By Jeff Neems, Communications Advisor
The smell is what hit me first.
Strolling up to the Ruawaro Centennial Hall, about 10kms from the Waikato town of Huntly, there’s a strong whiff of dead fish.
Not an overpowering smell, but definitely noticeable. One I had forgotten, having not gone fishing since some time in the last century.
It’s the final few hours of the 2020 Koi Carp Classic, an annual event for bow hunters. Across the last weekend of October, dozens of bow hunters converge on the Waikato River and its tributaries to hunt the pest fish which can grow up to 60cm in length and weigh up to 12 kgs.
The smell wafts from a row of large blue plastic bins down one side of the little country hall. There are about a dozen bins, uniformly lined up awaiting the competition’s catch.
Carl Hine, a Matamata bow hunter joined for the competition by his father Garry and 10-year-old son William, is an experienced competitor. He’s been joining the event for more than a decade.
He lifts the lid on one the square blue bins, and there’s the source of the smell – dozens, possibly hundreds, of dead koi carp piled one on top of each other. Three bins loaded full, and more to be filled as the afternoon progresses. Allied Bulk will cart away the bins when the competition’s done, and the fish will be turned into fertilizer.
As a keen vegetable gardener, I quietly rejoice at that prospect…
Koi carp look like giant goldfish, but you wouldn’t want one in your home pond. In the New Zealand habitat, they have no natural predators – “Get in a few alligators,” offered one bow hunter with a wry smile, when I pointed it out – and so they’ve bred prolifically.
The good folk of the Koi Carp Classic are doing their bit every spring to curb the spread of this seriously invasive species.
There’s a genuine camaraderie among the hunters, with the usual tales of success, conditions, and the one that got away.
Have a casual discussion with any of them, and there’s a high likelihood they’ll immediately pass a comment about how they’re doing their bit to eradicate these pests.
The actual hunting takes some skill. Participants use modern high-tech bows to shoot their prey, with a crucial factor being taking into account the fact light refracts in water.
Put simply, they aim just below their target fish as they fire.
And these shooters have serious skills: one competitor managed to nail three fish with his first shot of the weekend, while others killed hundreds of fish across the course of the competition. The top team – the superbly named Monster Bass, out of Wellington – killed more than 600kg worth of koi, nearly 200kg more than second place.
For a comparison, the 600kg of fish landed by the Monster Bass team equates to about three average sized Harley Davidson motorcycles.
Once killed and landed, the fish are hurled into drums on the back of competitors’ utes – the standard vehicle for the bow hunting community. As I stand and watch, a cavalcade of utes trickles in, each with a row of drums full of the sparkling fish. They’re transferred from the drums to dark blue plastic boxes, in which they’re weighed on a set of scales set up in front of the hall.
The officials from the society – who know every competitor by name – diligently record the weight, always accompanied by a cheery comment.
“How did you go out there?”
“Not as many as last year, eh?”
“Did you see so-and-so? He was heading out to that spot too.”
Says Graeme Warrender, the society’s current president: “Some of these guys will wait until the last quarter of an hour of the competition, then come in with only a few minutes to spare in the weigh-in.”
“Good on them,” I think to myself, taking short sharp breathes to avoid the olfactory overload, and contemplating the koi carp’s place as the possum of the waterways.