Earlier this month New Zealand hosted its first ever World Freshwater Spearfishing Championship in Lake Taupo.
The Brown Bullhead Catfish, an invasive pest in NZ fresh waters was the target for 31 teams from New Zealand, USA, Australia, Italy, Guam, and South Africa.
I was invited to compete in this competition based on my previous efforts at the annual Lake Taupo catfish cull alongside my dive buddy Bradley Lang, a good friend of mine and member of the Sons Of Taungaroa Club with great experience hunting catfish and knowledge of the lake terrain. We entered in the mixed pair division competing against 9 other teams and 31 teams overall in 4 other divisions over two days.
Leading into the comp Brad and I scouted and covered areas that were easy to access by vehicle and had good patchy weed terrain that previously held good catfish numbers. This proved to be a lot harder task than anticipated and we found it very difficult to find good numbers of catfish. Conditions were good in terms of weather, visibility and terrain, but for the amount of swimming and area covered (roughly 2.5km) we were only rewarded with spotting a dozen or so catfish each. We figured this was due to the annual Catfish Cull comp held just a month previous, where the successful competition had 272 divers taking out 2700 catfish from the Motuoapa area. So instead of hunting areas with previous success we had a plan to desperately find areas that were untouched. To have a bit of fun and the excuse of saving time we took turns at been towed behind a boat with a bit of rope. We covered a lot more ground doing this and when we spotted an area with a few catfish we anchored up and dived the area.
We had a morning brief around the rules and safety along with a team count. Once we got the all clear to start teams were off and drove to preferred hunting location(s) within the boundary. Six long hours of concentrating and really scanning and hunting the area we had a total of 64 catfish for our efforts. Back at the weigh-ins it was great to see how other teams got on and with our catch counted we were leading our division and 3rd overall in the competition. Brad and I were pretty chuffed with our efforts and placing but knew day 2 would be a big challenge in finding good numbers again!
Our plan was a little different from other teams and instead of hunting the same grounds and picking off what was left, we were off to find an area that had been less affected by divers. However after diving a drop off area that we had all to ourselves there was a reason why no teams were there. With little success for the amount of work at time in the area we decided to change locations which added to the pressure to find catfish quickly in the limited amount of time we had left. This resulted in a challenging swim to make it in time back to the check in point with a goal in mind to get 1 catfish every 5 minutes.
Swimming to the check in point we made it and had 5 minutes spare to get out of the water and were able to weigh in 33 catfish. Our results convincingly maintained our top position in our division and further lead us 4th overall in the competition. At prize giving we were awarded new World Champions!
Thanks Brad for been a great dive buddy and making this first time experience in a big competition a good one! And thank you WildBlueNZ and Sons of Tangaroa Spearfishing Club for the awesome support.
Finally a big thanks to Spearfishing NZ for all your efforts and making this competition possible. Hosting a world stage event based on eradicating a NZ pest and it been noticeably effective in the area is awesome! It was also a great way to meet a wide range of divers with a great turnout of female, junior, and senior competitors from near and far. Making it very inclusive and epitomizes the nature of this great sport.
For more info on the event and all winners and results check out SpearfishingNZ.
Also, keep an eye out for New Zealand Geographic Magazine May/June issue and their article on the event with awesome underwater photos of brad and I and other competitors by photographer Richard Robinson.