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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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,