204 kg Bluefin Tuna, Greymouth, Sunday 6th August by Christopher Burke

204KG Bluefin Tuna shot by Christopher BurkeI shot this fish from a school of 10 at 40 feet under the lifting Hoki filled net of a Russian trawler 80 km off Greymouth in the Tasman Sea.  The trawler was retrieving the net and I dived under it letting the net pass over me and struggling to keep my line clear of my body and the net. A school of tuna were milling around under and behind the bag mopping up bits of hoki.  Almost immediately I was amongst them, directly under me was a horse, twice the size of the fish I landed, in front of me were some large tuna possibly 300 kg, passing to my left was a smaller fish presenting a lateral line shot, but not very close. I took the shot aiming the lateral line behind the head. The moment was a blur, with the fish arcing right and down, I was worried about he shot. The size of the fish makes hitting the spine difficult.

I had clipped two bungies to the spliced loop of braided cable that was attached to the Riffe shaft. One bungy was 55ft the other 75 ft long, each had a Rob Allen hippo float attached.   The ice pick was attached to a shaft by braided cable that I had lengthened to match the depth of these fish.

In the water with me was Brandon Whiddett, a big man with incredible stamina, we had competed in three national competitions together, and on blue water hunting trips had landed marlin, yellowfin, and dogtooth tuna. Our communication in the water was as good as it gets. He waited on me, ferrying my Riffe gun back to the boat, bringing a second gun. The fish was 40 metres below us and the pressure on the bungies had settled down to a constant strain, we were heading steadily south into a sloppy 1.5 metre sea. The boat was motoring to keep up.  Our tender was an 8.5m Protector which we had towed down from Auckland. We had secured the services of a local skipper Leigh Kelly, who runs a charter fishing business "Wildcat charters". His local knowledge was essential to what we were doing. Also in the boat was Eddy Chignell, an accomplished skipper, spearo and fisherman. We had a small and skilled team.

In the water we discussed what to do and the considered the options, regularly testing the pressure on the bungies. It was decided not to try and lift the fish until it tired. The 'rules' were not important to us, our only consideration was getting the fish in the boat. Brandon who dives for deeper and longer than I do, had my permission to dive and place a kill shot should it be necessary. After 30 minutes we started pulling in a foot of bungy at a time, Brandon on one float, me on the other. This went on for 10 minutes and we were not making any head way.

The fish began to tire and we were careful to keep the lift pressure constant until it was within range. I took Brandon's Riffe gun and went down, as it came into view its head was slowly rising and it started to roll. The big fish was dying.  I could see that the first shot had hit the lateral line between the caudal dorsal and anal fin, about 2/3s back from the head. A tail shot. Like marlin, tuna have very large vertebrae and huge inter-vertebral discs. They do not swim by wagging their tails; if they did they would have large wide tails. Instead the muscles running length ways compress the spine increasing the rigidity of the fish, this raises the resonant frequency making the tail beats invisible like the ring of a tuning fork. The significance of the tail shot was two fold, firstly the size of vertebrae make them easier to hit in this part of the fish, secondly if you can break the rigidity of the column the fish can't generate the same thrust. It explained why the fish could not take the two hippos down into the depths.

I wasted no time in taking the second shot.  It was good, just below the pectoral fin, the fish shuddered and died. Brandon could see me rising through the water punching and whooping and screaming with the delight of the kill, I hit the surface to hear the others joining in. It was a moment I had often visualised, pouring over my copy of Blue Water Hunting by Terry Maas, checking and rechecking my equipment for weaknesses, questioning guys like Darren Shields and Paul Marlin that know about spearfishing. It had all come together and Brandon, Eddy and Leigh were part of it, and I realised the humans hunt best as a pack.

Now the fish had two Riffe ice picks in it, but it was not on the boat. It was late in the day when I had shot the fish and overcast and gloomy, the southerly was rising and with it a 1.5m sea was running. The water colour was changing into shades of darkness; we had a long way to go home in an open boat (as far as the Three Kings is off shore). Diving to secure a rope on the tail I came up a foot short, returning to the surface wide-eyed at the size of the fish. Brandon followed with a longer rope and wrapped a few coils around the tail. There was no time for photos or poses, we were worried about sharks. Having come this far we had one thought. Secure the fish.

How do you get a 200kg fish over the pontoons of a small boat? This is where the experience of Eddy and Leigh came to bear.   A gaff under the chin, and side on to the oncoming sea used the rising waves to slide her in. It was not easy or safe. I lay in the boat beside the magnificent fish trying to comprehend it all. Eddy and Leigh took us home. It was dark when we got in; another group of spearos came alongside, as we collected ice from the wharf. We shared a good meal and drinks.  

The last thing to say is this. I was diving with a friend one day and he blacked out and died.  He was a very good diver, working hard to improve. Patience is essential to achieving   spearfishing goals, building up over years not months to them, always putting safety first. Shooting bluefin tuna off Greymouth is dangerous and not the best place to start bluewater hunting.