Chasing Kingfish on the Spear in Winter

Chasing Kingfish on the Spear in Winter

Photos by Etoile SmuldersIt is generally accepted that the kingfish in NZ largely ‘disappear’ for the winter months. They typically head to an unknown destination to fatten up and count down the days until they can make an appearance on every pinnacle and hotspot in the country during summer.We had been wanting to go to the Mokes before the summer season ended, but with the constant easterlies we were faced with, it was June before a gap lined up for us to get out with some friends on our dive boat. The aim was to find some fat winter kingfish and blue water, as the inshore conditions were below average.From a spearfishing perspective, when you do find kingfish in winter, their curiosity seems to have waned and their behaviour is cagey (compared to summer when most kingfish are schooling and will attempt to rub noses with you). The challenge of fish keeping their distance and making you work harder to get in a position to shoot makes for stimulating diving and rewarding captures. In summer, just your presence in the right place at the right time is enough to guarantee an encounter, whereas in winter you have to get a little more creative with your approach.After jumping in at a few spots where the current wasn’t quite right and seeing a few kings down deep, heading off into the distance with no interest, we eventually got to a spot where the current was running along the edge of a drop-off, which concentrated the bait on a pressure point at the top of the drift. The visibility was 15-20m, and the bait was balling and darting erratically – a sure way to tell there were predators in the area.Koheru, for me, are the ticket to kingfish success. Find the fattest shoaling koheru and chances are there will be kingfish in the area. Getting them to show themselves is the challenge. A tactic we use is to dive in a pair and take turns shooting the koheru. We then leave them on the line for a short while, before retrieving them to ‘gut’ in the water. This creates a great berley trail, and if you don’t attract anything else after an hour or two, at least you will have some great koheru that has been gutted to take home for sashimi.Image

We eventually found a spot where the bait was concentrated on a pressure point, with current running along a drop-off.The fact that there are minimal sharks around in the colder months makes this technique more of a winter sport, as anyone who has berleyed up on a pinnacle in summer will know that it does not take long to attract the wrong customers. Long bottom times and throaty grunts can pique the fish’s curiosity, but nothing beats a bait fish struggling. This is definitely the best way to transmit a signal to the kingfish’s lateral line that there is food around.It wasn’t long before we saw some good-sized kingfish under the bait and, with a bit of cunning, we got one on the boat. I use a shorter gun clipped onto a belt reel on my weight belt to shoot the bait and let it dangle, while my bigger gun is loaded until an opportunity at a good fish arises. A short but super fat fish of just over 20kg was the first customer to land onboard. The other divers were soon on the spot, and at one point we had three kingfish on at the same time (which got pretty exciting!). One of the reel guns even got fully stripped before we were able to turn the fish. One by one everyone managed a fish of over 20kg, with the biggest going 25kg. The fish were all in great condition and had the most prime-conditioned fillets, with a healthy layer of fat.Once everyone had a fish on board we headed off, as the weather was predicted to get up in the afternoon. We tucked in behind Little Barrier and fired up the COBB Grill for a lunch of crumbed kingfish burgers that were so fresh the fish may as well have swum into the buns.The way you deal with kingfish makes all the difference in eating quality. The reason you will occasionally hear some bad reviews of kingfish’s eating quality is completely down to incorrect care of the catch. Bleeding the fish as quickly as possible and cooling the meat down are the first priorities. Avoid leaving the fish sitting in juices in the chilly bin as the aim is to keep the fish as cool and dry as possible. Once back at base, I remove the head and clean the gut cavity of the inner membrane and bloodline, drying it off with paper towels as I go. The fish should then be hung in a chiller or fridge by the tail for anything from 3-8 days, just like you would do with venison or any game animal. This process eliminates the moisture from the fish and ‘dry ages’ the fish, in a basic sense. The sashimi gets better every day. If you do this before freezing your fillets, they won’t have moisture in them, and once you defrost them, the quality of the fish is significantly better than if you just freeze straight from fresh.Image
“ Long bottom times and throaty grunts can pique the fish’s curiosity, but nothing beats a bait fish struggling. Image
A short but super fat fish of just over 20kg was the first customer to come onboard.Image
“ We tucked in behind Little Barrier and fired up the COBB Grill for a lunch of crumbed kingfish burgers....  Image
When you dry age kingfish, the sashimi gets better everyday.I’m looking forward to the next winter dive session and encourage anyone who thinks the kingfish disappear in the colder season to go try their spots – you never know when you will be rewarded!For anyone looking to get out to some of the more remote fishing spots, we run charters out of Tairua and in the Hauraki Gulf, and specialise in spearfishing trips for small groups of divers.



Credit  NZ Fishing News

May 13, 2024 — NZDiver Admin
How To Catch Snapper

How To Catch Snapper

Snapper is arguably New Zealand’s most popular sport and table fish. They are copper-pink on top with a silver-white underside and small blue dots along their sides.Most snapper mature between 3 and 5 years of age or around 23cm in length. Adult snapper can grow to 1m in length and live to over 60 years in age.Adult snapper are generalists, capable of occupying a wide range of habitats and eating a large variety of food sources. They prey predominantly on crustaceans, worms, shellfish, kina, squid, and other fish.Where to catchSnapper are found consistently around the entire North Island. Further south, they occur mostly around the upper third of the South Island, straying further south in summer. The Hauraki Gulf, Bay of Islands, Doubtless Bay, Bay of Plenty, Hawke Bay, Taranaki Bight, Tasman Bay, and Golden Bay are recognised snapper breeding areas.Within their preferred range, snapper are at home in a wide range of habitats, including rocky reefs, areas with sandy or muddy bottoms, harbours, and estuaries. They are mainly caught in depths of 1-60m but can also be found down to about 200m. By virtue of their distribution, they are a key target for both land-based and boat anglers.Image
Māori name: TāmureScientific name: Chrysophrys auratusAll-tackle NZ record: 17.2kgEating quality: ExcellentWhen to catchLarge numbers of adult snapper migrate close inshore in spring and early summer to feed aggressively before and after spawning. Breeding takes place in moderate depths in wide, sheltered bays once the water temperature nudges 18°C.Once summer hits its stride, juvenile fish join the adults inshore and can dominate the catch, especially in sheltered harbours.Snapper present excellent angling opportunities year-round, with winter being a particularly good time to hunt down trophy fish that inhabit shallow reefs.Dawn and dusk is a primetime for seducing snapper, since many fish rely on low light for camouflage, especially in shallow water. Night fishing can be good (especially if there is some moon), but snapper often go off the bite a couple of hours after the sun goes down.The tide is important, especially in the shallows; in some harbours, productive fishing areas dry out completely at low tide. The effect of the tide varies from place to place, with most locations fishing better on one tide or the other (incoming or outgoing). Snapper fishing is consistently better when the tide is running, particularly on the East Coast, and it pays to target Bite Times to maximise your chances. It is also worth remembering that snapper fishing can often be poor during and immediately following a full moon.How to catchAs generalist feeders occupying a wide range of habitats, snapper are readily caught using a wide variety of methods.Slow-jiggingSlow-jigging with lures such as sliders, inchikus, and micro-jigs is now one of the most popular methods of snapper fishing, particularly in areas like the Hauraki Gulf during workup season. This technique is best employed in depths of 20-60m, with efforts concentrated in the ‘bite zone’ close to the bottom.Soft-baitingA simple and versatile way to catch snapper year-round in shallower water (less than 20m) is casting and retrieving soft-baits. Standard practice involves casting ahead of your drift direction, letting the soft-bait sink to the bottom (while staying alert for bites), then slowly retrieving it with twitching rod lifts and drops.Stray-liningStray-lined baits are usually cast away from the boat or shore and allowed to sink slowly towards the bottom with little or no weight. Fishing large baits, in conjunction with berley, is a traditional way to catch large snapper, especially in reefy territory. Boat placement in relation to the structure you are fishing is key, with wind and a decent current running in the same direction preferable.Dropper and flasher rigsDropper and flasher rigs include one or more baited hooks branching off the main line with a suitable sinker at the bottom. Sufficient weight is needed to keep the baits near the bottom, where snapper often feed.Land-basedSnapper are a prime target for many shore anglers. Good snapper numbers feed off surf beaches around the North Island, with renowned spots including Taranaki and Ninety Mile Beach.Berleying and casting straylined baits off the rocks is a great way to bag a few snapper, and in more remote locations the fish will swim right up to your feet!
May 13, 2024 — Joseph Dunning
Paua And Abalone

Paua And Abalone

Have you ever heard of the stunning paua abalone from New Zealand? This unique shellfish is not only a culinary delicacy but also a true natural wonder. Let's dive into the fascinating world of paua abalone and discover what makes it so special.

What makes Paua Abalone unique?

Paua abalone, also known as Haliotis iris, is a species of abalone that is native to the coastal waters of New Zealand. What sets paua abalone apart from other shellfish is its vibrant and iridescent shell, which displays a mesmerizing range of colors, from deep blues and greens to shimmering pinks and purples.

Why is Paua Abalone prized?

Paua abalone is highly prized for its exquisite taste and unique texture. It is often considered a delicacy in many cuisines around the world, prized for its tender meat and subtle briny flavor. In addition to its culinary value, paua abalone is also sought after for its stunning shell, which is used in jewelry and decorative items.

How is Paua Abalone harvested?

Paua abalone is sustainably harvested in New Zealand, where strict regulations ensure the protection of this precious shellfish. Harvesting paua abalone is a delicate process that requires skilled divers to carefully select mature specimens while leaving younger abalone to continue growing and reproducing.

Why choose Paua Abalone?

Choosing paua abalone means not only indulging in a luxurious culinary experience but also supporting sustainable practices and the local economy of New Zealand. By opting for paua abalone, you are not only treating your taste buds but also contributing to the conservation of this unique marine species.

Next time you're looking to elevate your dining experience or add a touch of natural beauty to your life, consider paua abalone from New Zealand. Its exquisite taste, stunning shell, and sustainable harvesting practices make it a true gem of the sea.

March 26, 2024 — NZDiver Admin
Atlantis G10 - Dive Glove Review

Atlantis G10 - Dive Glove Review

One of the most crucial bits of gear for keeping yourself comfortable in the water is a good pair of gloves. The right pair will keep your hands warm and protected from the variety of sharp things that’ll cut soft, wet fingers in the water. Being as how we’re kiwis though, there’s really only one sharp thing in the water we care about. The crayfish.

I remember my first summer holiday when I started catching crays with my father. Every night we’d try to dig and squeeze bits of cray spine out of our fingers before filling them up again the next day. We were using pathetic cotton gardening gloves that would barely protect your hands from a rose thorn let alone a buck cray.

Since then I’ve gone on to work as a commercial cray diver in the Chatham Islands and in that job the right pair of gloves are absolutely essential. In a normal day we might catch one hundred crays or more each and I doubt there’s a harder test for dive gloves anywhere.

I’ve tried all sorts of gloves out but without a doubt the best glove I’ve come across is the Atlantis Quest G10. This simple glove is made of a hardwearing Amara material (a sort of synthetic suede) and thin neoprene. Unlike most gloves marketed as cray gloves, these gloves are thin enough to maintain the dexterity needed to hold onto a cray and to be precise enough not to break off all its legs.

The amara reinforcing is placed in all the right spots to protect your hands but the neoprene on the back allows enough stretch.

I know years of development have gone into these gloves and it shows in the incredible fit. The fingers are all just the right length and they don’t get baggy. They are also extremely well built and I’ve never had to retire a pair because of loose or running stitching.

The one trick that we use boost the performance of the gloves is to wear a very thin liner (cheap nitrile palmed gloves from Bunnings usually) underneath the G10 although I never bother with this diving recreationally.

Basically if you want a great glove that will stand up to the hardest abuse a kiwi cray diver can through at it, the Atlantis G10 is the one.

April 10, 2023 — NZDiver Admin
Diving at Karikari

Diving at Karikari

Karikari Peninsula is a place of stark contrasts. Visiting for the first time, you are immediately faced with desolate, arid-looking countryside that obviously has great extremes in its weather. Bearing the brunt of cyclonic tropical storms and long dry summers, life on land is tough. Yet this harsh landscape offers no hint of the lush contrast that lies in the surrounding turquoise ocean. Matai Bay, at the end of the public road, is without doubt one of my favourite beaches. Not only is it one of the most beautiful looking pieces of coastline you’ll ever find, but it also holds so many memories of past holiday and spearfishing adventures. These include my best placing at the national spearfishing champs, where my partner and I narrowly came first in the teams’ swim-off contest. It’s also where I speared my first snapper, a 4.6kg specimen (10lb) directly off the beach, and then, on my next visit, a 9.1kg monster – my first 20lber.

The location and underwater topography make it a unique place, as you have a peninsula that juts out to sea, with deep water coming close to the coast, along with plentiful shallow bays and islands. Add to this the numerous pinnacles that rise out of the deep and come close to the surface, combined with good currents, and the whole setup screams world-class fishing. It’s one of the few places in New Zealand where, given the right conditions, you could easily catch marlin, snapper, hapuku, kingfish and crays within a few kilometres of each other. The very conditions that make it a Mecca for fishermen also make it incredible for scuba diving. Recently I had a diving weekend there. Although actually a club spear-fishing trip, these days the tanks and camera are never far away due to my underwater filming work, with my aims being to dive some of the deeper pinnacles I’m very familiar with (from spending time spearing them) and to explore those areas below, where the limitations of one breath had restricted me. I had some suspicions about what I would find, but the great thing about diving somewhere new, or looking with a different perspective, is the chance of a surprise waiting to be discovered. This weekend was not going to disappoint on that front!

The first pinnacle I dived is a tiny rock that seemingly erupts from the bottom over 40m below and stops just short of the surface. It has all the elements of an epic spot for fish, but from my experience it runs more cold than hot. However, I had heard rumours that giant boarfish love hanging out here, and that was enough to make me want to have a look. Gliding down the steep sides into the gloomy depths, the kelp gradually began to decline, and there was a ‘changing of the guard’, with finger sponges starting to appear on the vertical walls.

Apparently this pin had been a hot spot for huge crays that the locals would carefully harvest, but I’ve been told that someone from out of town hammered it over a couple of weeks and it’s never been the same since. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I can say that there were no crays at home on this dive! Nearing the base of the rock in 10- 12m visibility, it appeared that there was a serious lack of colour down there. But when I turned on my underwater camera’s bright LED lights, what seemed to be devoid of colour became a dazzling display rivalling the best botanical garden. And next, from out of nowhere glided a cloud of fish, at first a little hard to recognise, but my suspicions were proven correct – a large school of inquisitive golden snapper.

I love these guys: they are such a cool, prehistoric-looking fish. No wonder I’d never seen them here before, as this was well beyond where I’m capable of free-diving. They continued to hang around, seemingly very relaxed, until each time I exhaled, when they would skitter off in unison into the gloom. Unfortunately, with the limited bottom time allowed at this depth, I didn’t find any giant boarfish, but they could wait for another visit.

The next day I dived another pin that comes to within 15m of the surface from 40-plus metres. At times, even in clear water, the rock is impossible to see from the surface, as it can attract huge quantities of different species of fish, including marlin at the right time of the year. On this day the visibility was a hazy 15m, and I could just make out the rock through the ever-present school of pink maomao. Again, the aim was to see what lived down towards the bottom of the rock, so without wasting time I swam through the clouds of pink maomao, descending into the depths. I was certain I would find another school of goldies down there, but the current must have been running the wrong way for them that day, as none were present.

Suddenly, something caught the corner of my eye. It looked like a small tree in the distance. Then, as I swam closer, my suspicions were confirmed – it was a small black coral tree. Wow! I had never seen one outside of Fiordland before (they can be found in very shallow water there, but in Northland they are normally deeper than the 36m this one was in). I was surprised that an anchor hadn’t smashed it off at this popular spot, or someone hadn’t taken it as a souvenir (black coral is protected in NZ).

I spent the last few minutes of my dive filming this amazing find, and was joined by a school of pink maomao before I had to head to the surface. This dive may not have been productive in the way I used to judge my dives – as I hadn’t got a fresh fish meal or two with me at the surface – but what I did take away was some great memories that I’m still enjoying to this day. The beautiful Matai Bay can be accessed by public road, and is a great launching point for any Cape Karikari excursion.

Courtesy of New Zealand Fishing News

April 08, 2023 — NZDiver Admin
Cray Tales from Tawharanui

Cray Tales from Tawharanui

This is what they call aqua aerobics, cray style. For many, just hearing the word ‘crayfish’ will cause their mouths to start salivating at the thought of eating these tasty morsels. Yes, I had some cray tails the other day that were cooked on the BBQ with a coating of sweet chilli sauce and butter, and I have to say for about five minutes it was as if I’d been transported to heaven. I’m sure some of you have experienced this: when you’re with a group of people and mention you’re going on a diving trip to catch some crays, something almost miraculous happens. The atmosphere in the room changes – it’s amazing what affect that five-letter word can have. Often you’ll find yourself the most popular person in the room!

I’ve put plenty of thought into how I could get better at catching crays – especially those cunning ones that hang right at the back of caves out of arm’s reach. There is one crayfish that got the better of me and it still gives me flashbacks, even though it was 20 years ago! I was staying on the ocean side of Great Barrier Island for a few days. I had some new schemes I was keen to try if needed, and sure enough, on the first excursion I found a huge cray hiding in a dark hole just out of arm’s reach. So the next day, full of expectations, I took a bottle of dishwashing liquid with me and looked in the hole hoping my nemesis was ready to be tamed. He was there alright, but now he was slightly deeper in his hole and difficult to see. Undeterred, I squirted the bottle directly in his face, expecting him to come walking straight out of the hole towards me, but no – he stood his ground like nothing had happened. The next day, after a restless night’s sleep dreaming of this massive cray, I took a nylon stocking with some fish stuffed into the end of it (I know you’re probably thinking “what the heck was he doing with a stocking on a boy’s trip away?” – I can assure you it was for the crayfish!)

Swimming down into the hole, the cray was now nearly impossible to see – so much so that if I didn’t know he was there, I would’ve swum to the next hole without even noticing him. I pushed the stocking attached to some rope as far into the hole as I could and waited… and waited… The theory was that the cray would come out for the bait, get caught in the stocking, and then I would quickly rip it out. However, this fella obviously knew my intent and was not going to risk moving from its lair for a free feed. I visited the hole day after day for the same result each time. By now it was starting to torment me, and I felt quite annoyed. Finally, on the last day I snapped and did something that to this day I am not proud of, and would never consider doing again. Using a Hawaiian sling I shot it directly between the feelers. I knew I was breaking the law, but after so many days of trying, my blind frustration somehow found a way to justify it. I pulled this huge buck from the hole, and as soon as I could see it clearly, I immediately realised why he was hiding so far back in this dark retreat. He had an absolutely minuscule, anorexic tail, and must’ve been hiding out in the dark so that he wouldn’t be laughed at by the other crays!

I felt as if I was the laughing stock now, with the words “your sins will find you out” flooding through my mind. This was totally out of character for me, but guilty as charged. (Even though it’s a semi-humorous story, I was an idiot, and as I said, it’s not a moment I’m proud of!) Recently I was asked if I wanted to film massive crays being hand-fed at Tawharanui Marine Park, just around the corner from where I live. The reason for filming the feeding was that this beautiful piece of coastline was about to become New Zealand’s newest marine reserve. In practice there’s very little that will alter with this change of status, as it’s been a total no-take area since 1981, but one change that mattered hugely for this trip was that – as with all marine reserves – it will become illegal to feed the fish or crayfish. So it was about taking the opportunity before the door shut, and it sounded way too much fun to pass up! (Tawharanui became a marine reserve on September 28, 2011).

I’ve heard lots about the Tawharanui cray population from Dr Roger Grace, one of New Zealand’s most respected marine scientists. He knows more about this population than anyone else, as he’s been doing annual crayfish surveys there since the late 1960s. His research is showing that there are approximately 1000 legal-sized crays per hectare inside the protected area. If this doesn’t sound like a lot to you, then check out this fact: exactly the same surveys were done on a couple of very similar pieces of unprotected Northland coastline – Whananaki and Mimiwhangata – and the difference is staggering! Those areas average out at about two legal crays per hectare

Now I know some of you might be sceptical of figures showing 500 times more crays inside than outside this reserve, so I had to ask the questions. I gave him a grilling to make sure I understood him correctly and that both surveys were equally systematic. His response was that it’s actually much easier to do a count outside the reserve, as he didn’t have to burrow through the kelp to count the crays. Also, the results don’t mean there are only two or 1000 crays in that particular hectare, but that was the number of crays counted on the transect lines. Once in the water, something that amazed me was the number of large buck crayfish between 1.5 to 4.5kg in every area I dived. Wow! Outside the park on the surrounding coast you would be lucky to find one of these in a full day’s diving, let alone in the big numbers we saw here. But despite this abundance, the problem I faced was finding a very specific location to set up my tripod and camera to get a good view of the action.

The first buck I saw was not only the biggest of the trip, it was also very bolshy. As soon as it saw a fish in my hand, it marched towards me with it’s colossal body and front claws with the swagger of a disproportionate top-heavy bodybuilder strutting his stuff. I actually got a bit of a shock at how quickly it lurched forward, lifting it’s front claws, giving a quick one-two like Mike Tyson in his prime, before rapidly ripping the fish out of my fingertips (note to self: don’t be such a pussy next time and hold onto the fish more firmly). Much to my disgust, this prime candidate for my filming didn’t read the script: having secured its meal, it was totally disinterested in me for the rest of the dive. Doh!

Thankfully, it didn’t take long to find what appeared to be the perfect cray. He was sitting in the open, in a rocky basin, with no fear of me at all. So I meticulously set up my underwater camera and got the lights in position ready to film this beauty – but he was having none of it, marching straight at me and attacking the lens. My apprehension levels went up: “Hey don’t you know that’s over $7000 worth of glass you’re scratching?” Thankfully, this wilful vandalism quickly subsided before any damage was done, but now he was climbing over the camera, looking like he was operating the controls with all ten legs. I was thinking, “if he does much more of this I’ll have to include him in the camera credits!” All of a sudden, the cray noticed my dive buddy carrying a catch bag with some bait inside. Quickly dismounting the camera, he made a beeline for him, leaving the relative safety of the rocks and marching out onto the sand maybe 15m from his first resting place.

Now came the funny part: he caught up to my buddy and grabbed the catch bag from his hand! I’ve caught a lot of crays in my life, but this is definitely the first one that wanted to get into a catch bag! These were only two of the many crays I filmed that day, and it was an experience I’ll never forget. Thankfully I have the footage to prove it or no one would believe me!

Courtesy of New Zealand Fishing News October 2011

April 08, 2023 — NZDiver Admin