Tarakihi Tactics (1998)

A regular visitor to Whangamata, I often longed to fish Mayor Island which was off limits
for safety reasons in the family's small open runabout. Saving our pocket money a friend
and I one Christmas holiday booked ourselves onto a day trip aboard the charter
vessel Gay Karen, then owned and skippered by Graeme Hallen. 

When handing over our money the day before we asked Graeme what we would be fishing for "Most likely tarakihi" was his reply. He then suggested we went down to the surf beach at low tide
and pick a bucket or two of tuatuas and lightly steam them open. "If tarakihi are on the
bite you will need nothing else" he advised. Graeme also suggested ledger rigs were
best and to use small 1/0 and 2/0 hooks. Chugging out to Mayor the next morning we
struck up a conversation with a group of four Auckland anglers. They had brought huge
quantities of every bait imaginable which they intended attaching to running rigs via 6/0
hooks and bigger. It was the right tackle they assured us, looking with disdain at our jars
of freshly salted tuatuas, as this was how they caught truck loads of fish in the Manukau

We were a little in awe of their armoury and niggling doubts as to the value of the
skipper's advice formed in the back of our minds. Any negative thoughts were dispelled
soon after we started fishing. The Aucklanders caught the first fish, a reef specimen of
little food value which they displayed to us triumphantly with that "told you so" smirk
spread across their dials. But the 'he who laughs last' philosophy kicked in as we hauled
in doubleheaders and even some triple headers of tarakihi on our humble shellfish bait. 
We filled our sacks plus another one lent to us by the crew. The only spare receptacle
after that was the rubbish bin from the wheelhouse which was also soon brimming with
tarakihi. Returning to the wharf that night to a large audience Graeme had us string the
tarakihi up into a number of bundles which we carried triumphantly up to waiting families.
It was good advertising for the boat and one last chance to flaunt our new found skill in
the face of the not so smirking Auckland quartet. This took place around 1970 and while
I have never had tarakihi fishing quite like it since the lessons learned were valuable

Tarakihi are a schooling fish normally found over deeper water reefs. In winter they are
generally found in closer to shore in shallower water, heading out wide to the edge of the
continental shelf in late summer to spawn. In his book "The Kiwi Catch" Sam Mossman
says tarakihi often share the same habitat as hapuku and that a whole tarakihi as bait
can often put a 'puka or two on the deck. Alain Jorion, NZ Fishing New's Gisborne based
contributor, had adapted a hapuku rig which also doubles for tarakihi. Alain attaches via
a snap swivel a small homemade bait fly to his unbaited larger tuna circle hapuku hook.
Tarakihi or other smaller bottom dwellers are attracted to the bait fly and when hooked
up serve as a live bait for the target species...hapuku.

And if the ' puka does not come along you have the bonus of being able to eat the
"baitfish" should it be a tarakihi! Fishing at White Island over the years I have seen a
number of tarakihi come up from great depths (350 metres) thus Alain's rig adds another
dimension to this deep water bottom bouncing. There is little disputing the optimum bait
for tarakihi is fresh shellfish. Tuatuas, cockles and pipis are best and these can be
steamed lightly for ease of opening. I have found even if steamed until firm and then
placed in the resulting juice left in the bottom of the pot it does not reduce their attraction
as a bait. It has the added advantage in that these shellfish do not require tieing to the
hook with cotton or bait elastic. For those without the time to gather their own shellfish
they can be purchased live from the seafood bars in most major supermarkets or frozen
from a number of bait outlets. 

Tarakihi tend to have a gentle approach to baits. It is not the aggressive take of other species such as snapper but more akin to the White House worker asking to get a raise
out of the big boss ... they suck up to it. This is where choice of hooks plays an important
part. Recurves and standard longline hooks work well, the fish hooking themselves
eliminating the need for the angler to strike. A ledger rig incorporating two or three
dropper loops is ideal terminal tackle. Some anglers like to include lumo beads or tube
into their rigs butted up against the hooks. These can add further attraction to baits,
especially in deeper water where there are low light levels. To get the most effect out of
the lumo, leave the beads or tubes in the direct sunlight for a few minutes or charge then
up with a shot or two from your camera's flash if it is a dull day.

Because of tarakihi 's often soft, often barely detectable take, the new braided low
stretch lines are ideal. My favourite tarakihi rig is an Abu 7000 level wind spooled with
10kg Spiderwire and a Gorilla Stick. The braided line because of its lesser diameter
enables you to get to the bottom quicker and is less resistant to current allowing you to
fish with lighter terminal tackle. In more recent times the use of bait to target tarakihi I
has been superseded by sabikis or bait flies. Often it is the combination of both bait and
flies which works best.

My personal choice of sabiki is Black Magic's "Tarakihi Terrors" tied on 1/0 hooks and in
strings of three. To each hook add a thin sliver of bait, normally a piece cut from the belly
flap of a skipjack or a piece of squid. Slivers are more effective than chunks of bait. They
conform to the baitfish or shrimp shape the flies are trying to imitate while adding
"flavour" to the rig. Gary Kemsley in his book "New Ideas and Sneaky Tricks to Catch
More Fish" even suggests replacing a bait or a sabiki with a large glo bug more
commonly used to tempt trout.

While I have caught tarakihi longlining over open sand and mud bottoms, most anglers
target them over reefs. Divers come across tarakihi regularly in their search for crayfish
over foul ground. They are most likely to be found at the edge of the reef near sand
where they forage for the likes of crabs, shrimps and shellfish. They can also be caught
drift fishing over the scallop beds, especially if the heavier commercial dredges have
been ploughing up the bottom in recent times. I recall a trip to the Mercury group of
islands off Whitianga when we drift fished in Mercury Cove among the working scallop
boats and were surprised to find tarakihi were taking the baits along with school

It has been my observation when coming across tarakihi while diving they swim in
smaller schools patrolling over a wide area rather than sitting in a tight bunch in one
location to feed as snapper often will. Berley in a dispenser located in the immediate
vicinity of your hooks is likely to hold then in the area. There are two types of tarakihi
found around our coastline. They are the common tarakihi, found almost everywhere,
and the king tarakihi located mainly at the Three Kings Islands off the tip of the North
Island. These are a much larger specimen which has a less distinctive black saddle over
its shoulder and dark tips to its pectoral fins. They are aggressive feeders, grow to a
much larger size (see this month's cover shot!) and will attack a bait set for a hapuku on
large recurve hooks. 

As well as their name king and common tarakihi share something else ... they are both
prized table fish giving tasty succulent fillets. Smaller specimens (gutted, gilled and
scaled) are ideal for the barbecue wrapped up in tinfoil with a knob of butter, a sprinkle
of mixed herbs, salt, ground pepper and onion rings ... mmmm, delicious!

November 1998 - Grant Dixon
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited