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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That’s a wrap. A term used to signify the closure of an event or season. But since Tauranga’s season doesn’t seem to be quite over I’ll apply the phrase to those pesky tail wraps some larger fly patterns tend to acquire.
Over time my top fly patterns have been developed and adjusted to suit the many factors required in everyday fishing. To me durability, practicality, castibility and some other key assets are always top of the pile.
Tail wraps are a (insert cuss word here). While they can’t always be avoided they can be mitigated during the tying process and best avoided with some slick casting.
Something I’ve found key is to build an internal core that will support the more supple fibers without compromising movement. Faux Bucktail is now a firm favourite for this task. A few thread wraps tucked under the fibers near the bend or solely around the fibers themselves adds to the value.
Building heads that hold their shape also allows the fly to keep itself in order. Anything more than a third of total length may prohibit action so be mindful of this and also not restricting the gape of the hook.
I’ve been a huge fan of Loon Soft Head for this purpose for a long time, recently I’ve tried Plastidip also and found this to be just as good. Although it takes a while to prep and better suits finer material. A light head of Senyos Lazer Dub will be enough to cover the other synthetics nicely and bind the adhesive better.
The water pushing head and initial air trapped inside the front cone will get the attention of any super predators nearby. Nothing says eat me like the noise of a bubble trail.
There’s other tricks out there also such as building mono tail guards and using shorter tails so it is really a case of finding what suits your fly. Another quirky trick I picked up while twiddling a fly cruising the flats is the dreadlock theory. As most of the flies I tie and use are synthetic they can be twisted at the tip to lock the fibers up a little and stop wayward hook wraps
With all these things now going in your favor it leaves more time for fishing and less time untangling or even worse throwing twisted, matted flies away.
The countdown is on for the new season now, although there’s still a few to be caught between low pressure systems. With 16c water and lots of bait it comes as no surprise there’s still a few stragglers about.