Fiordland – a national treasure
I enjoy every fishing experience, whether it is a quick trip to one of my home-town spots or a massive adventure to new and uncharted territory.
Each adventure is different. Sometimes fantastic fishing action or amazing scenery can make a great trip, while others are truly unique, making them unforgettable.
Recently I was fortunate enough to travel to Preservation Inlet, the southern-most fiord in the group that makes up Fiordland, situated in the southwest corner of the South Island.
To say this area is remote would be a bit of an understatement. Access is either by helicopter, when the weather permits, and takes around 20 minutes from Tuatapere, or is a six-hour journey by sea from Riverton. It is also possible to hike in, with the trip taking about five days or so.
The base for the trip was Preservation Lodge (or Kisbee Lodge, as it is known to the locals) and we were going to fish onboard MV Jewel, a beautiful charter boat around 18 metres long, skippered by Ian Bain.
The area is steeped in rich history that the lodge’s hosts are eager to share. Apparently the early Maori settled here, and battles were won and lost (it is still possible to visit caves that were used as shelter and to prepare food). Then, following the whalers and sealers, European settlers also tried to establish in this remote part of the country; at one stage over 1000 people inhabited two small communities in Preservation Inlet. While these settlers were hard working and innovative, the area’s remoteness was against them, and even a gold rush and the discovery of other precious metals failed to allow long-term settlement. The harsh environment was simply too hard to settle, despite an abundance of food and commodities. Consequently, the native bush has now all but reclaimed most signs of habitation, apart from a few relics in the bush that remind us of the pioneer spirit on which our country is founded.
However, this same remoteness makes the area almost pristine in every way. There is some commercial activity, with crayfish and paua being the main targets, but due to sensible quotas and good self management by skippers, it appears the right balance has been achieved. In fact, there was actually more activity in Preservation Inlet than in decades past. Here, the clear, cold waters hold a vast array of sea life, including plenty of fish.
If you just want to catch a feed of large blue cod, it’s easy, as a baited dropper rig will secure bite after bite off most points and along the rocky shoreline. However, if you want more of a challenge, it is entertaining to catch blue cod using lighter tackle and soft-plastic lures in shallow water. Drifting around the rocky shoreline and casting over any structure will get strikes from cod in the 40-50cm size range.
Now, many North Island anglers belittle the South Island for only having blue cod as a species worth catching, but with a bit of targeting you can actually catch many other fish, too. For example, trumpeter are quite common and they will take both baits and soft-plastic lures; these fish can reach 15kg and fight very well. Then there are tarakihi, another very tasty fish found in good numbers here. The best approach is to fish over the sand just off any structure with small flasher rigs baited with squid or shellfish. Thirdly, the groper or hapuku – the ‘glamour fish’ – which are regularly caught in shallow water inside the fiords. No need to drop down hundreds of metres here. The nice thing about catching groper in shallow water is that they fight very well and are less likely to embolise, making it possible to release fish if you want to. At other times, when the weather permits, great fishing can be had on the foul a few kilometres off the coast. These areas can turn up some real beauties, with groper over 25kg not uncommon.
One other very common fish that’s rated highly as a sport and table fish is the blue moki. While we did not manage to catch one on a rod during the trip, the numbers reported by divers led us to believe that, with the right approach and tackle, you could target them successfully.
Basic tackle is all you really need for fishing Fiordland. I suggest one medium to heavy outfit – 15kg capabilities say, loaded with 24kg braid – along with a lighter fixed-spool jig set filled with 8kg braid.
Terminal tackle should include plenty of heavy trace or cod rigs with swivels, as blue cod spin violently once hooked, which is really hard on terminal gear and can create awful tangles if your rig does not have swivels or the trace is not stiff enough. It pays to use circle hooks in the 7/0-plus range to make releasing unwanted fish easy, as blue cod tend to inhale baits. Slow curly-tail soft-plastic lures and single-hooked metal jigs also work on the blue cod, trumpeter and groper.
Other gear essential for a trip to Fiordland includes good outdoor wear; you will need thermals, fleece, rainwear, overalls and sea boots. Wearing this gear is for safety as well as comfort. And it must be said that although they were not much of a problem during my visit, sandflies can be a real nuisance, so a good insect repellent is a must.
If you ever tire of the endless supply of fish and stunning scenery, I would thoroughly recommend going for a snorkel or a dive in Fiordland. This will require a wetsuit with a hood, booties and gloves, as the water temperature is fairly brisk. Fiordland is one place where even the rawest novice should be able to get a crayfish or feed of paua or scallops from the sea. And if that’s not your thing, just break open a couple of kina and watch the amazing numbers of fish that come in for a feed.
Birdlife is also prolific, with sea birds such as mollymawks, albatrosses and cape pigeons following the boat around looking for a feed, while land birds such as tui, bellbird and the South Island robin are quite common around the lodge.
Preservation Inlet is a true outdoor person’s Mecca, offering plenty of tramping, fishing, diving, exploring and world-class deer hunting. And while there are some reserves and special fisheries management in place, the nice thing is that it has not been over-governed, leaving the area in a state that it should be: available to all, whether hunter, fisherman, diver or naturalist. This area is truly a national treasure that needs to be on every Kiwi’s must-see list.
This article is reproduced with permission of
New Zealand Fishing News
2009 - by John Murphy
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited