The annual Taupo Catfish Cull is probably the only fishing competition in the country where entrants get a prize for catching the smallest fish.
They’re a pest fish and every year hundreds of divers descend on the lake over Waitangi weekend to try their hand at killing as many of them as possible using only hand-spears.
It’s a Department of Conservation-sanctioned event in its seventh year and many spearfishermen from all over New Zealand use it as opportunity to hone their skills in the clear lake water.
Over eight hours on Saturday, 224 divers managed to cull 3,801 catfish, nearly twice the amount as the previous year, and New Plymouth-based duo Pat Swanson and Rowan Virbickas took out the top prize for the third year in a row – spearing 171 fish between them.
“In 2009 a group of us got together in Turangi and thought it would be something a bit different to do,” he said.
Heaps of interesting feedback and horror at the HUGE volume of catfish speared in only one day. So following is some of the feedback…
Anglers reminded TRM that about 12 years ago at a public meeting DOC assured concerned anglers the catfish would never get beyond the warm shallows of Stump Bay as the deep areas of the lake are far too cold, etc… Now they are all over the lake and in the deepest regions and now even up the Tongariro River. So understandably, anglers do not take any notice of DOC’s projections.
Their big questions are: How can the extreme abundance of catfish not affect the trout? How can they not compete for the same food?. How can DOC not be very concerned at those numbers?
Many phone calls and emails confirmed anglers’ absolute frustration over DOC’s claims on how the catfish do not compete with trout as they claim they might not be capable of catching smelt. They don’t need to. They just hoover up the smelt eggs in the shallows. i.e. Typical feedback: “Thanks Aaron Dowman and team for doing this! Catfish compete with any native species, and eat eggs and invertebrates.” TRM inmates are convinced that is why the trout sizes have ‘shrunk’ and been so small for so long – they have been starved for the last decade. The minimum length used to be 45 cm, then 40cm, now DOC have to lower it again.
Many other questions were received. As they are a considered a pest fish, why don’t they net them? There is a huge Asian market for them in Auckland. Why don’t they allow a commercial netting operator? Why don’t DOC tell the truth? etc. etc. Rather than repeat them all we have one inmate’s tale which you will enjoy.
This TRM inmate’s story caps them all.
Last evening, strictly for PR purposes, I left Pumpkin in charge of the reception (We were already full so TRM hangs out a sign which says ‘Sorry, Gone Fishin’) while I joined a group of fishos recovering from a big day with a strong cup of tea. I always enjoy these discussions. Do not ever underestimate the calibre of these inmates or the spiritual recuperation powers of TRM tea. Some of these West Islanders have been plundering our resources for over 30 years. Surprisingly, instead of more sage advice for Donald Trump, most of the discussion was about fishing…
I briefly casually mentioned the catfish spearing contest on the weekend and asked them what they would seriously consider would be a HUGE cull of catfish in one day up at Taupo (where DOC claimed the Catfish would not survive?). They optimistically madly suggested 3-400?. When I suggested 3800 they were more than just astonished and horrified. From their heated discussion on likely effects on trout population from catfish, this intriguing story emerged.
As it is from a TRM inmate you can be confident it is absolutely true too. But just in case you doubt the accuracy of this tale, the story teller had an unimpeachable local guru as witness. This witness was an owner of a very popular fishing lodge back then. The story goes that our inmate was fishing in the Poutu Pool (it has changed totally since then) ‘guiding’ a novice fisho about 20 years ago. He landed a skanky lean old brown trout that was in recovery mode and nothing to get too excited about. They returned to their lodge and gutted it only to find – wait for it – a whole catfish!
Remember – this was about 20 years ago. Coincidentally and fortunately at the time there were several boffins – aka DOC scientists – staying next door, so they were asked if they could explain what catfish are doing so far up the Tongariro River? They couldn’t. They were similarly perplexed and asked if they could take the evidence away for closer examination and promised to report back.
A few months later a letter was received from DOC in Canterbury, as they had apparently solved the mystery. Their scientific analysis confirmed that the catfish had been caught by a shag at the delta and the shag had then flown 12 km (?) up the Tongariro River and dropped it into the river to feed the old brown trout. OK?
So now you know the scientific explanation of how the catfish originally arrived in Lake Taupo. A shag caught one in West Island and drifted east by floating across on the prevailing jet stream tropical warm wind currents to drop it into Lake Taupo. But wait – it takes two to tango? So the shag must have returned and found another one, first making sure it was of the opposite sex, and returned again to drop that into the lake too. So now you know. I knew DOC would have a logical scientific explanation.