Epic spearfishing trip story by Noob Spearo. Check it out below!
Day 0: Nau Mai, Haere Mai
I flew into Auckland airport late arvo on a Friday. James Beckman @southernspearfishing meets me near the exit gate and after a quick peck on the cheek we were off to the rental car(there was no peck but James wanted it;).
As we walk out of the airport he starts telling me about the shitbox rental car that Noob Spearo has organized.
Dings, missing paint, filthy interior and a rear window that wouldn't return up were just the first problems he had noticed. Little did I realize that James was swinging me a classic Hero's Journey story in order to impress me with his victory. Apparently his Melbournite negotiation skills had gotten us a decent upgrade (Melbourne education now goes beyond Soy Lattes and Posh Pilsners apparently).
We packed the Toyota Rav 4 and headed North to Blair Herbert’s ‘Mum’s place’ (a batch in Matakana from Blair’s description). James seemed to think I’d know my way around as I’m a ‘kiwi’ and we were in New Zealand. “Nah sorry cuz, it’s been awhile” I said super kiwi like as I sheepishly brought up Google Maps.
90 minutes later and we approached the Herbert Mansion. A sprawling Anouska Hempel estate painted over pristine Matakana countryside and our esteemed host Blair @blrhrb greeted us - in person. Despite feeling like a pleb who was way out of his depth (pretty normal for me), the trip was looking up. Especially when Blair showed us what he had in store for dinner.
Sashimi, Baked Kingfish Wings, Ceviche, Caramelized Scallops, Tatami and even hipster beers (made right there). My 2020 no booze resolution faded away quietly beneath several IPA’s.
*Blair Herbert @blrhrb, CEO & Founder of the Eat What You Kill Facebook Group
Company rolled up a wee-while later in the form of David @daviedupav and ET @captain_smulders. Without any of the usual, polite get-to-know-you small talk, the five of us had dinner amidst solid banter and laughter. It was no time at all before Blair was urinating off the porch and we were discussing the ethics of spearfishing, social media and recording a podcast together.
Day 1. The Trip North
3 hours later I crawled out of bed, threw the spearing gear back in the car along with James and we were off to Cable Bay, Northland for a late morning rendezvous with Nat and Rochele Davey (nee Potter @rochele.potter).
Joining us for the trip was their good mate, Rosie Sharman (@rosie.cheeks17) a machine speara as I would learn in the coming days. Nat had invited me to come and spearfish the Three Kings Islands a few years previously. I was finally in a position to take him and Rochele up on their generous offer.
The scenic drive North was mint with James doing most of the driving and me slinging old school hip hop tunes and ripping mad jokes. James had a great time…
We arrived at the Davey crib late morning and were greeted by Sarah, a highly promiscuous woman with new age tattoos on her feet. James was infatuated immediately…
*Sarah pictured below (left) with Rochele Davey (right)
Thankfully Rochele and Rosie rocked up and ended the burgeoning romance. Sarah stayed put and the ladies sent us to meet Nat at the dock while they tackled the last of the trip preparation. *I found out that Nat and Rochele had gotten married the day before! We were joining them for their honeymoon.
We drove down to the dock and took in the sight of ‘Florence Nightingale IV’, a 60ft decommissioned commercial crayfishing boat that would be our base for the next few days. The Skipper and our host, Nat met us and we started the loading process. This was going to be home for 4 nights for the 5 of us; Nat, Rochele, Rosie, James and I.
We were in for a magical trip.
*Noob Spearo boarding the Florence Nightingale IV
Shortly after lunch and loaded with groceries, ice and water we started motoring up towards North Cape to spend the night. Hopefully we would get in the water at dusk for a snapper snoop. The wind was a 10-15 knot, swell was a little over a meter and in a 60ft boat - it was pretty smooth. Bloody spoilt!
Day 2. The Jurassic Park of spearfishing
Early morning, up anchor and off to the Three Kings Islands.
The Three Kings are a group of islands situated on a submarine plateau located 34NW North of Cape Reinga. It’s the place where Nat and Rochele both took their Spearfishing IUSA World Record Yellowtail Kingfish (50.2kg and 48.4kg respectively). The structure above and below the water is intimidating.
Raw, remote and rugged was my first and lasting impression.
*The Three Kings Islands, New Zealand. Jurassic Park for Spearfishing
When I first saw the Islands peek through the low lying cloud and drizzle, I said out loud; ‘is this the Jurassic Park of Spearfishing?”. We were there afterall to shoot Kingfish of mythic proportions. To take down a big Yellowtail Kingfish, James and I had put together a rig to share. Our plan was for one of us to be the shooter and the other would be cameraman. This is the speargun and rig we used;
Our Equipment Setup for Chasing Big Kingfish
- Bastardized speargun. MVD double roller, custom cuttlefish barrel, meandros handle and mech (quite difficult to load under pretension)
- Mori slip tip on an 8mm hunt shaft
- Breakaway set-up
- 25m of Riffe Spectra Rig Line with a Float Line Thannus Clutch Prototype, then a 15L Adreno Spearmaster Float, followed by 5 meters of Bungee and a 30L D'Urville Bluewater Float.
Despite arriving a little early for the right tide, we jumped in at the outer island group in massive surge and a fair bit of current. The conditions were sketchy with white water plumes extending off the islands and down 5-10 meters in the water column. White capped monster waves smashed through the gaps. We were in for a snorkel filler to be sure. 📷 @rochele.potter
BUT the fish were there in numbers. (Nat Davey Below - 📷 @southernspearfishing
Pink Mao Mao in the hundreds provided a false floor in the water column at about 8-12 meters. Busting through them were schools of Trevally up to 10kg. Occasionally when I passed above a pressure point, the schools of Yellowtail Kingfish would show up. At times smaller fish would come to within meters of the surface. Nat’s advice was to swim down into the school to find the bigger models.
As if the hairy conditions weren't enough on their own, I had equipment teething issues as well.
Despite testing 4 spearguns prior to the trip, I was not using any of them. James had a gun that we both agreed was the best option for our 30kg+ Kingfish goal. I struggled with the setup though. The unfamiliar slip tip kept falling off, the breakaway line kept crossing over, my snorkel angle needed constant readjustment and the GoPro, mask and hood didn't want to be friends. I struggled to relax. I was comfortable enough that I could stay in the water but not comfortable enough to dive properly. I probably had 6 dives to 6-8m in 30 minutes and each dive would have been lucky to be 40 seconds. It was a humbling experience.
James, Rosie and Nat were all in the water as well. Nat seemed like the only one completely at ease in the conditions as he managed to shoot two school snapper and moved between islands with apparent ease. Rosie also plugged a good-sized Trevally at 6kg and this ended up as dinner - 3 Kings Trevally are yum.
*Above - Rosie @rosie.cheeks17 with Three Kings Trevally - 📷 @southernspearfishing.
* Below - Rosie with two solid Crayfish - 📷 @rochele.potter
After 30 minutes in the washing machine we pulled the pin and headed back to the boat to find a quiet bay, have lunch and get some crays for dinner.
After lunch and a few hours diving in the bay, we headed back to the outer island group. The tide was right but conditions were still hectic. I was as nervous as a cheap speargun at an Adreno Garage sale.
But my diving had sorted itself out…..
I could now dive to 7-9 meters and stay down for easily 38.5 seconds….This is not the sort of performance you want from yourself when you have a special opportunity. I just couldn't get comfortable.
Here is what I tried though;
- I got my bearings with regards to where the island was in front of me and the breaking water.
- I took note of the other guys positions and then put my head down and
- Tried to just breathe slowly and evenly.
- I thought about my equipment from head to toe and adjusted everything as well as I could.
- I loaded the speargun and wrapped the stainless wire so that the detachable flopper was seated and the breakaway line had slack and was captured in my hand (thanks to James’s walk-through).
- Then I swam slowly towards where I would dive and just tried to breathe and relax.
- I tested the GoPro
- Finally I scored myself out of 10 for how relaxed I was.
About a 5 I thought.
All this might sound silly or overly analytical but this form of spearfishing is not what I’m used to and neither were the conditions. The anxiety/relaxation score is an idea I learned and adapted from Luke Potts. Basically you don’t dive until you can get your score down to preferably a 1 or maybe a 2. Lay on the surface, quiet the noise in your mind by focusing on breathing and wait there until you feel more and more relaxed. The only problem was…
I couldn't get my score below about a 4. So that was my benchmark.
I caught up to James and again tried to relax. We finned up current towards a rock that the current was hitting as this was where Nat had pointed us. The fish were there!
*Myself breathing and relaxing | preparing to dive 📷 @southernspearfishing
The frontrunners of the school angled up and away from us.
I took a big breath and right at the end of my inhale... spray filled my snorkel….
….I had to start breathing all over again.
I took a calming breath then sucked in a big full breath and dove down past the first few fish. Leveling out in about 8 meters of water, the school began to surround me and I looked around for the Jonah Lomu (Famous Huge NZ Rugby Player) of Kingfish.
*About to plant an 8mm kiss on a New Zealand Yellowtail Kingfish. 📷 @southernspearfishing
Several dives later I still hadn't found Jonah but I did see his smaller cousin.
My target fish passed really close from my left side and was heading away slowly when I squeezed the trigger and slammed 8mm of stainless into him. The shot was ok. Mid-body with the shaft angled down through his body as I had shot from slightly above.
I spun and headed straight for the surface managing to hold onto the speargun but forgetting to grab hold of the rapidly departing rig line. Luckily James was there with his Camera to gently point out my lapse. He shouted ‘grab the line Shrek’ as I cleared the surface. So I grabbed it and the fight began!
Knowing I was unfamiliar with the clutch, James swam over, grabbed the speargun off me and gave me some pointers. Basically the clutch is a one way line release system so you can make the rig line shorter and shorter as the fight continues. This way the fish can't bury you in structure. They also have to fight the float and not you. Genius! I had the right angle piece of stainless in my left hand and pulled the spectra line through with my right hand.
And it was all going smoothly until….
...James started heading down trying to get footage of the fish. Jonah’s not so little cousin then decided to tombstone the 15L float and stretch out the bungee to the big stopper float. It was epic to watch. You get a real appreciation for the power of a Yellowtail Kingfish when you see this happen in front of you. The fish is struggling for its life though and so getting it up and putting an end to it is critical for minimizing it’s struggle.
5 minutes after squeezing the trigger, my left hand was buried in its gills and my knife in its brain. The fight was over and I had a special fish. Jonahs not so little cousin weighed in at over 27kg (60lb).
*The fight is over. Bleeding a Yellowtail Kingfish 📷 @southernspearfishing
Day 3. From Pyjamas to Wetsuit
Next morning I awoke to the sound of the anchor winch pulling up 60 meters of chain. We were underway and I still hadn’t moved from my bunk. I could smell toast and coffee though and that's a sure fire way to get me up. After a brew and some peanut butter/jam slabs I was up on deck.
Rosie and James were wandering around slowly gathering gear together. As I made my way over to them Rosie said “You know it’s a good day when you go from Pyjamas to your Wetsuit!”. This woman is a speara through and through!
We were back in the water by 6am. I was on camera duty chasing James around. We finned up and down the islands several times and found two hot spots for Kingfish. I followed James down into schools of 100+ Kingies several times and he held off on the shot waiting for just the right fish. And then I nearly missed it…..
I was chatting to Rosie about moving when James finned over 15 meters from me and descended. I quickly kicked over and dropped down behind him. He was down at about the 30ft mark when he squeezed the trigger and put a near stone shot on a behemoth. And just like my fish the evening before, it was fairly quiet and well behaved….
….until I started diving down to get some camera shots.
*James Beckman with Big Yellowtail Kingfish about to bury a 15L float 📷 @shrekspear
That was when James’s fish lit up and pulled the 15L float down like a Biosecurity Officer burying a Coronavirus Victim. The float flew by me and I could see it starting to contract. The bungee was taut and the stopper float was angling down when all of a sudden the beast eased up. This was the biggest run from the fish and it was pretty impressive considering the damaging shot James had put in it.
*damaging shot on Yellowtail Kingfish. Mori Slip Tip in action
By 7am we were taking photos of James with his 33.5kg Kingfish on the back of Florence Nightingale IV and his face looked like an elderly Wuhan person given the medical all clear.
*James Beckman 33.5kg (74lb) Yellowtail Kingfish at the Three Kings Islands 📷 @rochele.potter
The next spot for the day was a rock in 18m just off the surf-side of one of the islands. The swell and white water was powerful but the current was manageable. The Pink Mao Mao were there and I saw a few large and fairly silly Snapper - they still weren't silly enough for a 124kg oaf to get close enough for a good shot though so whacko - good for them (bastards). Noone had any luck here and so we retired back to the boat and headed for another sheltered bay to spend the rest of the day.
Nat motored us into yet more scenically stunning territory. He took us right up to a freshwater waterfall cascading down into the moody dark blue ocean in front of the bow. Right there the water was 8-10 meters deep straight off the rockface. The whole place is spectacular and most of the time I found myself at a loss for words. Above and below the water, the Three Kings is a special place.
That arvo James, Rosie and I jumped off the boat with an idea to snoop up and around the headland and into the next bay. We ended up getting a little carried away….
….the next point just kept looking like it was going to be the one. So we kept going and then the next one would look even better. So we kept going….
And we were kind of right.
We ended up falling into a system. One diver would take the front and sneak along trying to spot Snapper. Two would stay back a bit and allow the front diver the best chance to get within shooting range of a good fish. Historically Snapper have not been a common species to spear at the Three Kings so it was fantastic that we were seeing them quite often in places. We were seeing 3-6kg models alone or in small schools often 3-4 meters off the bottom or even higher in the water column. It was an amazing opportunity.
James was first on the board spearing a 4.8kg Snapper around the corner from the first headland. James and I had a quick hui and we both agreed that the Reelgun with no float line was the best option for a quiet approach. A sneaky duckdive, slow paced kick, and inertia were the critical components to catching one. We buggered up numerous fish each and hunting them on the bottom seemed near impossible in the clean water. Rosie came closest but the bomb-dive opportunities were the best.
I was next with the reel gun and 200m further along the face of that bay I had my chance…
...Two fish were sunning themselves about 10m from the surface and 10m in front of me. I dived and approached them on an angle. I managed to maneuver myself whale-like in my silence and mass through a duck-dive and gave 10-12 fin strokes towards the fish. I tried to let inertia carry me to within shooting range but they started moving off. I let them go a bit and when their backs were to me I snuck in 2-3 more kicks and picked out the bigger one in my sights. I squeezed the trigger and the shaft struck true - more or less dead center. He was well and truly not going anywhere but my belly.
The Snapper came in at 3.5kg and is a Personal Best for me. Stoked! (plenty of room for upgrades too!).
Author on the left, James Beckman @southernspearfishing right with two 3 Kings Snapper
Rosie was next and she loves snooping. She held solid bottom time and kept exploring the guts and weedline trying to find a good model but alas this dive wasn't her day.
The next point was sketchy. The current had begun to pull and the headland was copping some big swell. It was logical that this is where the Kingfish were holding. Some of them were over the 25kg mark. James saw a few that were bigger and so we did multiple drops trying to locate a trophy fish. The current was hectic though and we had already swum more than a mile. Rosie and I had a quick chat and despite James’s protests, we decided to call it and head back to the boat.
This is when I realized how far we had to swim….
James took a while just to get back into the eddie that Rosie and I were resting in. I swapped him out for gear as he was hauling his big camera, the big gun, 2x snapper and the big float. He’s a beast in the water but I couldn't do that to him.
We each took a visual bearing on the next headland and swam back out into the current with James leading the way. We were all powering it but making veeeeeery slow progress. Burning legs, a hot wetsuit and those little cramps were all starting to creep up on me. James and Rosie powered along though and I kept up. After a while I got the overhand going with one arm and took over the lead. It was a good 45 minute, hammer down, swim back to the boat.
I arrived back at the boat and Nat greeted me at the stern to grab my speargun and fins off me before I climbed up. He told me that he had been getting concerned and was ready to pull anchor and come get us just before he saw me poke around the corner of the last headland.
Rochele had stayed in the bay and found some Paua (Abalone) for dinner. While I caught up with Nat on the deck I noticed dolphins near Rochele. By then James and Rosie were just reaching the boat so I leaned over and told them about the dolphins. Rosie immediately took off towards Rochele despite the fact she had just completed a mammoth swim. MACHINE!
Later that evening a sunset gave glory to our Creator over the sheltered bay that we were anchored in. It was a great setting to get an interview in with Rochele.
Rochele Davey (Potter) is the women's world record holder for Silver Seabream, Brown Sweetlips, White Trevally, Yellowtail Kingfish (Pacific) and Striped Marlin. As you can imagine, she had spearfishing stories for days. One of the memorable ones for me was her speargun modification utilizing a pulley system. She adapted an innovative pulley system based on her sailing skills to allow her to ramp the band power right up on her roller speargun. The gun's power is evidenced by several huge species taken in bluewater including a 100.1kg Striped Marlin and a 48.8kg Yellowtail Kingfish. She’s also in love with U/W photography as evidenced by her Instagram here.
*Rochele photographing Rosie with Yellowtail Kingfish 📷 @southernspearfishing
After our interview I learned that Nat, Rosie and James had all started smashing dinner (Garlic Butter Paua Chips, Ceviche and Pan Fried Snapper without us. By that time the stars were out and it was a clear night. I’ve never eaten a better dinner beneath the stars. Later that night I passed into oblivion and awoke again….
Day 4. Last Chance
….to the anchor chain being pulled and the big diesel idling away.
We were headed to the outer island group again for one last chance at a 30kg+ Yellowtail Kingfish for Rosie and I.
The swell was appreciably smaller. Gone was the white water that had dominated a lot of the space around the islands in days past. There were birds sitting and working in several areas and Nat came over and gave us a plan. He pointed out the two dominant pressure points on different islands and laid out two other areas that had historically held good fish.
Was today going to be the day for a 30kg+ Yellowtail Kingfish?
Each of us backrolled in and powered in towards one of the pressure points where current tears through a gap and hits a big rock in about 14m. As we got to within 50m of the spot, a Pink Mao Mao carpet welcomed us from mid-water. That’s when the shapes of Yellowtail Kingfish emerged. Smaller fish between 8-15kg were the frontline investigators for the school. I dove down and made my way through the wee ones to see if their Big Uncles were hanging down a bit deeper.
James and I ended up swimming laps up and down the islands. Occasionally we came across a school of Kingfish but the big ones weren't there like they had been in days past.
I did get one opportunity though.
We swam around to where the current was starting to sweep us around to the ‘wrong’ side of the islands and found a school holding bigger fish. James watched on as I dove through the school and eventually spotted a big one.
I turned my body 45° and slid my gun out in front of me. I waited for the fish to turn so I had enough angle for the shot. He turned and I squeezed the trigger going for the head shot.
The problem was…
...I was predicting a full turn but it was a tease. As the shaft released, the Kingfish’s head swept back the other way and my shaft went sailing by. That was my last chance.
Despite swimming another 3-4 km that morning, I came no closer to another big Yellowtail Kingfish. I was still frothing though. I had had the chance to hunt these creatures in this special place with some pretty neat people. I honestly felt nothing but gratitude.
It’s been 6 years working on the Noob Spearo Podcast before I’ve had the privilege to get an opportunity like this. All the work was worth it. Thank you to the Noob Spearo Community, Patron listeners and sponsors (past and present) who have all helped make this happen.
*Author with Three Kings Yellowtail Kingfish | A dream come true! 📷 @rochele.potter
Story by Noob Spearo
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