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Pinnacles are oceanic oases

By Steve Hathaway
Diving-PinnaclesPeople often think that the ocean is teeming with fish, and this can be true, but only in very isolated places. The reality is that the ocean is more like a desert, with vast areas that hold very little life, while at the other end of the spectrum there are areas that are just like oases in the desert, where high concentrations of sea life abound.

While there are plenty of habitats where fish like to live and congregate, only submerged pinnacles or rocks that suddenly rise from the ocean floor seem to attract more than their fair share of fish numbers. A particularly good example of this type of oceanic oasis – which most of us will never get to visit – is an area called the Whanganella Banks, which has come to prominence in the last few years via Matt Watson. It is the El Dorado of striped marlin fishing.

Unfortunately, this article is not about diving the Whanganellas (because dreams are free, but the actual experience costs a truckload more pesos than most of us are able to spend); rather, the Whanganellas are an extreme example of what happens when a peak suddenly rises from the ocean floor, forcing the plankton-rich, cooler water from deep down upwards. The end result sees a huge gathering of marine life, from small baitfish through to marauding packs of striped marlin.

Pinnacles are fish magnets, although some are better than others. However, it doesn’t matter if the pin is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean or in the middle of your harbour, as long as there is current hitting it, the principle is the same, so it should hold plenty of life. As already touched on, the reason why the coastal pins hold so much life is due to the current suddenly changing direction, being forced to come up and over the structure, which in turn leads to large quantities of baitfi sh being drawn into the area by the plankton concentration on offer. This kicks the rest of the food chain into gear, so other predators such as snapper, kingfish and john dory won’t be too far away. Most of you will be familiar with driving over a pinnacle and watching the depth-sounder suddenly brighten with clumps of fish as the reef starts to rise and you head over the top of it. However, sometimes it’s not necessary to have the fish-finder going to know there’s a pinnacle below, as schools of trevally and kahawai can be seen franticly feeding on the surface above it.

Seeing this action from the boat is an unforgettable experience, but getting in the water and actually seeing what is happening under the surface ratchets the whole thing up a few more gears! These surface schools are something I will never get sick of swimming with, and I also get a huge amount of pleasure seeing someone jump into the water to experience this scene for the first time, right up close and personal. The hoots and hollering as the realisation of what seemed like hundreds of trevally feeding, with their backs breaking the surface, is revealed to actually be many thousands of fish, their numbers being well beyond what was imagined from the comfort of the boat.

pin2However, the trevally can just be the beginning. On a good day there may be huge schools of various species cruising or milling around in layers. Kahawai and koheru tend to be right underneath the main area of action, while blue maomao, sweep and demoiselles are more likely to be sitting up into the current, down the side of the reef. These different schools will often intermingle – especially when there’s lots of food present – while at other times it seems that each fish species has a fence keeping them separated from the other. Individual kingfish regularly swim through these schools with a grace and presence that’s truly regal, or patrol the outskirts of the baitfish at the reef front – they are never far from this kind of smorgasbord. Even though it is not common to see snapper while scuba diving, this kind of turf is where they are right at home, so they can be found mingling with the other fish at various depths.

By now, if you are a line fisherman, you may be thinking: how does all this apply to me? Well, I think this has everything to do with you, because by knowing where fish tend to congregate and learning how to fish these locations properly, you’ll find yourself taking much more fish home for dinner.

Consequently, keep the following aspects in mind: Current: The presence of current is perhaps the biggest determining factors for fish being present (and actively feeding). Location: The next most important thing is locating where the fish are sitting on the structure. It is usual to have one side of the pin or reef full of life, while the opposite side seems devoid of living creatures – a stark contrast that can sometimes occur over a very short distance. However, as a general rule, schooling fish will sit facing into the current, which means they will be at the end of the reef that the current hits first.

Then, when the tide changes direction, the side that was going off only recently can be completely dead, while the other is now bubbling with life, thanks to the ‘changing of the guard’. I think something that separates the most successful fishers from the rest is not necessarily that they have more knowledge about how, where and when to catch fish.

Rather, it is about the way they apply their knowledge, knowing what type of fish could be present in a particular situation, and fishing accordingly. They know that if there is lots of bait around, the likelihood of kingies, snapper, john dory and other predatory fish being present is very high. They will position their boat so their lines hit the target zone where the predators will be. Knowledge of what ‘should be there’ can provide that extra bit of the perseverance to stick it out longer, turning an average day into an incredible day out.

All charter skippers have plenty of pinnacles marked on their chartplotters; some are closely guarded secrets found over many years on the water. So while there are lots of pins marked on the boating charts, keep an eye out on your depth-sounder as you drive anywhere, as there are thousands that aren’t, and all hold huge potential. One of my favourite diving spots has a group of seven or eight pinnacles spread over a large area, with only one or two of them holding the fish – it is very rare for the fish to be spread around all of them. And sometimes there seems to be no rhyme or reason why they have chosen one rock over the others, although there’s no doubting that some rocks are more likely to be holding fish than others.

Again, the keys that make a pinnacle work are moving current and the direction it is coming from. If going scuba diving at a submerged pin, it really pays to think through the whole safety aspect and talk your plan through with your boatman, as sometimes these reefs are very isolated, with strong currents making them potentially dangerous places to dive. Having a good boatman and plan in place could be your lifeline.

So next time out on the water, keep an eye out for one of these oceanic oases – they hold more fish than you could ever imagine! 

Courtesy of New Zealand Fishing News
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