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…
Early season salt water fly fishing on New Zealand’s flats can be equally as frustrating as it is rewarding. Numbers of kingfish are moving back into the harbour, rejoining the resident winter fish and hounding the increasing local baitfish populations.
Challenges come in many forms at this time of the year. From terrible light to fussy fish there’s a hundred excuses for having a hard day. I’ve compiled a list of annoyances and ways to combat them while chasing our kingfish and other salt water species on fly. There’s always more than one way to skin a cat so don’t write previous failures off as a lost cause, just claim them as fine tuning your approach.
Spring winds: A real pain in the fly anglers arse.
Seek out sheltered areas for early morning shallow water bow waves.
Fish don’t mind the wind, plus it hides a boat nicely. Scan the backs/fronts of waves and use these as windows into the water.
Practice casting over winter. Short, long and quick direction changes are all called for at some stage – often under pressure.
Watch wind vs tide when navigating channels. Especially so on spring tides, it can get real ugly real quick.
Check the weather forecasts. Plan for the best, prepare for the worst.
Practice casting some more. Even better in a strong breeze.
Lighting: There one minute, gone the next.
Find shelter (trees, cliffs, sand banks) either as a backdrop or to provide calm water to give kingfish disturbances away.
Low light polarized sunglasses are a huge plus for tough light conditions. Check out Smiths Low Light Ignitors they are a deal breaker.
When that one little patch of light is coming you better be ready to scan 360 degrees and read as much water as possible before the light shuts down again.
Try to keep whatever light you have at your back.
Don’t be afraid to cast at a lot of “is that, um, maybe, nah, yeah” shapes. When they light up with fish you’re in for a lot of fun.
Kingfish and flies: Put them together and you’re halfway there.
Kingfish have arrived in the harbour with the influx of baitfish. As a rule of thumb flats Kingfish in really shallow love small generic crustacean/baitfish patterns. Kingfish in water deeper than 6ft typically get offered bigger baitfish and “noisy” flies.
Stake out structure and areas of baitfish congregation. Soon enough you’ll be rewarded, although it could take some time!
If light is good then cover some ground hunting for black stingrays. Sometimes they’re at the other end of the flat from the day before.
Fighting kingfish on fly: Your first kingfish for the season might just get the better of you.
Be ready for action at all times. With each strip you should be willing an eat from any nearby fish.
When they hit, you hit them. Do it quick and make it count. Do NOT trout strike!
Keep your rod high and line short. Sea lettuce accumulation is a nightmare, even more so when riding solo. It should lessen in the coming months but can be a major pain over spring.
New Zealand salt water fly fishing intel: It’s all at your fingers tips, but best acquired with a rod in your palm.
Looking at a computer only gives you a certain degree of knowledge. There is nothing more rewarding than getting out there and doing the hard yards yourself, plus you can’t spot a fish staring at your phone screen.
Time on the water is crucial and should never be undervalued no matter the result.
Why are you still reading this, go forth and conquer, or maybe go work on that casting.
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.
That fly you’ve spent an age tying to get the most out of in the water is now ready to tie on. Let the loop knot debate begin…
If you’re after unrestricted movement then it’s really hard to go past loop knots. There’s a few to choose from, each with their own merits. Leftys, perfection, homer rhodes, open uni et al. For me I utilize a knot for each stage of set up, each one being a potential weak area to be exposed.
It makes sense to choose a knot that’s not only strong but is easy to tie. A huge bust off, urgent fly change or rocking boat will always try to hinder your best efforts to re-tie a salt water leader. Find a knot that suits your set up requirements and test it, try other options if needed. Then learn to tie it opposite handed, behind your back, blindfolded and as fast as possible – this might just be the difference to connecting to a fish under pressure.
Harking back to my school science fair days (1st place in Applied science Hawkes Bay Science Fair 1990 something) I use a simple tug of war test. A different knot is created in each end of commonly used material. These are then pulled up evenly until one fails. To keep things fair three tests are done under each configuration, one by one an eventual winner is found.
Although I knew the eventual winner was always going to be Leftys loop, I mostly wanted to check which of my commonly used loop knots were a close second to retie quickly and rely on in pressure situations. This placing goes to the perfection knot, quick and easy plus it’s a good looking knot to boot.
Interestingly was the Homer Rhodes and how it was tied. If you look at the records you’ll see 1/2, 2/1 and 2/2 listed. These were the amount of overhand passes through each stage of the knot when tied. For example; 1/2 is a basic over hand knot to begin with and then finished with a two turn. This ended up the preferred way of tying this knot in 30lb Hatch flouro leader.
Some points to note:
Not all knots perform to the same extent through various weights and types of material. Nor do they behave well with other brands/types of leader material at times.
In order to function to their potential knots must be trialled for effectiveness prior to use. No point letting the fish show you your knot choice sucked.
This experiment was more for my peace of mind than to prove the exact tolerances of each knot. And also rank my top 3 loop knots in conditions I’m familiar with.
Sometimes knots fail, don’t cry about it – try and figure out why. Was it an old leader, had it sustained some damage, not enough turns to secure it, tag end cut too short? These are some realities of potential failure, eliminating them for next time is a valuable lesson.
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.