Auckland has always had a large population of freshwater fly-fishers.
Now, a growing group of dedicated saltwater fly-fishers have started emerging. Trout anglers are taking their freshwater gear into the salt, and newbies who have never caught a trout are experiencing fly-fishing for the first time. You could say an Auckland saltwater fly-fishing revolution is dawning.
What I like about this revolution is that it is all very much home-based. People are hoofing it, wading, and sometimes standing in mud up to their knees, all in order to explore a new fishery and cast flies in an environment that hasn’t seen many flies cast before.
The reason why is easy to see when you look around, as Auckland is blessed with a huge amount of shallow-water marine habitat that contains good-sized fish. There are weed edges and shell banks from Whangaparoa to Maraetai that could be a saltwater fly-fisher’s dream, but it is the vast expanse of the Waitemata Harbour west of the Auckland Harbour Bridge that is attracting the most interest and fishing activity. It takes nothing more than a cursory glance at Google Earth to show the potential of the place. This area is awash with mudflats, sandflats, channels, gutters and holes – all covered in water that looks kind of brackish, but actually has only a bare minimum of freshwater entering into the system.
Because of these strong salinities and a powerful tidal flush that passes under the harbour bridge each day, this upper-harbour zone is blessed with good quality water and fly-fishing that can only be classed as exceptional. There can’t be too many places in the world where you can walk out from a car park in a major city and catch 45-centimetre snapper in a one-metre-deep oyster-lined hole – on fly!
With fish like these on tap, word has got out, and the local ‘clubrooms’ at saltwater flyflingers on the fishing.net.nz site has been abuzz with stories of captures and near-misses day after day. Recently a couple of the ‘club members’ caught kingfish in the 65cm to 75cm bracket on fly, off the shore, on 8 and 9-weight rods. These are quite astounding captures, especially when you look at all the oysters about. However, patches of snag-free water do exist, and the quantity of baitfish in the area ensures that kingfish are regular summertime visitors.
This is a very rich area when the water is warm, and an abundance of rays and sharks is also evident. Small bronze whalers smashing into schools of mullet are not an uncommon sight, and a constant repetition of explosions by large jumping mullet, as well as predatory explosions by marauding kahawai and snapper in and around the kelp, make sure that all fly-fishers stay on their toes. It is an exciting fishery and one that is peculiarly suited to fly fishing more than any other type of angling.
The reason for this is the extreme shallowness of the water, the long walks across mud and oysters that some locations are blessed with, and the spread-out nature of the fish, ensuring that searching casts over a wide area are the ones that bring home the bacon. This is not a spot for surfcasters to throw a bait out and put the rod in the surf-spike, and it is not a great spot for soft-baiting either. Soft-baiting is at its best where fish can take as the lure drops. In sixty centimetres of water, that can be a little hard to achieve.
No, this is a location made for fly-fishers and a great introductory area for the legions of trout-fishing fly anglers who still haven’t thrown a fly in the salt.
Such is the ease of getting to many of the prime locations (provided you are willing to walk over sand, mud and oysters) that many people are considering a fly-fishing stop-over on Auckland-based business trips. Somehow it seems a little absurd, but we all snatch a couple of hours at Taupo if passing through, so why not Auckland?
At the end of the day, it is the existence of this good saltwater fishery mere minutes away from the homes of many hundreds of fly anglers that will really drive the expansion of this ‘saltwater fly-fishing dawn’ in Auckland. Like any other sport, it is hard to get good at fly-fishing without a really good field on which to practice. It needs to be nice and easy to get to and accessible enough for quick two-hour practice sessions. In the Upper Waitemata Harbour area of Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, you get this in spades.
Not only that, with the growing number of fly fishers appearing, you get company and camaraderie as well! It’s great to be able to saltwater fly-fish with others and compare notes. Such is the spread-out nature of the water and the fact that fish come and go with the tide, you can rest assured that there are plenty of fish to go round. Prime spots do exist, like everywhere, but the expansive nature of sand banks, shell banks and oyster reefs, means there is room for everyone.
This place is like a large saltwater fly-fishing lake set in the very centre of Auckland. I’m fairly jealous that I don’t have something similar in my own backyard. Future work trips to Auckland will be fully assessed for free fishing time, and I’ll be skiving off for a quick flick at every available opportunity. See you there!
This article is reproduced with express permission of
NZ Fishing News
written by Craig Worthington - 2012
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited
Originally published in New Zealand Fishing News