Shorts and T-shirt weather, accompanied by an influx of fish approaching Hawke Bay’s shorelines as the sea temperatures rise to 20-degrees plus – thank goodness for the start of summer!
From Mahanga Beach, Mahia, in the north, to Porangahau Beach in the south, the variety of terrain is endless, with sand surf beaches, small rocky outcrops, and steep shelving shingle beaches – we’ve got it all.
Some of the biggest surf-caught fish species are hooked and landed along this coastline when the warmer currents bring in massive shoals of anchovies and pilchards, which in turn are herded into the surf shallows by kahawai, kingfish and trevally. Better still, these are closely followed by snapper and gurnard, along with various large sharks.
We are very lucky here in Hawkes Bay that there is barely a day you cannot cast a bait into the surf along our coastline, even if it means a little drive up or down the bay to find a sheltered beach or point out of the wind or swell. In this, the first of a series highlighting the beaches of Hawkes Bay, from Mahanga Beach, Mahia, to Whakaki Beach, Wairoa, I suggest the best tides, times to fish, favourable sea conditions, the preferred baits, as well as the rigs to try.
Situated on the Gisborne side of Mahia Peninsula, there is a small settlement reached by turning off left of Opoutama and driving for approximately five minutes. Upon arriving you are greeted by a wonderful view of the northern side of the Mahia Peninsula. There is 4WD and quad-bike access onto the beach at the very northern end.
This tidal, sandy surf beach runs for roughly 5km and is best driven on three hours either side of low tide – although in periods of rough surf conditions, or spring tides, care must be taken as some parts of the beach are narrower than others.
Offshore winds from the west to southwest are more favourable, although light onshores are productive, too. However, if they become too powerful they can create a strong along-shore drift, causing the beach to weed up with kelp from the reefs bordering the beach to the north and south. Consequently, avoid fishing the beach in strong easterly conditions and/or when swells are over 1.5 metres from the east or northeast.
Fortunately, the peninsula provides quite a bit of protection from southerly storms, which can churn up the south-facing side of Mahia, making Mahanga a desirable location to fish.
Big tuatua beds span the length of the beach, with the middle and southern ends (toward Oraka lagoon) the more productive for shellfish gathering and surfcasting.
I have caught some of my biggest snapper surfcasting off this beach. One evening a good friend and I caught four great snapper weighing 5, 8, 9.5, 11.2kg when fishing a nice channel on the low to incoming tide.
As well as big snapper and plenty of pan-sized snapper, I have caught good numbers of sizeable gurnard, trevally, kahawai and kingfish from this beach. Other species, such as small sharks, big smoothound sharks, rays, elephant fish, barracouta and eels, can also feature, as they come in to feed on the vast quantities of shellfish, small crabs, shrimp, baitfish and flounder/sole that inhabit the surf zone. (Which reminds me: take a flounder spear and a light so you can spear flounder and the occasional big turbot at night. Floundering is better towards the southern end of the beach and in Oraka Lagoon.)
Best baits: when targeting fish such as snapper, gurnard and kingfish, try pilchards, fresh or salted skipjack tuna or, if you want a good durable bait, fresh kahawai. Shellfish baits, such as pipi and tuatua or crayfish tail and crab baits, are best for those chasing trevally and smoothounds.
Best rigs: either short running-rig traces of 40-50cm or a long-cast IMP pulley/Impact Shield rig will give you the extra distance needed to reach deeper water, as well as allow you to cast into channels over the high-water period. Just keep your baits to a sensible size and try to use a bit of lumo tube or beads on your traces when night fishing for improved results.
As you drive along the beach, look out for holes or channels denoted by less breaking white-water or darker coloured water. You can easily fish these areas right through the tide.
During the summer, a sleeveless wetsuit is handy and helps keep you warm when constantly wading in and out of the surf during daylight. However, wading is less important during the night, as fish such as snapper and trevally will come right into shallow water to feed. That’s when it pays to have a nice little evening or night-time channel that’s within closer casting range.
During summer, unless the day is very overcast or the sea is off-colour (silted up), the fish are usually very quiet. However, at the change-of-light periods and during darkness, this beach can come to life and fire up really well.
Also situated on the northern side of the peninsula, it faces toward the northwest, so favourable winds are south to east, with a sou’easter blowing straight offshore.
Instead of taking the Mahanga Road turn-off at Opoutama, carry on heading along the Opoutama beachfront along Ormond Drive until you reach Mahia Beach. The road heads off to the left and becomes Mahia East Coast Road. Follow this road for approximately 10 minutes, passing the Oraka Lagoon, Mahia and Whangawehi boat ramp, until you arrive at some papa rock shelving that drops into a reasonable depth of water. Park along the side of the road; Snapper Rock is in front of a solitary white house.
Personally I think they should re-name it ‘Gurnard Rock’, or ‘Blind Eel Rock’, because I’ve only ever caught a few pannie snapper here, and it produces better numbers of gurnard, kahawai, some good kingfish, and the odd blue cod, john dory and barracouta. Care must be taken on these rocks; the main threat of injury is not from the swell surges (it very seldom gets rough here), but from the greasy surface of the rocks themselves. They become coated in a brown-green alga at times, which is very slippery.
It’s an easy fishing spot for the family or novice angler, but has the potential to throw up some great fish at times. If you want really great results and intend spending the day fishing along Snapper Rock, it pays to take some berley with you.
There are vast quantities of baitfish present through summer, including mullet, small kahawai and piper, so take a small rod to catch some for use as live bait. Either rig your live bait under a balloon or set it up as sliding live bait by casting a BOS break-out sinker attached to the end of your line on a surfcaster. Have a metre-long trace of 50 to 80lb (I like using 60lb Black Magic Fluorocarbon trace material), a single 5/0 or 6/0 hook, with a heavy-duty, ball-bearing snap-swivel at the other end. Rig your livie up, then attach the swivel to your mainline and let it slide down your line. The swivel will only slide to the end of your sinker, no further. Be ready for the big bender from a kahawai or possibly a kingfish exceeding 20kg!
Other common rigs, such as two-hook ledgers, running or pulley rigs, baited with pilchards or tuna, all work from here targeting gurnard, snapper and kahawai. Tides are irrelevant, and change of light produces better fishing. During the day, when bait fishing is slow, live baiting is the key to enticing a strike. After dark beware the blind eels that inhabit this area – they swallow your trace and sinker whole! Just ‘cut and walk away’!
This sandy beach is private access only, and bordered by big papa rock shelves dropping into deep water. It produces some brilliant snapper fishing off the sand and XOS sharks and rays from the rocks. Huge seven-gill and tope sharks will clean you up frequently, so it pays to fish with heavy nylon or wire traces here and experiment with shellfish baits to lessen the likelihood of encountering them. Besides, shellfish baits have the added bonus of producing good-sized blue moki and trevally, as well as gurnard, kahawai and the occasional blue cod off the rocks.
Diners Beach is reached by driving further round the peninsula following the East Coast Road. Permission must be obtained before accessing the beach.
Both beaches are very shallow, southwest-facing beaches, which fish better in early and late evening when there is less activity from swimmers and boaties. Small tuatua beds are found in patches along both beaches, and casting onto these during low light or darkness is more successful.
The beaches are situated in the main centre of Mahia: Taylors Bay is a small bay around from the main boat ramp, and Mahia Beach extends from the boat ramp to the golf course. During the day the local crab population can be ravenous, but at night they go silent, baitfish shelter close to the shoreline, and predatory fish – such as kahawai, snapper, gurnard, trevally and big smoothounds – cruise the shallows. Baits such as pillies, skipjack and fresh kahawai tend to produce well, and cray and crab baits often lure in the big spotted smoothound sharks.
I’ve done better on low tide on both beaches, and there seldom appears to be any noticeable channels or holes in these locations to fish into. They also shelve very slowly, so a long wade out is often required; beware of stingrays during summertime.
Big swells and strong winds from the south or southwest make this place unfishable. However, during rough weather from the southeast through to an offshore northeast, these beaches can be flat calm!
This is the site of an old wharf that’s now almost non-existent. It’s signposted before you reach Opoutama between there and Blacks Beach.
The bouldery frontage drops onto sand and is sheltered from west to northwest winds. It gets hard to fish when large swells come in from the south.
This is another spot to watch your footing, as the boulders move, so it pays to be nimble. Catches include gurnard, kahawai and pan-sized snapper, though there have been some XOS snapper landed here over the years. Another easy casting spot. However, when fishing at low tide, be careful when landing your fish; try to get near the water and keep your rod high and line tight at all times, or the fish can foul you up.
Big kingfish cruise this location too, so a live bait under a balloon will put you in with a chance. A good gaff is mandatory if targeting kings.
Berleying will again pay dividends, and the standard pilchards or salted skippy baits suit this spot.
Named Blacks Beach from its black sand frontage, it’s a few minutes towards the Mahia Peninsula from the Gisborne turn-off at Nuhaka (straight through at the roundabout).
A south-facing beach, it runs from its eastern-most reefy points – where you can dive for crayfish and paua in calm conditions – to the western-end border off the Nuhaka River mouth.
This beach is rich in shellfish life, with huge tuatua beds spanning its length. It is a fine black sand/shingle beach, which shelves steep in parts, but has very defined sandbars and channels that widen and narrow along the beach. At the lower car park surfers chase the big breaking swells from the south, and in conditions of over 1.5 metres it becomes very challenging to fish here. A strong southerly blow makes fishing futile. Northerly winds are much better, and if the swell’s big from the east along the Napier beaches and the other side of the Mahia Peninsula, the sea can be dead-flat at Blacks, which is sheltered from big east or northeast swells.
I prefer to fish this beach when there’s about half a metre of swell on it – just enough to see where the prominent sandbars are and where the deeper channels (which hold fish) lie.
The car park by the reefs is often packed during summer evenings and the fishing there is adequate. Shoal snapper and kahawai, along with the occasional gurnard and kingie, can be taken. Blue moki also frequent this area, so try mussel, tuatua, crab or cray bait for best results.
Quad bikes can be driven further west towards the rivermouth. I find the better fishing areas along this stretch are toward the Nuhaka River, and I’ve struck several good bags of snapper and gurnard fishing through an evening high tide into dark. Look for big areas of tuatua wash-ups, as these often mark where the snapper and gurnard feed.
Long-cast pulley rigs, baited with small pilly or fresh kahawai baits on 4/0 hooks prove lethal here. Big smoothounds as well as huge tope sharks, threshers and seven-gillers will be found here at times, too. If the going’s slow, try half a kahawai fillet bait thrown out beyond the first breaker. Get ready to hang on – it could be a huge eagle ray or large shark – but don’t deliberately bust it off either, just in case it’s a large snapper or kingfish.
Access is gained by driving down Blucks Pit Road. Situated between the Whakaki Lagoon, north of Wairoa, and Nuhaka, it is a shingly road with a rail crossing. Heading towards Blucks Metal Pit, hang a left down a side dirt track to a small, rough car park. You can walk through the black sand dunes (be sure to wear sand shoes during summer, as it’s very hot sand!). You are presented with a beach similar to Blacks Beach facing south, with a northerly providing an offshore wind.
There are plenty of sand bars and channels, and no need to wade; just look for good water and plenty of shellfish sign. A quad bike is advantageous, but a 4WD vehicle less so, because the sand is very soft and will likely see you stuck. Change of light and overcast days are favoured, with tides being irrelevant.
The bite can come on hard and fast here, and I’ve taken many a bag limit of snapper, as well as heaps of gurnard. So be sure to have plenty of baits ready, pre-tied on traces, for when the fish bite. Other fish encountered include: kahawai, trevally, smoothounds and eagle rays.
There are two river mouths along this stretch. To the east is the Nuhaka mouth and to the west the Tahaenui River. Both hold good quantities of shellfish nearby and, subsequently, fish extremely well. Small kahawai can be a nuisance at times when using conventional pilchard and skipjack baits, so try fresh kahawai baits to combat this. This strategy slows the kahawai catch rate and allows the bait to sit longer for more desirable fish.
This has to be my favourite – the most productive beach in Hawkes Bay. It is situated about 15 minutes drive north of Wairoa, and access is made on a blind corner signposted ‘Whakaki Beach Access’. Care must be taken when turning down onto the access road, as it is situated on a tight corner. If you have traffic hard up behind you, go past and pull over. Make a U-turn before dipping off the road. Turning directly off the road you have to cross the lanes, and there’s no room for error if there’s oncoming traffic!
There is an ample car parking area. However, be considerate: if you have a 4x4, drive down behind the dunes and park off the track. Quad bikes will allow you greater scope on this beach, but in all honesty, most of the big fish (including all of my big snapper from this spot, bar one) have been pulled from straight out in front of the car park.
Out from the car park there is a large outer bar about 150 metres offshore, which breaks in a bit of swell. Then the wave disappears and dumps on the beach. This beach, unlike Blacks and Tahaenui, can be comfortably fished in swells up to 2.5 metres.
Often the best fishing is encountered when the swell is crashing in, dislodging the tuatua present along this stretch. When flat calm, the fishing can be very flat as well. If the sea has a bit of colour or swell up to 1.5m, then you’re more likely to secure a good feed of snapper, day or night.
Five kilometres to the east, you will come across the Tahaenui River mouth, which is sometimes blocked during drought conditions in summer. To the west, four-plus kilometres down, is what is known as The Cut (Whakaki Lagoon). At the lagoon, which is often land-locked, the beach shelves more aggressively. Unless the sea is rough during the day, the fishing can be slow and it is better to fish towards the Tahaenui River in the calmer conditions. However at change of light – sometimes the morning but more so around night and into dark – this place can ignite! I’ve nabbed bag limits of good shoalie snapper in less than half an hour; provided you have plenty of traces baited, you soon work up a sweat.
Big trevally can be tussled with here in the evenings during December and January, along with good kingfish, so be sure to use a live bait if the opportunity arises. There are big smoothounds along this stretch too, which will test your knots – especially in heavy surf conditions, which tend to bring them on the bite.
There are good bags of gurnard from Whakaki toward the Tahaenui River too; this beach has no shortage of fish and no rules as to which baits and rigs to use. It can go from dead to mayhem with a shift of the wind from southeast to a northerly, and is certainly worth the drive north from Napier.
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