You wouldn’t need many guesses to determine that the kahawai comes top of the list as many New Zealand angler’s favourite fish.
Kahawai are available all around the New Zealand shoreline. They can be found in rippling schools mixing with other species such as skipjack tuna, barracouta, trevally or mackerel. You may find them in a rivermouth, or even well up a freshwater river, out of reach of the saltwater they spend most of their lives in. They may be seen terrorising mullet in the upper reaches of a tidal harbour or out of sight of land over a sunken reef well off the coast.
The fact that they are so cosmopolitan means every angler has a chance to catch one, and exactly how you go about it is up to you, as kahawai will respond to most fishing techniques. Here are some fun techniques to target your next kahawai.
To be successful with this very exciting approach to kahawai fishing involves getting up close to the fish. This can be achieved by using a boat, enabling you to: chase surface schools; anchor up and berley in a likely looking spot; or drift over known kahawai haunts and fish deep for them. Casting from the boat to structure such as shipping buoys or markers will work, too. Or you could try fishing off the shore, especially the rocks, by attracting the fish to you with berley. Otherwise, you might find a spot where they swim close to shore, such as at a rivermouth or estuary channel edge.
One of the most unlikely encounters I have had with kahawai was in the Tutaekuri River in Hawkes Bay. Brent Simonsen and I were prospecting for trout just below Taradale, well above any tide water. The trout had been on the go in one pool a few days earlier, and I had caught several fly-fishing, so that is where we headed. The trout were taking small streamer flies that imitated the elvers, smelt and whitebait running up this river in the spring, so we rigged up with them this time, too.
Brent went in first. He cast to the far bank, slipped a little line to sink the fly, and held on as the line came tight. Down went his rod tip and a small trout jumped below us in the pool. We had seen the size of it, so were surprised when his rod tip went down again as the trout zipped across the pool. After that though, he skidded it in and grabbed it. At about 25cm it wasn’t a big trout. In fact, it wasn’t a trout at all – it was a kahawai! We looked at each other and laughed.
Over the next 30 minutes we caught several kahawai, all about the same size. This was well away from any saltwater, and over the years I have also caught kahawai in freshwater in the Tukituki and Ngaruroro Rivers in Hawkes Bay, so it shows you need to keep your options open.
Use your trout gear for kahawai on fly: a seven- or eight-weight outfit is perfect. Flies should be flashy and tied on stainless hooks. They needn’t be too big, either. Often, small flies will imitate the local baitfish better than big ones.
Try floating and sinking lines, dependant on the conditions you are fishing.
Again, you need to find your fish first. Kahawai love current and surf. Sand beaches fish well, and rivermouths are ideal spots to find them feeding. They will take all baits, from crayfish to kahawai fillets, but the best bait is pilchard.
Think about keeping your bait moving. This can be achieved by using a float on your leader above your pilchard, or by casting and slowly retrieving.
If you can berley up, then do so, as kahawai respond well to a mixture of fish oil and mashed-up pilchards. In the surf you might like to add a berley canister to your line above the bait so kahawai are attracted into the area. In the boat, if no schools are apparent, anchor up and start a berley trail. The kahawai will soon show up if in the vicinity. Then you can drift baits back in the current so that they look like the berley being used. Use no weight if possible for the best presentation.
I doubt if there is a better species for catching on lures than the kahawai. In other parts of the world, there are predatory fish that fill the same niche as the kahawai: striped bass and bluefish in the states, trevally in the tropics, and salmon in colder waters. They are all the same when it comes to lures: they love them!
Although kahawai will take almost anything that moves at times, the circumstances largely determine which lures should be more effective. For example, if at a rivermouth or on a surf beach where the casting distances may be critical, you will need a heavier lure to reach the fish. Hex wobblers and Grim Reapers are the go here; being aerodynamic they cast well, so get out a long way.
Off the rocks, you can do well with soft-baits, poppers and diving hard-bodied minnows. All are great fun to use and offer a great visual fishing experience – especially when the kahawai come right in to your feet to eat them!
Treat your kahawai with respect. If you don’t believe they are our greatest sportfish for their size, then you need more experience. Maybe you have spent too much time chasing ‘the big stuff’. Kahawai show themselves off best on very light tackle, with one and two-kilo line the way to go. Catch one over line weight before you make any decisions about them – you’re bound to be impressed.
This article is reproduced with express permission of
by Gary Kemsley - 2011
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited
Originally published in New Zealand Fishing News