It was another beautiful day on the New South Wales Coast, as it had been for a little while.
Clear, calm and warm waters attracted the seasonal pelagic run (pelagic fish, eg tuna, mackerel, mahi-mahi, are fish, that follow the warm water currents south and chase pelagic baitfish), which I wanted to make the most of.
I invited my friend Tricia for a fishing paddle in my kayak for her birthday.
First light just came over the far ocean horizon as we set out to sea with my basic fishing gear. We sat back to back on the kayak and I had the paddle and peddle under my helm. A broken, thick cloud cover showed a spectacular display in colours, which also reflected on calm waters. It couldn’t have been a better start for our little adventure on the ocean. Passing the headland, we found some baitfish and hooked one as bait on the fishing line. It didn’t take long for the line to run off in lightning speed, an adrenaline pumping moment.
A good 10 min later, a decent size Spotted Mackerel appeared like a silver arrow near the kayak. It was Tricia’s turn next. I hoped she paid attention to my previous success. Not long after, the reel screamed off again. ‘Hold on and keep the tension on the line’ I reminded her as I enjoyed her rollercoaster ride. It is a thrilling and exciting moment when the line peels off the reel, zigzagging away from the kayak. She did well to hold on to rod and reel and sometime later, another spotless silver glaring mackerel was landed.
This one appeared to be close to the meter mark and after a few photos he swam off again into the blue. The exciting, adrenaline pumping look on Tricia’s eyes was priceless, as I had hoped for. That was the idea behind our adventure.
We missed a few more runs but landed another spotted mackerel, which we released as well. The northeasterly wind picked up by mid-morning as we returned towards the beach. Soon the waters will be choppy.
We took a few more photos back at camp before filleting this tasty fish.
A very happy friend couldn’t stop smiling, excitement was still rushing through her body. Job well done!
It was a different scenario early afternoon when I set out again on yet another chase for another trophy fish. The strong northeasterly wind pushed the swell on to the tight shallow beach launching corner at low tide. I almost rolled the yak over the waves but stayed on and broke through eventually. Rebounding waters off the headland point didn’t make handling the kayak any easier, the ‘white caps’ coming towards me were in worrying heights, I was out pushing my luck again.
It took a while for the first quick run, but the hook didn’t set. I wasn’t to bothered as I was busy handling the unpredictable swell. I had to face the swell head on, otherwise, chances of falling into the waters were increased. It’s all about the angle.
The afternoon sun started lowering over Coffs Harbour’s distant mountains and not much was happening. ‘Time to return for an earlier birthday party’ I thought as my bait-caster reel screamed off. The hook was set, yet my line was still peeling off in lightning speed. The immense strength and power of this fish was felt through my rod, which pulled me in my kayak behind at some distance. It’s a big, strong fish, I will be busy for a while. Frequent tail slaps on the fishing line proved that this was one of the tuna species.
Water conditions were still worrying and handling a silver-blue torpedo could be disastrous. In a way, I was lucky that this tuna was swimming against the current and waves when it hit my bait and continued to do so. He tried a few times to turn with the swell, but I directed the fish against that one-handed, stretching the rod out into the swell, whilst leaning against the pulling weight. My left hand was steering the rudder and the whole upper body counteracted waves. I needed to stay on northeastern course to face the waves head-on, otherwise, my safety would have been more compromised.
A good hour had passed and I was still fighting this strong fish. My arms and whole body was tiring out, my senses were in tune with the swell. I eventually saw a silver shadow appearing bigger and bigger underneath my kayak, a clear sign of relief. Wow, what a fish. A meter plus Longtail Tuna was just about to give in, finally.
An impeccable predator in the ocean, pure muscle, and speed. I wasn’t going to keep him as we had plenty of fish fillets from our morning catch. A photo, if I could manage one, as well as respect for an impressive opponent, whilst I was ‘swimming’ him, that’s all I wanted. ‘Swimming a fish’ is a technique used by boaties pulling their catch behind them at slow speed to pump oxygen in their gills, before releasing the fish.
However, the tuna is not the most fearsome predator in the ocean. That reputation belongs to the sharks. A large hammerhead shark, almost the size of my yak, appeared from the clear deep waters and chased the stress signal sending tuna, which acts like a dinner bell for sharks.
Any fish, crayfish or even mussels like abalone, send out a stress signal whilst being caught. It’s a panic stress signal being ripped out off their environment. This signal is picked up by sharks a long way out and attracts them for an easy feed. This is what makes spearfishing and mussel collecting a very dangerous scenario. The longer this signal is sent out, the more time sharks have to investigate. I wasn’t really surprised to see this shark but hoped it wouldn’t happen.
Wow again, this scenario stepped up a nudge even more. Having a super strong fish going bezerk on my line, whilst being chased by a shark in these still tricky conditions was anything but ideal. In a way, I was lucky it was a hammerhead shark and not a white pointer, tiger shark or very aggressive bull shark. Bull sharks, in particular, roam and feed in schools and would have caused a feeding frenzy, something I wasn’t keen to witness around my inflatable kayak.
I like hammerhead sharks. They don’t show much aggression, they have a comparatively small mouth and look rather amusing. However, there are some very sharp teeth near my inflatable kayak and more sharks could be attracted by the commotion and blood in the water. The tuna was rather exhausted and the hammerhead shark caught up with him in front of my yak, chewing on his tail.
The tuna’s big eyes looked straight into my eyes as the shark took another bite, I felt sorry for this to happen. What am I going to do next? Amazingly, the hammerhead shark returned into the deep when he realized my presence. Now what?
Quick actions were required as other sharks would be attracted sooner or later. I had to take the tuna with me and lifted the no-tail tuna into my kayak, which was a balancing act in itself. An approximate 20 kg extra weight gave my yak more stabilization, but also a lot of extra weight to push through these rough conditions on my way back. I had to hurry, Diggers Beach headland was further away then it looked and the sun isn’t far from setting.
Heading sideways against or with the swell can be interesting at times and my muscles started cramping up. I had no choice, I had to paddle as fast as I could to make it back before the dark. I was glad to pass Diggers Beach headland, which rebounding waters still felt like being in a washing machine. I waited for a break in the swell at my launching spot and made it safely back to the beach in last light, happy but exhausted.
Wow wow wow! It took me a while to come to terms with what just happened and what could have happened. Pulling my yak back to camp, I met a slightly worried Tricia.
‘Yeah but’ I said, ‘you won’t believe this!’
By the time the fish was filleted, the kayak and gear washed out and dinner was cooked it was already 10:30 pm.
We sat down for birthday celebrations as the moon came over the headland.
A thunderstorm in the distance lightened the sky in fantastic fashion. What a day.