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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



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Fishing and Eeling

Line fishing was the favourite method of taking fish; and a large number of hooks and even fishing lines have been preserved in museums. Dried dogfish (Mustelus and Squalus) were much esteemed as well as other small species of shark and skate. This led to a development of a variety of shark hooks which were remarkable in having plain incurved points, particularly suitable for these and similar fish. Such hooks were often made from human bones, but sometimes whale bone was used. Fisher (1935) records the use of lower jawbones of dogs in the Thames district.

Composite hooks were made in two pieces and varied greatly in form. The shank was made of wood, bone, or stone, the point being usually of bone. In many of these hooks the incurving is remarkable, provision being made for a bait string in order to secure the bait to the hook. Barracouta hooks (okooko) had straight wooden shanks with a bone point inserted at the base. These were used on the surface to take barracouta (Thyrsites atun) which was a surface fish. Using a small stout rod, the fisherman threshed the hook about on the surface of the water for the voracious barracouta to swallow. Most specialised of trolling hooks was the pa kahawai, consisting of a slightly curved wooden shank, on the inner surface of which was inlaid a section of the shell of the paua (Haliotis australis). A bone hook with an inner barb was attached below and incurved. When polished, the paua takes on a remarkable lustre which attracts surface fish. The line works on a reciprocal fashion, winding itself up to the limit and unwinding in regular fashion.

New Zealand rivers are remarkable for their large eels (Anguilla dieffenbachi and Anguilla australis). Smaller seasonal fishes were much esteemed as, for example, the whitebait (inanga) (Galaxias attenuatus) and grayling (upokororo) (Prototroctes oxyrhynchus). But eels were a main and never-failing source of food and were much in demand, being preserved by sun drying for future consumption.

In larger rivers lampreys (Geotria australis) were common, and special traps were set at weirs to take the lampreys when they ascended the rivers to spawn. Similarly, eels were taken as they migrated to the sea in the autumn. Traps for eels and lampreys, termed hinaki, were made from the slim stems of the mange-mange (Lygodium articulatum), a climbing plant. The main frame of the hinaki was constructed of supplejack (Rhipogonum scandens) split longitudinally. In front of the hinaki was a poha or lead. Eels were also taken by hand or speared at night.

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