Ben, have you been fishing lately? Yes, but it was ugly to say the least…
I think I’ve been cursed by the fishing gods, cursed to only land hiwihiwi and the tiniest of snapper. The last two fishing sessions were awful, absolutely rubbish and fruitless. It’s not like I’m going to give up but there have been moments when I felt like finding a new hobby.
It’s not only the freakin’ hiwihiwis and undersized snapper, I just want to stand on a ledge, have calm waters in front of me and no wind. Forget catching fish, just a calm session would do me. I went to the east coast 2 days ago, got there at low tide about 1600 and planned to fish hard for 2 hours. I had a bag of burley, a bag of squid. I’ve landed big fish there, I’ve also landed decent snapper within minutes of casting. Worst case scenario, I end up with a couple of kahawai who would certainly show up due to the burley.
I parked the car at the camping site, it was clearly low tide, the beach was quiet, there was a faint breeze. It was overcast, not too warm and I was feeling very good about my timing. Got my polarized sunglasses, which are always in a case and have only been used for fishing, out of my bag – I just want a pair that lasts for more than a couple of months – and voilà, the frame was broken. I’m starting to think that it is partly due to the sunscreen which permeates into the frame, making it brittle and partly because I keep the case on the coffee table, where it is exposed to the sun. But hold on, what am I saying?, they are bloody sunglasses.
I walked to the other side of the beach and over the first part of the rocky coast line, just when I was about to reach Shark Alley, I noticed a wave splashing into the rocks and building its way up onto the ledge, lots of noise, white water and force. It stretched hundreds of meters along the very long ledge. Hmmm, then I noticed an annoying side-on wind from the north. The further I walked, the closer I got to the gulley I like to fish close to, the more I felt the wind, and the more I noticed that half a meter of swell was rolling in about every 10 seconds, but that it worked its way up the ledge and flooded the entire area. Nothing too dramatic, but when you have lost your footing on a ledge to what appeared initially as an insignificant swell once, you know how strong and forceful a little bit of water can be. (Actually that is a dumb thing to say. If you’re thinking it is only a little bit of water, that’s because you only see it from one perspective and likely because you don’t really grasp the basic laws of mechanics and what density means.) When you’re out on the rocks on your own, you just shouldn’t take any chances.
Most importantly, just because the swell works its way onto the ledge and floods it by 30 cm or so, doesn’t mean that this will be as high as it gets. When fishing off the rocks on the East Coast on the Barrier, you’ve got to realize that there are no land masses close by that would slow down and reduce the height of a swell. You can fish and watch the swell for hours, each wave having the same height, but there can always be one or more that are significantly higher than all previous ones.
These waives are pretty quick too and although running away and securing your footing is the only option when finding yourself in such a situation, it shouldn’t be something you should have to worry about when fishing.
In my early fishing days, some 8 year ago, I was with two other novices fishing off the rocks on the West Coast, it was the beautiful Anawhata Beach. Long story short, there were three brains, none of us were stupid, but when we sat on the ledge and got our gear together and saw 20 meters to our left a rouge wave hitting the rocks full on and hard, at the same height as our faces, we all got out of there immediately. The only way out was to climb up and over the hill, not the way we got to the spot, it was the backup plan and seemed easy enough. Not for me, I had both hands full with stupid gear, like a Warehouse tackle box, and we had no rope. Not something I want to do again, constantly fearing to fall down onto the rocks.
Back to the present, I got to ‘my’ spot, told Rani to stay put far away with all my gear and walked up to the edge of the ledge, and I didn’t feel too safe. Where I was standing was okay but to my left and right the swell worked it’s way up onto the rocks and washed onto it, sometimes a couple of centimetres, sometimes 30 cm. It was enough though to cover an area of a couple of hundred square meters entirely because the ledge is very wide and level. The ledge became a river.
It was, however, just low tide, the time, from experience, where a small swell has the biggest impact on a ledge. I didn’t want to take too many chances, although it wasn’t really dangerous, but you’ll only find out how dangerous it is when you’ve been washed off your feet on the rocks, dragged on them and off them into the water, and have to get back. This will be the exact moment when you know how difficult or dangerous it will be, anything else is just silly assumptions.
Well, the wind was full on by now, I had to use a sinker to get at least some depth with the bait. I hurried, cut half of the bait into chunks, and smashed the burely up on the rocks, letting the swell wash it slowly into the water. The quicker I got my fish, the quicker I’d be gone.
I caught 28 hiwihiwi in less than an hour. I threw them all in a gigantic rock pool behind me from which they can go back into the ocean when the tide comes in. But today, I was apparently, without my knowledge, going for the all time land-based hiwihiwi world record.
An hour after low tide, the swell was still the same and foreseeable, although there were three occasions where I quickly pulled my line in and ran further back onto the ledge. The place I stood on never got swamped but I would have gotten really wet from the splashing white water close by. Anyway, an hour after low tide and the swell had a lower impact on the ledge, due to the tide that had come in, it just broke differently on the land and couldn’t build up to its maximum height.
This is when I wished I hadn’t used all the burley up in a hurry trying to get the kahawai in. Well, I had endured the worst of it, now was the time to catch one kahawai or snapper and head back home. 10 more hiwihiwis and the wind had picked up so much that my initial frustration turned into sheer disgust.
Still, better no fish at all, than no fish and falling into the brink and getting wet. When I was thinking that, it started raining. All my gear was exposed, so was Rani, but I just kept going on, I mean, I’ll catch something else, anything else, than a bloody hiwihiwi, right?
Yeah right! I landed a snapper as big as the palm of my hand and then some more hiwihiwi. I tried the last bait technique, which is doing the same thing you did before, but this time actively praying for a little miracle. Nah, didn’t work. So I packed in and just when we started walking back the rain stopped, the sun came out and when I was back on the beach, it just looked picturesquely calm. Just like when I started.
Well, it wasn’t that bad, I learned that conditions around the corner on Medland’s beach can be significantly different than what it’s like on the beach. I landed some 50+ hiwihiwi, but at least – otherwise I would have done things to those bastards – I was using a circle hook and didn’t have to muck around with swallowed hooks.
Since hiwihiwi are entirely useless, I decided to take 5 home and place them in a bucket and cover with dirt. That’s my little experiment for now, I’ll find some worms and place them into the bucket, who knows, maybe they aren’t useless after all.