Coffs Harbour Report: October 2008 by Mark Kallman

How it all began

I seriously started spearfishing at university in 1983. After varsity, got married, started a family and a veterinary practice and almost forgot about spearfishing. I will always be grateful to my brother Andrew and Greg Lewis-Monto for convincing me to get back into spearfishing and join them at the National Championships under the banner of Gauteng. Our idea was that if we competed in enough National Champs we would be exposed to most of what the South African coast offered as far as spearfishing was concerned. What I did not realise is the effect spearfishing would have on my future life. Apart from thoroughly enjoying each Championship event, I met fantastic spearos and made some great friends. Spearfishing became a driving force in my life. It kept me focussed on my fitness, always preparing in Johannesburg for those rare opportunities down at the coast.

Swopping Oceans

Earlier this year the greener pastures of Australia beckoned and I found myself in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales toward the end of August. I put the house on the market in South Africa, sold my interest in my veterinary practice and joined a practice in Coffs as an assistant. I gave up diving in the Indian Ocean to dive in the Pacific. Coffs Harbour is on the same line of latitude as Durban on the East coast of Australia. The predominant current is the East Australia Current (usually a North to South direction). The sea is temperate, quite similar to Scottburgh. Winds very much like Scotties, NE messes things up with the S clearing the sea. Considering everything, I could almost say the more things change, the more they stay the same. For spearos in SA who have seen the 2 ‘Immersion’ spearfishing DVD’s, most of the clips were shot around Coffs Harbour. The coast is heavily protected with substantial areas being closed to any form of exploitation as part of the Solitary Islands Marine Park. There are extensive areas of reef but the rock is basalt and not as prone to weathering and cave formation as in Natal.

Spearing Wise

Fish targeted include pelagics like wahoo, Spanish mackerel (‘couta), yellowtail kingfish (Cape yellowtail), amberjack and highfin amberjack (Sangoras and tropical yellowtail), Samsonfish (large, powerful yellowtail species) and various tuna including longtail tuna. Bottoms like jewfish (kob) and mangrove snapper as well as Snapper, a large red, knob-headed beast which most spearos agree is really good to eat but really difficult to shoot. Young snapper look very similar to slinger.

First Dives

October has seen slim pickings off the coast by spearos. NE have been followed by big S and as I write this article there is a small craft advisory of gale force winds over the following 2 days. I have managed 2 dives this month. The first off the Lighthouse (South Solitary Island) had masses of bait being smashed by numerous different gamefish. I was on call and due back at work so I could really only spend about 3 hours in the water. Viz probably 8m with a distinctly dirty thermocline at around 12m. Water a little on the cool side. Picked up a nice size Yellowtail before heading back. The next trip was on club comp day 19 Oct just after the NSW State U/W hockey Champs. We left out of Coffs to be greeted by really shoddy conditions. I went home empty handed but the spearos diving from Woolgoolga about 25km N of Coffs had relatively good conditions and managed some ‘tail and blue-bar parrotfish. The prediction for the remainder of the month does not look good. However, the huge numbers of baitfish being seen seems a really good omen for when conditions improve.

Shark wise

On the shark front, been a recent very rare sighting of a White just S of the harbour by some surfers. Also a tourist recently took a bite off a Grey Nurse in Sydney. He was diving in the aquarium when the shark was spooked by lightning and bit him. I think he better be on the lookout for falling coconuts if all the statistics on shark-bite versus falling coconuts are to be believed. We have daylight saving in NSW that means the clocks have been put forward by an hour. Not really much difference now but come December that gives a keen spearo 4 hours in the afternoon, after work, to do some serious hunting. How good is that?