Fishing for Gurnard

As winter temperatures kick in and the water continues to cool many anglers turn their attention to the humble gurnard.

The common version is called the red gurnard, as distinct from the rarer spotted gurnard; and it is a fish that commands respect both on the end of the line and in a frying pan.

Gurnard are relatively easy to catch and their seasonal habits reward those prepared to brave winter weather, particularly on west coast harbours. These fisheries are quite user-friendly – promising snapper through the summer and as winter arrives the snapper move out to warmer offshore waters and the gurnard move in. Like all fishing, these fluctuations are not locked in stone and some snapper will continue to be hooked over the next four months and gurnard will also turn up in the fish bin over summer.

The Manukau and Kaipara Harbours are the most prolific gurnard fisheries, and a gurnard-only competition on the Manukau on Sunday will see hundreds of anglers chasing the prizes. Called the Grunter Hunter after the propensity of the fish to emit a series of grunts when boated, the event is organised by the Counties Sport Fishing Club. Details can be found on the club’s Facebook page.

Gurnard can be caught throughout the harbours, but most people fish the channels when the tide is running although on high tide they can also be found on the shallow banks.

Tackle like light, strong soft bait rods and reels spooled with ultra thin braid line is ideal. The trace can be connected to the braid with a swivel as it can be tricky tying knots in braid, which tends to slip. The line can be threaded through the eye of the swivel twice, and then secured with a uni knot. This line has minimal resistance in the current, and so lighter sinkers can be used. Gurnard can be targeted by using flasher rigs with small hooks (3/0 or 4/0) in brown or orange colours, baited with small chunks of squid, pilchard or bonito. Another good bait is salted mussels. Experienced fishermen will take a variety of bait as one type will often prove more popular on the day. Gurnard are bottom feeders, ‘walking’ along the sea bed on their feelers which detect food like small fish and crabs. They like the little brown bullies which live in shallow water, and will move up on to the sand banks on the rising tide to feed, dropping back into deep channels when the tide ebbs. A small lure like a brown or orange trout fly can be added to the bottom of the trace as an added attraction, simulating the small fish. One trick commonly employed is to tie the flasher rig below a sinker so the string of baited hooks lies along the bottom rather than rising above it when the rig is fished conventionally with the sinker on the bottom. It is also important to allow the gurnard time to swallow the bait, as they don’t smash baits like a snapper will, but suck it in. So when the rod nods, wait until it keeps nodding before winding in. In fact rods can be left in a rod-holder and fish will hook themselves.

Other fish will be caught while gurnard fishing, including kahawai, trevally and snapper; and it is not a silly idea to have a large bait out the back like a fillet of kahawai or mullet as you never know when a big snapper will come mooching along. Of course, the sharks and rays which are also common in the harbor might take a fancy to such a bait and liven up proceedings.

Bite times

Bite times are 8.10am and 8.35pm tomorrow and 9am and 9.20pm on Sunday.

Tip of the week

Gurnard are easily filleted and the skin can be left on as they do not have exterior scales like other fish. This retains the fat under the skin, creating a more moist product on the plate. The skin is lovely to eat when served crisp. Wearing sturdy gloves will protect hands from the nasty spines which protrude just behind the head

Fresh water

Up to 30 trout a night are running up the Te Wairoa Stream at Lake Tarawera, with most fish entering the stream after rain. Fishing on the Rotorua lakes has changed with the cold temperatures and more fish were being caught shallow trolling and harling than deep trolling. The largest trout from Te Wairoa are used for the breeding programme, where a quarter of a million eggs are stripped from hen fish and taken to the hatchery at Ngongotaha where the baby trout are raised for the stocking programme in the lakes. More fishing action can be found at

Photo Scotty Warrender

John Moran won the gurnard competiton a few years ago with a 1.33kg specimen.