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Depth Spearing in the Wellington Winter

People who freedive naturally get accustomed to depths that some spearos would consider extreme. On a practical level there is seldom a need to go very deep when spearfishing in this country. NZ waters are pretty well-stocked and many of the tastier species like to hang out in the shallows anyway. Depth brings a lot more risk, so you need to be very cautious about how you dive. But it also opens up a lot of opportunities to explore new areas and chase different species.

I live in Wellington where going a little deeper than normal can be quite rewarding given the pressure the shallow coastal reefs are under from spearos and line fishers. We had a nice weather window a little while back so I thought I’d check out 5-mile reef, something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. This is a large patch of foul 5 miles south of the harbour entrance with a charted high point of 29m and a much bigger area in 40-50m. It normally has a lot of current running across the top of it but luckily there is a tidal diamond right next to it on the Wellington chart. The offset for this location showed a fairly wide window of almost slack water 5 hours after high tide and that is what we found when we arrived. The craypot buoys were leaving little wakes and I needed to hang a line out the back of the boat to help my progress back up current after each dive, but it wasn’t bad at all compared to other offshore reefs around Cook Strait.

We anchored in 40m after seeing some schooling fish on the sounder. In summer this kind of depth would be ok but in 13C water and a 7mm suit it was looking too much like hard work, so I took a couple of kilos off my belt and put them on a drop-line. This gave me a fast, heavy ride down and less work to do on the way up. Dive buddy Peach helping me to pull the weight back to the surface after each dive on the understanding that I’d drop her on top of a shallow, always-in-residence moki school later in the day. I was diving with a standard floatline; while a reelgun would make the diving easier in current, it’s good to have the option of ditching everything and swimming up without resistance if a big fish is on.

Vis was good for Wellington at about 7m and on the first dive I landed in a wide sand bowl. There were none of the big tarakihi or blue cod I’d heard about from line fishers but swarms of butterfly perch, various wrasse and several crays walking around in the open. The water wasn’t really cold enough for warehou to be around but I was hoping a stray school might show up, so I left the crays alone and tried not to make too much noise. On the next dive I landed in a sandy gutter between two rocks and was mobbed by large blue moki. Not the most glamorous of fish but it was nice to see so many big adults on a Wellington reef. They probably get very little pressure out wide because they don’t often take hooks and must be hard to net amongst all the foul ground. I shot one of these after a quick tussle with my safety catch and left the rest to their mooching. Subsequent dives were much the same: interesting and fishy, but without anything really worth shooting. The sounder continued to show big schools of something – probably kahawai, possibly warehou or barracoutta – going past in the bottom third of the water column but I was never down at the right time to intercept them.

It wasn’t a very productive dive but I enjoy that kind of diving for its own sake and to be honest Wellington does tend to be dismal in winter. I’ll use the next opportunity I get to try the deeper fringes of the reef, possibly with some burley on the bottom to bring the big blue cod and tarakihi in. Along with the usual suspects, deeper dives in other parts of the Wellington area have produced quite a few copper moki, some out-of-season kingfish and the odd school of juvenile rubyfish. I expect it’s a bit like the shallower areas in that the fish gather in isolated patches. You have to work a bit to find good spots and can’t expect reefs to be more productive just because they’re deeper. Hopefully one of these days I’ll find a good patch and run into something more interesting like a hapuka or a big trumpeter.

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