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On a cool September morning, Ollie Craig took a couple of mates from Australia out on a mission in an undisclosed location in the Northland region to land their first New Zealand Kingfish. However, after a few close encounters, it was Ollie who ended up coming up with the goods. This is the story of how he speared a "fish of a lifetime". __Written by Ollie Craig__
A couple of Aussies I had met online were on holiday in New Zealand and were dead set on getting stuck into our famous Kingfish. So I thought I would help them out and try to land them their first Kingfish on the spear. The month was September, which is not particularly well-known for hot Kingfish action as the water is still cold from winter. The Kingfish are generally holding deeper, not coming in to begin feeding hard until October and November. I warned the Aussies that it may be hard going but I’ll take them to the best option I could think of to be holding some Kingfish this time of year. On the water before sunrise, mid-week meant the boat ramp was empty. The weather looked excellent with minimal swell and wind. It was raining, but didn’t matter as we were in our wetsuits and planning to be in the water all day. I had a few spots which would be catching the morning's incoming tide and current and were well-known for Kingfish. We pulled up to the first spot and with the current already humming, I decided I was to be boatman for the morning for safety and to make best use of the time, picking them up and dropping them off at the pressure points after they drifted with the current. The first spot, a rock emerging from deep water, was our target. It was filled with baitfish, many birds working the area dive-bombing from above, and good current. All good signs for Kingfish, it was looking promising. However, underwater the visibility was not too great, with green, gloomy water. After a good half-hour with a few drift dives and no Kingfish seen we decided to move spots and try the next location on my list.
The next spot was much the same. Masses of baitfish feeding on krill and plenty of current, but no sign of Kingfish. I didn’t tell the guys this spot was a Bronze Whaler hotspot with a lot of spearos and anglers having their fish taxed by sharks here. They didn’t need to know this and get put off. After all, where there are sharks there are fish. You just need to understand their behaviour and learn to live with them. It’s part of spearfishing. That was two spots out of my three which weren’t producing and with my last spot, generally renowned for its dirtier water, it wasn’t looking promising. One of the guys did manage to spear a nice, fat Koheru, which is excellent eating, known by many spearos as a top fish for raw sashimi with its soft flavoursome, delicate flesh. It was time to check out the last dive spot on my list. As we rounded the corner for our last shot at a Kingfish, we were greeted with every spearo or angler's dream sight.
The one that got away. Image: Ollie Craig.
Glassy surface conditions, clear, deep blue water with swell and wind blocked by the headland and vast areas of the surface alive with thousands of fish. Trevally, Kahawai, Koheru were all busting up the surface feeding on krill and hundreds of gannets and other birds diving down from above getting an easy feed. This is what we were after. The frenzy made for epic scenes and excitement levels were very high. I still chose to be a boatman as currents were high with water still pushing in hard so safety was a priority and it meant the tourists would have a better chance at landing a fish. As soon as the boys jumped in on the first workup, there were shouts of “Kingi’ with a few nice fish directly below them. However, the fish were moving fast and the boys were unable to get a shot off on one. We chased down the baitfish schools on the surface, cut the motor once close and tried to drift as close as we could towards the school before the guys jumped in so not to scare them all away. After a few drifts like this it paid off with one of the guys getting a spear into a nice-sized Kingfish. Unfortunately, the shot placement wasn't the best with the spear hitting too low through the fish where the flesh is softest and it managed to rip free. Kingis are very tough fish and many survive with all sorts of injuries from spears and gaffs from fishermen. It was the closest we'd gotten all day, but not quite close enough.
A few more missed shots and I told the boys I can’t resist any longer. With such magic scenes unfolding underwater, I decided to get my kit on. I connected my speargun and line to the inflatable so I could jump back onto the boat quickly if the other guys needed attention nearby. After a few dives in the huge bait schools, I dive down once again. Nearing the end of my breath amongst a huge school of baitfish, I start to rattle my speargun and make some grunting noises to try and entice and inquisitive Kingfish in. Just as I’m about to head back to the surface, I see out of the corner of my eye a school of five Kingfish swimming past and they are BIG! I try to chase them down but they aren’t keen, so I swim in the other direction grunting and rattling my speargun. It works. The school of fish circles back around to come and check me out. They come at me head on then turn broadside to swim off as they realise what I am.
The natural curiosity of the Kingfish would be their undoing. I get a nice clean shot off into the middle fish just behind the gill plate around the spine. The shaft punches straight through and the fish does a big back flip. Most people would think it was a clean kill. But I know from experience that Kingfish rarely get taken out that easily. As I make it to the surface, the fish kicks back to life. Regaining my breath, I look down and the fish is powering off into the deeper water. I know I have a good holding shot on the fish and as long as I can keep it off the reef I stand a good chance of landing it. Kingfish will dive down and try to bust the line off on reef or get tangled up in kelp, which can be very frustrating. The fish is hurt badly, but Kingis are hard fighters and these large fish have incredible power so it charges on. I’ve shot the Kingi on a reel gun, which is not the most ideal setup for a fish this size. Generally, you would want a breakaway setup, which means the shaft completely detaches from the gun and is connected by heavy duty line to a big float on the surface. However, I certainly wasn't expecting a fish this size and I have to make do with what I've got. After about 5-10 minutes of tug of war with the fish I slowly bring it towards the surface as it tires. I knew it was a solid Kingi, but only grasped the size of it once it came into my hands, It was HUGE! I got my hands into the gill plate, essentially meaning the fight was over, and used my knife to finish the job. As we hauled the fish onto the inflatable, we were all amazed at the size of the Kingfish. Barely getting it to fit into the cooler bag, I was exited to see what it weighed once we got back to shore, very confident that it was by far my biggest Kingi to date.
That afternoon, I tracked down the local weigh master for the Game Fishing Club and organised a courtesy weigh-in. The fish came in at just shy of 38kg, which is very impressive for a Kingfish shot off the mainland of New Zealand. Most of the biggest speared in New Zealand come from the likes of the Three Kings Islands and White Island. Needless to say, I was pretty chuffed with this result. Kingfish in the winter months are less in numbers but are renowned for their fat content and excellent condition, generally being much larger specimens which I can testify to. The fish was eaten raw as sashimi, fried as steaks, and the rest I beautifully smoked up at home then shared around with friends and family. It was one of the best eating Kingfish I have ever had with marbled flesh like a wagyu steak. Fish of a lifetime and great memories. Bit of a shame the Aussie lads didn't get the result they were after, but they certainly got a good taste of some of the best spearfishing New Zealand has to offer.
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