West Coast Blue Fin
There are no guarantees when it comes to fishing, after all "they" call the sport fishing not catching. For several months we have been fizzing at the idea of getting back to Greymouth and chasing giant bluefin tuna. Mid August seemed like a guarantee of success. It had been for the previous three years. I felt so confident that I persuaded an American friend to make the trek and join the Carters Gone Fishin team for what I felt would be a "mind blower".
For some years now I have been spending time on the charter vessel Jewel filming around Fiordland and Stewart Island. Ian Bain the skipper and new owner Rob decided to base the 60foot Jewel in Greymouth for the tuna season and phoned to invite us down. A plan came together and my healthy respect for the West Coast's fickle sea conditions made the idea of being on Jewel particularly appealing. The forecast was for ten knots variable, a dream forecast when it comes to tuna on the coast.
The first hurdle on any of these trips is to get over the Grey River bar. A huge volume of water funnels through the valleys, gorges and ravines of the Grey River watershed and watching a flood is almost like a religious experience. Brown swirling, tempestuous masses of water spew out in to the sea carrying trees that have been torn out roots and all. Would be fishermen can stand out on the breakwater and watch the clash of ocean versus river and thank their lucky stars that they are not on the ocean that day. Our arrival coincided with what is described as a "bit of a fresh".
The river was up enough for the bar to command respect but not at the point where it would be dangerous to cross in a vessel as well found as Jewel. Once over the bar you set a course for the HokitikaTrench, the edge of which is 30 miles to the south west. In the trench during August and September the hoki trawlers are at work and when those nets are hauled in the tuna are there to pick up any tasty morsels that drop out. The seals are there also, hundreds of seals, and more seabirds than it seems possible to fit in the sky. The whole experience out in the trench is simply mind blowing especially when you are hooked to 250kilos of Pacific bluefin.
When we hit the trench there were a couple of large joint venture trawlers dragging their nets. Jewel was on hand as the nets were hauled in and everything was there in abundance, birds, seals but not tuna. Where were the bluefin? Daniel had travelled all the way from the USA on my recommendation and yet there were no tuna. It didn't seem possible! The ten knots variable looked as though it might eventuate but with darkness came the wind. Lots of wind and a night of buffeting. It was bitterly cold too. During the days we drifted under the spell of the snow clad Southern Alps but at night the mountain's breath cut like a knife. You felt it more keenly because of the lack of bluefin. We did catch sharks as Jewel was pushed before the bitter wind and by morning we were 50miles off Greymouth. Having been in 50knot gales on Jewel a bumpy ride during the night is nothing really but the lack of bluefin was alarming.
That day we headed back in to Greymouth trying to shake off our extreme disappointment.
This fishery was proving to be real after all. There was more to learn, a lot more. Where were the fish? Well, it turns out that they are up near Westport. There are a lot of trawlers there and a lot of bluefin. They will turn up out of Greymouth too but it could be days or weeks before they are here and I can't keep the crew hanging around waiting.
As I sit tapping this out, still in Greymouth, I can't help but feel that we need to go cap in hand to the commercial industry. They hold the key to this fishery. The commercial boats know when the tuna are around because they are looking at them. If we can persuade the commercial companies to share their information then experiences like my last 36 hours could be largely avoided. When the fish are about there is nothing more exciting than chasing giant bluefin tuna.
They are off Westport today hovering around the commercial fleet. The weather is taking a turn for the worst again and by tonight I could be standing on the Grey River Breakwater watching the forces of nature swirl and seethe and battle. I will be glad I am ashore but I will be dreaming of chasing bluefin again and working out how we can improve the odds. I think I will phone Sanfords.