Andy Macleod takes advantage of promising conditions and reaps the rewards.
Recently I wrote about spring fishing in east coast locations and some of the natural dynamics at play. Since then, I’ve been out and experienced superb fishing – exactly what I wrote about and more.
So, this month I’d like to relate what happened, going into a little bit more detail about the natural chain reactions triggered by seasonal weather changes and how exciting it can be for surfcasters.
In early November, the lower North Island experienced a week of superb weather – fine and sunny, with calm days interspersed by a few days of strong nor’westers. This produced flat-calm and warming seas.
Stuck at work from Monday to Friday, I could only watch, aching to get out, and by Saturday I was fair chomping at the bit. Fortunately, the weather held, if only just, with strong nor’westers taking hold as the anticyclone started pushing off to the east.
My chosen location was the Wairarapa coast, and on arrival it was millpond flat – and clearly had been for a few days. In my experience, the fishing can go one of two ways in these conditions: slow fishing (probably because the fish have moved in days earlier and fed up large) or fast and furious. There were no clues as to which scenario it might be, with schooling fish not obvious and no birds working. It would take a bait or two cast into the tide to work this one out.
The strong offshore wind saw me casting high and getting good distance on my first cast. With my second rod, I cast shorter. Five or so minutes went by before rod number one bent over to the weight of a moderate-sized but vigorous fish. A solid kahawai revealed itself, leaping out around 50m offshore. As I unhooked it and returned it to the sea, it spewed out a mouthful of small baitfish. Perhaps the fish were in and flat seas were going to work for me today?
It soon became obvious that the baitfish and kahawai were present in force, with my left-hand rod responding to hard-biting, hard-fighting kahawai every ten minutes or so. My right-hand rod continued to be steadfastly cast very short with cray bait for a passing moki, but even that was found by kahawai hunting in the very shallow water. It was fun, active fishing – but was there anything else out there?
It turned out there was, but it took another kahawai to prove it. My next one jumped around even more than usual, and upon sliding it up the beach I quickly saw why. Sharks had moved in to make the most of the food available (probably tope or sevengills in this part of the world), resulting in this kahawai coming in with the top half of its tail neatly chomped off. Upon casting out again, my bait was promptly snipped off halfway up the trace.
Though tempted to cast out a big bait to snag the perpetrator, I persevered with my approach, and was immediately rewarded with a fat gurnard. For the next hour, gurnard and kahawai went blow for blow on my left-hand rod, collecting five of each. My right-hand rod stayed mostly motionless, but once a gurnard found my cray bait – proof that they, too, were hunting the shallows.
By now the wind had really picked up and assumed a more westerly orientation, reducing my casting distance, shunting my casts sideways along the shoreline rather than assisting them further out to sea. Some uncomfortable gusts started blasting through, and the sand flew from time to time. It was hard to complain though, with the fishing so hot.
As the sun started to dip, the bite slowed somewhat, before the first signs of night showed, with spiny dogfish and carpet sharks moving in to feed. Though not yet in numbers to properly frustrate the fishing, it was obvious the best of the fishing was behind me. So I started to pack up, whilst leaving both rods out for some potential late pickings.
Sure enough, just as I was throwing my pack into the boot of the truck, I heard the unmistakable sound of a howling ratchet. Running back down the beach, I was in time to set the hook on a small spotty shark – even at 2–3kg these things go ballistic on their first run, and this one was no different.
The cray bait I’d caught it on looked a little the worse for wear, but with my packing efforts well advanced, I decided to cast it straight back out again, rather than rebait.
Now fully packed and ready for the drive home, apart from my two rods still sitting at the waterline, full darkness was only an hour away. But my perseverance was rewarded when my left-hand rod buckled over for another gurnard – and then my right for a medium-sized moki, my first of the season.
Knowing that darkness might produce a few more moki, but an awful lot of sharks too, I complied with my better half’s instructions to be home by 9.30pm with fish and chips for dinner!
Overall it had been a great afternoon/ early evening of fishing, demonstrating nature’s spring patterns on southern and eastern coast surf beaches.
So, what brought it about? Easy. A week of warm, dry weather (including strong offshore nor’westers) had calmed and warmed the water, predictably attracting baitfish into the shallow bays (a couple of times I saw terns working across the bay). These were followed in by kahawai, which in turn attracted predatory sharks. The very calm water allowed fish to access extremely shallow water that was usually too turbulent for them (and therefore a waste of time to target with a bait). Moki and kahawai are often bold enough to move into such water, but the surprise of the day was taking two gurnard right on the shore, in water around a metre deep. Experiencing all of this, as well as witnessing things such as kahawai leaping to avoid sharks, was an applied lesson in nature’s plan. And it didn’t end there…
I’ve written previously about the bottom feeding habits of gurnard, particularly their preference for small paddle crabs and flatfish. The next morning, I filleted the gurnard with my four-year-old boy, Luke. I split the gut cavity of these fish to show him what they’d been eating, and amongst the scraps of baitfish they’d obviously scavenged from underneath the feeding kahawai, were the remains of small flounder and freshly-scoffed paddle crabs the size of fifty-cent pieces. They’d had a real smorgasbord of dinner options on the day. The only menu option they shouldn’t have chosen were my cray and trevally baits!
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