Coffs Harbour and the rise of the Dogtooth Tuna

BY CHRIS FARMER

For my entire 18 years of life as diver I’ve grown up exploring and hunting the exceptionally diverse reefs and solitary islands along the Coffs Coast. I started spearfishing at the young age of 15 and instantly fell in love with my underwater world. Part of the reason Coffs Harbour is such a unique place to be as a spearfisherman is the variety of species we encounter though out the seasonal changes.

Summer Delicacies

Summer, when the Spanish mackerel, spotted mackerel, dolphin fish and wahoo show up, can be great fun in Coffs. Providing an action packed day on the water and plentiful supply of sustainable pelagic species to target. Not to mention the extremely cosy water temps hitting up to a toasty 28 degrees! Winter for me is equally enjoyable when we target large mulloway, snapper, massive spear bending brutes of kingfish, and my favorite winter treat pearl perch! Over the past five or so years I’ve noticed something very special occurring, the seasons seem to drag out A LOT longer. Mackerel have become almost year-round and the odd northern visitors like juvenile coronation trout, green jobfish, red bass, emperors, and many other seemingly lost non-migratory northern visitors have taken up full time residency here!

 

Dogtooth Tuna in Coffs

One fish in particular that I’ve noticed more frequently and recently took the new NSW record for is the dog toothed tuna! These fish have occasionally shown up along with the mackerel during the summer months, but never seem to hang around long enough for me to pick out a good sized fish. Usually stray juveniles up to 2kg are all we see landed. Over the last few years I’ve noticed a particular school that appears to have set up residency at one of the islands I frequent. When I first sighted them, I shot one around the 2kg mark out of shear excitement and of course to tick another species of the bucket list. I’ve since crossed paths with this same school many times in both summer and winter. Each time I let them swim by without pulling the trigger, in hope that some day they may grow and even breed giving us a new species to hunt. I’ve been diving the same spot, checking up on their growth each year, but it wasn’t until this year that I finally pulled the trigger.

The Hunt

On a prime summers day, while targeting mackerel, I was diving the edge of a deep drop off. I spotted tuna coming in to look at me from my peripherals. This time, they had grown just enough for me to get excited about taking one. I ignored the large blue bar parrot that I had in my sights, and quickly changed my target to the exceptionally large NSW dogtooth lurking behind the school of smaller fish around 5kg. From prior interactions, I had a good idea of the fishes typical movements and how to get close enough for a shot. I’ve never hunted dogtooth up north, where most people travel to find them, but in the south they behave much like a mackerel, only far more wary and a little skittish when swam at.

Without stretching out for a shot I kept my gun close to my side to appear less threatening. I looked down at the coral I was laying on and let my peripherals do the job of judging the distance. Sure enough patience payed off and I finally turned my head stretched out my gun just as the larger fish turned broadside on me! This was it! The perfect shot! Aimed mid body along the lateral line and stoned my first decent doggie, at 8.2kg! I was so ecstatic by the capture I got a few good pics of the fish, stowed away the guns and spent the rest of the day playing with turtles and sharks in the shallows. While certainly not my biggest fish to date, this dogtooth was definitely one of the most memorable NSW captures yet.

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EBONY HARPER