Geoff Thomas: Wharf still harbours magical lure

By Geoff Thomas

Time spent with youngsters on the wharf is time well invested.  Photo / Geoff Thomas
Time spent with youngsters on the wharf is time well invested. Photo / Geoff Thomas

There were 46 surfcasters spread along the shore at Bucklands Beach the other day, barely leaving room for swimmers wanting a dip on a hot day. And they were catching fish, including snapper up to several kilos, and kahawai, especially when the tide was low and they could walk out and cast into the channel where the current was sliding past.

The sight of so many people fishing at "Big Bucks" triggered memories of days spent crouching on the planks of a small jetty on a bend in the Panmure Estuary, of hours where the whole world seemed concentrated on the green water where the hemp line pierced the shiny surface that yielded such treasures as a brown and yellow spotty, also known as a paketi.

Sandwiches never tasted better than those which had been left in the sun all morning and were grasped in fingers coated in fish slime. Another favourite spot was the rocks that separated Little Bucklands from Big Bucklands, a 30-minute bike ride from home.

They were just a jumble of rocks in those days, but they were rich in small shrimp that tempted the scrappy paketi when impaled on a tiny hook. The occasional trevally or small snapper was a treasure beyond measure.

Today the rocks are gone, covered by concrete, but the fish still return each summer.

A visit to the wharves at Orakei or Devonport or Cornwallis reveals that for many of today's youngsters the magic is still the same. The green water hides the mysteries of the sea and, when it yields its treasure, the excitement bubbles out just as it did a couple of generations ago.

It does not take much to load the car with gear and kids, sandwiches and water bottles, sunscreen lotion and hats and head for the wharf, for time is the most precious commodity an adult can give to a child.

It is more important than money or iPods, but sometimes it is not realised until it is too late.

Fishing tackle does not have to be flash. A cotton handline on a spool or a stick will catch just as many sprats or spotties as a shiny rod and reel. In fact, the skills needed to flick out a handline and bring in a fish without turning the line into macrame are more finely tuned than simply winding the handle of a reel.

It is a great start to a lifetime of fishing, and the skill learned on the wharf will stand the angler in good stead in later life. Impaling a scrap of bait on a hook so it won't slip off at the first bite is an art that, like confidence, grows with experience.

Some youngsters take to it like the proverbial duck to the stuff that fish swim in; others learn more slowly. Some have a short span of attention and are soon distracted. Others will concentrate on the water until it seems they will burst, totally absorbed in their fishing.

The bait can be anything from tiny strips peeled from the flank of a pilchard from the bait shop, to the rind of a mussel from the supermarket, or a ball of dough kneaded from flour and water and toughened with shreds of cotton wool.

The garden worm works fine, and those in the know will nurture maggots in oatmeal in a plastic container just like coarse fishermen do in Europe. Maggot farming is big business there, and they have a quaint custom of keeping their maggots alive in icy winter temperatures by holding them in the mouth.

Asking a parent to help in this way might be raising the bar a little too high but the little white wigglers are deadly when two or three are impaled through one end, on the same hook, and fish such as piper can't resist them.

Other lessons from English coarse fishing include the use of a small float to present the bait just under the surface.

Piper are one fish commonly caught from a wharf or jetty that are fine eating. They can be flattened by rolling under a rolling pin or bottle, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and pan fried in oil and butter - the butter for flavour and the oil to prevent drying out.

You eat them like a corncob, sucking the meat off the bones. Or they can be curled in a circle and the bill inserted in a slit cut in the wrist of the tail, and when cooked and straightened out the delicate flesh falls off the backbone. A fresh piper stuck on a hook and tossed back out on a strong line might create a real surprise, for kingfish and big snapper love them. Handling such a feisty large fish off a wharf is another challenge, but it can be done.

So when looking for something to do with the kids on a sunny Sunday, load up the car and head for the local wharf. Your kids won't forget it.

- Herald on Sunday

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