By Clarke Gayford
So I’ve got this new TV series coming out next year. It hasn’t been easy, but I took a gamble, stepped back from paid employment and threw myself into it for reasons that will soon become obvious. It’s called Fish of the Day, and if you look closely at the logo you’ll see a spear-gun. Yes, this tin-arse has managed to turn a passion into a vocation.
So what better way to step away from the radio mic and back in front of a camera fulltime than to head to Rarotonga to shoot the first episode of this new adventure? If ever there was a life-affirming tonic, this was to be it.
Rarotonga is a volcanic cone that rises from the sea floor 4000m below, nature’s own FAD (fish aggregation device) if you will. Humpbacks use it like a local bar. The males turn up each season and use the reef to bounce their songs out to any ladies within whale earshot. Singing I could quite clearly hear as I slipped into the water on a man-made FAD just outside of the harbour.
The island has nine FADs to choose from, each named after the landmark adjacent, usually having an inshore and further offshore option. Being a relative small island, just 32kms in circumference, it’s easy to find a bit of shelter regardless of wind direction, and the inshore FADs are only several hundred metres offshore.
No matter how many times you do it, it’s still quite eerie slipping into water that you know is 1200m deep with 60+ metres of visibility. Of course not helped by a large Tiger Shark sighting here just the day before. I knew this because local spearo John Beasley who had witnessed it was now back out with me.
A quick change of FADS as the sun set and suddenly Eva from Akura charters had found us some action, all just at the back of the airport. Almost as soon as I entered the water I could see the fish we were here specifically to target, wahoo. As I was to learn, big ones too. Interestingly all were very shallow, hanging within several metres of the surface. However getting one close enough for a shot was a completely different story though.
Now the first rule of spearing in the tropics is when you think you are close enough, get closer. The clarity of water and fish size confuses your ability to judge distance. Johnny told me this and I had experienced it first-hand in Niue, so off I went confident that this time I had it sussed. You can imagine my disappointment finally squeezing the trigger on a fish that looked about 15kg, only to watch the spear run out of puff well short. I was absolutely convinced I’d been close enough, but the camera doesn’t lie and reviewing the footage that night I was astounded to be told by Johnny that the fish I went short on was probably well over 40kg! Man did I read that wrong! And embarrassingly it didn’t happen once, twice, but three times!
Lying awake that night, with no wahoo to show for it, I knew I needed to change tactics. The pressure was mounting with only one more chance for the TV show. In short, my 120cm, double 16mm rubbered gun just wasn’t enough. I was supposed to be using a Beuchat Roller Revolution Gun, but I had arrived to discover it had a broken muzzle, rendering it unusable … or was it? Lying in bed that night, I hatched a plan to jury-rig it the following morning.
However, on this next trip the fish were nowhere to be found. We darted between FADs, each time being disappointed.
Running out of daylight, the call was made to head out to one of the offshore options. The current was so strong here that I had to hang onto the FAD with my mask almost pulling off my face. And again nothing. This wasn’t looking good. Climbing on board the boat we decided to head up current and try one last drift down through a school of mahi-mahi, at least this would be something.
This time Johnny worked the flasher and suddenly down deep something shimmered. A wahoo, but the hardest type of wahoo to shoot; a lone one. I chased this fish so hard I had to swim freestyle on the surface to keep up. Normally I wouldn’t, but these were desperate times. Johnny and cameraman Mike had continued on with the current, but I made it back to the FAD hanging on while I huffed and puffed into my snorkel trying to catch my breath.
Curious, the wahoo turned back to see what the hell was this thing flailing after it. I drew breath and dove down to meet it, trying to keep my shape small and my eyes narrow to not cause alarm. But it was wise to these tricks and being the fastest accelerating fish in the ocean, being able to travel at speeds of up to 21mps, a mere nano-flick of its tail and it was off. That was it, my chance.
I could see the boat approaching after picking the others up in the distance and, dejected, I gave in to the current floating back to meet it. Then something very strange happened.
As the boat drew closer, its wake and prop wash must have grabbed the attention of the wahoo and I could suddenly see it right-angling back up to the boat from the depths. Taking my chance I kicked as hard as I could towards it. It was still focused on the boat so didn’t notice me until almost at the surface. In fact I was so shallow when I fired that my head-mounted GoPro was out of the water and the guys on the boat could see everything.
The shot was long and not the prettiest, but this time it had the grunt to get there. Seeing my bungee line stretch and the float go tearing past I suddenly started to realise the true speed of these ocean predators. An unbelievable, almost cartoonish-like pace. Only a slip tip would have held in these circumstances, and hold it did, as I first exhausted and then hauled in my first and only Rarotongan Wahoo.
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If you’d like to find out when you can see this on TV check out Fish of the Day on Facebook.