The area I’m talking about takes in over 200km of open coast stretching from Wanganui southwards to Kapiti and Wellington, eastwards along Cook Strait and northwards along the Wairarapa’s east coast to Castlepoint. It also includes the Wellington and Porirua Harbours. There’s a lot you could say about such a vast area, but here are a few distinguishing features
For the best part of 10 years I’ve been surfcasting around the Wellington region, fishing when the conditions are good and even when they’re not.
The area I’m talking about takes in over 200km of open coast stretching from Wanganui southwards to Kapiti and Wellington, eastwards along Cook Strait and northwards along the Wairarapa’s east coast to Castlepoint. It also includes the Wellington and Porirua Harbours. There’s a lot you could say about such a vast area, but here are a few distinguishing features:
Cook Strait is a significant barrier, dividing west coast waters from the south and east – for fisherman this means a tidal difference of five hours, and warmer water on the west coast than on the south and east coasts. The meeting of warm and cold currents also supports a diverse fishery, with northern and southern species represented.
The region is windy (no, it’s not a myth) and this generally determines where you can fish. Strong onshore winds and associated swells can take any given coast out for days at a time. Wind and swell also affect water quality, and during rare, prolonged calm spells with clean water, it is noticeable how ‘quality’ scale species move within reach of the surfcaster.
Red cod and spiny dogfish make up a large proportion of the catch, and sometimes it is difficult to catch anything else. Learning to avoid these species whilst keeping bait in front of more desirable species is often a key to success.
The fishery is seasonal and it pays to have different plans for different times of the year. The warmer months, from November through to April, offer a more exciting mix of species. However, the cooler months can be productive for red cod and kahawai in particular.
The best fishing is on the open coasts, and the coastal geography being what it is, most of the serious fishing is surfcasting. There is a lack of deep water fishing platforms around the Wellington coast.
This is the northernmost part of the west coast, a continuous area of shallow, sandy beaches. Deep holes develop close to shore on some of the northern beaches, but belted waders/wetsuits and long-casting gear are good investments if you want to succeed on this coast. Overall, it is not an easy coast to fish, but the rewards are there for those who persevere, particularly if prepared to fish into the dark, when the fish move into the shallows.
Snapper are the main drawcard and are present in all seasons except winter. However, snapper are never a sure thing in the Wellington region; whenever I’m really after one, I’ll hit the coast around Wanganui. Genuine trophy snapper over twenty pounds (9.1kg) are taken every year, and bags of pan-sized fish are not uncommon when the conditions play ball. On this coast that means calm weather and clean water, which can be rare due to the dominant northwest winds. Autumn brings more settled weather and easterly winds, making it the best season to fish this coast. The Kapiti coastline is sheltered from southerly weather, but this effect reduces as you head north.
Other species encountered on this coast include kahawai, rays, spotty sharks, red cod and the occasional trevally or gurnard.
Starting at Pukerua Bay and stretching south to Cook Strait, this is a rocky, snaggy coastline with limited public access. The most accessible and popular fishing areas are at Pukerua Bay, Titahi Bay and Makara – locations where anglers practice a mix of beach and rock fishing. For those prepared to walk, excellent fishing can be had in the sandy bays south of Makara and on the few deep rock platforms scattered along the coast.
The signature fishes on this coast are trevally, snapper and kingfish, with big specimens available. However, it must be said that long hours are generally needed to strike pay dirt. Other species encountered include kahawai, rays, tarakihi, blue cod, red cod and conger eels. This coast is more sheltered from southerly weather than other parts of the region, and this, combined with various boat launching spots, mean it experiences significant recreational fishing pressure. However, fish are still present in moderate numbers, even if the glory days of big shore-caught snapper are a distant memory.
Some patience and skill are needed to successfully fish snaggy ground, while a good level of fitness is required to access some of the more remote spots. The easier fishing is available on the sandy bottoms at Makara and Titahi Bay.
This coast faces directly south onto Cook Strait, and stretches from Cape Terawhiti in the west to Cape Palliser in the east, broken up by the entrance to Wellington Harbour. The coast itself is made up of rocky snaggy territory, steep gravel and sand beaches, and a few rocky promontories. Most of the fishing is done from the beaches, and overall this is the most productive coast in the region.
The signature species is the blue moki, which grows to over 8kg and can sometimes be caught in numbers. Other commonly-caught species include kahawai, gurnard, tarakihi, spotty sharks, blue cod, red cod, spiny dogfish, skate and conger eel. Trevally are taken less frequently and snapper are rare.
Serious surfcasters devote a lot of time to this coast, particularly chasing blue moki near Wellington and spotty sharks in Palliser Bay.
Palliser Bay is an incredibly productive fishery, but probably around 75% of the fish caught here are red cod and spiny dogfish, both of which are regarded as nuisance species in Wellington. However, dedicated surfcasters who use shellfish baits and specialised techniques can avoid them, whilst still having success on species such as kahawai, spotty sharks and blue moki.
Big seven-gill and tope sharks are also taken, along with a handful of big snapper every year. The Lake Ferry outlet is a popular and productive spot for big kahawai.
A feature of this coast is the depth of the beaches and the proximity to the deep waters of Cook Strait. When conditions are good, these beaches do not demand a high level of skill and are a great place to introduce the novice surfcaster due to the depth of the water and the likelihood of success. However, this coast is very exposed to southerly winds and swells, which can make fishing impossible for all but the most skilful anglers, and sometimes rule out fishing altogether. Also, watch out for strong northwest winds, which blow frequently on this coast. Whilst these flatten out the seas and aid casting, they can also make fishing very uncomfortable. Consequently, checking the weather and sea forecasts before leaving home is essential.
This remote coast stretches from Cape Palliser in the south to Castlepoint in the north. Some rock fishing is practised at both spots, but it is the miles of sandy beaches in between that attract serious surfcasting attention.
A long way east of State Highway 2, this coast is accessible at just a few points, normally down remote gravel roads through forestry and farmland. The species mix is similar to the south coast, though there is a comparative lack of really good moki territory.
The beaches start as moderately deep in the south, but slowly give way to shallower surf beaches in the north. Popular spots are at Tora, Riversdale and Castlepoint, where holiday facilities are also available. The renowned sandstone reef at Castlepoint offers rock fishing into deep water for a range of species, including kingfish – one of only a handful of deep, open-coast fishing platforms in the region.
Fishing is less consistent on this coast than the south, but can be spectacular on its day. Big catches of gurnard and moki are possible, along with spotty, seven-gill and tope sharks, but fishing is generally better after a few days of northwest winds have flattened and cleaned the sea – something that’s more likely to occur from late spring through to autumn. This is also the most exposed coast in the region, with big swells coming from both south and east, and gale-force winds from the northwest. Easterly sea breezes can also be a further frustration for surfcasters in the more settled summer months, as these restrict casting and dirty the water. The exposed and remote nature of this area demands a full assessment of weather and sea conditions before leaving home.
Wellington Harbour is a deep water harbour with a range of excellent rock and wharf possies. The wharves are especially popular, notably those at Seatoun, Miramar and Petone, and are also great places to introduce kids to fishing.
Fishing is generally pretty slow going here, and fish sizes are small, but every year some notable snapper and kingfish are caught, whilst smaller specimens of gurnard, tarakihi and snapper can be taken in numbers by those in the know. However, red cod and kahawai are more common catches. Trevally and elephant fish are two of the more worthwhile target species also available, with trevally over 3kg and elephant fish over 5kg occasionally taken.
Serious surfcasters will generally bypass the harbour for more productive waters, but it does offer convenient, easy spots to fish. There is always somewhere to go when weather and sea conditions have ruled out the coasts, and fish are available all year round (though the dead of winter can be hard going). November through to April is prime time. Use small hooks (1/0 to 2/0) and light traces to overcome the fussy feeding habits of harbour fish and their generally smaller size.
Porirua Harbour is a tidal, very shallow, west coast harbour with a system of channels and sand banks. To be successful, surfcasters need to locate the deeper channels and fish low-light periods. Common catches include spotty sharks, kahawai, red cod and rays, with the occasional snapper, trevally and moki taken. Karehana Bay at the harbour entrance has a few reclamations and promontories offering access to deeper water, with snapper, trevally and even kingfish able to be targeted from them. Baitfish, including piper, enter the harbour in numbers during the warmer months, and this tends to turn the fishing on. Not surprisingly the winter months are not especially productive in this shallow harbour.
Overall Wellington is a great place for surfcasters to learn their trade; here are a few final thoughts to leave you with:
• There is a variety of terrain and species available in Wellington, and the skills developed are transferrable to other parts of the country. I often use surfcasting techniques I’ve refined in Wellington to successfully target snapper in more northern climes.
• Most Wellington surfcasters use edger rigs or long-cast rigs coupled with a breakout sinker – this makes sense, as a lot of the fishing is done on clean bottoms.
• Specialised (shellfish) baits are needed for some of the fussy species encountered – moki and spotty sharks in particular – and can help keep the red cod and spiny dogfish at bay.
• The weather is central to success, with wind and heavy seas limiting opportunities. However, when it all clears up, it’s never long until stories of good fishing start circulating.
• The harbour is a great place to learn, but can frustrate with lack of results at times. Developing the skills to fish the open coast beaches ensures more consistent results.
• Successful surfcasters are in synch with the seasons, and have well-rehearsed plans for what species to target at particular times of the year and where.
Good luck out there, and don’t believe people who say surfcasters don’t catch fish in Wellington – there’s plenty out there!
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