With Jackson Shields
This is something I have done a few times and really enjoy. It’s a different world out there at night. Sea life emerges that normally stays in the depths, or in the darkness during the day.
The main target for me spearfishing at night is SQUID! This is my favourite seafood and they can be abundant during the night as opposed to seasonal during the day.
7 metre shallows…
So it was a fresh winter weekend in July, perfect conditions for a night dive out at Great Barrier Island. We used the equipment we had, which included just cray torches and short spear guns. The narrow beam of our torches was not ideal but well workable. We picked a nice spot to anchor and swim from into the shallows. Figuring around 9.30pm a good starting point we slid into the cool winter water. Visibility seemed good at around seven metres, all we needed in the shallows.
People always ask is it scary with the thought of sharks at night time, but once in the water any fear is replaced with interest and excitement of what we might see. The sea life was abundant; the sparkling eyes of many crayfish made them easy to spot from the surface, and they were wandering around active and lively in the open, unlike many of the other species. But they were also nervous at our approach and would take off into the darkness or duck into a hole very quickly.
It didn’t take long to find our desired species, the squid! Sometimes in packs we would find them hovering above the weed or patrolling barren rock in the shallows. We made quick work of them getting as many as we could find. They are interesting to hunt too, as they take off when seeing you but stop after a short period and hold their ground, either trying to be aggressive or camouflage themselves against the bottom below. It’s also important to dive after them once shot so they don’t tear off.
In the shallows, where we spent most of our time, we only encountered broad squid, whereas a friend fishing from the boat anchored out on the sand only caught arrow squid. The boat was not far away from us but maybe the arrow squid prefer the deeper open water out above the sand.
It was soon apparent there were plenty of snapper too, though at night they don’t present a challenge at all. But it was great getting up close to them for photos and also to see the areas where they would rest at night. We found them parked up in unlikely spots between small bald, white rocks, not the areas where we would normally hunt them during the day. Also unlike the daytime they were not bothered by our presence but seemed happy enough to sit still in the beam light and not spook.
It’s an exciting feeling not knowing what you are going to see in the next beam stroke. Darting big eyes normally dwelling in caves during the day are out and about and high in the water column… Conger eels out of their holes swimming along the bottom…
The biggest danger I found was to practice being careful you don’t get hit by a confused eagle ray that would come whizzing past through the beam of the torch light. The odd piper would crash into you on the surface too, no doubt dazed and attracted by the bright light.
The more we swam the braver we got
We would start off in a close group together but soon enough get distracted by something or other with each of us following different contours on the bottom. Constant communication with “come look at this” or “hurry” was required so everyone could experience what each one of us was experiencing separately. And the more we swam the braver we got, so much so we ended up out on a point getting pummelled by wind and tide. Such a place was not as fishy as the more sheltered quiet spots, and dense kelp areas made it difficult to spot the sea life. At one point we ventured out a little deeper towards the weed-edge but soon convinced ourselves the reality of that was not nearly as much fun as it might seem.
Doing it all over again
We enjoyed the squid rings and the adventure so much we decided we had to give it another shot the next night at a different spot. We tried to replicate a similar bottom structure as for the previous night, and it was just as successful. Plenty of fish to look at, and we added more squid to our tally. But after an excitable shark sighting during the day at a near-by spot one of our divers decided the boat was the best place to be. Nonetheless and undeterred we kept diving til 2am, always finding very different and abundant ecosystems compared to those of the day light hours. So much so we are already planning our next night dive.