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.
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.
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.
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.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out NZ Fishing News reviewing a day out with King Tide Salt Fly
John Eichelsheim spent the day with unique salt-water fly charter, King Tide Salt Fly, aboard their FC535cc.
When fishing guide Lucas Allen decided to upgrade his boat, he had no hesitation going to FC Boats, based on his satisfaction with the smaller FC 430 tiller-steer model he was replacing.
Lucas runs a specialist saltwater fly fishing charter business called King Tide Salt Fly. Generally operating in and around Tauranga Harbour, Lucas’ new boat is surveyed to fish New Zealand’s harbours, lakes and inshore waters. Lucas used his previous boat as a starting point when customising King Tide, his new FC 535cc (centre-console). FC Boats in Hamilton were extremely accommodating, says Lucas, working with Lucas and Maritime NZ to meet stringent survey requirements.
Lucas’s business centres on chasing Tauranga Harbour’s population of kingfish, especially those that hang around with stingrays, of which there are hundreds feeding in the shallows over the harbour’s extensive flats.
These ‘ray-riding’ kingfish are the main drawcard for saltwater fly fishers availing themselves of King Tide Salt Fly’s services, but Lucas also targets kingfish around the harbour’s numerous poles and markers buoys, as well as fish resident on reefs outside the harbour. In addition, anglers can expect to catch kahawai and snapper on fly, as well as other species in season.
Interestingly, kingfish only shadow short-tail black rays (stingrays) – we saw lots of eagle rays, but none had any kingfish with them.
King Tide Salt Fly’s guiding season usually extends from November until May, or sometimes longer depending on angler demand and kingfish numbers. As well as guiding, Lucas is a brand ambassador for BLA, which among other products supplies Humminbird marine electronics and Minn Kota trolling motors and associated equipment. When he’s not guiding, Lucas conducts Humminbird and Minn Kota training sessions all over New Zealand and provides customer support for BLA products.
King Tide is a purpose-built fly-fishing vessel. The FC 535cc platform was a great starting point: it’s stable, roomy and a dry runner, which is important in a centre-console. A centre-console was the obvious configuration for a fly fishing boat and Lucas, working closely with FC Boats, maximised the size of the raised casting platform in the bows. Covered in customised U-Dek flooring and incorporating masses of under-deck fishing tackle storage, this platform provides the perfect position to cast a fly through an arc of 270 degrees.
King Tides casting deck is the jewel in the crown of a well laid out fly fishing boat.
Three large deep hatches under the raised casting deck provide room for all gear. Keeping it out of the way of fly line and the elements.
The most obvious feature of the bow is the Minn Kota trolling motor. It’s a marine spec, 80-pound thrust Terrova model with iPilot LINK. Minn Kota’s iPilot features integrated GPS and SpotLock for precision boat positioning and the motor can be controlled either from the handheld remote control, or from the helm using the Humminbird Solix’s Minn-Kota LINK virtual remote.
The trolling motor is a vital piece of equipment for this specialist fishing application. This is a 24-volt system: two dedicated deep-cycle batteries provide enough juice to run the electronics for a full day. Two onboard Pro Mariner chargers plug into mains power at the end of the day, recharging all the vessel’s batteries overnight.
King Tide carries 160kg of batteries: two 130-amp deep-cycle AGMs for the Minn Kota, one cranking battery, another 130A AGM house battery and a battery to power the auxiliaries. Auxiliaries include the VHF and nav lights for survey requirements, and the transom-mounted Talon anchoring system.
Using the Minn Kota, Lucas moves quietly over the shallow flats stalking black stingrays. Almost silent and able to operate in a metre of water or less, the Minn Kota lets Lucas get his clients close enough to sight-cast at any kingfish travelling with rays. The Talon allows him to stop the boat dead in the water and hold it in place, effectively ‘staking out’ any areas of interest.
This was the first time I’d seen a Talon in use. It’s an electrically operated, extendable pole with a composite end section that penetrates the bottom substrate to hold the boat in place. The 8ft model allows a maximum depth of just on two metres. It works really well, allowing Lucas to hold the boat in place at the push of a button. The Talon is also linked to the Solix 12 interface.
Tauranga Harbour is vast – over 200 square kilometres in area – and much of it is made up of shallow tidal flats covered in eel grass and shellfish beds. We fished an area reasonably close to town, and there was no need to travel any further, but Lucas is spoiled for choice when it comes to fishing locations.
Although the sky was at times overcast which made spotting fish difficult, we were fortunate enough to find a few rays with kingfish in attendance. One ray in particular was flanked by three nice kingfish. They were unusually green in colour, making them hard to see over the eel grass.
Every time Lucas got the boat into a good position, I cast my fly close to the ray, which elicited a few kingfish follows but no bites. We followed the ray for perhaps 10 minutes, changing flies a couple of times, and just when it looked like we might have to find another ray, a surface popper did the business. The smallest of the three kingfish sucked it off the surface like a brown trout eating a dry fly.
John playing the kingfish expertly over the vast sandy flats
John holds his prized flats kingfish, taken on a small popper after a few stubborn refusals.
Lucas supplies good quality fly fishing tackle for his clients. I was using a Scott #8 saltwater fly rod and a Hatch reel with an Airflo Intertip fly line. He also carries #10 and #12 outfits with floating, intermediate and fast-sink lines. The flies are all hand-tied by Lucas.
Assembled fly rods are stored in racks under the gunwale either side of the cockpit, the tips sliding up into a custom compartment under the raised foredeck. King Tide can accommodate three assembled outfits per side, plus three more stored vertically against the side of the console. Additional gear is stored under the foredeck, accessible via three large deck hatches. Four through-coaming rod holders cater for traditional rod and reel combos.
The Scott Tidal #8 outfit handled my kingfish just fine, though the fight was as tough as one would expect from any kingfish. Over a clean bottom like this, you can take your time bringing the fish to the boat, and with 14-pound leader, it doesn’t pay to be too heavy-handed. The fish was boated, photographed and released.
Mission accomplished, we squeezed over a fast-drying flat on the electric to a channel where we could fish through the bottom of the tide. King Tide draws only 400mm of water with the outboard tilted up and the Minn Kota set as high up on its pole as it can go.
The FC 535’s console offers a decent storage locker, grab rails and enough room on the fascia for a variety of instruments and gauges, including volt meters (two), USB chargers, a 4” Mercury VesselView display, battery isolation switches (two) and a Cobra VHF. The stainless steel wheel looks very smart and a big Icey-Tek chilly bin behind the console also serves as a seat. A clever tie-down system facilitates its easy removal, leaving a snag-free rear deck with nothing to grab a fly line or stub your toes on.
We used the Talon to anchor King Tide on the side of a channel while we waited to ambush any rays moving into the deeper water off the flat. While we waited, I caught a succession of feisty little kahawai, which passed the time very nicely.
A 115hp Mercury Command Thrust provides the primary motive power for King Tide. This is a high-thrust variant with a heavy-duty gear case running a larger-diameter propeller. The Mercury easily copes with King Tide’s usual operating load and gives a top speed of 34 knots. A 65-litre underfloor tank easily allows three days guiding on the harbour between fills.
Occupying the full width of the console, a bracket-mounted Humminbird Solix 12 features Humminbird’s MEGA Imaging high-definition display. As well as GPS chart-plotter functions and Minn Kota trolling motor and Talon integration, the Solix’s fish-finding tools include Side-imaging, Down-imaging and conventional sonar.
A stop at one of the harbour’s many navigational marker poles graphically demonstrated the Solix’s Side-Imaging capabilities, clearly showing a group of kingfish hanging behind and to one side of the marker. The Solix identified not only individual fish, but how far they were from the boat and from the bottom.
Humminbird’s MEGA Side-imaging scans 30m to each side of the boat, down to a depth of 30 metres, displaying structure and fish with remarkable clarity and definition. A simple change to lower frequencies provides even greater depth and range capability.
Fishing the poles with #10 outfits, including a couple of markers outside the harbour, raised a few lookers but no takers. I was quickly reminded how physical fly fishing big flies with heavy gear can be, especially if it’s been a while (years!) since you’ve done it. My arms wearied long before Lucas got tired!
Lucas working one of many markers with a popper fly. A highly exciting way of targeting the kingfish that reside on them at times.
The tuna require fast boat manoeuvring and long casts onto the leading edge to score a bite when the conditions are this calm.
Our final hurrah involved a run of several miles out to sea, the FC 535 proving a dry and comfortable traveller, despite a slightly messy sea. Our destination was a reef offshore where we hoped to target kingfish on deep-sinking fly lines. However, the sight of skipjack tuna splashing on the surface changed the game plan and we spent the next couple of hours chasing them.
Chasing skipjack on fly demands a fair bit of patience, since they move very fast. Intercepting them is not easy and often you only get in one cast before they’ve moved past. We did plenty of moving, but managed to hook several fish, landing a couple. Kingfish pull hard and are a great opponent on fly fishing tackle, but skipjack tuna make an 8-weight reel scream like no other fish!
With the autumn afternoon drawing to a close, we finished our day close to the Mount where we encountered mixed schools of skipjack and kahawai. The skippies eluded capture, though we each hooked a couple, but the kahawai were easier to fool. Much bigger than the ones I’d caught earlier inside the harbour, they pulled like trains, leapt and ran. The deep line burn on my index finger is testament that they strike hard too!
I had enjoyed an interesting and exciting day aboard a superbly set-up fly fishing vessel with an engaging guide who really understands his stuff. Lucas knows Tauranga Harbour like the back of his hand but can also be engaged to fish other waters around New Zealand. He works closely with selected charter/guiding operations, freshwater and salt, to organise fishing itineraries for local and visiting anglers.
And while many of Lucas’ clients are from overseas, the fishing experience he offers is something every Kiwi fly fisher should try. Fly fishing for ray-riders is highly visual, making it very exciting, and the quality of the kingfish available may also surprise. Some of them top 15kg or more – quite a catch on an #8 fly rod.
For more information on guided fishing for ray-riding kingfish, or to contact King Tide Salt Fly, email email@example.com
Recent report on the season to date in Tauranga Harbour. Ray riders, free swimmers and top water marker kingfish on fly.
It’s hard to believe we’re already into the New Year. Early season has been one of the best yet, with great sightings of ray riders and many Kingfish tagged already for the season. Proliferations of baitfish have meant you only need to stick around them for a while until the thugs turn up.
Ray riders have been their usual self, either overly enthusiastic to inhale a well placed fly or shutting up shop after a a few careful presentations. With all the holiday pressure the kingfish see it’s a good bet to try some patterns that they don’t always get thrown at them.
What has been a real stand out is the numbers of fish on some markers, not to mention the size. I just wish the smaller kingfish weren’t so eager to eat flies before the bigger ones hanging deeper.
As usual clients were treated to some stunning scenery with full red blooms of Pohutukawa. A recent king tide provided some exciting casting challenges tucking flies under their branches for cruisers chasing baitfish.
I had a week of relaxation over Christmas with the family and some memorable fishing included. There’s a long road ahead yet but the look on his face says it all and is something to cherish for years to come. Definitely a proud Dad moment watching a good mate help your son catch his first fish.
Coming home to a big storm and huge dump of rain meant trip rescheduling and a bit of relearning some spots as the sand bars have shifted in places. The holiday boat traffic, pesky winds and some dumb luck has kept kingfish captures down but the shots have been there. It pays to be proficient with a good accurate cast on a breezy day. That is reinforced even more so on the hard days when one quick money shot might be the difference between glory and heart break.
A small bay flat I’ve recently been hunting at times has upwards of 20+ stingrays on it, mostly absent of ray riders but all it takes is for an unruly mob of kingfish to take up residence and it will be all on. Couple that with rumors of a 40kg fish caught in the entrance last week and things are looking good for the next few months of salt fly fishing in Tauranga Harbour. There’s loads of kingfish around, go out and enjoy them but remember to look after them. And don’t forget, if you want to be a part of the action this summer drop me a line via this link, you might just want to secure the last few days left of this month…
New Zealand salt water fly fishing is well underway for the new season. Kingfish are hunting the shallow North Island flats again.
New Zealand salt water fly fishing season
October 1st sees most New Zealand fly fishermen hauling ass into the newly opened back country for a taste of untouched wilderness trout fishing. While this was going on I was busy sneaking a few salt fly trips into Tauranga harbour between family commitments. As expected the fish were around and the spring weather was its temperamental self.
A good sign for the upcoming salt water fly flats season is a healthy start to our inshore snapper fishing, an easy target for local fisherman and ideal dinner companion. The fish come into the shallows and forage, at times just behind the breaking waves. I always enjoy a good snapper session but was pleasantly surprised when a bruiser Kingfish decided to take my 4kg outfit and give me a hell of a battle on the trout jigging gear. A perfect warm up for the start of the season.
Tauranga harbour flats Kingfish
Constant westerlies keep the Bay of Plenty sea temperature around the 16 degree mark during spring. So I was pretty excited to see an easterly flow just prior to commencing my salt water fly guide season. With it comes warmer water as well as the rain. We’ve had a good dose of rain this year, with our average rainfall allowance reached by August.
Although most of the stingrays have been unoccupied the kingfish are never far away from them, either crashing bait nearby or hanging off marker poles teasing any salt fly angler. When it all comes together things can go from zero to one hundred real quick. The sight of packs of Kingfish tailing around a stingray in shallow water was welcome after a good dump of rain recently and as expected they reacted to a well placed fly. After a few weeks of near misses, close but no cigar and dropped fish moments things are looking very promising for the salt fly season ahead.
Guided salt water fly trips
The beginning of this season couldn’t have been written any better. After being plagued by rain (surprise surprise) earlier in the year Rob returned from Aussie to settle his score. While the stingrays were heavily outnumbered by eagle rays we pushed on. Casting poppers through some money water and a known Kingfish highway we had a savage hit and run take right by the boat. Sadly the only sight we got was a heavy set fish turning down and digging its powerful yellow tail in for a blistering run. After managing to stop the fish mid backing it dropped the hook. This fueled Robs fire further and we searched high and low for more action, sadly the other rays we saw were lonely.
The next day dawned much the same, our original plan to fish different flats was put on hold to fish closer to home and spend more time on the water. We staked out a spot and set ourselves up for ambush, much the way Kingfish behave. Soon enough 3 rats cruised right past us, they knew the game however and after two further passes they were never to be seen again.
More water was searched meticulously and by mid afternoon our eyes were playing all sorts of tricks on us. All of a sudden that 0-100 moment happened and in a sunny patch I spied a darker shape moving at a more constant pace than the eagle rays nearby. I started thinking there was no welcoming committee with this one either until a different angle revealed 3 kingfish. Our world came crashing down when a ball of cloud closed our visibility down immediately, losing sight of the traveling ray rider party.
Intuition paid off and we rejoined them 100m away still working along the contour. Flies were sent to their targets, this time met with super aggressive fish providing an acrobatic take. What followed was a stressful fight as Robs fly reel backing picked up wads of dreaded sea lettuce, leaving me scrambling to free the line and Rob trying to shorten the leash. Long story short the “Battle of Kimchi” was ours and Rob had his first New Zealand flats Kingfish in the bag. A highly prized fish and very well deserved.
We returned to our station and resumed the drift, elation and smiles all round. You can imagine the surprise when a suspect shape was covered with a cast and a scything attack from another Kingfish. This time wanting the fly so bad it nearly ran into the boat after the initial eat. What made this fish special was seeing a tag embedded in its side. This was a Kingfish caught on board King Tide earlier on in the year. You can read more about this recapture here.
This wrapped up a great two days, certainly helped by someone who can put the casts in and persevere with “hunting” kingfish for hours on end. A quick wash up and change then Rob was hurtling down SH1 to be transferred to Marc Clinch for three days in some amazing Central North Island water. I haven’t had the debrief from the trip so can’t go into too much detail but the pictures certainly speak for themselves. This should certainly be on any fly anglers to do list when visiting New Zealand.
The following week and after some juggling around an ominous looking low pressure system we were back on the water. John is used to water warmer than our average air temp for this time of the year and rugged up accordingly. It was good to see a ray rider after staring into the water for a long period of time, when the kingfish lit up off the stingrays back it was an even greater sight. A second cast was all it took and we had John hooked up. What followed next was a fight that the kingfish never had an inch in. This fish was destined to come to the boat whether it liked it or not, a true master class in breaking the fishes spirit and making it work every meter.
Things are certainly looking like a boomer season on the New Zealand flats and the salt fly action is set to heat up. Click this link to make contact and arrange a day out chasing the ultimate sports fish on fly.
The Tauranga harbour Kingfish season has been bubbling away for a few eager salt water fly fishermen. It was a special moment when Aussie angler Rob hooked a ray rider Kingfish on the flats earlier this week.
What made it even more poignant was that this fish had a tag embedded in its side from earlier in the year . Back in March I was joined by Jim Hanley for a morning prior to a storm front rolling in. We had a glass calm flat with bow waves and tails showing themselves wherever we looked. Needless to say he caught a few yellowtail kingfish on fly that day.
What this fish has done over winter will remain a mystery but it’s appearance this week was very welcome.
Kingfish tag details
Time at liberty: 238 days
Grew an eyebrow
We are finding more interesting info as these data returns come back to us. The importance of looking after these smaller sports fish and maintaining their population for generations to come should not be overlooked.
At this stage it seems each region has a slightly different story to tell, most likely in accordance with environmental factors such as water temperature and quality determining fish movement. New Zealand’s key salt water fly fishing destinations of Waiheke Island, Collingwood, Tauranga and Manukau harbours are covered by the tag a king on fly program and we expect to see more recaptures this season adding to the data bank.
If you are lucky enough to land a previously tagged kingfish please treat it carefully, ideally get tag details – a close up picture is easiest and fastest. Measure it along your rod and return it to the water promptly. If it’s legal maybe even think twice about keeping it, the story about the goose that lays a golden egg is a perfect analogy.
Recently I spent the day with Matt von Sturmer onboard his vessel Saltfly. He was hosting Josh Hutchins from Aussie Fly Fisher, showing him the amazing winter fishery he has right on his doorstep. The plan was to fish for snapper in really shallow water. “Wafting” flies for savage hit and runs or the complete opposite subtle take being a huge appeal to Matto.
What wasn’t planned was the weather! Saturday dawned with the expected 35kn winds that were set to lash the country. The ferry from Half Moon bay to Waiheke was bumpy enough without having to jump on a smaller boat to throw flies for the day.
This is where knowledge of a local guide who fishes their own waters almost daily in all conditions is invaluable. Add to that the safety protocols in place to operate in a professional manor and you’re onto a winner. Despite passing through some rough passages of water Matto had us fishing in areas that we could cope with easily between the frequent gusts.
While the day didn’t herald any of the bigger specimens that make for a great fight in the shallows we caught a dozen or so scrappy fish. The shit talking and catch ups are always welcome, even if Matto and I had to have a few serious moments to discuss safety drills and training as part of our Maritime requirements.
Short edit of some Autumn salt fly action in Tauranga Harbour, New Zealand
Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Seems adding another child to the litter makes time slip away all to easily. We’re winding the season down now with water temps dropping almost half a degree daily at some stages. The fishing has been really good with most clients scoring multiple fish and having shots at plenty more.
I’ve knocked a clip together of some of the last 6 weeks highlights. From epic sunrises to masses of tailing kingfish and the hectic, stubborn fights that follow. Please excuse some of the shaky camera work – guiding, filming and operating a vessel at the same time all present their own challenges!
Lastly, if you want to be apart of this next season then drop me an email here. I look forward to hearing from you.