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Date: 01 Jul 2012 00:17:00
Title: Colin's Penhryn fishing stories

Clam Harvest
These are the same creatures we saw plenty of in FP with the brightly coloured crinkly mouths.  In FP they pick at them and they are considered a delicacy  - here they harvest them in vast quantities once a year for 4 days and send them to Rarotonga, either salted or frozen, where the appetite for them is apparently insatiable.   Seems like a good idea for the clam population here or there would be none left.  It's now illegal to ship calms out of Penhryn in the off-season and you can be fined heavily, but you are allowed to go and get them for your own use - a great piece of Mayoral policy making we thought.
 A clam in situ - brightly coloured lips
   
The end product is either salted into buckets, or frozen 
 
Day one I go with Solomon and his seven man/ woman team.  Solid hard work all day on the coral heads firstly swimming around and over a coral head forcibly hoiking off the clams the size of a small rugby ball with a hook resembling a prosthetic from Peter Pan.  Then they are thrown into huge piles in the middle of the coral head, everyone sits around and opens them with knives and throws the rather disgusting innards into a bucket, and empty shells over their shoulders.   Hard, back and hand-breaking work - its relentless and this team barely stop for lunch - they just want to collect as much as possible.  By the end of the day, as its getting dark, we have collected about 200litres of the stuff.  I am dead on my feet, with hands that will probably never heal, and blisters from wearing flippers for so long, but during the day had spotted Tamu and Henry working away on their own and decided to help them the next day.  Great to have done it with people as well - all helps be a bit more part of the community here.
 
Day Two and Tamu and Henry start at a more leisurely 10am, and we are back by mid afternoon having had time for a decent kai-kai (food) in the middle.  Still hard work though and my workrate on opening the shells is pitiful compared to anyone elses.  At the end of finishing a particularly large pile of shells I turned around, quite proudly, and surveyed my pile of empty shells - pride was rapidly deflated when I looked at the piles of Tamu and Henry, which were at least three times the size... booo.. sore hands for naught.
 Papa henry in the water opening shells.
 
 
An Evening of Reef Fishing
Have just got back from a true local fishing experience -  and need to report.
   
Yesterday afternoon was asked by a local, named Rio - a huge bull of a man,  if I'd like to go fishing in the evening.  Of course - up for anything - I accepted.
Got picked up just before sunset in 5m aluminium skiff with big - just working - outboard, and we shot off to an outlying island as it got dark.  There were 4 of us - three Cook islanders and me - so lots of jabber in local Cook Island Maori.  Boat anchored out close to the lagoons' fringing reef and everyone hopped into the twilight water up to their thighs.
 
First stop was to fish over the reef edge for grouper - you must understand here, that this means fishing out into crashing ocean swell that has travelled for 1000's of miles and is pretty cross at running into this tiny speck of coral.  One step forward and you step over the edge of a 1000m drop-off, along with associated sharks and being pummelled back into the coral - quite exhillerating - oh, and its just got dark, and all you have is the moon to see by to walk over the jagged, pointy, sharp, ankle breaking coral reef.  We were flicking 4m bamboo rods with a length of monofilament on, tipped with home made lures made of carved oyster shell and lighting flex - but they work.  The action is a bit like fly casting with an overhead flick to lay the line out, then a slow draw back, before flicking over head again.
 Home made made lures from shell and optic fibre!
 
Around this time I'm chatting with one of the lads and find out that we're not going back at midnight as I'd thought, but wont be back until sun-up the next day - HELP, this is going to be an ordeal.  He also tells me he only goes out once a year with Rio as, "this 'fella never stops" and it takes a year to forget how "not cool" it is.  Yikes.
 
Next activity is lobster (crayfish) catching which is always fun.  Invovles wading around the reef with water knee to wasit hight without a torch looking for lobsters by moonlight.  If lucky enough to sight one, move quickly, step on it, bend down and immerse body whilst picking up tail-flicking lobster with gloved hand, finally throw into a barrel in the boat.  After an hour of this its back to ...
 
Fishing for little red fish inside the lagoon with the long rods again.  Its properly night now, and I cant see where I'm putting my feet - getting very wet and though only in t-shirt and shorts - beginning to feel the cold.  On this part of the reef there are deep pool which are home to the wee red-eyes, and sometimes home to me as well when I fall in.  All made more unnerving by the 'flwopp' of sharks all around as they search for the distressed fish - no ankels were bitten.
 
Back to Boat for another hour lobstering down the shore of the beach - great fun - lots of lobster and high spirits.  Friends keep saying "too cool man" with each lobster thats landed.
 
Now about 3am So I thought, 'time for a nap'.  Wrong.  I asked what we were going to do now.  Answer: "we go kill birds".  Of course, how silly of me, it 3am and its time to for laying into sleepy boobie birds!  We wandered into the forest of pandanuse and palm trees to spot nesting fledglings up the trees.  Once we found one it had to come down - how to do?  Of course, silly me again - lob rocks, coconuts and sticks at them until they fall off their perches.  If that fails then a chap called Marsters (descendent of Palmerston fame)  climbed about 10m up a tree in pitch darkness and  started breaking off and throwing sticks at bird - miraculous he did not break neck, and bird actually came down.  I clocked it on the head and stuffed it into sack.  Bird count only 3 for the night, and the bag didnt seem that heavy.  All seemed rather pointless, but just part of being a Cookie.
 
4am, time for bed -  what a dream that would have been - reality is the bottom of a wet aluminium dinghy, cold, wet, wrapped in a coat, and scrunched up like a fetus.  Answer is not a lot of sleep at all, just dozing interrupted by still occasionally flapping bird that Rio hasn't fully dispatched. But, at least it doesn't rain.  Maybe even The Heron would have been challenged by the accomodation.  Possibly most uncomfortable 2 hours of my life, because .....
 
Its 6am and still dark... Rio hoots and the rest of us try to roll over and ignore him, to no avail.  Off we go again lobstering in the pitch black on the outer reef.  Now, this is really scary as the waves are big and this new place is just an ankle break waiting to happen.  I end up taking an early bath and almost swept over reef edge, another wave comes and sweeps me back in.  Grab a hand and am hauled out of water - spluttering.  Wander off - lobsterless.
 
After a while we give that up and the boys head off for a final fish on the reef filling two more buckets, and then the sun comes up and its all over.  We all warm up a bit and have another cup of cold, sweet, thin coffee before heading back to the village.  Total count is a 100 litre chillbin full of fish and about 40 lobster - not a bad haul if you ask me.  And Liz is happy with lunch.
 
The Grouper Run
Each year, over a period of a few days, all the marbelled grouper - and thats millions of them - in the lagoon pour out through the pass to lay their eggs in the ocean before returning to the lagoon a few days later.  One of natures amazing, if short, migrations.   Needless to say the sharks have got the hang of this and suddenly we haven't had a shark round the boat for days - quite erie, and we rather miss their swirling noises in the still evenings.  They are all down at the pass with their mouths open.  If you stick your head in the water, or go diving it is meant to look like an enormous, dense, unstoppable procession of the fish following the current to the ocean.
 
The other animal who has noticed this mass exodus is, of course, the local fisherman.  They go out long lining feverishly during this period picking up all the fish they can - and that is a lot.
 
Lucky for me this time didn't require and uncomfortable fishing.  On our way back from Amoka having retreived 2 Oppy's for the kids we're pursued by local Quarantine Officer and handed over a bucket full of delicious Grouper.
 
Bone Fishing
People used to come to Penhryn on bone fishing holidays - to those of you who have not heard of Bone Fish they are a highly sought after game fish, excellent sport, and almost inedible as they live up to their name.
I thought I had an inside line on a days bone fishing with young Marsters who used ot be a fishing guide when the planes still brought passengers - now-a-days you would need to sign up for a six month bone fishing holiday if you wanted to come here as the flights are so irregular.  Anyway it sort of faded out amongst all the other activity, so that is something that I'll have to put aside for next time when I shall certainly pack my fly rod and reel,

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