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Great Barrier Biteys

Barrier Biteys 700Despite assurances from the met service of a nil swell, as we rounded the headland into ‘THE’ bay, it was obvious there was a fair bit of lift coming in. Normally that would be that, but this was THE bay, my (and the skippers) favourite 1500m of snapper snooping ground anywhere. Moreover, it was November, prime snapper season and it was late evening. In other words, swell aside, everything was perfect. So I’d accept what lift there was and trust in THE bay to produce the goods.

But after covering only a few metres, it became obvious that the lift was near unworkable. Trying to hang close to cover threatened the possibility of being smashed against the rocks and more often than not, on approaching the ledges, the surge would inevitably push at my legs until finally they would tumble over my head, sending me flailing up the gutters. Not that it mattered much, as no self respecting snapper would be resting up in these conditions. They’d find it as uncomfortable as I was.

So with little else to do and two hours to kill before the boat returned, I set myself to catching crays for the nights dinner but they were hard going and despite the odd little fella, after half an hour at it, I conceded defeat here as well.
Disgusted, I hopped up on the rocks and whooped and hollered at the boatman who had anchored himself up at our rendezvous point, hoping that in getting his attention, I’d save myself a 30 minute swim. But Rambo had equipped his boat with a fine stereo system matched only in quality by the contents of the boats chiller, which boatman Bob was imbibing freely going by the racket coming from aboard ship, apparent even from a kilometer distant. Realizing that there was zero chance that my calls would penetrate the bass and alcoholic fog he was enveloped in, it was back to snooping again. Speed snooping really, sort of an impromptu combination of snooping and bolting back to the boat before the beers ran out.

I approached a fine looking brick, submerging maybe 5m from the edge of it, glided quietly and smoothly to the edge and poked my nose over. Below me spread out a deep, wide gutter, scattered with demoiselles, blue mao mao and the odd silver drummer, all feeding or playing in a slight current running the length of the gut. I peered harder still, willing my eyes to spot the telltale white smudge of a snapper’s pectorals or caudal fin in the 5m of gloomy green soup. Instead, ahead and in midwater a large head appeared, sleek and dark. For a split second I thought it was a shark but just for a moment, then the realization that it was a king. Now, normally I’d have let him swim by but at the end of a long kingfish-less winter, the temptation is that much greater and besides, I’d promised the skipper a kingie if I was fortunate enough to run into one. Tempering my enthusiasm was, firstly, that it was dusk and a shark would sure love my kingie for dinner and secondly, that even taking into account the dirtiness of the water, this fella was looking kinda big and I didn’t fancy having to haul him all the way back to the boat with me. But what the hell, as he turned broadside just 2m in front of me, I reached out with my faithful RA and gave him the good news, the shot punching clean through his pectoral girdle: a nice holding shot. For a moment he didn’t react, and then slowly he put on the power, plunging down into the gut before turning side on and plugging for the bottom. My plan with kings is to just let them stay down there: as long as they’re off the bottom, you have things in control and it is infinitely preferable to hauling in a green fish immediately, panicking the fish and risking loosing it by tearing free or worse, entanglement with as powerful a fish as a kingie. So there we were, plugging away-he’s dragging me down with relative ease and I’m starting to think that he might be a bit bigger than I’d thought, when without warning he comes screaming up out of the gut to join me on the surface. ‘Odd’, I’m thinking to myself, then I notice the reason for his hasty exit; a nice bronzie hot on his tail. This is not good. Of course, I do the manly thing and retreat to the shallowest water I can find, the top of a bommie about 2m deep. Inconveniently, the kingie approves of my strategy and joins me so that now both of us are in very close quarters, with him smashing the bejesus out of my gear on the rocks and generally doing his best to entangle and drown me, while Mr. Bronzie circles excitedly, zooming out of the gloom, snapping his jaws every so often just to remind me that I’m really making a hash of this. I eventually decide to tackle the problem one issue at a time, limiting the amount of line available to the king so that soon he is groggily lolling at my fin tips, the by now macaroni-ed shaft still holding firm. Just so you know, it is entirely possible to play a decent king in shallow water with only one eye on him, freeing up the other eye to keep close watch on the Great Barrier Division of the Underwater Taxation Services’ regional representative. But it’s not possible to administer the coup de grace with just the one eye. For this you need both as there’s a fair few things to keep in check…and this means that this final act is not very fun at all. Enveloped in a cloud of blood clutching a spasming king in murky water…at dusk…being circled by an over stimulated shark, is an arse of a proposition. Full stop. And when you aren’t allowed to keep an eye on him it’s an even arser of a proposition.

O.K, now to deal with the next step, which is to get away from the shark. The best way of achieving this is to get out of the water so I swim to a breaking bommie and climb out, dragging the kingie with me. Out of the water, I get a good appreciation of his size; near 30kg, I reckon and in perfect condition. The plan is to abandon the king on the rocks and retrieve him later but this rock simply won’t do, the black basalt has baked in the sun all day and will ruin the king’s flesh in short order. A part of me wants too just ditch the bloody thing but my conscience won’t let me waste him. I have made my bed, I tell myself, and now I must lay in it. 50m ahead a larger brick breaks the surface and a spur atop it creates a shaded southern side, where the rock will still be cool. I take to the sea once more, clutching my trophy to my chest in order to discourage our mate, who I know from experience is just out of sight in the gloom, feverishly doing the risk vs. reward equation that controls the lives of all his kind. In order to get his equation to read something like (risk>reward), it’s important to think tough guy thoughts: he lives his life picking up vibes so I do my best to put out tough guy vibes. I’m bad, Mr. B.A.D, Johnny Bad-ass. Mess with me at your peril. It’s all front, of course, but no matter. Front is all you need and I’m packing more front than a buck rat with a gold tooth. COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO.

Two unnerving minutes later and the kingie and I, both still whole, are safely up on the rock. I stash him in a nice shady spot and spend the next 15 minutes repairing my shaft and untangling my float line. A couple of times, a dark shape moves below me in a gutter and when I finally gather the nerve to get back in, the shark is upon me again, no doubt very pissed that his dinner has gone and, suspicious I have secreted it somewhere on my person, he makes a couple of close passes before conceding the game is up and going on his way.
Still, the boat sits at anchor, though now, even at this distance, I can make out even which song is playing, Kenny Rogers’ gambler is breaking even-I sure hope there’s some beer left.

From this point on, my snapper snoop takes a decided turn for the better as on only the 2nd or 3rd brick on, I come across a 2kg snapper feeding actively and though he’s quick, he’s just not quite quick enough. On the next brick, the same result and then further on, a text book descent on a sandy gut reveals a good fish asleep with pectorals flared. A well aimed example of cranial acupuncture instantly whisks him away to snapper heaven. A nice fish of maybe 7kg. Before I haul myself tiredly onto the swim step of the boat, another three nice fish to 5kg find their way onto my floatline.
Boatman Bob has had no luck with the fishing, but he seems very merry anyway. I tell Bob I have him a present stashed up in the rocks for him and when I return after he drives me to my brick, he rewards me with an ice cold beer, cap removed. Yep, things could definitely be worse.