Cooks fishing



David Whitley forgoes the soft option of cruising on Aitutaki’s lagoon, and heads out to the reef for a spot of properly-armed fishing.


Mike takes one look at the afternoon’s current forlorn haul, and turns towards the cabin. “If the fish aren’t going to come to us,” he says with a maniacal grin. “We’re just going to have to go to them.” He emerges with weapons that are far more fearsome-looking than a rod, line and bait. In fact, they look precisely like what Bond villain henchmen would use to chase 007 around with in a lavish underwater sequence.


Mike, a big, burly New Zealander whose entire being screams “ex-military”, throws me a snorkel and masks, and then gives instructions on how to operate the spear gun. “Pull the trigger to fire it, try and keep it away from the reef. Oh yeah, and don’t point it at me.” The reef in question fringes the island of Aitutaki, which is as close to the romantic vision of a Pacific Island paradise as you could ever wish to find. Channel 4’s reality series Shipwrecked was filmed here, and it is absolutely dominated by a giant blue lagoon. It is the sort of place that even the greatest photographer can’t quite do justice, and invites hours and hours of clichés about stunning turquoise waters.


However, while most of Aitutaki’s cruises involve a day on the lagoon, snorkelling around in the shallows and pulling up on tiny islets for lunch, we’re doing Black Pearl Fishing Cruises’ hardcore version. Mike usually takes novices out on the lagoon when they want to play with the spear guns, but I’m being thrown in (quite literally) at the deep end.


After splashing down into the maze of coral, it’s time to go hunting. Mike goes first, in order to demonstrate just how easy it is. He takes a deep breath and then plunges towards the reef. Ominously gliding across a flat section of coral, he identifies his target and follows it for a good thirty seconds with a nerveless hunter’s prowl. And then, WHAM! The spear flies out, smack back into the middle of a big, ugly wrasse.


He surfaces with the flapping sea monster in his hands, carefully shepherding it back to the boat. That’ll be dinner later, but before then, I’ve got to catch something myself. He re-loads the gun and hands it to me. Fighting off haunting visions of manslaughter through sheer ineptitude, I start looking amongst the swirling shoals for a suitable target. There’s one huge difference with spear fishing as opposed to the more conventional method – the bigger fish are easier to get than the little ones, as they represent a bigger target.


With one snapper looking rather tasty, I decide to try and emulate Mike’s approach. About 20 seconds later, it has escaped, and I’m scrambling to the surface to spit the salt water out of the snorkel. It’s hard to hit moving targets when you’re trying not to drown. Try again. Struggling down towards a deep, narrow channel, fish scarper at all angles. But one big boy is just dawdling along, waiting for a spike to be shot through it. Splashing breathlessly above it, I aim, fire and the spear flies like a lightning bolt. Unfortunately it misses the fish by a considerable distance and flies straight into the reef. Oops.


Mike, possibly holding in some severe tutting, dives down to wrench it out. Then, in an act of cruel revenge, he hands it back for reloading. It soon becomes apparent that this is way tougher than using it in the first place. Near superhuman strength is required to pull the spear and firing mechanism back in line – especially when you’re still flailing about in the water.


After the reef gets impaled a couple more times - and an unfortunate wrasse gets ‘winged’ by its bumbling, drowning predator - it’s time to watch the master in action. Floating in the sea, watching the hunt is thoroughly addictive – top drawer snorkelling with added entertainment. And predictably enough, Mike gets a big enough haul in about an hour to feed half the island.