How to catch Tarakihi

  • HTC - Tarakihi

Like most fishermen, I enjoy trying out all the new techniques that have become popular in recent years such as soft-baiting, stick-baiting and mechanical jigging. Having so many exciting options on offer can make it easy to forget the basics: a simple two-hook flasher rig with a piece of bait. However, this simple approach has never stopped working and I still enjoy using it, especially when targeting tarakihi.

Indeed, as a Wellington charter operator I find it hard to look past the humble tarakihi. They are often readily available, tasty to eat, great fun to catch all year round, and are what I call a ‘get outta jail fish’ – when all else fails, it’s off to the tarakihi grounds we go!

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Tarakihi are abundant around most of New Zealand, on both foul and soft bottoms, and there are two different species: king tarakihi and the more prolific common tarakihi. King tarakihi are found in deeper water, mostly around the larger offshore reefs such as the Three Kings and Ranfurly Banks, but here I will explain how I fish for the more common tarakihi, which we get down here in Wellington and can be caught in depths anywhere from 120 metres plus.

Use your sounder

If the tides aren’t too strong, you can enjoy great success drifting in 70-120m of water, especially if there is some low-lying broken foul in the area. You will catch larger fish the deeper you go, including fish over 2kg.

However, the main way I like to fish for them is by anchoring up in 20-70m of water on the side or edges of foul ground. I usually choose my depth according to how fast the tide is running: the smaller the tide, the deeper I go.

Using your sounder, take some time to have a good look around the area you’ve chosen to fish, as they are a schooling fish and can be very localised. Look for sign on the bottom and up into midwater; tarakihi usually show up as quite a solid mark. On my sounder they show up as blue and red – and don’t forget they can be up off the bottom by as much as 15m sometimes.

When I was trout guiding down south I got to learn where fish sit in the current. Fish in general are quite lazy, so if you think of a reef in the ocean as a rock in the river, the fish will often sit behind/down-current in the lee, or sometimes directly in front of the rock, letting the food come to them. It’s a good starting point for all of my fishing efforts, and more often than not I will find fish at the tail end or in front of a rock or reef.

Once you have located a likely-looking group of suspects, try to position the boat on top of them (I stress ‘the boat’ not the anchor). Using the tracking lines on your GPS, or by placing a waypoint over where you want to be, figure out how fast and what direction you are drifting with the wind and tide. Drop your anchor up ahead of the drift line as far as you think necessary.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a bit further up than you want to be, as you can always let some more rope out to drop the boat back into just the right position. Never be scared to reposition the boat if you feel you haven’t hit it just right: I quite often re-set two or three times until I’m happy with my position.

With the boat correctly located, you’re halfway there. The next thing to do – and quite possibly the most important thing – is to berley. I’ll send the berley down to the bottom and pull it up roughly 10 per cent of the depth: if I’m in 30m I’ll pull it up 3m off the bottom; in 50m I’ll pull it up 5m and so on.

Now it’s time to get the gear out. I’ve taken to using a reel filled with 10-15kg braid and matched to a medium-taper rod (something with a softer tip, as tarakihi quite often give little bites and even swim upwards, giving you a slack-line bite. Braid and a softer rod help you to feel what is going on down there.


Use a dropper/ledger type rig with two or three small, strong recurved hooks – 2/0 to 3/0 seems to do the trick, as tarakihi have small mouths for their size.

I suggest incorporating a strong 50-80lb trace; as you are normally fishing on or around a reef, there is always a chance of something else eating your bait, including kingfish, warehou or trevally. You want to be able to handle the unexpected if you’re lucky enough to have something larger jump on.

Using flash, or ‘bling’ as I like to call it, can work very well, and pink seems to be a consistent colour for me. As for sinkers, use a heavy enough weight to get the baits down to the bottom and then combat the tide so not too much angle occurs on your line.

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Try to place your hooks close to the berley source because the fish will congregate around it. This means winding up off the bottom a few turns to match the berley pot height; it also gets you away from some of the pesky reef fish that like to snap up your baits when they’re hard on the bottom (like our little friends the baby blue cod).

I believe that all well-known baits can be effective for tarakihi, but my favourites are squid, skippy and fresh kahawai. As long as it’s not two-week-old pink, stinky squid, it should do the trick.
Bait size is far more important than the type of fish/shellfish it is. Use small baits – and I mean small: a bait the size of your thumbnail will out-fish a bait the size of your whole thumb any day.

Just hook the bait through one end. This does two things: it allows the bait more movement in the water and usually prevents the bait from clogging up the hook’s gape.
If using recurved hooks, remember not to strike; just a gentle lift and wind is enough to set the hook home.

Like most fish, morning and evening are the prime times for tarakihi, but I’ve found they definitely feed the best just before and after slack water. I’ll try and anchor up a good hour or more before the turn of the tide – and I’m happy to fish through slack water, as this is the most likely time to catch something different, such as a john dory or even a hapuku.

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