Story: Te hopu tuna – eeling
Page 5 – Bobbing, feeling and striking
Bobbing for eels
Another common way of catching eels was bobbing, called toi. A bob was made by threading flax or cabbage-tree leaf fibres through worms or grubs. The bob was tied to a rod, usually of mānuka. When the eel’s teeth caught on the fibres, the person bobbing would swing it ashore.
Eels are largely nocturnal and avoid light – so eel-bobbing was done at night, or sometimes in the day when the water was muddy or discoloured.
A made-up eel bob is called mōunu (bait) or tui (to thread). Tui toke is a bob made from earthworms, while tui huhu is made from huhu grubs. In Ōtaki, spiders were put in a small flax bag. In the South Island, noke waiū (big white worms) were used with wīwī (split flax and rushes). Today, bobs are made from worms sewn together.
Teone (Hōne) Taare Tīkao, a South Island elder, described how conger eels were caught by bobbing:
The conger-eel (koiro) at sea could be caught with a bob called whaka-puku. This was made of whitau (dressed flax) tangled round a bait, which can be left all day or night. The only fish to tackle it is the koiro, as others cannot eat it, but koiro bolts it down and then finds he can neither digest nor spew it out, so he is held a prisoner until the fisherman comes. 1
Catching eels by hand
Rapu tuna was another common method. Rapu means to seek. Fishers would search for eels with their hands or feet under banks or stones, or in muddy places.
In the takahi tuna method, a group would stand in a semicircle in the water. One person would stamp to scare the eels out of their hiding places, and another would grab them.
Patu tuna (eel striking)
Fishers used a thin rod to kill eels in shallow water, often at night by the light of a torch. A companion would string the eels together and drag them along.