King Tide 19/20 Season recap

New Zealand salt water fly fishing guide Lucas Allen gives an insight on the previous season. Plus a few tips and pointers to help you get the most out of your next salt fly trip.

The 19/20 flats season here in Tauranga was a script so well written no one really saw the twists and turns right up until the final act.

We started out as any season does with some nice warm water pushing down from the tropics and things kicking off nicely, with the last of the blustery spring westerlies abating to a more manageable breeze in time for the pre Christmas rush. By the time the Pohutukawas were flowering we had ticked off a number of kingfish firsts for clients and seen the first waves of repeat customers. Some of these fish were a class above the previous year and things were shaping up quite nicely, albeit with a few tears from snapped leaders after tangling with some big resident fish around structure. These fish know the harbour better than anybody and it’s as if sometimes the eats were just to mess with you as they promptly destroyed lines on the nearest object. It’s this attitude that I love about them, the take no shit, hold no prisoners approach. Something you need to throw straight back at them in spades to have some kind of dominance over their physicality.

We tend to leave the Christmas period alone on the harbour, it’s not for the fact it fishes hard, it’s the commotion and general mayhem that I prefer to do without, plus a welcome break with our busy family is a must. Once that’s all out of the way we were back to full swing. The long days with optimum sunlight are what flats fisherman dream of, throw in a warm westerly to put a ripple on the water and you have some of the best factors going for you.

This season the flats fired nicely, with some areas far more productive than others. Bigger groups of fish, some of which were well over the magic meter mark (that’s to the inside of the fork for all you Aussies reading). For a few short weeks we followed one group of kingfish around that were hounding mullet in the shallows. The pack so big and black it was hard to miss them and the shadows of tightly packed mullet schools.

Another hot favorite of mine (purely for the chaos that goes down after getting an eat) was the nav marker fishing. With the bow mounted Humminbird Solix 12 MEGA+ Side Imaging providing some inspiration to those upfront fishing a little deeper. Seeing a gang on screen then rocket out of the depths after your fly is sure to get the heart rate up, even for those not on the other end of the line. Split second judgements on how to handle the fish after hook up will either be your undoing or result in a nice new profile picture so it pays to have a battle plan. If fish are rejecting your offering mix up the retrieve on the following cast before changing to a fly with a totally different profile. Think big to small, natural to bright, quiet to loud and if using a popper don’t be afraid to let it sit for a few seconds between big chugs. I find a lot of time it’s not what you’re feeding them it’s HOW you are feeding it to them. If you keep them guessing you may just turn a curious fish into a stupid fish.

With the peak of the season just starting to taper off the unseen announcement of a full blown lockdown loomed rather suddenly. This was a bitter pill to swallow especially for the fact the fish are very obliging and rather active around this time, plus the pristine autumnal conditions that presented themselves were looking very glamour while on our local daily wander with the kids. This was made slightly better knowing I could walk 150m from my front door and watch kingfish do their thing uninterrupted, believe me the temptation sure was there after 40 years of taking any opportunity to go fishing whenever I wanted.

Prior to lockdown I threw local guru Dick Marquand onboard for a bash at the local reefs, we felt it might have been our last fish for a while so armed ourselves to the teeth with all manor of fly gear. After what felt like a few thousand casts I gave up on the kingfish playing friendly. The session that transpired afterward was pure class as Dick and I used a 3wt glass rod with 3lb test on big kahawai, koheru and blue maomao, I didn’t anticipate putting the 12wt away to replace it with a #3 but it was well worth it. Trying to put some hurt on a deep diving fish with a bit of swell makes for some entertainment, especially when you can feel the light line bouncing off the tightly packed school below. It was part luck, a shit load of skill and something Dick has fine tuned to make a fine alternative to hustling kingfish.

After what now seems like a short lockdown we had a few weeks of harbour fishing that saw plenty of kahawai caught on 4-6wt set ups, often with tiny anchovy flies or size 2 poppers – the excited school and consequent detonation on the surface ensures a lot of yelling and cheering. We had good shots at ray riders but as with late season flats fishing the sun was often low and spotting conditions tricky. A few adaptations to approaching each situation will give an upper hand but it sure pays to slow right down and hang around in hot spot areas for longer than you think possible. Be super prepared for a quick shot at something that probably isn’t a fish but you wish was and you might just come tight.

I’m not sure what next season holds as far as international guests go, fingers crossed New Zealand is still Covid free and our borders are holding it at bay. This gives a lot of opportunity for domestic guests to line up some of the best dates and tides over the season. One thing I am certain of is that the fish will be there and I’ll be making the most of every opportunity to get into them. Perhaps I might get a few more shots at them for myself this coming season, that’s provided my son doesn’t develop into a full blown kingfish fiend as he’s starting to demonstrate a bit of a knack to them!

Quinn’s first kingfish that he did all the work on. From cast to fight he dealt to it with a little bit of family encouragement.

The silly season – Catch and Release

The silly season is upon us and there’s no turning back. With that it’s fair time to remind people of a few basic things, most of all the practice of catch and release. So, here’s a few key things to take into consideration to ensure a strong healthy release if that’s what you intend to do.

Fighting the fish

  • Fight hard, the quicker you bring it in the better chance it will have to swim off strong.
  • Use gear that is up to the task, no point being a hero with that butter knife at a gun fight.
  • Go barbless, you won’t lose fish because of it, trust me.

Handling

  • Use a soft rubberised knotless net
  • Have everything ready to go for release – camera, tag kit etc
  • When lifting fish for pictures etc get a good grip around the tail and support under the pectoral fins with the other hand – avoid the gills.
  • Keep the fish in the water as much as possible, you try holding your breath after running a marathon. If it means you dunk it back in the water for a breather then do it.
  • Don’t drag them over the rocks or sand. Saying “they’re pretty tough” doesn’t cut it.
  • Wait until the fish is upright and able to swim off on its own.
  • Only spear them into deep water if there s a risk from sharks
  • If sharks are present either race away from them in the boat and release, or throw a bucket of water in one direction followed soon after by the fish in the other direction – the sharks should respond to the first commotion and hopefully miss the fish release.
  • If you’re getting sharked there’s no point catching more fish. You may as well keep undersized fish and not worry about limits, plus you’re just educating the sharks for future easy meals.

There’s also this thing called etiquette… If someone’s fishing a flat drop in behind them and give them heaps of room. Same goes for fishing the navigation markers – there’s a load of them, go to a different one if there’s someone already there. Assessing the action of people fishing before rushing in goes a long way, having a friendly chat also helps if its a busy area.

Lastly, learn the basic navigation rules for when on the water. There are day skipper courses that cost less than the price of a standard tank of fuel, this should avoid any of those potentially ugly situations arising.

Have a safe and enjoyable festive season on the water.

 

Summer is knocking on the door.

This season kicked off with good spikes in water temperature only to quickly shoot back down with the onset of the next cold front. The typical unsettled spring activity we experienced has now passed and we have good temps holding throughout the harbour. Loads of baitfish are prominent around key points with piper being the real standout – given these are regarded as kingfish candy it’s no surprise to see big sprays of bait getting chased around.

Scott sector, fly rod, fishing, salt water fly, guide, New Zealand, Tauranga, collingwood
The new Scott Fly Rods Sector is living up to its award winning label.

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A nicely conditioned Kingfish that fell victim to a large well placed fly.

Stingrays are settling into their flats and the subsequent Ray riders are hanging on for the ride around the harbour. Whether they’re busting bait, snacking on flounder or sniffing about diggings they’ll take anything thrown at them currently, provided the presentation is on the money and the dreaded trout strike doesn’t creep in. Spending time staked out on the flats with the aid of the Minn Kota Talon has been great when you’re sitting in prime kingfish real estate, something I’m definately doing a lot when you feel it’s worth hanging about for some action to cruise past.

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Parked up waiting for the party to arrive.

Lamson Cobalt, Scott sector, kingfish, salt water fly, charter, guide, boat, flats, fly rod, fly reel, New Zealand, harbour
The Lamson Cobalt and Scott Sector are no match for the New Zealand Kingfish.

The entrance has seen some really good fishing also, with sessions of multiple fish coming to the boat, most of them making it into the net but some being just to smart or strong to make the full trip alongside. This bodes well for the next few months as fish transition into the harbour to cause havoc amongst the baitfish. There’s some big fish among them, so we’ve had the Scott Sector 10 and 12’s rigged for the chance of a bigger model.

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Putting the hurt on a good fish trying to hit some structure nearby.

Speaking of bigger fish there’s a few groups about the harbour that tend to follow the mullet schools around, it would seem they only eat once every day or three but when they do it’s pandemonium. It’s either a case of a big 6/0 semper styled fly on the 12 or a small snack on the 10 weight depending on the feeding vibe present. These fish are smart and really frustrating but the action they’ve provided over the years has been nothing short of heart stopping.

Kingfish, yellowtail, amberjack, permit, bonefish, salt water fly fishing, New Zealand
Even the smaller specimens will grab a bigger offering, often beating the bigger fish to the fly.

 

With all this life firing up it’s the perfect time to be chasing kingfish in the shallows, soon the Pohutukawa flowers will bloom and provide some of the most stunning backdrops the harbour has. We have dates available for December so if you want to come and tussle with some thugs drop us a line now. lucas@kingtidesaltfly.com

Rebel riders

Over the years New Zealand’s salt fly flats have gained huge popularity, and deservingly so. The world class fishery we have right on our doorstep is a great attraction for fly anglers traveling from near or far. With this popularity comes a few points to note in regard to ensuring the longevity of these flats last for generations to come.

The pressure these fish now face is a lot greater than a few years back, it’s not a case of simply rocking up and throwing any bedraggled creation at an easy target. Interestingly so the biggest behavioural trait I have noticed over the last few seasons is not from the kingfish but from the stingrays we often seek. These rays are incredibly clever and have been seen rebelling from the encounters we anglers present. Charging around after them only upsets them and makes them wary of our presence. While it’s hard some days not to harass them for an eat from their counterparts the smart money is on trying to keep them calm and approaching with care. Especially so when wading, those tails are equipped with some heavy artillery [don’t insert Irwin joke here, I’ve heard a lot of them over the years].

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Parting ways with a stingray that is absent of Kingfish

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Kingfish are incredibly alert, especially when the water is shallow and this calm

Boats are fast becoming mini game vessels and the amount of electronics onboard are mind blowing. I for one am lucky to be packing some great gear onboard, hence the 150kg of batteries I carry to operate it all. Once again the rays are in the sights here, their electroreceptors are capable of picking up electrical noise in the water and consequently disturbing their day. Upon noticing this we have been shutting off any units not required to successfully hunt the flats if the rays are showing signs of altercation. My Humminbirds are my eyes underwater, and when we’re off the flats they earn their keep then. The ability to distinguish what’s happening under the surface is key to presenting flies efficiently and I’d be stuffed without them.

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Kingfish as viewed on Humminbird Side Imaging

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Bronze whaler sharks shadowing kingfish, time to move on

Kingfish sign on Humminbird Solix
Active kingfish chasing baitfish up and down some structure seen on Humminbird Side Imaging

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The stoke is real when it all comes together

Minn Kotas have opened up so many fishing possibilities for New Zealanders over the last few years, with fly fisherman being some of the early adopters. This time the rays are coping it from over zealous remote control boat drivers. Take it easy, line up the shot with the Minn Kota then try ease into the zone, better yet drift in. Maximum thrusting in close quarters is only going to upset the ray and riders, sending them scattering. If your shot is squandered try shadow the target and let them rest, position your boat in the best visible sight line for the ray and stay as far back as possible, another shot should line up shortly. If you loose them you’ll find they track in a pretty straight line if undisturbed, take a bearing or landmark they were last on and stick to that, you should find them again when the light allows, the whole time thinking of the best lay up for the boat and caster to take their shot when it comes.

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Sitting back and waiting for a show on the surface gave us a point of reference to catch back up with this fish.

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The result of a patient game of cat and mouse.

With the addition of a Minn Kota Talon on our new build there has been a lot of time just staked out in prime fishy “real estate”, hanging about waiting for passing stingrays and fish. Picking up the composite shaft and sneaking over to intercept their path when the time arises. Another prime example of its many uses is pulling up to a stop without the need to reverse hard on our Minn Kota as the gap closes quickly. This also gives more novice anglers one less moving part to the equation and aids their perception of distance when presenting flies.

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Minn Kota Talon, a shallow water handbrake for your boat

Good luck out there this season, just remember to respect the fishery and most important of all have fun.

Tauranga Harbour – Salt water fly set up and tips

If you want some info on what we use in Tauranga Harbour chasing Ray rider kingfish on salt water fly gear then peep the video below. Our season here is nearly done, don’t forget to secure your space for next year by flicking a message to the link here.