by Barry Toomey
Eagle Ray – Myliobatis tenuicaudatus
My eagle ray adventure! For the second consecutive year, I headed north from Christchurch to enjoy my annual Christmas holidays at the picturesque motor camp situated at the Golden Bay Holiday Park which is situated at Tukurua Beach, 18 km north of Takaka and about 9kms from Collingwood. I arrived at the camp on December 24, before the hundreds of other campers, mainly from Christchurch, who set up residence from December 26 onwards.
December 30 turned out to be a day which will be remembered for some time for myself and many others. The day dawned beautifully fine and my two children Emma and Marcus decided to hire a couple of canoes. As they headed off to the beach I told them that I would come down to see them after I had done some camp chores. After tidying the tent and washing the dishes I decided to head for the beach to watch the kids canoeing. I grabbed my salmon rod, put on a silver ticer and seeing that the tide as coming in I thought I would try and hook a kahawai.
The sea was very flat and it was almost full tide. There were plenty of small herrings (yellow-eyed mullet) about and I guessed that if the herrings were there so must be the odd kahawai. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before I hooked a somewhat “small specimen.” After I proudly displayed this “monster” to my son who was padding about in the canoe nearby, I quickly released it to fight another day and continued casting, hoping to hook something a bit bigger. Suddenly, the line went taut. I tried winding the reel but the line felt as though it was snagged. When it began to move in the water I thought to myself, this is no snag and realised I had hooked something of large proportions.
My rod was a Jarvis Walker 2.40 metre salmon rod with a Jarvis Walker 7500 reel. The rod bent alarmingly as the strain went on. Whatever it was at the end of the line it was eventually going to give this rod and reel a good working over.
I walked backwards to the beach, as I had started fishing in waist-deep water. Soon all the people on the beach had gathered around me, causing me to become somewhat nervous. A gentleman from the now large crowd came over and told me he thought I might have hooked a stingray. He advised me that I could be there for quite some time. As it turned out, he was right.
Two hours later and feeling very tired, I still had this “fish” hooked up, most of the crowd had gone, but I knew that whatever was on the end wasn’t a log. At one stage I felt like breaking the line and letting whatever I had hooked have its freedom. I managed to get this dead weight close to the shore, but as soon as I got it into shallow water it sensed danger and out screamed the line. Once again I had to start the arduous task of gradually getting the line back in.
Finally, after three hours, and with the tide about half out, exhausted and sun-burned, I managed to winch this black monster in. Flapping in the shallow water, it emerged in front of me, resembling a stealth bomber. The reason this eagle ray has been so difficult to get in was that I had actually foul hooked it on its left wing.
It had almost destroyed the reel and the 25 lb test Bonito line was only good for the rubbish bin. By this time virtually the whole camping ground had been alerted and out they flocked to a rocky point about 500 metres down the beach from where I had originally hooked it. Obviously I knew it was a stingray, but an onlooker informed me it was in fact an Eagle Ray, common in the area. He handed me a very welcome cold beer and two bananas, shook my hand and said “well-done mate.”
This ray measured over one metre across and weighed 40 kgs. The cameras flashed and the appropriate photographs were completed. After a consultation, we decided to give this beast its freedom. We finally hauled the Eagle Ray back into the water with the aid of some sturdy branches and after about 20 minutes it gracefully swam away, last seen heading towards Farewell Spit. Landing this fish was for me a great achievement, being certainly the biggest thing I have ever caught in my life.