Norfolk Island – Part 1
BY JAMIE RYVES
With every drop, a new adventure…
Living on a small remote Island in the South Pacific has it’s challenges however they are far outweighed by the blessings that this place constantly offers.
Just as the seasonal fresh local fruits and vegetables set the tone of every day meals on land the seasons beneath the oceans surface reveal a never ending movement of species.
Our closest land mass New Caledonia boasts one of the largest range of species able to be targeted with a speargun, however with the 930 Kilometres of ocean between us comes a very different landscape, above and below the surface.
Norfolk’s seasons are mild and the changes happen subtly, in summer the days are long and there is a bounty of life and there for food to choose from.
The arrival of the wahoo around the Islands on the first new moon of August is the first sign that a flood of species are about to inundate our waters. One of the most significant of which being the smallest and most important piece of this puzzle, the bait fish (Sprat) flood our waters and following them come, Humpback Whales, Dolphins, Minke Whales, Yellowfin Tuna, Yellowtail Kingfish, Rainbow Runner, Marlin, Skipjack Tuna, Frigate Mackerel, Mali Mali (dolphin fish) and many more including some really big, powerful and beautiful fish and sharks like the Whale shark and the White Pointer (Great White).
Great White Sharks
Usually around the time when the humpbacks are breaching beneath the cliffs of Norfolk we have an encounter with a “White”, most every time it is just a curious passing glance, where the shark will let you know that they are there, that they are much bigger than you and that you are within the size range of their usual prey. We are fortunate as divers that we can experience all of the different fishes and their behaviours, because at the time when a “White” makes it’s self known to you, your behaviour is the key to what will happen next. The “White” is reading you, your movements and body language are telling a story of where exactly you sit in this massive food chain and if you act like something scared and scurry to the closest land or boat then there is a good chance that this apex predator will investigate you with a great amount of interest (as prey).
However with the ability to see and make eye contact with a white, to move toward them and to stand your ground they become curious in another way, they look at you studying your behaviour, you become something different something that has the potential to possibly wound them and risk their ability to hunt, they become very cautious and increase the distance between themselves and you. this is the time when moving slowly and carefully toward boat or land becomes the next mode of action.
In years passed we would have this annual passing enquiry by a “White” and then after moving to another area continue on with our day/year remembering the encounter as just one of the highlights.
However this last summer was another story, we, my dive buddy Ben and I, had encounters with several “Whites” the ocean was alive, more than in previous years, you couldn’t dive anywhere without being immersed in an almost deafening flood of whale song and in the two months following the beginning of August we had eight encounters with eight very different energies felt.
This time the Whites were actively feeding and although a few of the encounters were calm passing enquiries some new experiences were had with fifteen foot “Whites” turning back and changing direction in the space of a couple of meters for faster more aggressive passes. One of these incidents being the first building block for a series of events that led to an even more dangerous experience for my dive buddy Ben, that I will share with you another time.
Hunting the Pelagic species around the Islands is fun! when I am targeting Wahoo (the smallest I have seen caught here being 20kg) I use a high pressure float, bungie setup attached via a breakaway system to my “King Venom” with a slip tip shaft, this setup is great for large, powerful and fast fish like Wahoo and Yellowfin Tuna. Switching to a float line with limited stretch when the “big” Yellowtail Kingfish are around in numbers. These setups are the safest, most reliable and with careful and conscious decisions when placing a shot, it becomes very hard to loose your fish to anything other than the “tax man”(sharks).
When the large pelagic’s start to thin a little and our hunting delivers more of a mixed size and more reef hunting is on the cards I move to a reel gun in certain areas targeting Red throat Emperor, Wrasse, Silver,White and Bluefin Trevalley, Cod’s with the occasional Green Job-fish or snapper. This type of hunting is addictive, the freedom of diving with a reel gun lets you move in and out of caves as well as through narrow patches of reef and when doing drifts in the tide you have less gear to control to avoid possible snags. Hunting with my Aimrite 115 “fury” roller-gun is my favourite way to dive! it is deadly accurate and packs a punch at a distance comparable to a 140 railgun.
Whilst all of this makes free and easy diving, there are many new risks that come with the territory of hunting with a reel, large pelagic’s still turn up when you are not expecting them and then you have to make a decision about taking the shot, factoring in your surroundings, current, the size of the fish and the species, where you are at with your breath hold in that moment, the depth that you are at and the presentation/distance of the fish for a well placed shot.
If all these things line up in the positive I usually get a feeling that is almost an intuitive knowing that I will hit the fish in exactly the right spot, stoning it if possible otherwise swimming freely to the surface so that the fish can be worked up as you constantly swim forward so as to have your reel line trail behind you leaving minimal loops or grouped line that could possibly catch you if the fish does a hard run. It is dangerous to hunt large pelagic’s with a reel gun! you have to be aware of your surroundings constantly and you can never plan for every event as every situation is unique and you are constantly learning from each new circumstance.
This last summer we were blessed with larger than usual schools of bait that lasted from August well into April, the Pelagic’s were feeding close to the Islands for this whole time and we finally managed to get ourselves into the zone to be able to take some nice little Yellowfin Tuna without having to take a bigger boat out over 15 N-Miles to the drop off’s where the bigger “Fin’s” work bigger bait.
I managed to take a few nice Yellowfin up to 20kg on my “fury” roller-gun with a reel and learnt some valuable lessons in the process, unfortunately loosing another three to reef, shark or ripped shaft. Also taking several Kings 20-25kg on the reel and working very hard in a few cases to land the fish. Whilst on the float, bungie “king venom” setup the highlight fish of the summer was a 37kg Wahoo.
Spearfishing for me is the most pure and efficient way to harvest food from the ocean! you choose your fish, the size, depending on the day and what is available you can get a really great mix of species at a good size, needing a lesser number to feed everyone. You can forage for Cray Fish and other shell fish and come home and make amazing meals to share with your family and friends!
You learn about the natural underwater environment every time you dive and you learn about the environment/nature of yourself more and more as you progress with your diving. There are no two ways about it, progress with your ability and understanding in the ocean and you are progressing in your understanding of yourself. Body/mind consciousness deepens and you feel exhilarated. You long to get back in the water and to gain new experience’s. This for me is what diving is… sustainable, selective, conscious gathering of food whilst gaining an ever deepening experience of the self through the meditative practice of Free diving.
Thank you for taking the time to read this introduction to spearfishing on Norfolk Island, I hope that you enjoyed reading it and I look forward to sharing some more stories with you soon!
Dive safe, always dive with a buddy and take care.