New Zealand’s Major Sportfish
New Zealand offers some of the most spectacular sport fishing opportunities in the world, hosting a wide variety of different game fish that often reach their maximum size in our waters. The following is a brief summary of our more popular sport fish including where and when to target them.
This is probably our most recognised game fish and the one that put New Zealand on the map as a world-class marlin fishery. We host the largest striped marlin in the world as attested by the stranglehold we have on world records for the species in almost every line class.
In the summer months, striped marlin are abundant throughout the top half of the North Island. The east coast gets more pressure due to the more sheltered ports and conditions, but a large number of fish also run down the west coast. You need to wait for the ideal conditions to be able to get across the west coast bars, but when you do manage to get out there, the blue water is often really close in and the fishing can be phenomenal.
Hot spots are the Bay of Plenty, the entire northeastern coast from Tutukaka through to North Cape and the Three Kings islands. In the last ten years the Middlesex and King banks off the Three Kings have built a reputation as the premier spots to target trophy striped marlin. From February through to late May they congregate in big numbers to feed on the masses of bait fish attracted by the current up-wellings and it isn’t uncommon to have over ten shots a day at fish that grow in excess of 200kg. 80-120kg fish are considered average.
Over the last couple of summers, catch-data suggests that blues are becoming a lot more common in our waters. The Three Kings, North Cape and the Northland coastline are all hot spots and a good run of Blues can be expected off the East Cape during a short time frame, usually around February. Their average size is usually around the 200kg mark but much bigger fish are frequently encountered and occasionally landed. In 1998 a 456kg specimen was taken off North Cape, the first grander caught in New Zealand waters in since 1968.
Blacks can be encountered throughout the summer months around the upper half of the North Island coastline. They are more frequently found in closer than the other species and are usually hooked by unsuspecting anglers who are live baiting off a reef or headland for kingfish. Most are found off the Northland coast and Bay of Plenty, especially off Mayor Island, White island, Whale Island and the Motu river mouth. These are often very large fish and although no granders have been taken, some have gone very close and numerous fish over 350kg have been caught.
The Broadbill fishery is still in its relative infancy in New Zealand, yet it has been made clear through commercial catches that we do have a good stock of them here. Swordfish can be caught year round off our entire coastline but the more popular spots are the canyons off the Northland coast and the Three Kings. These fish grow very large with the average size normally between 150-250kg.
The fast growing charter fleet is becoming far better equipped to get out to the deep water where these fish abound, and the only hindrance is usually the weather.
Every summer these powerful predators turn up in significant numbers off our upper North Island coastline. They are particularly common in the Bay of Plenty where they herd great schools of baitfish into ‘meatballs’ which makes for spectacular fishing. The fish average around 20-35kg but this tends to fluctuate from season to season. The bigger fish tend to show early on in December and January with 50-60kg fish not uncommon. These early fish are normally taken trolling, but as the season progresses and the ‘meatballing’ kicks off around February and March, anglers tend to switch to live baits and chunking techniques. Further north Yellowfin are caught in good numbers but usually as a by-catch when trolling for billfish.
Bluefin and Bigeye Tuna:
Both species are available year round off the entire coastline, but don’t get a lot of pressure due to their widespread nature and that they are normally well offshore. In the last few years anglers have discovered that bluefin have been showing consistently in good numbers in the summer off the southwest coast of the South island. They can be caught relatively close to shore due to the proximity of deep water and although these fish aren’t huge by bluefin standards, there have been plenty of fish caught over the 60kg mark. Commercial operators target bluefin and bigeye off the west coast of the South Island, East Cape, the Northland coast and the Three Kings.
A 198kg bluefin was caught in October this year by a recreational angler off the Kaipara harbour on the west coast of the North Island. Another catch worthy of noting was the landing of three huge bigeye on Bay of Islands charter boat Predator in 1997, following a quadruple strike. The fish were caught off North cape and weighed 121kg, 116kg, and 114kg respectively.
During the summer months these fish can be found in big schools all around the north eastern coastline and the entire length of the west coast. They are present year round but the summer is definitely the time when they are most abundant. Winter fish tend to be considerably larger, with fish of up to 20kg regularly taken from the Bay of Plenty.
This is another species that put New Zealand on the map as a major sport fishing destination. Kingies reach their maximum size in New Zealand with almost all world records coming from our waters. The all tackle world record stands at 52kg, a size of fish that is held equally in both 15 and 24kg line classes. Both fish came from the Bay of Plenty. These big powerful fish are relatively plentiful and easy to target, but landing them is another story altogether as they are virtually unstoppable and normally inhabit relatively foul areas.
The hot spots are the Three Kings islands, White island and the Ranfurly bank off East Cape. They are found consistently throughout the top half of the North Island in good numbers and as far south as the Marlborough sounds at the top of the South Island. They can be caught year round with winter fish tending to be less common but generally larger. Summer is the best time to target kingfish. They are usually found around rocky headlands, reefs and deepwater pinnacles, particularly those that are exposed to reasonable tidal current.
This is the bread-and-butter fish for the majority of New Zealanders. They are found consistently around the entire North Island but are less widespread down south. The average size fish are around 2-3kg, but the really big specimens get up to 15kg and can put up an impressive fight. The hot spots are Nelson and the Marlborough Sounds in the South Island and from Hawkes Bay right around the top to Taranaki in the North Island. Snapper will be found on almost every reef, harbour and channel, and are just as likely to be taken from the shore as from a boat.
Makos are common throughout New Zealand. They can be found year round and anywhere where there is reasonably warm water and a good food supply. They vary in size from the relatively small (10-30kg rats) to the exceptionally large (beasts of over 450kg) and are normally hooked as by-catch by anglers trolling for billfish in the summer months off the Northland coast and in the Bay of Plenty.
Most world records for these unique sharks are from New Zealand waters, including the all tackle record fish of 364kg from Tutukaka. They are an open ocean shark and can be found throughout New Zealand coastal waters where the temperature is between 12-20deg.C. They are usually taken as a by-catch while trolling for billfish, but can also be found around schools of baitfish holding close to a reef, offshore pinnacle or island.
The kahawai is widespread throughout New Zealand and will be found from estuaries to the outer islands. This sleek fish has an average size between 40-50cm long, which would weigh around the 2-3kg mark. Their tremendous fighting ability has earned them a reputation as a top light tackle game fish, especially on salt-water fly (SWF). They can be found year round and will be enticed by plenty of berley.
This is our other top light tackle sportfish. They are found consistently around the North Island and at the top of the South Island. They will be found throughout different water levels from shallow bays right through to great surface schools that are feeding on krill. They are more predominant in the summer and warm water environments. This top eating fish has an average size that will range from 2-4kg and they will put up a powerful fight on lighter gear. Another great target on SWF.
The New Zealand trout fishery is undoubtedly as good as it gets. Almost every freshwater system hosts both browns and rainbow trout that grow exceptionally large by world standards. The North Island has predominantly rainbows, with lake Taupo and the Rotorua lakes being the most popular places. The Fish and Game Council control the stock levels in these lakes superbly, ensuring anglers are satisfied with both the number and size of fish. A multitude of guides are available in both regions to ensure you don’t go home empty handed.
The Tongariro River is the major spawning river for lake Taupo. During the winter months of May through to September, rainbows averaging around the 5lb mark pour up this river in there thousands, making it a favourite destination for a lot of anglers.
For a backcountry experience close to Taupo, the central plateau offers some of the finest fly-fishing in the world. Gin clear waters and trophy trout attract anglers looking for the trout stalking experience of a lifetime.
Other hot spots are Lakes Aniwhenua and Waikarimoana where you can have a crack at the spawning rainbows in the winter or fish for both browns and rainbows cruising around the edges during the summer months. The East Cape and Hawkes bay have hundreds of excellent rivers and streams that can be fished all year round and host resident fish as well as sea run fish in the lower reaches.
In the South Island, the brown trout is the predominant species, with the majority of its rivers and lakes holding good numbers of them. The Southern Alps run the length of the island and feed a multitude of rivers of varying sizes. This provides numerous options and makes it a superb destination for those wanting to get into the backcountry and stalk trophy trout. The entire South Island is a Mecca for trout fishermen but the favoured areas are Nelson, the sparsely populated West Coast, Fiordland, Southland and Otago. All areas provide year round fishing but summer is the prime time when the conditions are settled and the insect life is abundant.
The South Island has the only sea run salmon fishery in the southern hemisphere. Quinnat salmon introduced from North America around the turn of the century successfully established in the major snow fed rivers, particularly in Canterbury. Salmon have a life cycle of three or four years, with larger fish returning to the river they were hatched from as four year olds. They spend their first year of life in the river system in which they were spawned increasing in size to around 30g before migrating to sea for the other two or three years of life prior to return. Size and numbers of fish returning vary markedly from year to year depending on such factors as river conditions in the first year of life and currents and feed in the ocean environment, but typically three year old fish are around 7kg and four year olds around 12Kg at return.
Rivers like the Waimakari, Rakaia and Rangitata have fish returning from November until April with the peak of the run around February. Fish are caught throughout the rivers from the sea around the mouth up to the headwaters, with best fishing just after a flood. Most commonly quinnat salmon are taken on metal lures like Z spinners, but they will take streamer type feather lures fished on a heavy fly rod.