SPECIES ID AND FISHING RULES
Learn more about how to identify butterfish, where to find them, and their feeding preferences here: SPECIES ID - BUTTERFISH
Limit your catch, don't catch your limit. Please check the latest rules and catch limits in your area on the MPI website: https://www.mpi.govt.nz/fishing-aquaculture/recreational-fishing/fishing-rules/
Butterfish, due to their curious nature, are generally not too hard to shoot thereby offering excellent target practice and great skill development for newer divers. Although in saying that – they do spook very easily and do not enjoy being tracked by a speargun! I’m sure there is more than one of us who has bent a spear trying to shoot a cunning little butter!
The best method to employ when hunting butters is to get down in the kelp beds, lie low and wait for them to pop their heads up. Diving directly onto them or even approaching them on the surface makes them spook and disappear into the kelp. Because they are found in shallower water it is generally pretty easy to do a simple shallow duck- dive into the kelp, lie there and wait for a minute or two until they resurface – which they do pretty quickly - and then take your shot. They are good fun and very rewarding to shoot as a new diver.
One does not specifically set out to hunt butterfish – they are usually just something we pick up on our way to catch the ‘real’ deal. Whilst a camouflage wetsuit does help in stalking these skittish fish, employing the same stalking tactics as snapper snooping, aids in their subdual.
Keeping the sun on your back so that they are blinded and getting low in the kelp are the two main approaches to remember in shooting them. If you do not have the sun on your side, try hiding your eyes with your hands slightly, or looking downwards and not directly into their eyes. One thing that works particularly well is shooting upwards at them – getting really low below a kelp covered rock / ledge for instance, and aiming up at them – rather than shooting downwards at them. This will save you a couple of bent shafts - from hitting the rocks, especially if you’re using your trusty 110-120cm speargun in the shallows!
Hunting butters with a shorter speargun around 90cm is much easier to manoeuvre and a lot more fun around the kelp beds as it has a shorter firing range. It helps to be slightly heavier weighted for shallow hunting - it makes your duck diving easier and gives you a slightly negative buoyancy so that you can lie on the bottom, without the lower half of your body trying to float back up to the surface all the time.
It’s always a good idea to store your fish out of the water if you can – in a plat or float boat like the one we have in our GEAR REVIEW section of this issue. Bronze whaler sharks love the scent of a freshly-speared butterfish, particularly in summer! It’s not uncommon to meet one if you’re spearing a few butters during the warmer months and some spearo’s prefer not to target them for this reason unless they have a float boat to keep them out of the water! Bear this in mind and never be fooled by the security of shallow waters.