Taken to school by a 35kg Kingfish

Schooled by a 35kg Kingfish Mokohinau Islands

Since shooting and eating my first 12kg Kingfish around three years ago, I’ve continued to seek that adrenaline rush and mix of excitement and fear that comes with putting a spear in a decent fish with some power behind it.

I’ve learned that kingfish, while not super hard to target as a spearo, require some patience and practice to land, especially when it comes to good shot placement. The rewards for a successful hunt are plentiful and have made up a large part of my diet over the last few years.

While not solely hunting these fish, on every trip, I’d always had in mind that I’d like to put my couple of years apprenticeship in the water to the test on a larger model kingi. I’ve seen the monsters that come out of spots like the Three Kings and always wondered what it would be like to take that ride.

On Friday, at the Mokohinau Islands, I found out.

It’s fitting that I was at the same location, on the same boat, as I was a number of years ago with William when I speared my first Kingfish. Previously, the biggest I’d taken was around 17kg from Cuvier Island. Friday would see me just over double that number.

We shot out from Omaha at a gentlemanly hour, arriving at the mokes around 9 am. The continual presence of birds on the way out seemed like a good sign. It was warm and the wind was almost non-existent. Regardless of the fish tally, I knew it would be a good day diving.

We chose our first spot based on the mid-outgoing tide, and the knowledge that it was a hotspot for strong current and Kingfish. My goal for the day was to secure one to get smoked and share with family, friends, and clients for Christmas. We geared up and jumped in on the side of the rocks that the current was hitting. I swam over to check a few ledges for snapper but was immediately drawn back out by a huge school of trevally and kahawai. Looking down through the school I could see the dark outlines of a few kingfish below. I took one shallow dive to size them up, picking one that looked around the 15kg mark then returned to the surface to breathe up and take my time to get back down to their level.

My target came back into view and right as I dived, I noticed another fish appear, it was bigger, I was sure of it. It was much fatter and swam slower so I continued my descent and waited to see if it would turn around. As luck would have it, my original target and this new potential fish did one more pass, next to each other and the new arrival instantly made my first choice look insignificant by comparison.

Without much time to think I took a shot over the tail of the smaller fish and straight into the side of the larger, about halfway back just above the lateral line. I immediately felt its weight but it didn’t seem to go anywhere. As I surfaced it began its run and I knew right away it was a big fish. I called William over and as I did I was pulled under with my float – I realized then that it was a really big fish.

The next half an hour was a tiring battle of gaining line, then losing it, going under then surfacing, and kicking as hard as I could to keep my head above water. I couldn’t see the fish for 90% of the fight but my shot hadn’t done much to slow it down. My thought process from the beginning was to swim it out into deep water, away from any structure it could snag on. Luckily the deep water was in the direction the current was coming from. I was taught to swim into the current and feed my line out and away from me to avoid getting wrapped up.

As the fish tired, so did I. All I could do was hold on. I had shot it with my Rob Allen 120, and only had a standard 12L float to apply brakes with. (Ironic seeing I had set up a 130 gun, double flopper shaft and bluewater float for exactly this situation) My grip and legs were exhausted and I made the call to lay on my float and start trying to get some line back in. I believe this was a mistake in hindsight. Although it gave my legs a break and allowed me to start pulling in line, I ended up amongst it all, going with the current. William backed me up and went down for a second shot. Unfortunately, it didn’t hit the mark and the fish took another run collecting his line, spear, and gun at the same time. I now had a lot of lines around me and while William focused on managing that, I continued my hand over hand approach to pulling in the fish.

By the time I got it up into view, I was spent. I’d lost all control of my breathing, I was dizzy and I was still concerned about the amount of line in the water. I had a discussion afterward with a friend and more experienced diver who noted I would have been better to possibly let everything go and sort out the mess, then fight the fish. I think he’s right. I made my way down the line and slowly approached the spear. From experience, I knew this is when these fish often do one last-ditch blast to escape. I was praying that wasn’t the case. I was out of strength and I needed to get the situation under control.

I definitely had luck on my side – as I reached the fish it seemed to just accept the fight was over. I wrapped my legs around it and got my right hand into its gills, which it crushed right away. With William still there backing me up, I managed to get my knife and finally hit the off switch (after a bit of poking around).

We’d ended up a fair distance from the boat and the swim back against the current was for me, the point the tank ran dry, physically and mentally. I managed to compose myself enough to get back and get the fish on board but somewhere near the end I’d let the excitement and exhaustion turn to anxiety and panic.

Spearfishing has taught me a lot about expanding my comfort zone, it’s helped build a lot of confidence and strength, but this fish reminded me to always be humble in progression whether it be of physical or mental nature.

The fish wasn’t quite the monster of a Three Kings model but it weighed in at 35kg, without the guts. I’d hoped after the battle I’d had, it would go 30, so the final result was somewhat comforting given how hard it had been to land it.

I wrote this all down, not to highlight a trophy (although I’m pretty proud of how far I’ve come in spearfishing) but to share a few of the lessons this experience taught me. There are certainly much bigger fish taken, by much calmer and far more capable divers than me, but I have accepted I will always roll towards the side of a mix of fight and flight response in these situations. Each dive is a lesson and I strive to never make the same mistake twice.

So I guess while my opinions are just my opinions, my takeaways from this are:

Line Management:
Know where your line is. Know where your buddies lines are. Swim into the current and as you collect it and feed it out and away from you. Don’t deviate from this and try to keep clear of any other obstructions.

Take Your Time:
In the end, the fish did get tired. Don’t burn up all your energy trying to drag in a fresh fighting fish. Let it swim and wear itself out, then start the battle.

The single biggest hindrance for me on Friday was the fact that I spent almost 20minutes uncontrollably hyperventilating. The result was dizziness and limbs that felt like weights. Slow down (see above), get your breathing under control. I do a lot of reading and practice around breathe work. I know for me slow inhales, short holds then slow exhales calm me down really quickly. I wish I’d remembered and employed that tool in the water.

Check Your Weighting:
After a recent health kick, I actually realised I was about 1.5kg over-weighted during the whole experience. I believe my legs would have lasted a lot longer had I shed that weight at the start of the day. Thinking back, when I got on my float, I could have actually stripped off my belt instead.

Get Help:
If you need help from a buddy in the water, ask for it. (Or any other time in life). Having William there, controlling the line and just as a back up made the world of difference.

My fish is now in the safe hands of Mike at Matakana Smokehouse and I’m looking forward to feeding a lot of mouths this festive season. I hope someone learns something from this article. I was lucky enough to have great mates teaching me over the last few years, but in the end, there’s always going to be lessons you need to learn for yourself and quite often best intentions fly out the window when adrenaline and fatigue combine forces.

Big Kingfish New Zealand

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