Forget the boat, Donovan Gibbs has found a new weapon for landing big moochers.
By Donovan “Snoop” Gibbs
Towing the borrowed sit-on-top plastic yak in 3 metres of water along the rocky Northland coastline, I descended a couple of metres holding the kelp to obscure my profile. Ahead, a nice 2kg snapper sat up presenting a perfect broadside shot. After stowing it in the kayak - as I re-strung the gun; a big snapper bolted out of a gut to my left, under my fins then off along the coast. I snooped the next gut, only to have a huge snapper swim a metre under me. Diving the next gut… A BIGGIE! Maybe the same one, and a 2kg sentry snapper both moving along the gut. "They can't see me - gold”. I placed a shot hitting the gill plate. I kept tension on the line and kept him off the bottom. Carefully playing him, I duck-dived down, grabbed the end of the spear and secured him…8.5 kg or 18.7 pounds, close to the magic 20 pound mark. The 20 pounder would come a year later following some epic adventures…
YAK ATTACK IT IS
That weekend convinced me that the use of a kayak was the way to go to get close to those big moocher snapper. I was impressed with the range, the safety it offered, and the stealth. It’s easily towed in shallow water and has a sizeable plat option. The haul of crays over 2kgs and a 6.5kg snapper off burley on the last day sealed it. A kayak purchase was all go. Snapper snooping using a kayak offered me the functionality I required: stealth – quietly towed or anchored; cost - all that was required was an investment in a good kayak, paddle and roof rack; access – miles of New Zealand coastline; and practicality – I didn’t need another three divers on board a boat to cover the cost of fuel to get there.
"THAT WEEKEND CONVINCED ME THAT THE USE OF A KAYAK WAS THE WAY TO GO TO GET CLOSE TO THOSE BIG MOOCHER SNAPPER. I WAS IMPRESSED WITH THE RANGE, THE SAFETY IT OFFERED, AND THE STEALTH"
PICK A WEAPON
The most popular design of kayak used by spearos is the sit-on-top type, which enables divers easy access to and from the water, although they may not offer the speed that an enclosed ocean kayak might. Construction options are numerous, but the two most obvious options are plastic or fibreglass. The plastic hull is less expensive and arguably more functional from a dive perspective as it can be towed around the shallows. Fibreglass is stronger and quicker through the water, but doesn’t like rocky coastlines, so is best anchored. I picked up a Perception Swing kayak for under a grand and kitted it out with a 1kg grapnel anchor with 25 metres of line and a 1 metre anchor chain – stored along with the fins and dive jacket in the front bow hatch. At the stern, a Perception Pod is stowed which, fitted with a u-bolt, acts as my dive plat should I wish to anchor the boat in the shallows. The float-line, gloves, mask and snorkel are stored in the plat. The weight-belt is clipped through a bungey line which runs around the perimeter of the working area. Cell-phone and petrol (One Square Meal and Liquid Energy Squeezes) are stored in a compartment mid-deck – water bottle secured front deck. The paddle is secured (having had to be towed from a dive site at Christmas after losing one while diving) with a paddle leash – a vital tool when navigating surf breaks.
The key to successful kayak spearing is ensuring that conditions are going to allow you access to the coast and a comfortable paddle home. Google Earth provides a geographical tool to plan, and helpful sites such as www.surf.co.nz will help to work out prevailing wind and swell conditions up to and including the dive day. From my experience, the effective range of basic sit-on-tops is around 8-12ks allowing a solid 3-4 hour dive time. Leave your trip plan with loved ones and make sure you have solid communication tools (cell-phone, marine radio) and safety gear available (safety kit, clothing in dry bag, sun block, shades and a floppy hat).
The key to excelling on a big day out is to ensure your nutrition is regular and energy packed. Ensure you have a good breakfast. Handy supplements like energy squeezes and One Square Meal muesli bars taken throughout the trip along with plenty of water, fuel your engine for big paddles.
The best kayak experiences I have had over the last year have been shared with fellow spearos. There is a confidence that comes when kayaking with a buddy. Whether it’s been the long trips up north with Marcus “the Bounty Hunter” or the pole spearing adventures with Reid “The Snapper Whisperer”… for big moocher snapper, kayak spearing is where it is at.