Undoubtedly, the humble gurnard is one of the ocean’s most colourful and recognisable fish. They are caught widely throughout New Zealand and are one of young angler Hayden Speed’s favourite fish to eat. He explains how he prefers to target these sometimes elusive fish.
Red gurnard can be caught in a variety of locations. A good place to look is anywhere up to 100m deep along a sandy or muddy bottom, in harbour channels, or off sandy beaches. Another type of gurnard species caught in New Zealand waters is the Japanese or spotted gurnard – these are often caught in much deeper water (150-300m).
When looking for these fish on your sounder, they may be hard to spot as they don’t often school and will be sitting hard on the bottom. There are a few different methods you can try when targeting gurnard.
As gurnard will often be spread out, drifting over a sandy or muddy bottom can be a great way to cover ground and potentially land your bait or lure under one’s nose. When drifting, I like to fish two rods. The first is a soft-bait set, while the second is a baited rod. I find this covers the bases and may increase the likelihood of attracting a gurnard to bite. Fishing a small grub tail or Gulp! ‘Squid Vicious’ soft-bait hard on the bottom is my preferred lure choice for gurnard. This is because these fish will scoot along the bottom searching for food, rarely travelling up the water column. They aren’t fast fish either, so slower rod twitches are often more effective. Even leaving the rod in the rod holder can be enough – the action of the soft-bait as it swims slowly along the bottom can be dynamite for gurnard.
Another effective lure option for targeting gurnard is a slider. If the fishing is slow, I will add a small piece of bait to the hooks of the slider as this adds more attractant to the lure. Once again, as gurnard predominantly live on the bottom, I will work the lower part of the water column.
I also like to drag a baited ledger rig (sitting hard on the bottom) as we drift along. This can be extremely effective and can be as simple as leaving the rod in the holder while you work a soft-bait. Using recurve hooks (which I strongly recommend) will allow the fish to hook themselves. A bonus with these two methods is that you will often come across other desirable species such as snapper, trevally, and kahawai.
Tyler with a lovely gurnard which made for some excellent eating!
Another method I’ve found to be productive when targeting gurnard is to anchor and berley. Berley is a vital asset while at anchor because you are trying to draw the fish to you. A wobbly pot (weighted berley pot) is a handy piece of gear that allows you to position your berley just a couple of metres up off the bottom. Because gurnard live right on the bottom, there is little reason to set the berley close to the surface or mid-water as it will miss the target zone entirely. The other reason I position my berley a few metres above the bottom is that the current flow is often a bit stronger than right on the seafloor. If the current is ripping through, I will lower this further down to cover the target area where our baits are sitting. Positioning the berley so it can be carried and dispersed over the fishable area will increase the chances of fish being drawn to your baits.
Once the berley is working, I will try various rigs to entice gurnard. A traditional ledger rig below the boat has proven its worth time and time again. However, if you want to switch things up, you can clip your sinker onto your swivel instead of the bottom of the rig – this will mean that the top of your rig is anchored on the bottom while your hooks are left to float enticingly and freely in the gurnard zone. I strongly recommend recurve hooks for this method too. Although gurnard aren’t too picky and will be caught on various baits such as squid, skipjack, blue mackerel, and pilchard – they’re particularly keen on shellfish.
Another option is to have a small sinker (big enough to reach the bottom depending on the amount of current) above a length of 20lb trace with a single 5/0 recurve hook. I like to fish this rig on a soft-bait rod as this allows the rod to gradually load up, allowing the circle hook to set neatly in the corner of the gurnard’s mouth. I will fish this rig from the rod holder with the reel in gear and a light drag, allowing the fish to hook themselves. As mentioned earlier, a small grub-tail soft-bait positioned only a touch above the bottom can also be effective when parked at anchor.
Gurnard aren’t the toughest fighters, so heavy tackle isn’t required. Downsizing your line weight and tackle is great fun and far more effective than heavier, more visible gear. Once you have landed one, you will experience their awesome colours, unique anatomy, and remarkable grunt! These fish really are a treat to catch – I just wish I could catch more of them!
October 2022 - Hayden Speed
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
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