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 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.