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A young man with a great “fishing brain”

Tuesday 21 October 2014

At 16 Adam Duff wasn't sure what he wanted to do when he left school. University was a possibility but first he needed money.

"I'd always liked fishing so I went down the wharf and asked about for a job. But I hadn't done a cadet course so no-one would give me one. Fishing jobs were still fairly popular then."

Undeterred, he was back at the wharf the following day, only this time claiming he'd completed a cadet course and Stu Morrison gave him a berth on the Mako.

"We got out through the 'Cut' and Stu says to me 'you haven't done one have you' but by then he was stuck with me for the trip."

Adam admits he was pretty green. "I thought we towed the net along the surface when we shot the net away and I saw the floats bobbing behind.

Then it sunk and I asked how come it went under? I really had no idea but I remember looking out the window on day two and thinking I want to do this. They said they they'd pay me but they never did; typical I guess being the 'boy' on his first trip."

Adam did one trip on the Mako until the Ocean Reward arrived and when Stu jumped across to drive her Adam followed.

Five trips a week at $700 a day, university was no longer an option.

"Then we went in-shoring doing seven, eight day trips. To be honest the Reward was a horrible, horrible thing; short and stubby and it rolled like you wouldn't believe! I got no sleep; came home looking like a zombie for a measly $1000! It was an absolute slave ship; broke me, ha ha."

After six months Adam had had enough and came ashore but a phone call brought a quick end to this break.

Stu had quit and had bought the Shangri-La, a 46-foot surface longliner and Adam want back to sea.

Later Stu bought the Calypso.

"I was there for six months surface long lining and I loved it; I thought it was the greatest thing I'd ever done."

Fishing for bluefin, big eye and swordfish around New Zealand, Stu saw potential in his young deckhand.

He had a good "fishing brain" but Adam would need a ticket. Adam sat and passed the Inshore Launch Master qualification and the boat was his.

"I was stoked. I'd only been fishing for a year and here I was, 18 years of age driving a boat."

However his first trip as skipper was a bit of a wakeup call, a reality check.

"To this day it's the worst trip I've ever done; 10 days with two grand back to the boat. Stu put me back on the Shangri-La and said if I didn't find some fish he'd give it to someone else so I went out and I was top albacore boat for the season with 60 tonnes, averaged 599 fish a day."

During a much needed refit Shangri-La was renamed Glory Days after the Bruce Springsteen song and Adam ran her for the next three years.

"I'd fish December, January and half of February on albacore then put the surface gear on and head round to the Wairarapa to chase the big money 'northerns', 'swords' and big eye over March, April and May.

Then we'd head back down here (Greymouth) for the bluefin. After that it was up north for the bigeye into Hohoura and then back to Nelson for survey. Around and round it went."

However taking a 40 footer, 200 miles off the coast on an ILM was bound to raise a few eyebrows.

"MSA would come down to the wharf and ban me from sailing. Stu would ring them up and argue my case and they'd say well, OK and then give me six months to get my ticket. Of course I didn't and it would start all over again."

Adam was aware that getting his ticket would mean a lot of time off work with no pay, course costs, accommodation and, all the while, debts to pay. However the issue would eventually catch up with him.

Working two-handed for up to 10 days was hard work but it meant a bigger share. With no toilet or shower aboard life aboard wasn't luxurious.

"We'd set the line, go to bed and let it soak for about 12 hours. One trip we had 14 fish on board; two northern bluefin about 200kg each, five or six escolar, three or four albacore and a couple of 'swords'. That was worth $87,000 for the boat!

"We'd catch five, maybe six bigeye, a tonne of sword and two or three tonne of albacore off the Wairarapa worth 25, 30 grand! For five or six days fishing, it was a good payout."

But not today; the fish are smaller and the prices have crashed.

"We were getting about $35 a kilo for our bluefin and bigeye and $10 for our swords. Now they're only getting bluefin in the 30, 40kg range worth $5 maybe $6 and $10, $12 for the bigeye. Guys are going out surface lining and working for dole wages!"

However those glory days of surface lining were wearing a bit thin.

"It was a big adventure at the start but after seven years I was over it, over this boat. I was never home.

I wanted somewhere permanent to live that wasn't on a boat."

They say a change is good as a rest. Adam took up a building apprenticeship at a humbling $13 an hour. However a phone call on his first day was to change all that.

"Craig Boote rang me. 'I hear you've quit fishing.' Yep. 'Come and work for me.' Nah. 'Well come and see me anyway'."

His interest aroused, Adam wandered into Craig's office and was offered a job but declined it.

"Then he starts putting $100 notes on the desk. He got to about $500 and he had me, ha ha. One day as a builder's apprentice and, well actually I don't think I even finished the day!"

Adam was on his way to Greymouth where the Venture was waiting.

Having never been bottom lining Craig had arranged for someone who had to sail with him.

"I didn't want to wait for a week for this bloke to turn up so I just iced up and sailed. I was halfway through the trip and they called up, said come in and pick this guy up and I said well what's the point, we're filling up here."

Adam fished for ling with the Venture for about 18 months.

"We went out and had this lovely shot and about halfway through hauling we had a breakdown so we had to come in. I put crew on watch and woke up when she hit the beach. Thanks guys. It was pummelled to pieces; just splinters. That was April 2008.

We dug a big hole and buried her."

What now? Well the Moata, stripped of her line gear, had been lying idle for six months.

"There was a real urgency to get her out there fishing so I just ran the backbone straight off the drum but it wasn't right and I wasn't catching a thing. I was coming in empty and it was as frustrating as hell."

Realising where the problem lay Adam made a few changes.

"Running it straight over the stern on the brake didn't give the backbone enough weight so I started running it through a set of blocks to get the right amount of tension. Once we started doing that we started filling up."

Adam called the Moata his "prison boat" but he had a point to prove.

"We went out in all sorts of shite.

I'd come in with bruises up my side from it rolling and a sore back; I could barely walk but I knew there was a bigger, newer boat coming and I wanted to drive it."

His "18 months in jail" ended in August 2010 when the Ocean Odyssey arrived.

It was also time for Adam to go back to school. However there was a slight hiccup: the Maritime Safety Authority wouldn't recognise his sea time over the previous eight years gained while using his ILM and they sent him away to find some "real" sea time.

"I did a few trips on the Resolution, Recovery, Wee May and other boats and the references I got from Bootey and Richie Pollack said I was a good boy. MSA hummed and had and finally said 'OK' but it was touch and go; I only got the nod just before I sat my orals."

He sat his New Zealand Offshore Master ticket in 2012.

With a crew of two, Adam shares the skipper's role with Larry Johnson, doing two weeks on, two off, filling his spare time hunting, whitebaiting and salmon fishing.

"It gives me a life now. Before I never had one; it was always just about fishing."

Now 30 and a very experienced fisherman Adam has firm views on crew.

"Crew are a dime a dozen; getting the right crew, well they're rare. They want to come out but they don't want to work! They're all Playstation this and iPod that or a mummy's boy. If you get a good one you look after them."

When Westfleet's Moon Shadow II arrived Adam was tasked to set her up and get her fishing.

I asked him what has made the sister boats Moon Shadow II and Ocean Odyssey so successful.

"We've found how to run the gear; the right float, weight and tension ratio, how high to set the baits. It's a fine line. If it's wrong, well, it's a disaster. I nutted that out myself. I can't explain it but I just know what will work and when I go out I just know where the fish will be almost every time which is a bit unfortunate because now other people just go, ok, so that's how you do it. Thank you! I've kept a diary from every year I've been a skipper.

It's important to have a record but the rest of it I keep in my head."

Any thoughts of trying something else? "Nah, never done set netting; don't want to and I'm not a trawlerman.

I like real fishing, I like hooks."

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