Boning up on old fishing skills

By Kiri Gillespie

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It's a fisherman's tale with a hook - a couple of bone hooks that is.

Greerton youth worker Rangi Ahipene has successfully caught fish with traditional Maori fish hooks made of bone.

Mr Ahipene carved the hooks himself before heading out on a charter fishing trip on Saturday to put them to the test.

"The first fish I caught I threw it back to honour Maori tradition and to honour the significance of what I'd achieved," he said.

It was Mr Ahipene's third attempt at using bone hooks - the first time they were too big for tarakihi's small mouths, the second time the neck of the hook was too weak and broke off while a fish was reeled in.

"So if someone finds a fish with a bone hook in it's mouth, it's not 150 years old," he said before cracking up laughing.

On Saturday, Mr Ahipene caught four more fish including two that were thrown back as undersized blue cod.

The two tarakihi he took home were "the sweetest fish I've ever eaten".

The keen fisherman is now planning to return to the sea with a completely traditional fishing set up, involving a flax line and stone sinkers. "I think in this day and age where we've gone so far in one direction with technology, I like to rediscover this older technology and pass that on to the kids I work with."

Mr Ahipene works with troubled youth through Te Tuinga Whanau Trust and uses traditional Maori technology to bring youth back to their roots.

He already knows survival skills such as how to start fire from friction and has taught this to the youth he works with.

"I just think it's such a boost to self-esteem, to know that you are able to do that if you needed to.

"These are sorts of things that I've been using as means to engage with youth and reconnect them with their heritage. I do an activity and follow through with history and meaning."

Maori elder and fisherman Hauata Palmer said Mr Ahipene's traditional catches were a real achievement and not really heard of these days.

"I think he's done well, good on him," Mr Palmer said.

Mr Palmer said traditionally, hooks were made of bones from birds and other animals and binded on to flax lines known as "aho", which had stones attached to act as sinkers.

Maori would roll the aho on their skin and use shark oil to help make the line water resistant.

"That's how they fished. I don't think they needed to have very long lines.

"It wasn't unknown to be fishing off a waka with a hand-held line."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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