crayfish becoming soft and females full of ‘berry’ (eggs).

Fish wise plenty of species will begin spawning throughout to January.

These are exciting times as Kingfish become more prevalent in shallow water and some big specimens can be found. Big Snapper begin schooling up and can be found in the shallows.

Typically as soon as the water hits 18 degrees C the fishery will be in full swing in the north, with plenty of school fish, sharks and Boarfish migrating onto shallow reefs to pair up for spawning.

I have been having some great diving in the Hauraki Gulf with good visibility and when looking hard enough, I can find plenty of fish. The visibility will start becoming patchy and unpredictable as the algae bloom begins with the warming water.

Even with flat seas and no rain, visibility can still be poor. This is typical through to January when the water temperature stabilises. But with the dirty water will come plenty of fish so it is a good trade off.

This time of year I find spearing the coast and the inshore islands will provide the best results where the fish tend to spawn in close first.

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