Salt water fly blog

Early season flats Kingfish tips

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.

Tauranga, bay of plenty, kingfish flats, salt water, guide

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.
tauranga harbour, bay of plenty, new zealand, flats, salt water fly fishing guide
Big slab of cloud with low sunlight shuts the viewing window down.

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, yellowtail, north island, new zealand, collingwood, salt fly
Kingfish spotted in the glare less than 5 meters from the boat require quick short accurate casts

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 flats season kicks off

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.

Sunset, sunrise, new zealand, fishing, salt water, fly guide
Long Bay Coromandel, NZ

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.

kingfish, light tackle, new zealand, bay of plenty, tauranga
Bruiser kingfish taken while snapper fishing

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.

Yellow tail, kingfish, flats, bay of plenty, salt fly guide
Good to see a Yellowtail in the net
Early season kingfish tend to be very well conditioned in the harbour

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.

Cloudy mornings and super shallow ray riders can’t be beat

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.

Fly line back on the reel but far from winning the Battle of Kimchi
At times we were flying multiple green flags
Hard earned fish now safely in the net
Well deserved kingfish for Rob

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.

Tauranga, flats, kingfish, fly rod, salt water, fishing, yellowtail
This fish would have some stories to tell…
Tag, kingfish, fly rod, salt water, collingwood, manukau, waiheke island
A quick spear back into the channels ensures no sharks chewing on fish or angler

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.

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North Island back country bow
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Seriously good looking water
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Hooked up in paradise

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.

Precision control had the fish beat in short order
Smiling assassin
A first salt fly flats kingfish for John

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.

Fish City Hamilton Salt water fly night

Don’t forget if you’re around Hamilton this coming Thursday 16th of November there will be a talk on all things salt water fly fishing in New Zealand.

Big thanks to Fish City Hamilton and Manic Tackle Project.

Snags and beers on the go. Kick off 1830, see you there.

 

 

Flats kingfish recapture 

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.

Tauranga, flats, kingfish, fly rod, salt water, fishing, yellowtail
Rob Alfeldi and his prized Tauranga flats kingfish

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.

Kingfish, ray rider, tag, salt water fly, tauranga, bay of plenty, new zealand
Jim displays his tagged kingfish from March 2017

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
  • Growth: 6cm
  • Distance: 5NM
  • 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.

Tag, kingfish, fly rod, salt water, collingwood, manukau, waiheke island
Rob sends another tagged kingfish back to carry on hunting the Bay of Plenty waters.

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.

Busting Loops 

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…

best kingfish flies, baitfish, salt water fly, fishing, new zealand, rattle piper
A rack of Rattle Piper kingfish flies ready for action.

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.

Salt fly knots
The beginnings of the graveyard of tested knots

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.

Salt water fly fishing knot test
Who’s going to win? Leftys or Perfection

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.

A day with Saltfly fish 

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. 

Capt. Matto, about as passionate to his fishery as they get.
Josh using the last lucky fly hoping the rubber legs are the right tone.

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. 

The cats got the cream the day prior. A nice bluebird winters day gave way to horrid conditions the following 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. 

Such a great inshore opponent. And delicious!

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. 

Connections – Backing > Fly line

Winter is a great time to sneak out for the odd decent day of fishing but it’s also a time to service gear, prep rigs, tie flies and think about your plan of attack for the coming season. 

Something that came to light while changing fly lines recently was how many shitty backing to fly line connections I’ve seen. There’s no denying powerful fish need strong connections.  

Marc Clinch about to hear his backing knot sing.
Strong fast runs see the backing knot tested rigorously.

My flats Kingfish assemblies tend to step down from 60lb fine diameter backing to fly line (approx 35lb) and ending with around 20-30lb straight section of fluoro leader. This is to help avoid losing fly lines but also try to prohibit fish carrying excess line around if they bust free (barbless hooks should also get a mention for this reason). 

At a pinch you can double your backing and make a doubled Bimini loop. This has twin loops and is better than a single strand which can bite into a fly line.   

My favourite is to create a sleeve of braided 50lb mono and use this as the load distributor through your loop-loop connection. The steps below should get you underway and have more confidence in your connection as it sings out the guides. 

All the tools you need for this connection

  • Cut a length of braided mono to make a loop big enough to pass your reel through – this makes changing lines easier if you need.
    Braided loop should be big enough to pass reel through.
     
  • Pass backing through braided mono and leave tag end of 50cm 
  • Thread whip one end of mono. Give it a light dab of super glue and roll in fingers to absorb. 
  • Smooth the mono tightly to the other end, ensuring no slack. Repeat whipping/gluing. 
  • Now double the backing up to form your mono sleeve loop. Make the two whipped ends slightly offset – this should help taper the transition of finished knot. 
  • Plait braid back down onto the mono whipped tag ends. Start far enough up from mono ends to create a 4-5cm plait. 
  • Once you reach mono start half hitching, using opposing hitches. These should start to trap the braided mono. 
  • Work hitches down until you’ve covered previous whipping and secure tag with a rizutto finish. 
  • Cover knot with Loon soft head or similar flexible glue. 
    Tied, glued and dried. Ready for a beating.
  • Allow to fully dry, nothing worse than winding fly line on and discovering you’ve glued it to your backing knot!
  • Attach fly line by passing backing loop fully through fly line loop then passing reel through large backing loop. Finished connection should resemble a reef knot. 
    Finished loop to loop connection.

Some useful knot links. 

Plait – https://youtu.be/2uUWS7dzOn0 NB: stop at 1:20 mark, don’t use finishing knot in video. Start hitching instead. 

Rizutto finish – https://youtu.be/H09wT8r8dC8