Tall tales and true from down the Bay

The old bones have fair been creaking over the past week or so as my part of the country has been assaulted by cold, wet and foggy weather. The easterly set is both cruel and kind where I am – it holds the rain and fog tight to the hills above my home (Gunyah – for reasons I can explain some other time) but blows a constant offshore as well – so the sea out front is flat and glassy other than for an occasional sou’west swell pushing in from the Chathams. In those conditions the coastal population expands as the surfies from the city hit the coast for the duration of the swell.

I went down to take a look at the action the other day – a swarm of rubber clad diehards bouncing around on the peak waiting for the one wave that they would no doubt be reliving and boasting about well into the night. Skill levels were definitely variable and I could not help but thinking that the ice cream headaches would be keeping the surfing sessions very short. There is no sign of global warming down in the Bay at this time of year – sea temperature was single digits for a few days before bouncing back to the season average 12 degrees – but that in turn was a few degrees warmer than the temperature on land. It’s not often we see frost on the lawn across from the boat ramp, but there you go – twice already and we are not into real winter yet.

The commercial blokes have been going out but not too many recreational vessels launching recently. The lobster catches have been pretty good – for some of the professional operators June is a very productive month if they can get a good run at it. Being able to get consecutive days at sea is a real bonus for lobster fishing because you have an opportunity to get onto to the elusive critters. It’s a male-only gig too – all female lobsters will be in berry now and fishermen set gear to avoid them as much as possible. The male lobsters are entering their moult phase so they will be feeding up to store the energy they need to shed their old shell and hide themselves away whilst the new shell hardens up. They are especially vulnerable to predators during that moult period. Locally it is blue cod, school sharks and rig that hoover up lobsters as a matter of course.

You get all sorts of stuff out of the fish in the Bay. There are some big moki straying in close when the water is cloudy and the surfcasters land quite a few good ones off the beach further down from my place. I reckon the biggest and the fattest of the moki are taken by spear fishermen who find them seemingly drifting on the surges that run up the rocky gutters very close to shore. Moki caught off the rocks will invariably have a gutful of tiny paua shells no bigger than the thumbnail of a grown man. When I was paua diving for a job I would watch the moki going head down with their backs almost out of the water as they literally sucked those small paua off the rocks. And a few blue cod would be cruising in attendance trying to pick up whatever scraps that came their way.

We have a local shark population too – not those smaller varieties, but the serious ones. Over the years as a commercial fisherman and diver I have blundered into seven-gilled sharks that were sitting in that cloudy water picking off a few hapless moki that were no doubt feeling very satisfied with their paua feast and not paying sufficient attention to the prowling taxman. Further out the visiting white pointers were an incentive not to dive near the seal colonies.

They were also a nuisance when we were netting for butterfish. On several occasions my crewman and I had to unroll some reasonably large whites from our nets as we retrieved them. One memorable occasion we had fourteen feet of twisting, squirming and snapping white pointer hard in alongside my little sixteen foot double-ender which had not much freeboard because the first few sets offered up a good freight of butterfish. Brute force, a sharp knife and careful avoidance of big ripping teeth enabled the release of the shark but cost me quite a few days of having to repair and re-sling the net.

Which brings me back to the surfies – all encased in rubber with arms and legs dangling in the cold ocean. The peak down at the Point has always been a very fishy place. It is coincidental that it is also the best take-off spot in a good swell. It is also coincidental that butterfish nets have snagged at least three white pointers on that reef over the years – two of which were released; one of which was landed because it was dead in the net. It was so large that the skipper and crew could not get it on deck and had to lash it alongside their vessel. An eighteen foot boat with two feet of head and jaw at the front end and two feet of tail at the stern steamed slowly back to the ramp. It took a small crawler tractor to drag sharkie up the beach. A crowd gathered to watch the landing – an auction almost immediately commenced with two of the bystanders competing to buy the massive jaws and a local fish wholesaler willing to buy the shark for the fish and chip market once it was gutted. You could do stuff like that back in the day – ‘waste not, want not’ if a net fisherman could not avoid a big shark mortality. Not sure now if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

Oh – and remind me to tell you about Gunyah.

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