For Cod's sake
Story by: Zane Mirfin - Photo by:
D’Urville Island offers a great retreat for a few days in the outdoors – but where are all the glamour fish?
‘‘Eating fresh fried cod, caught from pristine ocean waters, was heaven on earth. Later, Dave steamed open large mussels collected off the rocks for dessert.’’
Croisilles Harbour was flat and calm, as brother Scott, West Coast friend Dave Heine and myself agonised over how to free a seized steering system for our 90 HP outboard motor. With some Kiwi ingenuity, and good preparation by Scotty with appropriate tools, we were soon out of trouble and finally heading for fishing Shangri-la.
Speeding out of Croisilles, we headed for D’Urville Island, or Rangitoto Ki Te Tonga, which was to be our home for the next three days.
‘‘Discovered’’ by French mariner Dumont D’Urville in 1827, D’Urville is the eighth largest island in New Zealand at 150 square kilometres, with a permanent population of fewer than 100 people.
Travelling up the western face of the island we sped past iconic fishing spots such as Paddock Rocks, Black Reef, Bottle Point, Nile Head, Nelson’s Monument, Cape Stephens, past the Bishops Cauldron and Hell’s Gate, and into the famed Stephens Passage, sandwiched between the northern tip of D’Urville and Stephens Island (the home of the rare and ancient tuatara).
Sea conditions were excellent with a slight swell and little wind. Sport fishing with jigs is our preferred method and we flogged the water to a foam with little success. At slack water we decided to head to a hapuka or groper hole northwest of Stephens Island where we have had great success on past trips.
Dropping 32-ounce ’puka bombs into nearly 200 metres of water with whole mullet baited on 16/0 hooks and 80-pound braid wasn’t any more successful, with only a few sea perch and big tope or greyboy shark to show for our efforts.
Heading for camp in remote Port Hardy, we became ‘‘cod botherers’’, catching a few trusty blue cod (Parapercis colias) along the way for dinner, collecting firewood on a sunny sheltered beach, before beelining for a favoured campsite.
Securing our 18-foot alloy boat with ropes stretched between trees across a small cove, we settled down for the night with a big fire on the beach, blue cod pan fried and stuffed in sandwiches with salad and all washed down with a few cans of fine ale. Eating fresh fried cod, caught from pristine ocean waters, was heaven on earth, and we even had starters of raw cod, soy sauce and wasabi paste. Later, Dave, a gentle giant with an appetite to match, steamed open large mussels collected off the rocks for dessert. Tall tales were told before retiring to our tents under a mild and starry winter evening.
Fishing the next day was much better, but forecast strong southeast gales (which never eventuated) had us fishing our way back down the coastline at Nile Head and Bottle Point, en route to Greville Harbour.
Barracouta, the silver snakes of the sea, were a scourge and we lost a lot of gear to their sharp teeth.
On the satellite phone that night, my wife Aimee warned of forecast southeast gales over 30 knots from lunchtime onwards, so we planned for an early start to get back home safely.
Powering out of Greville, we beat our way back through rough seas, and with salt water stinging our eyes and much water coming over the windshield of the boat. Past Sauvage Point and Le Brun Peninsula, across Current Basin into Waikawa Bay, and then down the coastline of the mainland past Okuri Light and Taipare into the safety of Croisilles Harbour.
The real fun began when our motor battery died, but fortunately electrician Scott had a new spare aboard and there were no dramas after some quick rewiring with new battery and battery terminals. The savage seas began to ease as we fished and by mid-afternoon it was warm and pleasant. So much for the forecast again.
They say that the least trusted professions are real estate agents, politicians and used car salesmen, but after the inaccuracy of the weather forecasts over the three-day D’Urville trip, as a keen outdoorsman I wonder if weather forecasters shouldn’t be added to the list.
We’d seen some great marine life, with porpoises, penguins, seals and sea birds abundant.
In hindsight, we should have taken our rifles so we could have looked for a deer or pig to stalk ashore, but there is always next time. Our trip had been a lot of fun but the fishing was disappointing – probably the worst catching I could remember. We caught gurnard, tope, spotties, parrot fish, sea perch, barracouta, but without the ever-present blue cod it would have been slim pickings.
It was the first trip in more than 20 years I could remember that we hadn’t caught any glamour fish like kingfish, groper, snapper, or even kahawai, trevally, or warehou.
Maybe it was the wrong time of year, water temperature or moon phase, but I have a feeling that the fishing just isn’t what it used to be. Every day we had to share the water with other recreational anglers and offshore the commercial trawlers worked.
We’ve now come to the conclusion that the way to be constantly successful is to hope we win Lotto so we can go hitech.
Just as military night vision technology has meant no wild animal is safe, portable GPS units and fancy highresolution depth sounders have left the groper and kingfish nowhere to hide in the ocean.
All I can say is thank cod for the blue cod fishery, which is remarkably resilient.
The remote western side of D’Urville has always been protected by the weather and seas, unlike the accessible eastern side and inner Marlborough Sounds, which have been fished hard by recreational anglers for generations. Recently, the inner Sounds was closed to blue cod fishing by the Ministry of Fisheries, with dubious science and virtually no consultation with recreational angling groups. My personal thoughts are that education would have been a better strategy than whacking recreational anglers with a big stick – maybe encouraging the use of artificial jigs and lures to minimise under-sized fish swallowing baited hooks, and educating anglers on the safe release of under-sized fish.
Aligning the lower North Island limit of 20 cod per person per day to the Nelson- Marlborough limit of three would also have been a good start, stopping North Island boaties crossing Cook Strait in summer, plundering the Sounds and D’Urville and landing all their catch in Wellington.
It’s no secret that New Zealand needs better management and fair allocation of fishery resources, both commercial and recreational. Let’s just hope MFish can get their act together and create a sustainable fishery for us all to enjoy. So help me cod.