Despite being English and having grown up on an island, I have neither sailed nor fished on the ocean. It’s a shocking admission for an Englishman, but one I must admit.
Recently I had the chance to rectify this situation by going sailing with my good friend Graham. He runs a sailing school and owns a 40ft yacht which is based up in Mana on the Kapiti coast just north of Wellington.
Graham is an accomplished sailor and fisherman and takes great delight in showing novices how a yacht works, how to sail and the skills needed to fish on the ocean. Handy then as neither Ingrid nor I had any experience of the former.
Graham, Ingrid and I were joined by Graham’s friend Chris (another skilled sailor and fisherman) and armed with a variety of food, many layers of technical clothing and all important teabags, we skilfully navigated our way out of Mana Marina and headed out towards Mana Island, where Graham assured us we would find some fish.
The steep-sided and seemingly flat-topped Mana Island is a distinctive feature of Wellington’s west coast.
Mana Island’s name is an abbreviation of Te Mana o Kupe ki Aotearoa, which acknowledges the achievements of Kupe, the legendary 12th Century Polynesian navigator, who discovered this land — Aotearoa.
On the way to the island, Graham and Chris taught us about gibing, tacking, coming about, loughing and the various rope skills needed with a full head of sails!
Graham is an excellent teacher and it’s a pleasure to learn skills from someone in an area that I know nothing in, and one that he clearly loves. In fact, I learnt more in 5 hours about sailing than I have in my entire life.
We were becalmed for a short time but other than that, we had a good wind, made a steady 8 or so knots and enjoyed the cloudy but humid weather.
Many other people were out and about as Mana is a big marina and have easy access to the Kapiti Coast and the renowned fishing ground around Kapiti Island.
Both Chris and Graham deployed their lines over the back of the boat and for the first few hours we had nothing. Chris had a couple of tweaks on his line but the fish came off as we tried to bring them in.
However, the closer we got to Mana Island, it was all hands on deck as the line that I was overseeing started to run…and run…and run! To use a poker phrase, I had the hot hand!
I caught my first bite and managed to land a kahawai which according to the boys was a bigger than usual size. So, as you can imagine, landing a decent sixed fish iono my first time out made me pretty happy. The next time I cast out, I landed another good sized kahawai!
This happened again and I had 4 of them before Chris caught his first kahawai. I ended up with 6 and Chris 2 as Graham expertly steered us back and forth in a narrow corridor of shallow water just off the tip of Mana Island.
Australian salmon known as kahawai in New Zealand are medium-sized perciform marine fish of the small family Arripidae. Despite the common name, Australian salmon are not related to the salmon (family Salmonidae) of the Northern Hemisphere; the former were named so by early European settlers after their superficial resemblance to the salmoniform fishes.
The Māori to whom the fish are known as kahawai, koopuuhuri and kooukauka, fish for the salmon in subsistence and customary capacities. The fish were (and are) caught with lines of flax fibre and elaborate hooks of bone, wood, shell such as paua, or stone. The salmon are filleted before being hung on racks to dry. Recreational fishers also seek kahawai for their renowned mettle when hooked; the salmon are a challenge to land and often jump, occasionally standing on their tails. This I can vouch for!
Not long after taking over the line, Ingrid got a hefty kahawai on the line which she tried to bring in. Sadly not too far from the boat, it jumped off the line. Then a few seconds later, Ingrid said the fish was still on the line…and fighting hard. As she reeled it in closer, Graham looked over the stern and saw it for what it was… a barracuda!!
Yep, Ingrid had managed to capture one of the most voracious and opportunistic predators in the sea who relying on surprise and short bursts of speed (up to 28 mph) to capture their prey.
They are very hard work to land and are known for their vicious behaviour, fearsome appearance and nasty teeth. Put it this way, you can easily lose a finger…
Ingrid managed to get the barracuda most of the way in and I took over for the last few yards. It certainly was hard work on the arms trying to land it, but we did and Graham said it was one of the biggest he had seen. Ingrid should be rightly proud of landing her first fish…and what a one to get.
Not long after this we headed for home, with Chris filleting the fish off the stern as we headed back to the marina. We headed to Graham’s place in the Plimmerton hills to have dinner which consisted of our freshly caught fish (including the barracuda!).
With a bit of lemon, mixed herbs and cracked pepper, our fish came up a treat. Add in some great chips from the local shop, a nice glass of sauvignon blanc and a fantastic view of the sun going down over the tip of the South Island, and it was a great day all round.
It fact it was plain sailing…