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.

Fishing The Full Moon

The full moon on Wednesday brought the usual clear, cold weather and with temperatures plummeting fishing has moved suddenly into winter mode. Sea temperatures crashed three degrees – from 15C to 12C – between Sunday and Wednesday, causing the annual migration of snapper from inshore waters out to the depths to kick in. The same pattern can be expected to occur all around the coast.

There is little doubt the moon affects weather, as it does other factors like tides,  for it is almost always fine during the phase of the full moon which is why the large sphere is so clearly visible in the sky.

But the moon phase also affects the movement of fish, and many pundits will argue that fishing becomes hard for a few days around the biggest moon of the month. It is certainly the case with trout fishing, and fish will be caught with nothing in their gut. It is as if they haven’t eaten for days, but still may strike at a lure.

Maybe fish at sea feed during the night, because the moonlight makes visibility clearer, and some creatures will not venture out in bright conditions. For example crayfish will stay hidden when they are more likely to be seen by predators, and professional crayfishermen in the Chathams Islands bait their pots around the period of the new moon when they expect more activity and better catches. Conditions either side of the new moon are always much darker at night, and some commercial snapper fishermen maintain that the two days prior to the new moon and four days after are the best of the month for fishing. But the actual day of the new moon is a slow one.

For most, such arguements are mainly subjective as the average fisherman spends litle time on the water compared to those making a living from fishing.

But a recognised expert who compiles Maori fishing calendars once commenetd that he had always listed the full moon as a bad day for fishing.

“But we went out the other day on the day of the full moon and cleaned up – so I changed it to a good day after that,” he explained.

Such is the fickle nature of fishing, and the forecasting of it.

Up until this week good snapper are still being caught in close on both coasts when conditions allow.

In Auckland fishing from the rocks along the East Coast Bays and at Whangaparaoa has been productive, and further north snapper to 7kg have been caught from the shore near Waiwera. Early morning and evening are the best times, particularly when they coincide with high tide.

Another fishery which is starting and picks up during the winter months is jigging for squid at night. Squid are voracious night feeders, preying on small fish, and are attracted to a special jig with a light. They can be found along the Auckland waterfront and off wharves, and bigger numbers occur at places like Leigh and Ti Point. Fresh squid is also top table fare, when the skin has been removed and the flesh grilled over a barbecue, or turned into the ever popular squid rings.

Large kahawai are another feature of fishing in the Hauraki Gulf at the moment, and some anglers targeting snapper are having trouble getting their baits down to the bottom as they are intercepted by the kahawai in midwater. Of course there is nothing wrong with taking home some kawahai for the table. We have long been spoiled for choice in this country, with older generations regarding kahawai, trevally and mackerel as being useful only for bait. In fact these fish all make fine dining either smoked, as raw fish, baked or as fillets which can be pan fried just like other, more popular species.

Fast-swimming fish like kahawai, kingfsh and all the tuna species have more blood through the flesh than slower-swimming bottom dwellers like snapper, flounder, hapuku and tarakihi. The network of blood vessels delivers the energy for the muscles, and they benefit from being bled when first caught. This can be done by slicing the throat, and if a rope is threaded through the mouth and out the gills the fish can be hung over the side to keep the blood outside the boat. Kahawai, kingfish, tuna and trevally all have a line of dark, fat under the skin which should be trimmed off the fillets as this carries the strong, fishy flavour.

Fishing is also going well in the Firth of Thames, whether accessing it from the Coromandel side or the Waiheke Island side, and if you want john dory for dinner they are plentiful, and easy to catch with the right approach. It is a question of looking for the small bumps on the sea bed, indicating rocks or pinnacles or drop-offs, and putting down live baits.

Bite times

Bite times are 2.50am and 3.15pm tomorrow and 3.30am and 4pm on Sunday.

Tip of the week

Use circle hooks when dropping chunks of bait and fish will be hooked in the corner of the mouth for easy release if they are small. But give the fish time to take the bait, don’t strike at the bites as this just pulls the bait away from the fish. For large baits like whole pilchards or strip baits, octopus hooks with a straight point are better as the point won’t turn back into the bait

Fresh water

The winter fly fishing has picked up in the Rotorua lakes, as cold temperatures trigger runs of spawning fish. The stream mouth at Ruato on lake Rotoiti has been firing on dark nights. This should improve as the moon wanes next week. It is similar at Lake Taupo, and there have been some fish running in the Tongariro River although more rain will help. The rainbows taken in the river have been in good condition, with some fish up to 2kg, and browns up to 4kg.


Where to catch Snapper in May

Persistent warm weather is prolonging the snapper fishing as water temperatures are not being hit by the frosts which often occur at this time of year. While fish can still be found in some of the main channels, they are also in the mid grounds like at Flat Rock, the Noises, the Ahaaha Rocks, Whangaparaoa Bay and up the coast to Mahurangi and Pakiri. The pattern is similar on the Kaipara Harbour where snapper are still being caught in the channels and gurnard have not replaced them, although gurnard are turning up in the harbour. Trevally also continue to provide good action around much of the coast.

When weather and conditions allow it is worth travelling further afield. It is a question of finding action with birds and dolphins, or dropping baits of lures where bottom contours change or foul shows up on the screen of the depth sounder.

One area that has been producing great snapper fishing consistently is on the sand along the edge of the foul at the Aldermen Islands in the Bay of Plenty. Tairua fishermen have been doing well drifting in 27-30 metres of water, with whole or half pilchards, and they report filling quotas of good-sized fish in less than an hour at times.

Straylining in the shallows is also a good option around islands and reefs and it works all around our coasts wherever current is flowing past a rocky point or reef. Keep away from sheltered bays, for current is the key. Positioning the boat is critical, and it changes with the tides. Some spots only fish on certain tides, and going out with somebody experienced in this style of fishing is a good start to learning the ropes. Berley is the other essential, and this is where the boat position is so important. You want your berley flowing in to a jumble of rocks, guts and weed beds; not straight out to sea.

A continuous flow of berley is important, and two berleys can be deployed to get things started. If bites stop, it is usually because the berley has run out, or the tide has turned.

Then the style of fishing is different from summer bottom dunking, which involves just sitting and waiting. In fact that often works best with the rod in a rod holder.

Conversely, straylining is active fishing. Unless targeting big snapper at places like the top end of the Coromandel Peninsula or around Great Barrier Island, you don’t need a trace. The small baits used, like a half pilchard, work better without the weight of a heavy trace and sinker. They should float in the current, and light tackle presents the bait better than heavy line. A hook can be tied directly to the end of 6kg or 10kg main line, and the increased number of bites more than makes up for the odd fish lost through break-offs. Sometimes a small ball sinker is needed to get the bait down in strong currents.

Keeping in touch with the line is important, and moving the bait occasionally to keep it out of the weed also helps. Let the fish nibble on the bait until the weight of the fish can be felt, then strike quickly and hard, winding while lifting the rod. It is a technique that can take time to master, but is all about feeling the line which is held over a finger to detect the smallest touch.

It often surprises people just how big a fish results from soft nibbles which appear to be only small ones.

This approach has been producing well on the Clevedon flats, along the eastern shoreline of Rangitoto Island, on the seaward side of Kawau and Tiritiri Matangi Islands.

At Little Barrier Island fishing on the sand in 10-15 metres along the edge of kelp beds in the first hour after the tide turns is working well, with plenty of snapper in the 35-40cm range.

Fresh water

On the Rotorua lakes the spawning runs have started and some good trout have been reported from Lake Okataina, but as the moon waxes cloudy nights will fish better. The Log Pool is one spot that can fish well at night on a bright moon. Fishing with deep sinking lines from an anchored boat off the stream mouth is always popular from now on as spawning fish congregate around the small stream. Other stream mouths which can fish well on a bright moon are the deep water rips off the drop-off at the Tauranga-Taupo and Tongariro Rivers at Lake Taupo. The deep water is the key, and night flies with some colour like a marabou, fuzzy wuzzy or black rabbit with red or green bodies are preferred over the luminous glow-flies which work better in pitch black conditions.

Bite times

Bite times are 9.40am and 10pm tomorrow and 10.25am and 11pm on Sunday.

Tip of the week

John Dory are occasionally hooked accidentally when fishing for snapper, but are easily targeted and when converted to fillets in the frying pan are one of the most delicate of fish. As they prey on small live fish they will fall for imitations like soft baits and jigs, but a live jack mackerel is irresistable. The bait can be dropped with a heavy sinker on the bottom of the trace and a hook on a short dropper about 50cm above the sinker. A live sprat or cockabully fished off a wharf will also attract any dory in the vicinity. The key is to use a hook to match the size of the bait fish – too large a hook will kill the bait. More fishing action can be found at


Photo  Geoff Thomas


The Te Wairoa Stream mouth on Lake Tarawera is popuar with fy fishermen at this time of year.

Easter Weekend Fishing Tips

Prospects are good for fishing over the long weekend, with conditions excellent for finding a feed of snapper on both coasts.

And a full moon on Sunday should deliver fine weather – a phenomenon which occurs most months. Consistent north-easterly winds during the week kept warm water in the shallows, ensuring the snapper remain in inshore waters.

This will change when the wind changes, which it will eventually. The normal pattern during autumn is influenced by the weather, and cold south-westerlies will cause water temperatures to drop and the snapper will respond by starting their annual migration into deep water.  This is simply because deep water retains warmer temperatures better than the shallows, and snapper follow warmer waters throughout the year.

In the Waitemata Harbour the fish will move down the harbour, congregating off North Head. Another tranche of fish will move from the shallows along the Tamaki Strait, gathering in the 25-metre hole off Park Point on Waiheke Island.

They will remain there for a week or two, before heading out to points off the Noises and D’Urville Rocks. Fisherman who understand the habits of their quarry will follow them, finding the schools on the sea bed with their electronics.

The same mass movements of migrating snapper occur on both coasts, and local knowledge and experience come into play – as they do with all fishing.

But until the cold winds arrive fish will still be found in the Rangitoto Channel, in the shallow foul around the Rangitoto shoreline, and around the Noises and David Rocks, and the many spots along the Waiheke shore and further afield.

The good news is that tides this weekend will be some of the highest, with highs of 3.4 metres on Saturday and Sunday in the Waitemata, courtesy of the full moon. The big moon does not always deliver big tides, as for six months of the year the largest tides occur on the new moon.

But the tides at the weekend will produce strong currents, which are the key to successful snapper fishing. It is always a good idea to be on the spot for the turn of the tide as sometimes the fish will bite on the last of the outgoing, and sometimes after it turns. When fishing in the channels or the harbour, and there are plenty of snapper off Bayswater at the moment, the current will become too strong to keep terminal tackle on the bottom and it is time to shift. One answer is to drift, which is not always smart in a harbour constantly washed by passing ferries, or to move out into the wide spaces. The worm beds north of Rangitoto and the middle ground between Waiheke and the Noises are holding good numbers of fish, as is the Firth of Thames and the west coast around the 50 to 60-metre mark.

In the Bay of Plenty the snapper are running well off Matarangi and all along the coast to Opito Bay, and it is not necessary to travel out to Great Mercury Island to find fish. Saturday is the last day of the scallop season so divers and those dragging dredges will have their last chance to pick up a meal this weekend.

This is a prime time of the year for surfcasting off Ninety-Mile Beach, and long lines set with electric torpedoes should also produce good results all along west coast beaches.


A recent fishing contest on the Rotorua lakes resulted in all prizes taken by trout caught jigging on Lake Rotoiti, which continues to produce the largest fish in the region. The exception is the brown trout which are running at the monent out of Lake Rotorua and up the Ngongotaha and Waiteti Streams, and are larger on average than rainbows. With cooler nights arriving the harling with flies near the surface should improve on all lakes. At Lake Taupo the bright moon will make fly fishing hard at small stream mouths, but this is the time the various rips at the mouths of the Tongariro River fish well, particularly in moonlit conditions.

Bite times

Bite times are 12.50am and 1.15pm on Saturday, and 1.40am and 1pm on Sunday.

Tip of the week

Experienced snapper anglers will take several rods, with different rigs for different situations. For example a light braid casting rod, like a soft bait outfit, with a short trace and a small ball sinker sliding above two hooks is ideal or casting baits away from the boat in shallow water. A half pilchard is a great bait in this situation, and this would be the preferred approach in spots like the flats off Bayswater in the harbour, where it is about four metres deep. A 6/0 suicide hook with a smaller sliding hook above it will hold a half pillie well. When using the head end the bigger hook can be passed through the eye and then through the body by the gut, with the secondary hook inserted through the back behind the head. The tail end can be rigged in reverse, pushing the main hook right through the thin part and then through the side, ensuring the whole point is protruding. The  small hook then goes through the body, and a half hitch tied around the tail. Baits rigged like this will not fly off when casting. In deeper water, like in the channels, a flasher or ledger rig with the sinker at the bottom of the trace and recurved hooks on the side loops is the better option. These are baited with chunks of pilchard, or strips of squid or fresh kahawai.

Photo : Geoff Thomas
Prospects are good for snapper fishing this weekend.

Trout Fishing and Hunting

The first rod went off just as the second one had been set, and Noel Bowden joked as he grabbed the rod, “If it all goes like this, we’ll be finished by tonight!”

“Well, fishing and hunting isn’t always like this, Noel,” we said. “But it’s a hell of a start!”

Noel, a plumber from Patumahoe in South Auckland, was embarking on the annual Rheem Big Six Challenge, and he started with trout fishing at Lake Tarawera.

To put it into perspective – nobody has ever managed to bag all six species in the seven years of the Rheem Big Six Challenge. In fact the best score was four out of six until Wellington’s Tony Cain raised the bar to five last year.

The challenge is to shoot two different game animals, catch two freshwater fish (which can be trout or salmon) and two saltwater fish of different species.

The trout section had proved a real problem in many of the past challenges, with only one scored sometimes, and as this was Noel’s first trout ever it is understandable that he thought it was pretty easy.

And it got even easier when, as he was playing the first trout hooked, the second rod started nodding.

“A double strike!” we said. “We have never had a start like this!”

Noel brought his first fish to the boat and everybody couldn’t believe what a fantastic fish it was – fat and deep, a perfect six-pounder. Then he raced across and grabbed the other rod, as under the rules nobody else was allowed to touch it, and that trout had played the game nicely and not thrown the hook while the rod was unattended with a slack line.

Noel played the fish like a seasoned angler, and so within three minutes of the clock starting he had two points on the board.

The challenger has 48 hours to complete the challenge, and the clock starts when the first fish is hooked or the first animal shot.

It is all about planning. Which do you do first? Hunting is always better in the evening or at dawn, and you can catch fish on the salt all day. Then there is the weather, which in this country is always a major factor.

Well that proved to be the understatement of the week.

With the trout in the bag the team climbed into the Outdoors HiLux and headed down the middle of the North Island – from Lake Tarawera to Taupo, then over the hills to Napier and through Hawke’s Bay to Dannevirke where they turned off towards the coast. It is a remote but spectacular stretch of the Wairarapa shoreline, with crayfish and pauas among the rocks and plenty of animals in the bush. Local hunting experts were standing by to take Noel out for a stag, a boar or a billy goat; and an expert fisherman was ready to launch his boat off Akitio Beach. But then the rain started and, with the help of the residue of Cyclone Hola, it brought wind; howling winds that smashed waves onto the beach and turned the rivers into brown torrents bubbling with trees and branches.

The next morning saw the team high in the mountains waiting for the first flush of light to push through the dense fog which drifted over the tops. The guide pointed to a little valley on the bush edge where a three red deer were watching and all the hunters saw was their rumps bobbing as they filed into the scrub and were gone, then a bunch of fallow deer sprang up and bounded over the ridge.

In heavy rain the team took the buggies into the hills for a billy goat, which is guaranteed here. Noel shot several and his wingman, Shane Middleton who is a serious hunter, added a few more to the bag.

So Noel had a score of three, with 24 hours to go.

They loaded up the buggies with surf rods, and bounced around the edge of the hills to the local river mouth where Noel cast spinners and baits into the foaming water.

“We got five kahawai here the other day,” said Paul Peeti, as he huddled under a dripping rain coat. But the kahawai weren’t reading the script either, and it just emphasized how, no matter how good the fishing or hunting was “the other day”, catching them to order is never easy.

The team called a halt when their coats and clothes could not get any wetter. The sea was totally out of the question, the rivers were in flood and the roads were closed by flooding and slips. The power went out and the phones were out, and it took the team all of the following day just to get out of the hills and into the Hawkes Bay, which was a sea of floodwater.

What was that quip about nailing all six on the first day, Noel? You can’t beat the weather. But he was happy with his trout and goat, scoring three out of six.

Bite times

Bite times are 8.45am and 7.15pm tomorrow, and 7.40am and 8.10pm on Sunday.

Tip of the week

Check weather forecasts before heading into the hills or out to sea, and always have at least two methods of communication – for example a VHS radio and a cellphone in a waterproof bag. When in the bush a personal locator beacon is a must and these can be hired if necessary, and on the boat an epirb provides the same function. Tell somebody where you plan on going and when you expect to return.

Photo : Geoff Thomas
Noel Bowden finished with three out of six – two trout and a billy goat, which was an impressive effort given the extreme weather.

How to catch a Kingfish

There are a lot of kingfish all around the coast at the moment, and finding legal-sized fish over 75cm is usually not a problem

From the Bay of Islands to the Bay of Plenty, and the west coast wherever some structure can be found, there is no shortage of these magnificent fighting fish. At this time of year they can also be found in most harbours, including the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours.

While some kings are hooked by accident while dropping baits for snapper, they are easily targeted. For those anglers who like tossing lures you can cast stick baits or poppers around channel marker buoys, for kings will always be found hanging around such obstacles. They like anything which breaks up the flow of strong currents, even the thick wire which anchors the large buoys. The best time to try this fishing is at dead low tide, when the kings venture closer to the surface.

Jigs dropped down deep beside the buoys and rapidly retrieved will also attract kings, and the more action a jig displays the more likely they are to bite, so a vigorous action on the rod is recommended.

Another approach is to rig a dead piper on a short trace with a single live-bait hook through the head and a small ball sinker sliding above it. The beak of the piper can be poked into the hole in the sinker to hold it in place, and this bait is easily cast and should be wound in steadily. A jerk of the rod tip will vary the swimming action, and the piper works best when slid across the surface, simulating a live fish trying to escape.

Those anglers targeting large kings will drop live baits to the bottom when drifting over a deep pinnacle, and lively baits like a slimy mackerel or kahawai will provoke more strikes than more sluggish fish like jack mackerel or sprats. But they will all catch fish when the kings are in the mood. The live bait shoud be hooked through the nose so it can be pulled down by the sinker. When presented on the surface, tethered to a balloon, the bait is hooked through the skin in front of the dorsal fin. And the balloon should be attached to the top of the swivel between the line and trace, and if dental floss is used it can break away when a fish is hooked.

Similarly, the sinker can be attached to the swivel with floss when sending a bait down deep, so the sinker can break off and you can play the fish without the weight on the line.

Speed jigging is another popular method of fishing over pinnacles and reefs, and kings are easily identified on the screen of the fish finder as a red mass on top of the rock or reef. It is then up to the skipped to position the boat so it drifts over the school of fish, taking into account the direction of the tidal current and wind.

Fly fishermen also target kingfish on trout rods, and this can be done by casting towards a channel marker and stripped the line in quickly. Flies are long, thin blue and white patterns which resemble a small bait fish and can be found at specialist fly fishing shops. Another approach which is gaining in popularity is to wade the shallows and look for cruising sting rays. Kingfish will follow a ray, waiting for it to disturb a small flounder which they chase and catch. Small flounder, called dabs, are  popular prey for many predators including snapper. This technique is being adopted by specialist fly casters on the edges of the Manukau Harbour, at the head of the Waitemata Harbour and in the South Island in Golden Bay. It is exciting fishing, and on a fly rod a kingfish provides a spectacular battle.

Kingfish make excellent eating, and can be bled by running a sharp knife around the membrane which surrounds the gills. They will bleed excessively, so a rope through the mouth and gills will secure it so it can be hung over the side of the boat.

Then they can be sliced into steaks, through the body of the fish if it is not too large; or the fillets removed from each side and cut into tubes which can then be diced into steaks or cubes for pan frying or curries. A Thai green curry is easily put together by heating the paste in a wok, adding the fish cubes and tossing to seal them, then adding coconut milk to finish. It is quick and the fish should be just cooked, like a rare steak.

Sliced vegetables like capsicum add colour and texture but anything can be included, from tomatoes to onions or pre-cooked potatoes. And kingfish makes very good sashimi, sliced thinly after being chilled. It is important to discard the line of dark flesh against the skin, which is actually fat and very strong in flavour.


Cicadas are still vibrant in the back country and the continuing warm weather also stimulates insect hatches, providing some exciting fly fishing. On the Rotorua-Taupo lakes the better trout are deep – at 20-30 metres – and jigging or deep trolling is producing the best results. On Lake Tarawera some well-conditioned fish of two kilos or more are being taken on black tobies at 30 metres.

Bite times

Bite times are 7.55am and 8.25pm tomorrow and 8.40am and 9.45pm on Sunday.

Tip of the week

Kingfish are tough fish and are easily released but will have a better chance of survival if a tool is used to remove the hook while the fish is still in the water. They can be held for a photo, but the stomach should be supported to reduce the chance of internal injury as fish were not designed to support their own weight out of water.


Catching Snapper

When it comes to catching our favourite fish – snapper – we are always learning. And the best way to learn is to observe other people fishing. Or spend time doing what fishermen all love doing; just talking about it.

Some of the most productive fishing to be found from spring through to autumn is on shallow water. This is the haunt of the small boat fisherman – in a dinghy, a tinnie or inflatable. More recently the kayak and jet ski have been converted into fishing machines, with great success. It is all about stealth, and these small craft are all ideally suited for a quiet, careful approach.

A tinnie will send sound waves through the water when sinkers are carelessly bumped against the sides or dropped on the floor, but a section of old carpet glued in the right places can overcome this. Such fishing is found off river mouths and inside harbours all around the North Island, and around Auckland in popular areas like off the East Coast Bays, the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, the Clevedon Flats and the Firth of Thames. Both sides of the Firth offer huge areas of shallow water with seriously good snapper fishing.

The shore-based fisherman will also do well along all of the coast lines mentioned and, like the fisherman in his dinghy, will find the most success at dawn and again at dusk and into the night. This is when the fish shed their fear of the shallows and venture in close, within casting range. Many of the techniques used in the boat can be applied to the rock-hopper.

In water of 2-3m you need current, patience and berley. The key is light tackle – rods are over 2m long for casting with 6kg line on overhead reels. Spin reels are fine, but good quality is essential. The bait runner-feeder type of reel is well suited for this style of fishing as you can let the fish run before striking.

Some anglers tie a double in the end of the line and put a small ball sinker above the single hook. The bottom is clean and in shallow water 2-3 kilo snapper go well.

You can uses half pilchards to get the fish started then switch to squid or mullet.

The firmer baits produce the bigger fish, but they hang further back so longer casts are needed

Like all snapper fishing the tides are important, and on the shallow flats this can mean not being able to launch your boat before half tide. Ideally you go out early in the morning and fish the incoming, allowing three hours through to the top of the tide.

Another approach is to use soft plastic baits or micro jigs, drifting and casting out and working them back in the shallow water.

In deeper water most fishing is of the vertical type – dropping lures, or sinkers and baited hooks straight down to the sea bed. Tackle is heavier, with stronger rods and overhead reels spooled with 15-kilo line and 20kg traces set up as ledger rigs.

Hooks are recurve style for their self-hooking ability baited with chunks of pilchard or bonito. All anglers on the boat should use the same size sinker to prevent lines tangling.

Drifting in deep water over reefs or pinnacles is a more specialized approach for targeting large snapper. There is a misconception that heavy gear is needed to land trophy fish; more often it’s a combination of being in the right place, with the right bait presentation and handling your rod in the correct manner. Rods rated 6-10 kg with stiff butts for lifting power and soft tips for added feel coupled with an overhead or free-spool reel, this combination allows you to stay in touch with your baits, letting you feel the bites and runs you often get while dropping the bait. The lighter lines allow a more natural movement from your bait, as you require less weight on the drop and there is less friction from thinner line dragged through the water. A popular rig is a two fixed-hooked rig with 80cm to 1m of trace with a sliding ball sinker above the hooks. The trace is attached to the main line with a swivel, with 6/0 to 8/0 suicide hooks to match the size of the baits. When snapper are softer biting, such as in the winter months, 5/0 to 6/0 circle hooks are used. These are both tied with a snood or long-line knot 8cm apart and the recommended trace depends on the time of year and how the fish are feeding.

Game fishing has taken off around the country, with sea temperatures reaching 26.4C  off Raglan last week, which are tropical conditions.


Deep trolling at 20 metres on Lake Tarawera has ben hot with some large bags reported. But jigging on Lake Rotoiti is not going so well, as the trout are not congregating around the thermocline level. The quality of rainbows caught at the Awahou and Hamurana Stream mouths on Lake Rototua has not been great, although the warm water conditions is forcing fish to gather around the cold water. Brown trout, however, are in top condition and offer great sport wading the shallow margins of the rips at night.

Bite times

Bite times are 7.50am and 8.20pm tomorrow and 8.50am and 9.20pm on Sunday.

Tip of the week

A good indication of trace to use is the shape of the snapper’s teeth. Use tougher, hard trace of 60–80lb when the snapper have sharp teeth and are hitting the baits hard, or 40lb when the fish are biting slowly or feeding on the sand (eating scallops mussels etc) and have blunt teeth More fishing action can be found at 

Summer Kingfish

A fisherman from Orewa was surprised when he pulled in a 14kg kingfish off Waiheke Island recently, only to find the fish had a hook and a section of line hanging from its mouth.

“The stainless steel hook in the photo was deeply embedded in the corner of the jaw,” said Dave Blackwood. “Judging by the weed growth on the heavy nylon trace this fish was hooked and lost a long time ago. The trace is joined to the hook with a Japanese long-line knot, and the fish would have to have broken off on something sharp.

Interestingly, the hook was still extremely sharp, which says a lot for this brand of hook,” he said.

The kingfish was in good condition, which illustrates how fish can survive being hooked and breaking off with a hook and some line still attached.

Fishermen can learn from this experience and take steps to ensure fish have an increased chance of survival when they are to be released. For example, using galvanised or regular steel hooks rather than stainless steel hooks helps fish which carry a hook in their mouth, as these hooks will rust away in the salt water.

Recurved or mutsu hooks rather than octopus or straight-pointed hooks also helps as, like long-line hooks, they will invariably hook the fish in the corner of the jaw rather than being swallowed. These hooks are easy to remove, and if the fish breaks the line it has a better chance of surviving than if it has swallowed the hook.

When a fish is deep-hooked in the throat or gut, it is better the cut the line as close as possible to the mouth and leave the hook, allowing the fish to swim away.

Game fishermen always use recurved or circle hooks when using bait, for the same reason, and while straight-pointed hooks which are usually stainless steel are used for rigging lures tuna, sharks and marlin which take lures are invariably hooked in the mouth.

Summer is truly here and water temperatures have gone from below normal to extra warm, reaching 24 degrees in parts of the Hauraki Gulf and offshore. This is one reason the game fishing season started so well, and has also triggered snapper spawning which can make fishing hard while the fish concentrate on reproducing rather than feeding. But when it is finished they do go on the bite to regain condition lost during the rigours of spawning.

In the Firth of Thames fishing has picked up now the holiday season has ended. Fishing around the mussel farms has improved after the calm conditions through January combined with the annual influx of fizz boats speeding everywhere made fishing hard during the day. Those who were on the water very early would do alright, but the late starters struggled to find a fish. And the pattern has been repeated all around the coast.

Snapper are running well around Great Barrier Island, with good fish in deeper water around 40 metres, and in the bays in the evenings. There are also a lot of marlin outside the Barrier, and some yellowfin, spearfish and mahimahi are also being taken, which shows how warm the water is.

A kayak or dinghy is a good option for catching snapper at the moment, because fishing in a few metres of water is producing good results in many areas, from the East Coast Bays to the firth. One party in a small boat brought home 14 lovely snapper when fishing in three metes of water in the early morning near Thames last week, and they did not have to return any small fish.

In shallow water a big boat is a handicap, as the noise scares fish, and of course a dinghy or kayak is much quieter and less intrusive. In small aluminium boats a sack or section of old carpet on the floor will reduce noise from feet and dropped sinkers. Noise is transmitted through water far more efficiently, and louder, than through the air.

Light line and floating baits cast well away from the boat combined with a strong berley trail are the key when fishing the shallows, and it can be a lot of fun and challenging when large fish are hooked.

Fresh bait like mackerel or piper is always worth trying, and it does target the larger fish which helps when there are a lot of small ones around. And there is always the chance of a john dory taking the livie, which is a bonus. But a whole or half pilchard is the most popular bait for casting in the shallows, and a current is critical. It is a question of working the tides, and planning trips so the wind and tide are running in the same direction.


Caddis and mayflies on the Tongariro River are producing some dry fly action, and some nice fish are coming from Lake Rotoaira where a small green nymph imitating a damselfly larva works well when fished along the edge of weed beds. In Rotorua jigging on the deep lakes is working well, as the lakes stratify into layers in the hot summer conditions. And on shallow lakes like Lakes Rotorua and Rerewhakaaitu the cold water stream mouths are holding good numbers of trout, including some large browns off the Ngongotaha, Hamurana and Waiteti Streams.

Bite times

Bite times are 9.05am and 9.30pm tomorrow and 9.50am and 10.15pm on Sunday.

Tip of the week

When bottom dunking for snapper a chunk of pilchard on a recurved hook on a flasher rig is hard to beat. It is important that the hook rolls round under the backbone of the pilchard section so it can not be easily torn off the hook. The blood and juices from the gut cavity get the fish biting, while the head and tail sections can be fired over the side as berley. More fishing action can be found at

Photo  : Dave Blackwood


The kingfish had been carrying this hook and line around for some time.



GT Fishing Report – Fishing for kahawai

Kahawai – that is the buzz at the moment. And it says a lot about the quality of sport fishing in this country that anglers are going to a lot of trouble to try and keep away from a fish which anywhere else in the world would be held up as a trophy catch.

In Australia they are called salmon, because of their physical similarity to trout and salmon, and their scientific name recognises this : arripis trutta. Aussie anglers love catching their salmon and the fish is highly regarded both as a sport fish and for the table.

There is not doubt that kahawai are a respectable sport fish, and many trout anglers chase them with spinning tackle or fly rods and on this gear the feisty and powerful jumper is an impressive performer.

But for those hunting snapper in the Hauraki Gulf the kahawai can be a nuisance, particularly when fishing around the work-ups where multitudes of pilchards are attracting predators like kahawai and kingfish, dolphins and whales and birds like gannets. It is a common sight at this time of year around our coasts, and particularly in the gulf along the 40-metre depth. The problem can be getting a bait or lure down through the mass of kahawai which are feeding close to the surface, to the target snapper lurking on the sea bed. Heavy lures which sink swiftly help, and some people have even been known to wrap their sinker and bait together in one package held together by tissue paper, to discourage the predators as it sinks, then a sharp jerk releases the terminal pieces on the bottom.

Another solution is to avoid the concentration of birds and surface activity and fish in the general area, for the snapper are not always found underneath the work-up. They may be several hundred metres down-current as they hunt for scraps drifting down from the feeding melee.

But then others will be quite happy to put a bunch of kahawai in the fish bin. All fish should be dispatched quickly and put on ice; and fast-swimming species like kingfish, tuna and kahawai have a network of blood vessels through their muscle structure which delivers oxygen-rich blood to fuel the energy required. They will be far better table fish if the blood is removed from the muscles. For kahawai this is done by first administering a sharp rap on the head then slicing through the throat or the wrist of the tail. Kingfish can be bled by running a sharp knife around the soft membrane around the gills, and tuna have a major artery running along the lateral line and a knife thrust into this will make the blood run freely. The spot is found by holding three fingers against the flank, hard up against the pectoral fin, and the knife point is pushed in on the lateral line until it meets the backbone. You can avoid a mess in the boat by hanging the fish over the side on a rope threaded through the gills.

Kahawai make fine sashimi or marinated raw fish in the Polynesian kokoda style, but the dark meat which lines the centre of the fillet on the skin side should be discarded as this fat has the strongest flavour. That also applies to kingfish and tuna.

Smoked kahawai is always popular, and in fish pies or cakes is hard to beat. And fresh kahawai is also a top bait for snapper, when cut into strips with the scales removed.

Snapper and kahawai are moving into the shallows all around the coast, but on the west coast the harbours like the Manukau Harbour are still not fishing well.

Offshore on the west coast a lot of good-sized snapper are being picked up at anywhere between 40 and 60 metres, which is 10-15 kilometres offshore. Fishing is different on that side. With no islands and reefs creating channels and structure it is a question of finding the fish somewhere on an extensive flat seabed. The schools of snapper will be attracted to features like shellfish or worm beds, so local knowledge is always paramount. Otherwise you look for sign on the depth sounder – schools of bait fish in midwater, or fish sign on the bottom which is probably snapper.

Kingfish have also moved in and the first bronze whaler sharks won’t be far away. A king of 25 kilos was caught at the back of The Noises, so they will also probably be around the bottom end of Waiheke Island at Gannet Rock and the Pakatoa Reef. There are two main methods of targeting kings – either setting live a bait under a balloon from an anchored boat, with another hard on the bottom anchored to a break-away sinker. The sinker can be attached with dental floss, so it breaks off on a strike and you are not playing the fish with a heavy weight attached. Or, it can be slow-trolled with a hook through the point of the top jaw, or bridle-rigged.


The occasional patch of warm weather has sparked some insect activity, with better fishing on lakes like Otamangakau, Kurutau and Rotoaira as a result. Ether slow harling or casting nymphs around the weed beds are the favoured methods. Green or olive patterns resembling damselfly and dragonfly nymphs are always popular. The Tongariro River is reported to be packed with fish after much-improved spawning season this year. Nymphing will produce more kelts which are recovering from spawning, while wet-liners are more likely to strike fresh-run trout.

Bite times

Bite times are 7.15am and 7.40pm tomorrow and 8am and 8.25pm on Sunday.

Tip of the week

Kahawai will readily take lures and jigs but they also hit baits aimed at snapper, particularly when bottom fishing for snapper. Schools of feeding kahawai are often found in inshore waters and are identified by splashing on the surface, usually accompanied by fluttering white terns, often called kahawai birds. Most anglers troll through this activity with the plastic jigs, called Smiths jigs, which have been around for generations, but the fish often ignore them. This is because they are feeding on tiny bait fish, and the answer is to use a small silver trout fly like a smelt fly which matches the bait. It has no weight so a sinking line, or a sinker ahead of the fly, is needed.

GT Fishing Report – October 14

A shiny new boat on a trailer behind a shiny, new-looking four-wheel-drive pulled up at the launching ramp on Auckland’s waterfront drive, backed down to the water and the driver got out and proceeded to unhitch the trailer from the towball. When asked what he thought he was doing the gentleman, who obviously came from another country, explained in broken English and hand signals that he was launching his boat – while still connected to the trailer. It was pointd out to him that this was not a good idea, and the correct procedure was demonstrated.

While this is an extreme example, it does illustrate what can happen when inexperience, ignorance and boats come together. Imagine what chaos such a newcomer to boating could cause out on the water.

Anybody with a big enough cheque book can start out in boating with a five-million-dollar gin palace if they wish and there is no legal requirement to learn the basics of boating. But any sensible person will undertake one of the many courses available through Coastguard Boating Education before heading out onto the water. And the skipper of a boat is legally responsible for the safety of the boat and all people on board; and the skipper is also responsible for complying with the relevant rules and regulations. There are serious penalties and fines for transgressing.

Once, when discussing the question of compulsory marine licensing, a senior official of the then Marine Department explained that in Australia, where a license is needed for owning a boat, the accident and fatality rates were the same as in New Zealand (so many per thousand boats) where no license was required. He added that the official approach was to put the emphasis on education, rather than more red tape.

The sea can be a busy place, as can some lakes over popular holiday periods, and it is not just power boats that make it so – there are often large and small sail boats, and other craft like jet skis and paddle boards.

The number of kayaks and canoes on the water has exploded as these craft become more popular both for sightseeing and for fishing. Some estimates put their number at close to 100,000. But they can be hard to see on the water, particularly in low light or choppy conditions or when you are heading into the setting sun. The onus is on the power boat to avoid kayaks, but in a collision the kayaker is like a cyclist taking on a car. The paddlers can help by wearing bright clothes and displaying a flag, and travelling in groups.

Obviously life jackets are standard equipment in such craft, and going out in a small boat of any type and not wearing a lifejacket is like not wearing a seat belt in your car.

The rules require lifejackets of the correct size for every person on a boat, and in craft under six metres they should be worn unless the skipper decides it is not necessary.

Just as on the road speed is a major factor. Boat speed should always be adjusted to the conditions. Slow down in poor weather or fog, and a proper lookout should be kept at all times. Nothing beats a pair of eyes scanning the water ahead no matter how sophisticated the electronics on the dashboard.

Weather forecasts should always be updated, and at least two means of communication are important. A marine VHF radio and a cellphone in a waterproof cover are a good start, and an EPIRB is also recommended. It is up to the skipper to have a plan of action of things go wrong. For example, can somebody else drive the boat is the skipper is incapacitated?

Basically, power always give way to craft with no engine. And there are also some basic safety rules, including always tell a person ashore where you are going, how many people you have on board and when you expect to return.

Make a trip report and stay in contact with Maritime Radio or the local Coastguard. It is in everyone’s interest to join Coastguard.

Avoid alcohol, and operate within the speed limits – up to five knots within 200 metres of shore or any boat displaying a dive flag, and 50 metres of any other craft or swimmer. When two boats meet one boat has the right of way. Make your intentions clear and always try to pass behind the other boat. If in doubt slow down or stop. Keep to starboard (“drive on the right”) in channels, and a boat overtaking must keep clear of the boat it is passing.

Fresh water

Fishing on the Rotorua lakes improved over the full moon phase a week ago, in spite of the common belief that trout do not feed during the full moon. One party of three anglers brought in five nice fish from Lake Tarawera on the day of the full moon, and they caught them between 11am and 2pm while deep trolling at 20 metres. Settled weather and rising water temperatures should see fishing improve on the lakes, and harling at dawn and dusk has been quite productive.

Bite times

Bite times are 8.30am and 8.55pm tomorrow and 9.20am and 9.50pm on Sunday.

Tip of the week

Remember that the tide will turn every six hours and a harbour entrance or river mouth crossing may be quite benign when leaving, but when the tide turns and the outgoing current collides with incoming swells the conditions will change dramatically. This also applies to stretches of water like the notorious Motuihe Channel between Rangitoto and Motuihe Islands in Auckland. When the tidal current is running the same way as the wind it can be deceptively calm, but on large tides of over three metres and a strong wind when they oppose each other the surface will be shattered into a nasty, short chop. Many boaties have discovered this phenomenon – at their cost. These are the sort of situations, like bar crossings, where wearing lifejackets is important.