In my view, with the possible exception of trevally, moki pose the greatest challenge of the core surf species caught from New Zealand’s beaches. For this reason I still feel a real sense of achievement every time I slide a beautiful blue-flanked moki through the wash and up the beach, and they really do look magnificent fresh out of the water.
So exactly what challenges do they pose? Firstly, they can be hard to find and are incredibly localised in their habits on the beach. Sometimes they’re simply not present, and for no discernible reason. Other days your fishing buddy 25 metres to your left or right can be catching them hand over fist, whilst your rods stand motionless. Secondly, they can be very fussy biters and are at least the equal of snapper when it comes to spitting the hook. Add these things together and you have a stiff challenge on your hands. Consequently, like most moki fishermen, I have experienced some barren runs that make me question proven techniques and spots at times.
I’ve written before about the fundamentals of catching moki – fishing low light periods, using shellfish bait etc. – but there are some more advanced tips that can sway the odds further in your favour.
A lot of people, even some experienced surfcasters, view surfcasting as a passive form of fishing: you can cast out, place your rod in a beach spike and sit down with a beer or wander off down the beach. This casual type of fishing is very pleasant, but doesn’t cut the mustard when chasing moki. Nothing less than full attention to your rods and being within a few short steps will do. Giving biting moki too much time before striking will result in them spitting the hook or finding the closest patch of rock or weed.
I always fish two rods for moki and set them up within a few metres of each other. I then place myself between five to 10 metres away, also ensuring I have a good view of my rod’s profiles so I know exactly what’s going on. Sometimes you will find yourself fishing in locations where you cannot fish right next to your rods, or where you may have to leave your rods occasionally to help a mate fishing down the beach, or perhaps return to your vehicle to replenish your bait supply. In these circumstances you may like to try using re-curve or ‘circle’ hooks, as these seem to have a better hook-up rate in circumstances where the angler can’t always get to the rod quickly. However, there is no substitute for staying close to your rods and being alert to every bite.
The importance of the strike
Closely allied to being close to your rods is striking at the fish quickly and correctly. Moki are very shy biters and have an uncanny ability to spit the hook at the merest hint that something isn’t right. Sometimes they will suck at the bait very gently before inhaling it, and if you watch your rod tips closely you will come to recognise this very subtle signal. When this happens, position yourself right next to the rod in question and prepare to strike. Generally moki will run away with the bait, sometimes producing dramatic ‘benders’, and this is the time to strike. After this initial run, moki generally turn back to shore, taking the pressure off the line and often spitting the hook at this point.
Everything happens very quickly, so if you get to your rod late and there is slack in the line, wind it up very quickly and strike when you feel the weight of the fish. Many experienced moki fishermen run backwards up the beach whilst winding in line to take up the slack line even quicker.
Even once you have wound up the slack and made contact with your fish, it is important to maintain a direct, tight line. Moki zig-zag around in the surf and are very mobile in shallow water. This means bursts in all directions, which often results in sudden slack line. For this reason it is very important not to anchor yourself to a single spot; instead, follow the fish up and down the beach, all the while maintaining a tight line so the fish cannot spit that hook!
As I’ve already mentioned, moki can be very localised feeders – fishing amongst a group of anglers demonstrates this time and again. With this in mind, I very rarely go moki fishing with the thought that I will pick one spot on the beach and fish it the whole time; it pays to stay mobile and work your way along the beach if not having any success. Furthermore, ‘the spot’ on the beach changes from one day to the next.
I’ve learned these lessons the hard way. I remember a few years back doing an overnighter at a local beach and having good success on moki – three nice fish in the evening and another three the following morning. So with a competition looming the following weekend, I was determined to return to exactly the same spot on the same beach, believing I would get the same results.
When the competition rolled around, I was rapt to see that the conditions were identical to the previous weekend and my confidence grew even further. I fished the spot all Saturday afternoon, evening, through the night and into Sunday morning without a single moki to my name. During the same comp, my old fishing buddy Toby Wilkes bounced around a few different spots in an effort to find the fish. When we reconvened at the truck to begin our drive to the weigh-in, he produced two big moki from his catch bag. Toby’s smarts that weekend were only matched by my stubborn desire to fish the same spot for the whole competition.
It goes without saying that having located ‘the spot’ on the beach, you should fish it hard. The key to maximising your opportunities is to locate the zone the moki are feeding in, and place your baits here time and again with accurate casts.
‘Hitting the zone’ can lead to spectacular results. I had a successful moki session back in November. Upon locating where the moki were feeding, I put a lot of effort into landing my sinker in the same spot over and again. Two of the moki I caught that day struck the bait before I even had time to get the rod in the beach spike!
I’ve written previously about minimising non-fishing time by making fast transitions between casts. The key to this is having pre-baited, detachable rigs. With these it is a simple case of winding in the old rig, clipping it off, replacing it with a new one and recasting. Hey presto – you are fishing again! For me this is a non-negotiable for all surfcasting. All the mucking around with cutting and cottoning baits is done while you already have another rig in the water waiting for a bite.
Moki fishing demands an even greater degree of organisation with pre-baited rigs because most good moki territory is crawling with annoying ‘picker’ fish such as spotties, banded wrasse and yelloweyed mullet. These fish will reduce your beautifully presented shellfish baits to nothing in no time at all, and often new baits are needed every five minutes or so. To overcome this, I recommend preparing as many baits as you can before leaving for the beach. Mussels are excellent moki bait, and many experienced moki fishermen will shuck fifty mussels at home and put them in a plastic container, saving valuable time on the beach. Similar preparations can be made with other baits such as paddle crab, paua gut and crayfish.
Another key aspect to keeping bait out in front of moki is using bait that is not attractive to other fish.
Some of the moki areas I fish in Wellington are crawling with red cod, spotty sharks and various undesirables like spiny dogfish, skate and conger eels. This is the same at a number of locations in the South Island. Consequently, it pays to be aware of what other species are present and to use baits that are not attractive to them – because you won’t catch a moki whilst winding in your fifteenth red cod! I’ve had that very experience with mussels, but paddle crab can deliver the same results with spotty sharks, and cray is a brilliant bait for almost anything, which can be very frustrating if focused on catching moki. Again, work out what species are present in your area and fish accordingly.
Every capture is cause for celebration, as moki provide as big a challenge as any other species encountered by surfcasters throughout New Zealand.
The best bait on the day might be the one that won’t get snaffled by non-target species. Mussel baits, like the one pictured, are excellent for moki but also irresistible to pesky red cod.
Moki are a challenging quarry so each one brings a smile to Andy’s face!
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