Happy hāpuka happenstance

Fergus with a rare Tasman Bay groper

On a beautiful, crisp, midautumn day in Nelson, my dad, brother and I headed out early in the morning for a fish. I had slim hopes of catching anything good as I thought that most of the snapper in the bay had gone. My brother set off on his kayak and we quickly zoomed past him in our little tinny.

Coming out of the estuary, we were pleased to see the forecast was right—it was a glass off. We pulled up to our spot, put down the anchor, threw in the berley and set out our comfortable camping chairs in preparation for a potentially long day of spiny dogs. Seeing all the boats around us moving from spot to spot we knew that, if we were patient enough, our berley trail might entice something worthwhile.

We started getting small nibbles, tiny snappers were the suspects. We kept rebaiting as the baby snapper stripped our hooks and left them bare. Suddenly, I looked over to my dad who was scrambling towards two rods, one of which had a large bend in it. He got a good grip on it and started hauling it in, but not without a struggle. He brought it to the surface and wouldn’t you believe it, a decent snapper! It looked to be around 14lb. I was pleasantly surprised, as my hopes of us getting a decent snapper had been low.

The snapper was quick to see a bed of ice and we raced to get our lines back into the water, hoping there would be a few more about.

Dad showed us how

Two hours later and we had caught nothing but small snapper and a few spiky dogs. I was losing patience and could feel my weekend bleeding away. For my last attempt, I cut the whole belly flap off the skipjack we had been used for bait and put it on a stay line rig. While flicking it into the water, I had a good gut feeling that something big was going to take it.

Shortly after, I could see my line getting pulled out slowly. My first thought was snapper but something felt off. Big snapper usually take it and run, so my second thought was a spiny dog (sluggish and slow). As I pulled my rod to set the hook, I was instantly surprised by the weight and fight this fish had. At this point, I was sure it was a snapper because it was taking line and putting up a good fight. I slowly tired it out and started gaining line. I could tell it was getting close, so I peeked over the side of the boat.

Immediately, I was shocked.

“It’s a F***ing hāpuku!!” I shouted.

I was in disbelief. I couldn’t lose this fish, or no one would ever believe me.

“NET! NET! GET ME THE NET!”

Of course, the net was right next to me. I scrambled to grab it, then plunged it under the water and scooped the fish into it. Then the relief, excitement and adrenaline flooded through me. I’d just caught my first hāpuku—and in 20m of water! The fish had one last outburst of energy but it was too late.

After I had calmed down, I put the fish to sleep and got a photo before putting him on ice. Hāpuku are rarely caught at this depth in Nelson, especially this close to shore (less than 50m). I felt like the luckiest fisherman in Nelson. 

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