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Hook Up in Auckland Harbour
  |  First Published: April 2003



ON A recent trip to New Zealand I checked out two of the local charter boat options in the Auckland Harbour/Hauraki Gulf region. The extensive harbour incorporates a multitude of islands that create many fishing opportunities for visiting anglers, from tough pelagics to tasty reefies. Guides can lead you to the spot and give you a helping hand with local rigs that put you onto the fish.

Rex Smith of Kiwi Angler caters for bulk bookings, including families, corporate days and mixed charters (where various groups of people combine to make up the party). Having this flexibility can mean a much cheaper rate per day if you book with a large group.

Eugen de Bruyn skippers Sea Genie, a smaller charter boat that caters for 1-6 people and can offer flexibility for smaller groups, enabling the captain to tailor packages to suit what sort of fishing you’d like to do.

During my stay in Auckland the weather allowed five days out on the blue, so I seized the opportunity to see the harbour from just about every angle. I was fortunate to have one day with Peter Francis (from New Zealand Fishing News magazine) and his fishin’ buddies Mark and Pat aboard the New Zealand Fishing News company Ramco 680 geared up with a 200hp Evinrude. It was the first day of my stay in Auckland, and I looked forward to getting acquainted with the territory I’d be visiting with the charter operators over the next week.

A DAY ON THE NZ FISHING NEWS RAMCO

Despite atrocious weather conditions (gusting to over 25 knots at times) I had a great day on board with Mark, Peter and Pat fishing around the ‘Coromandels’. Travelling out, we crossed the Firth Of Thames channel to explore the islands and a couple of pinnacles on the western side of the Coromandel Peninsula. We tried a number of techniques during the day, including ‘straylining’ and ‘ledging’ with baits, jigging spoons and (when the wind momentarily subsided) even casting a white/chartreuse Clouser-style fly to schools of small snapper.

But what was most intriguing was how the lads caught snapper on spoons. This technique is regularly used for mackerel and tuna in Australia, but snapper? Yes siree!

Once the birds were spotted overhead and a ‘work-up’ seen on the water, we zoomed over and drifted through the area, jigging spoons on and near the bottom. Apparently the work-up is usually created by kahawai herding and marauding the baitfish. The snapper usually stick below the silvery pelagics and pick up the scraps that flutter down from the frenzy.

A sea-anchor was deployed to slow the drift, giving us a chance to really hit the productive zones, allowing multiple hits and hook-ups from the four anglers on board. Peter reckons that on the Hauraki Gulf it’s always worth an exploratory drop to see what you can find on the bottom.

Thanks go to all the guys at the New Zealand Fishing News magazine for their time and local fishing expertise. To Mark, Pat and Peter – thanks for the introduction to the art of catching snapper on spoons/jigs. I’m keen to give that a go now that I’m back in Oz.

SPECIES

Species that you’re likely to encounter in Auckland Harbour include kingfish, snapper, silver trevally, porae (pronounced ‘poor-eye’, kahawai (Aussie salmon), blue mao mao, john dory, bronze whalers in excess of 200kg, red gurnard, blue cod, pigfish, barracuda in winter, alfonsino (golden snapper), sea perch, tarakihi and plenty of other weird and wonderful delights that go by really cool names!

SNAPPER IN THE HARBOUR

The Hauraki Gulf is known as the snapper capital of New Zealand, attracting many local and visiting anglers to enjoy the abundance of these tasty fish.

“School snapper are migratory,” Sea Genie skipper Eugen explains. “They arrive in October when water temperatures reach 18ºC to spawn in sheltered bay areas. However, there is always a resident population around reef habitat of bigger fish to 6kg.

“For summer/spring schoolies we fish on the sand and mud, as the snapper are principally feeding on shellfish and sand worms at this time,” Eugen says. “Knowing where the worm beds are during the season is a big bonus. We rely a lot on a good quality grade 1000W colour sounder and GPS. During early spring the bigger fellas are on the shallower reefs.

“During winter we fish for trophy fish up to 10kg, mostly straylining around the deep reef structure.”

KINGIES IN THE HARBOUR

Eugen says that kingfish in Auckland harbour are generally regarded as a summer target but, like the snapper, there is a resident population in winter. Some of the gun kingie spots are actually in view of downtown Auckland! Other locations are situated around a scattering of reefs, as close as 12 nautical miles from the city. Anglers in the know say the fish aren’t prolific, often taking a few tricks to get them to bite, but local hoodlums to15kg are a common weight, with specimens to 25kg. That’s sure to give your reel a bit of a sizzle!

FISHING WITH SEA GENIE

As Sea Genie launched just a stone’s throw from the city, I realised just how accessible the harbour is to visiting anglers – or even for business visitors with a spare day after a conference in the CBD! Imagine being able to catch dream fish, like a 25kg kingie, within sight of some of the city’s most distinctive landmarks!

“Fishing in Auckland is fabulous because of the close proximity to town,” Eugen says. “Snapper stocks are as good or better in recent years than I can remember.”

With a `gentlemen’s hour’ start we hit the water after picking up a fun group of anglers. Some had never been fishing before and were keen for the experience. The boat powered along, making its way to the Motuihe channel, located in the main channel into the Waitemata harbour, before setting anchor. The gang rigged up with ledger rigs with pilchard/squid combos and dropped them down to the fish marking on the sounder. Bites were aplenty, and lots of healthy squire-sized snapper brought smiles all round.

Incidentally, I never heard the word ‘squire’ used (even though the term Squirefish is the internationally accepted name decreed by IGFA for this fish, and New Zealand holds many of the world records for the species). The term ‘ledgering’ would be referred to in Australia as bottom bouncers or the paternoster rig with snapper lead. A work-up is a surface school of feeding fish. Straylines might be called floaters in Oz.

TWO DAYS WITH KIWI ANGLER

On the first day, skipper Rex hosted a crew from plumbing organisation Reliance Manufacturing Worldwide. The lads were regulars for Rex, who often caters for corporate and large groups on the Kiwi Angler. The boys certainly knew how to have a good time as they whopped it up, giving each other heaps and setting the usual friendly wagers on their fishing successes.

Our journey took us out past Flat Rock to Anchorite Rock, where we located some fish on the colour sounder and anchored up. Fishing in approximately 43m of water, the crew hooked into some squire. Within moments the boat was surrounded by activity. Fish were coming in over the side, and there was a big work-up of bait just out of casting distance at the bow. We looked on as what appeared to be rat kingies mauled through the bait ball.

Soon kingfish were zooming around the boat like prowling predators, but they turned out to be particularly fussy. Finally we were able to tease them into a frenzy and I was able to hook in and fight one of the yellow-tailed speedsters. On the braided line it was quite a battle as the lads cheered me on. The fish really gave me some curry before I landed it, and I can imagine the grief handed out by those 40-50kg specimens!

We then travelled onto Te Titoki Point on Little Barrier where we fished in 27-35m of water. Again, the ledger rigs were deployed along with a few straylines. Within minutes the rods were bending over as anglers all around the boat hooked up to some quality silver trevally, snapper and Tarakihi (like a large bream, and very good on the chew I was told). The fish were kept on ice until back at the marina where they were distributed amongst the group.

The day crew had a great time – a BBQ lunch, lovely weather and a catch of trevally, snapper, a king and Tarakihi. There was even mention of their next fishing trip!

Back at the marina we had a quick turnover before the next group, a big family outing, jumped aboard the night fishing session.

Leaving port, Kiwi Angler charged across the water in the afternoon light, making its way to Sargeant’s Channel, off Motutapu and the southeast corner of Waiheke Island in the Motuihe Island Passage.

Locating fish on the sounder, we anchored in around 24m of water. Most anglers fished the ledger rig, while a handful of anglers opted for the strayline where they could rig up a bigger bait and hope for one of the larger ‘snaps’ (a Kiwi-ism) in the area. Everyone was hooking up and bringing fish over the side left, right and centre. The biggest snapper, which won the family fishing challenge, weighed in at about 7lb. These fish grow to 30lb in the region.

The next morning a new group jumped on and we powered out to another great spot around the islands, about a 90-minute run. It was a relatively quiet day but the anglers were kept on their toes with some big fish cruising around. Two kings annihilated baits and stripped copious amounts of line from the reels before running around submerged rocky outcrops, while another angler had a tough but successful battle with a porae (a member of the morwong family). The mao mao were also in attendance, keeping the anglers entertained with their mystical blue colour and tough fighting antics.

RIGS AND TECHNIQUES

Two of the most popular bait fishing techniques for snapper in and around Auckland Harbour are straylining and ledging.

Straylining

Straylining (floatlining) is the term given to an unweighted or lightly weighted rig that is slowly freespooled to the bottom. Often it can be gently floated down the berley trail. The straylining rig targets bigger fish in the area, with the snapper often taking the rig on the drop. With this in mind, some anglers have a preference for freespooling the rig to the bottom, bringing it slowly to the surface and repeating the process. Whole pilchards, squid or a combination of both are the go for this rig. The NZ straylining rig uses a big hook and a smaller version as a keeper. Aboard Kiwi Angler, Rex prefers a 10/0 and a smaller 4/0 Octopus pattern as a keeper. He ties the bigger hook with a uni knot and attaches the keeper with a common snell knot.

Ledging

Ledging (ledger or running rig) is what we refer to as a ‘paternoster’ rig in Australia, where the two hooks (some NZ anglers run three hooks, which is legal in NZ) are suspended above the weight which sits on the bottom. For this rig, Rex Smith opts for the 4/0 Octopus style hook and a 6oz old-style ‘keel’ sinker. Rex prefers keel sinkers because of their ability to stay in position on the bottom and not roll around.

This ledger rig is freespooled to the bottom and left there until you hook up (or have your bait stolen). It’s important when the current is flowing to keep checking that your rig is on the bottom. From my experience on Auckland Harbour, with both Rex Smith on Kiwi Angler and Eugene de Bruyn on Sea Genie, this rig definitely caught more fish. Some anglers like to run flies or soft plastics on their droppers, while others run a combination of a bait rigged on hooks with lumo beads and skirted material.

So try fishing in Auckland Harbour! You can be into a hot bite almost as soon as your plane hits the runway.

Qantas (ph. 13 13 13) flies direct from Brisbane to Auckland once a day. Your travel agent can give you additional up-to-date information about New Zealand customs regulations.

[FACT BOX 1]

KIWI ANGLER

Rex Smith captains Kiwi Angler, a 12.8m launch with a 450hp diesel. Kiwi Angler comfortably fishes 15 anglers but can take up to 25 people. The vessel, which departs Hobbs Bay Marina, makes two runs daily – a day fish from 8am til 5pm, and a night fish which starts at 5.30pm and goes for four to five hours.

Rex concentrates his fishing efforts in the Hauraki Gulf in spots like Anchorite Rock, Little Barrier, Great Barrier, Coromandel and Mokohinaus.

Prices are $50 per person for an evening fish, $80 per person weekday and $90 per person on weekends. Bait prices are $8 for a half day and $15 for a full day, and tackle/rig hire is $10 for a half day and $15 for a full day. Kiwi Angler also provides a choice of catering options, including snacks, a BBQ lunch/dinner or cold selections.

Phone/Fax: 0011 649 424 0588

Mobile: 0011 649 25 996 472

E-mail: --e-mail address hidden--

[FACT BOX 2]

SEA GENIE

Eugen de Bruyn captains Sea Genie, an 8.3m custom-built alloy sportfisher built by White Pointer Boats, based in Gisbourne. Sea Genie is powered by a 250hp diesel. With walkaround stern, enclosed cabin and game-rigged with a 400litre livebait tank this is a great trailerable fishing boat.

The trailering option gives flexibility to follow the good weather and fishing. Eugen customises the fishing to suit clients’ preferences. Sea Genie departs from the main waterfront drive, just 10 minutes from downtown CBD and hotel centre. Rates are $650 per day (includes all tackle and bait), and it fishes four anglers easily.

Fishing Adventures also run day trips to the west coast for bluewater trolling on the Tasman Sea for striped marlin, yellowfin and albacore.

Phone: 0011 649 579 4887

Mobile: 0011 649 274 937 997

E-mail: --e-mail address hidden--

1) Captain Rex Smith of ‘Kiwi Angler’ (right) and client with a porae, a member of the morwong family.

2) The author and her little kingie, taken from a school that surrounded the boat at Anchorite Rock on New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf.

3) The Hauraki Gulf is often called the snapper capital of New Zealand. With fish like this thumper, caught aboard Eugen de Bruyn’s Sea Genie, you can see how the Gulf got its reputation.

4) A solid silver trevally taken aboard the Sea Genie. The silver trevally is said to be the only trevally species in the area.

5) Smiley Scott soaks up the fishing action aboard Sea Genie and lands this interesting looking fish – a john dory from the Motuihe channel.

6) Check out this monster kingfish! To have such great fishing so close to the city is awesome!

7) A healthy squire from Auckland Harbour. Sea Genie captain Eugen de Bruyn says that the wonderful Hauraki Gulf, with its uncrowded and sheltered waters with snapper in good numbers, is hard to keep a secret!

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