Spearing mahimahi

As a diver, it has been a dream come true to be a part of South Seas Spearo – a TVNZ show where we travel Aotearoa, and overseas, showcasing the sport of spearfishing and the magic of the underwater world. The best thing about it is being out there with the other salty buggers on the show – who are all half mad and keen to give anything a crack, as long as there’s a solid forecast of adventure and the possibility of some underwater action.

We’d spoken about this particular trip for a long time. Finally, the time had come – everyone was available and we had the right weather conditions to be able to put the plan into action. The plan? Load up The Orca, a magnificent Stabi 2500, with a silly number of pilchards and disappear out past the horizon for an offshore mission. It’s a big blue desert out there, but we knew we had the chance of something incredible – a big tuna, a marlin, or maybe even something with teeth – swimming up the chum line.

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We loaded up the boat and the team started fizzing about the adventure that lay ahead. The crew on this trip was made up of the saltiest of sea dogs: Mister Dwane Herbert, Jordy Bardin (the lass that all fish fear), Dave Shaw (the man behind the onboard camera, who makes the magic happen), and yours truly – underwater cameraman and spearo.

We left the Bay of Islands at sparrow’s fart and took off to our fishing grounds, roughly 36nm offshore. The trip out treated us well, with whales surrounding us at one stage and a sunrise that no camera could ever do justice to. Not long after first light we were relatively close to some floats that we had been given the marks to. We knew that these floats would work well as a FAD (fish attracting device) so we started by having a look there.

We were in 950m of water and weren’t sure what we might bump into. On the first float, there was nothing apart from a few pilot fish. It is always a strange feeling being in such deep water, especially looking at the rope disappearing into the depths. The second float was also not feeling very fishy until Dwane caught something out of the corner of his eye – mahimahi!

While not a complete surprise, it was still pretty tough to get my head around seeing this tropical fish right here in home waters, and what a sight it was! The small handful of fish came in for a curious look, but the beautiful clean water allowed them to keep their distance while satisfying their curiosity. One of the larger fish eventually came in close enough for a shot, so I lined it up, pulled the trigger… and hit the fish low.

Firing at a pilchard-eating mahi’.

Firing at a pilchard-eating mahi’.

Bugger! I thought, It must’ve been further away than I’d realised.

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After a brief battle with a rather animated fish, the spear ripped out and it swam off. It was just a flesh wound, the fish would live, but I still felt gutted about missing out on my first mahimahi.

Feeling a little deflated, we moved on to the next spot knowing we still had a chance. Dwane and I jumped in and were immediately greeted with a slightly larger school of mahimahi. After a long game of cat-and-mouse, trying to close the gap and dancing around the rope, I eventually got another shot away. This time two fish were on target! The two fish fought against each other on the line and one pulled off, but the second held strong. My first mahimahi!

Dwane grabbed a second gun that we had with us and quickly dispatched the other fish. Two epic fish in the bin – before breakfast! Jordy had been on the boat and was just as stoked as we were for the action we’d just had. It was her turn to suit up and have a crack behind the gun next.

We jumped in near another float, but the blue water around it was barren. Bugger! We carried on and spotted one last FAD. Thankfully, this FAD had plenty of mahimahi hanging around it too. It didn’t take long for the fish to come in and Jordy was on the hunt. A couple of pilchards thrown from the boat were smashed by the fish, which allowed Jordy to get a solid shot on a fantastic fish and secure her first mahi’ on the spear. Froth levels were through the roof! We took some quick photos together and then we found a new spot to park up in the blue and start the laborious task of chumming pilchards.

Plenty of cat-and-mouse games were played with this school of mahimahi.

Plenty of cat-and-mouse games were played with this school of mahimahi.

Jordy, Dwane, and I took two-hour shifts cutting up pilchards into thirds and disposing of a single fish every minute or so. The idea of this approach being: we’d placed ourselves in an area where a fish may swim through, and were laying down a reasonably sparse bait trail in the hope that something might bump into it and feed its way up to a reachable depth. During our shifts, we stayed in the water the entire time to keep a close eye out. Something may just swoop in for a brief fly-by, so we needed to be ready. Despite our intense focus levels, shift after shift, hour after hour, all remained quiet in the inky blue. I did have one brief encounter with some life – a small mobula/devil-ray came cruising through without giving me too much attention.

We pulled the pin just on dark, got changed, and ate a well-earned feed as we debriefed the day and discussed the plan moving forward. We whacked off a slab of one of the mahi’ that had been on ice all day and Jordy put her amazing cooking skills to work. It’d be fair to say we ate like royalty!

Judging by the feel of how the day went and the forecast, we decided that our plans for the following day were going to be better spent having another quick spear for a mahimahi first thing and then bashing our way back to the Cavalli Islands for a hunt on the reef. During that night we had a mahi’ swim into the lights which got Dwane and I keen enough for a quick night dive to see if we could get it on the deck. But alas, it stayed too far out of reach. Dwane and I shared a quick nightcap before hitting the sack ready for another round the following day.

The next day’s sunrise was another beauty, and we were greeted with a couple of small fish hanging under the boat, as well as the cagey mahimahi from the previous night. Dwane and I suited up and spent an hour or so playing cat-and-mouse again, trying to close the gap in the clean, blue water so that Dwane could get a shot away. He eventually got the job done (as he always seems to) and we had another beautiful-eating fish on the ice before breakfast – how good!

We travelled back to one of the FADs we’d found and discovered that several of the fish from different floats had come together to make a larger school. We could tell not only because the school was larger, but most importantly because the first fish that had torn off the day before had joined them! I was stoked to see it, and I made it my goal to finish the job. For the next hour or so, I played another round of cat-and-mouse with this beautiful school of mahi’, but seeing as they had learned the drill the day before, they did not want to come very close (not that they could be blamed for that).

It took Sam a couple of attempts, but he finally nailed this mahimahi after losing it the day before!

It took Sam a couple of attempts, but he finally nailed this mahimahi after losing it the day before!

Dwane was on the camera and Jordy was in the water just soaking up the experience of seeing these incredible fish in home waters. The mahimahi eventually passed close enough after a couple of enticing grunts and another fish was shot and landed. By that stage the forecast breeze had picked up, so we decided we should probably head for waters closer to home and we bashed our way back to the Cavallis at speed.

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We were greeted with a stark contrast to the conditions we had become accustomed to over the preceding days – the water was a hazy green at the pin we jumped in on – but it was teeming with life! It is always such an incredible feeling seeing such an abundance of life, with thick schools of trevally and kahawai, kingfish mooching through and snapper sitting underneath. We spent more time admiring the scenes rather than shooting fish and then eventually decided it was time for home – with one stop on a weedline on the way for a crack at a boarfish. Our cameraman Dave took the helm and lined up a few landmarks before confidently telling Dwane that this was the spot. Sure enough, on the first dive, Dwane came up with a nice-sized boary! A mahimahi before breakfast and a boarfish before lunch – surely a world first and a fantastic way to finish off an epic mission!

Our trip out wide was one for the books, and it has definitely left us hungry for more. It just reinforces the idea that you really can bump into anything out there and the things you might see are nothing short of amazing. We left with some awesome memories, some incredible footage (minus 1x drone) and a pending New Zealand record for Jordy to top it all off. It’s safe to say that this will be a mission we will be doing again!

A boarfish and a mahimahi – not your usual combo!

A boarfish and a mahimahi – not your usual combo!

If you want to see the footage behind the story, you can see it on Season 3 of South Seas Spearo, free to view on TVNZ On Demand.

November 2022 - Sam Wild
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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