Keen kayak angler, Holly Stuart, describes her experiences fishing off the Taranaki coast...
How on earth does a land-locked lass from West Yorkshire – home of pubs, copious curry houses and a questionably-high crime rate – find herself sitting on a lump of floating plastic off the rugged Taranaki coast?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always had a love for the sea. I was that kid on holiday; goggles on, bottom riding high in the air, completely enamoured with all the colourful fish. Mum and Dad would often joke that I’d come home with a white front and a brown back because I’d spent basically the entire week with my face in the water.
I can’t remember what specifically attracted me to kayak fishing in the first place, but ever since I encountered it, I knew wanted to do it. And I wanted to do it well.
One day I rang my partner to tell him I’d impulse-purchased a sea fishing kayak. “We’re picking it up after work in your ute,” I told him excitedly. This wasn’t out of character for me; I’ve always been spontaneous, and my list of weird and wonderful hobbies is long. He agreed.
Later that day, I found myself staring at this big hunk of yellow plastic in the back garden, and I felt absolutely thrilled. Holly The Kayak Fisher had come to town!
Now, let me be clear on one thing: I have never been a fisherman. Nobody in my family has ever been fishing before, none of my friends have ever been fishing, and I didn’t really know anyone that was into fishing, let alone kayak fishing. I caught my first fish when I was 23 – my ex dragged me out, hungover, onto his uncle’s fishing boat off Whitby to catch cod. Not blue cod but worm-ridden North Sea cod (if you’ve never had it, then you’re not really missing out). I was green in the face, freezing cold, and getting barked at for tangling my line. I didn’t have a bloody clue what I was doing. Not really the inaugural fishing story that would make you desperate to get back out on the water!
But regardless of all that, I somehow still had this fire in my belly to go out to sea and catch myself dinner. Plus, if you’ve ever met someone from Yorkshire, you’ll know we’re notoriously tight, and I could see dollar signs thinking of all the cash I could save by filling the freezer with fish.
The first time I walked into a fishing tackle shop to kit out my new vessel, thinking I was this badass new kayak fisher, the magnitude of what I was embarking on soon became clear. The assistant, bless him, was trying to be helpful, but I was just totally overwhelmed and baffled by what he was asking. Was I drifting or anchoring? Using a drogue? What was I targeting? Did I use soft-baits, jigs, bait, or micro-jigs? He might as well have been speaking French – I had no idea what he was on about. I just wanted to catch a fish!
After smiling and nodding in what I hoped were the right places, I scurried on home and onto YouTube to try and decode some of what I had just been asked. After a few hours or so of watching Matt Watson, Rob Fort, Greg Potter, and some of my other favourite online fishos, I soon realised this was something I wouldn’t learn overnight.
My first few ventures out to sea were not successful. My knots weren’t right, I didn’t have an anchor, none of my gear was tied down, and I fell out epically coming in and lost some gear (I’ve since learned this is called a ‘garage sale’ in yak-fisho lingo). An absolute nightmare. I stooped home feeling defeated. How was I ever going to get this right? I couldn’t catch a fish, and worse still, I was getting hurt and losing gear in the meantime. I was broken and felt like giving up.
A few months later, I gave it another go. But, once again, had no luck. I paddled back in, feeling down again, when I saw another kayaker approaching me. It just so happened to be the president of the local Taranaki Kayak Fishing Club, Weston Newman, coming out to see how I’d got on. Embarrassed, I explained that I hadn’t caught anything and was heading back in. He said, “Nah, there’s definitely fish around here. Let’s give it another shot.” So back out we went. He got me anchored up to him, and as he coached me through it, the fish started to come on board. I couldn’t believe it – snapper! Not big ones, but plenty big enough for dinner. I was stoked! Weston told me all about the fishing club, and that weekend I signed up.
I couldn’t believe there were all these great people around the community with an absolute goldmine of kayak fishing knowledge who were so willing to help me. I was shown knots, given advice on how to set up my kayak, and given fishing spots – you name it. Very soon, I was on my way.
It’s not about catching trophies for me (although I’m hoping that will come soon with some more practice). Instead, it’s about getting out to sea, coming home with a feed, and the thrill of knowing that I’ve achieved it all myself. I’ve got the bug!
The West Coast here in Taranaki looks after itself; the seas are notoriously lumpy, and the westerly winds are sure to keep you on your toes, so when a weather window does present itself, the fish are usually there waiting.
After 18 months of solo yak fishing, I can now say that I feel confident out on the water. I’ve progressed from ‘all the gear and no idea’ to ‘all the gear and a pretty good idea’. My goals now are to keep getting better and start crossing off some more exciting species. I’ve had a few encounters so far, the most exciting being a thresher shark that gave quite a performance, leaping out of the water around my kayak. I’d love to encounter some more wildlife, too, maybe spot a whale or some dolphins. I’ve already ticked off seals and blue penguins so far!
This season will also include a few more competitions for me; the Taranaki Classic in March is the biggest, where kayak fishers from all corners of New Zealand flock to the area for a two-day comp. As much as it’s exciting to try and win a few prizes, the comps are a fantastic way to meet like-minded fishos, share stories, and learn more tricks of the trade.
Whatever this season brings, it’ll surely be an adventure. Just me and the sea, engaged in the most intimate form of fishing there is.
February 2023 - Holly Stuart
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
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