As a kid, I would cycle with my fishing buddies for miles to reach the local river mouth, where we could fish for kahawai. And when we made an excursion to wharves at Napier Port (many years ago, you used to be allowed to fish there), kahawai were considered ‘big game’ compared to the yelloweyed mullet (‘herrings/sprats’) and other small fish we mostly caught.
When I first moved to Auckland and started fishing the Hauraki Gulf about 35 years ago, kahawai were a welcome catch initially. After all, they fight like crazy and jump well.
Then, as I got the snapper fishing sussed, kahawai could sometimes be a bit of a pain, snatching baits before they could get down to the more desirable reds. This was especially the case in summer and early autumn, when huge schools of big adult kahawai moved into the region’s inner areas to feed on anchovies and pilchards, putting on condition before spawning.
Then came the bad days, when purse-seiners moved in and hoed into the big surface schools in 1988, nearly completely destroying the Hauraki Gulf’s kahawai stock.
The damage was done before the public caught on to what was happening, and the commercial boats withdrew from the gulf in the face of the backlash. Too late – the kahawai were gone, scooped up for Australian cray bait and cat food.
It was a full 20 years (the autumn of 2008 to be exact) before we started to once again see surface schools of big adult fish regularly in the inner Hauraki Gulf.
It is said that ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and this was certainly true here: it was like being reunited with old friends after a gap of many years – and fishermen rejoiced. A species that had once been taken for granted suddenly enjoyed a new status: anglers were excited about catching them again. And these were big fish, with hardly a one under 2kg.
Like any exciting, but solidly-based new romance, the initial excitement eventually wore off, but it matured into a stable relationship – at least for those of us who remember the great kahawai drought of 1998-2008.
These days I am mostly happy to catch a kahawai when the opportunity presents itself, approaching it in a way that will give me maximum fun. To this end, I usually carry a light-actioned 3kg spin rig and a box of small lures in my boat in anticipation of encountering a school.
The light-ish tackle allows a great fight, but also provides a measure of control, so as not to intrude on my mates’ fishing time too much, and enabling us to get the fish in for release (if intending to do so) before it is too exhausted. Kahawai are robust fish and a good candidate for release – I have caught a number over the years that had recovered from fairly severe shark maulings.
Although kahawai will take many types of lures (including most soft-baits), my light-tackle spin lure box contains mostly three lure styles: metal slug/jigs, baby stick-baits and mini poppers. The metals are very effective, as they imitate small baitfish well and are heavy enough to cast far and fast. The ability to retrieve these lures at high speed can be important too, so consider the reel’s gear ratio and spool diameter if intending to use it for this purpose.
Baby stick-baits are cute to look at and interesting to fish around washes and reefs, also being acceptable to other species such as snapper and trevally.
But probably the most fun lure to use is a baby popper. Plipping them (perhaps we should call mini-poppers ‘plippers’?) across the surface and having them smashed in an explosive take is exciting fishing – like kingie or GT fishing in miniature.
Another great way to catch kahawai is with a fly rod. I used to do lots of this at one time, and it’s something I intend getting back into. After all, you have to save a few things for later on that you look forward to.
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