Behind the Passion
If whitebaiting was like flying, those fishing the stands would be sitting in first class.
While they might not admit it, this type of whitebaiting is easy compared with scooping.
Unless the tide is low there's no need to get your feet wet and, if you're smart, the shanty you're sitting in is kitted out with a gas cooker, transistor radio and any other comforts you might need.
"Up here (Mokau River), with the set net in the water, it's a lot less work ... as you can tell by the beer," says Nathan Terrill, before taking a swig.
"It's a relaxed style you know, it's out doors in the fresh air."
It's easy because a set net is used and most of the time it's placed perfectly, well dumped, off a small jetty sitting on the edge of the river.
Sure, there is some technique involved, don't get me wrong.
Apart from dropping the net and picking it up every 20 minutes or so, there isn't much more to do except read or listen to the radio.
But the fact it's easy doesn't excuse these up-river fisherman from being fanatics.
A boat ride up the Mokau River offers a bewildering sight in itself - stands dot the river bank, every 50m or so, for kilometres on end.
"There's thousands of them," the New Plymouth man says.
"They go up to about the middle of the Awakino River," he says.
Whitebaiting from a stand is first class for its expense too.
"The one I'm fishing on cost $5000, but I've heard of offers of $100,000 for a stand, a little piece of wood on a box," says Nathan.
The expense seems surreal when you consider the average stand is about the size of a closet (not a walk-in wardrobe), but the prices are more easily justified when you do the math on a well-positioned stand's earning potential.
"We know a guy who caught 130kg-140kg within four days," say Nathan.
With whitebait very rarely dropping below $100 a kilogram a stand can pay itself off in just a few years.
However, the beauty of whitebaiting, like any sort of fishing, is the fact you can eat your catch.
Whether you were dredging the river mouth with a scoop net or fishing from the comfort of your $100,000 closet, a whitebait fritter always tastes better when you've caught the ingredients.
- © Fairfax NZ News