The return trip from Ile des Pins to Noumea was too far to make with good light in a single day, so we stopped for the evening at Ilot Mato. Ilot Mato is a small island, surrounded by coral reefs and was reported by our cruising guide to have an abundance of fish.
Shortly after we got the hook down, Tim and I decided to go have a look in the water and brought our spear guns along, just in case. By sunset we had shot three nice coral trout, seen many more, and made a mental note of the spot so we could return tomorrow morning for a few more.
The only bad news was that there was an endless parade of white-tipped reef sharks cruising along the reef edge. While they don’t normally attack humans, it is not a very good idea to have an injured fish close to one’s body when they are in the neighborhood. Whenever we shot a fish, we would hold it up out of the water till we could get it safely into the dinghy.
Well, our mental note got erased somehow, and we couldn’t find our great fishing spot. We did find another spot that actually had more fish and had a successful morning hunt. We made a mental note of that one and decided to have another go that afternoon. Once again we lost the spot, but found another spot with still more fish. We were pretty well stocked on coral trout, so I decided to try to introduce some variety into our diet. I spotted a couple of very large spotted sweetlips (very tasty) and began stalking.
One that I had been eyeing stopped and posed for me at about 30 feet below the surface. I took a shot and hit my target, just behind the gills. Typical of an injured fish, Mr. Sweetlips dashed under a rock, spread open his gills, and lodged himself there for protection. I left my wooden gun dangling on the end of its cable (attached to the spear) about 20 feet below the surface.
I had a look around and noticed that there were no sharks in the immediate vicinity, so I went down to coax Mr. Sweetlips from his hiding place. He managed to make a tangled mess out of my cable in the coral and rock at the edge of the reef. Five 35-foot dives later and I had gotten the mess organized and was now ready to bring the catch-of-the-day to the surface.
I noticed a white tip shark cruising calmly along as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Great, I thought, he didn’t notice! I watched as it disappeared into the blue. Just as I filled my lungs to go down for (hopefully) the last time, Mr. Sweetlips apparently fluttered or flopped, sending out a fish distress signal. Mr. White Tip had his sonar turned on and tuned in. All I saw was a gray shadow darting under the reef below me. The next thing I saw was my speargun doing a jig on the end of its cable. A few seconds and it was all over. Mr. White Tip swam off, chomping on a mouthful of Mr. Sweetlips that I had served up to him on a stainless steel skewer. Bugger!
I did manage to recover my gun and my spear, each of which had a shredded piece of cable attached.