Kon Tiki Fishing Raft in the Bay of Plenty
with Denis Moresby
Some old concepts on how to fish in the sea are a bit like the Southern Alps, time-tested and still there yet not as well known as they could be! Fishing with sail-powered long-lines is a very old concept. In recent years battery and kite-powered beach long lines are more the fashion.
A fisherperson could easily overlook that each of the four main systems for getting a long line out: kites, battery-driven torpedoes, balloons, and rafts with sails have their own advantages and disadvantages that relate to fishing from different beaches.
I was reminded of this on a trip to the Bay of Plenty when I got a chance to see one of the old-style types of sail-powered fishing rafts in action. I remember seeing a lot of them as a child and in those days we called them Kontikis. Today in New Zealand the name Kontiki appears to have evolved into a generic name that refers to rafts and sails and large air-filled plastic bags used to tow out beach long lines. Balloons being the more common.
Once when I was in Tauranga an elderly retired couple and their extended family launched a beautiful example of an old style Kontiki fishing raft with a sail out through the surf. They told me that they had never ever failed to get fish from this particular spot. So I decided to head back to the car for a notebook and camera to record the action.
Launching a sail-powered raft from a beach is different from the other three methods described earlier. The possibility of a wave hitting the sail and upsetting the raft is the one outstanding weak point with most of these units. For the launching procedure, our elderly gentleman operator wore a wet-suit. He carried the raft out into the chest-deep water to launch thereby lessening the chance of a wave hitting during the crucial minute or so as the raft passes out through the surf zone. A much larger and longer Kontiki can power its way out through heavier surf but is a pain to transport. That’s why folks buy boats.
Bait stealing crabs are a problem for the first 300 to 400 metres on the way out from Papamoa Beach. With a Kontiki raft, there is room to carry traces, baited hooks, and sinkers on the raft itself all the way out to the fish before they are released. On the rear of this particular sail-powered raft, there were five arms sticking out for this purpose. A barley sugar or similar sweet is attached to a loop in the main fishing line at the rear of the raft. The barley sugar eventually melts in the sea and releases the traces. By that stage, the raft is well out to sea and past the paddle crabs. A second barley sugar is fixed to the string that holds the sail erect only until the raft reaches the fishing zone. This makes retrieval of the raft and long line easier!
The surf was running at about one metre on the day we were at Papamoa. The raft sailed out through the waves at a good speed. Carrying the baits over the surf zone rather than towing them through it gives an advantage in setting speed as well as missing those hungry paddle crabs.
Our couple ran their line out on an outgoing morning tide and brought it in on the first quarter of the incoming tide. Sending the raft out didn’t need a lot of labour. The operator was very skilled at setting things up to operate almost automatically. Bring the line back in was much more labour intensive. Here most of the extended family could pitch in and make themselves useful by pulling on the line, winding the handle on the reel that stored the line and removing the traces and fish. Plus untangling a lot of seaweed that hooked up on the line and traces.
The triangle-shaped long line clips used have the advantage that they could be clipped on to the main backbone of the long line at any spacing. Their disadvantage is that the traces tended to twist up and tangle. These folks were keen to show me how they fitted a length of clear 4mm diameter plastic tubing over each trace to reduce the tangling problem. “Extra thick traces did not scare the gurnard,” they said. no snapper came in from this daytime set. I spoke to four surfcasters on the beach. The surfcasters all said snapper were being caught in the evenings here at Papamoa Beach. I personally feel that the 4mm thick trace was a factor in the non-capture of this species on the long line.
Each of us to his own fishing method and style. The enjoyment here was evident. Family entertainment seemed as big a factor as the low-cost feed of fish. These folks made their sail-powered fishing raft themselves and then produced results with it. That too is a large part of the enjoyment. It’s always interesting to see fishing done with novel adventurous unconventional systems and ideas that work!