Fishing and Diving in The Bay of Islands


Fishing The Bay of Islands

Recognized as a world class fishing destination, despite the close attention such a reputation attracts, the resilience of the Bay of Island’s marine habitat continues to provide both local and international fishers with memorable fishing experiences. In addition, the bay is sheltered from most weather by the extensive Cape Brett peninsular and countless islands. The result is a winter playground for boaties with options a-plenty in all but the most severe of northerly gales.

Fishing seasons

  • A world re-known striped marlin fishery takes up residence off-shore late summer through to autumn.
  • At the same time, a tuna fishery, especially albacore and skipjack tuna can be accessed even by small boats and kayaks.
  • An all year round inshore snapper fishery peaks during spring and early summer.
  • Hapuku and tarakihi can be targeted from mid winter until high summer.
  • Kingfish and kahawai fishing on and off for much of the year but peaking late summer thru autumn.
  • Apart from a seasonal restriction on scallops, while both oysters and mussels are available all year, they are at their very best during spring.

Wind directions - fishing options

The prevailing wind direction for the region is south-westerly. However, during high summer, prolonged periods of east-nor-east may also occur. This latter cycle is more often than not associated with inclement weather. Open sea conditions may be un-safe if not unfishable.

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Northerly Quarter

Primarily NW from this quarter and generally short-lived, the Kerikeri inlet right out to the Ninepin and including the Mangonui aka the Te Puna inlet are the safest bets. Even the Black Rocks and the lee side of the main islands, but especially Moturoa Island should also be considered.

Rock fishing

Marsden Cross and Whale Bay as well as the lee sides of the Russell Peninsular and sheltered headlands west of Rawhiti could be considered.


Launch from Opito Bay or Te Tii Beach and work the Te Puna Inlet. Also try the inside of the Russell Peninsular as well as inside the Island cordon. Check out the Cocked Hat fouls out from Opito Bay.

Trailer boats

Any of the concrete launching ramps found in the north west of the Bay, viz: Waipapa Landing, Rangitane, the Doves Bay Marina or Opito Bay. Note the well-marked and obvious Brothers and Slain’s Castle rocks at the junction of the Kerikeri and Te Puna inlets. For those based in the Paihia region, after launching at Opua Marina or Waitangi, in addition to the afore-mentioned locations, Nobbys Is and the Brampton Reef may be well worth a visit. A Rawhiti launch may provide access to the lee sore of en Island and the very fishy Albert Channel.

Easterly Quarter

Weather from the easterly quarter most often settles in as Nor-East. Because there are few opportunities to find cover when it blows from the east, an easterly is often regarded as a good time to stay home. The dominant diurnal on-shore wind during high summer and also the direction most often associated with serious gales and tropical storms, on the rare occasion a NE wind is benign, fishing can be hot. Both before and after such a blow up, fishing can be very good, especially along the open rocky coastline. And during summer, it always takes an easterly blow up to bring the game-fish-laden blue tropical waters in close. On occasion, this 21-23°C tropical aquarium can rub along the entire north eastern coastline.

Rock fishing

Marsden Cross, the Waitangi Golf course or Tapeka Point.


Rawhiti, Russell or Opua. Try also Te Tii at the top of the Te Puna - Mangonui Inlets

Trailer boats

Consider departure from the ramps at Rawhiti, Russell or Opua. Depending upon wind and sea conditions, a Kerikeri inlet launching may also be possible. Safe fishing under these circumstances can generally be found in behind the outer string of islands, as well as up the Te Puna inlet and Veronica Channels towards Opua and the Waikare Inlet.

Southerly Quarter

Wind from the south and the fish close their mouths. While a dominant south-south-east cycle often provides the most settled weather and calmest seas, the fishing can be diabolical. Apart from early winter morning winter hits on tarakihi and hapuku, the balmy seas of a southerly cycle can be disappointing. First and last light for snapper fishing or drifting during the day may break the drought.

Rock fishing

Starting from Rawhiti, anywhere along the lee shore of the Cape Brett Peninsular. Check out especially the headlands of Oke Bay or the Rolls Royce of rock fishing locations beneath the lighthouse at Cape Brett. Takes a full day walk to get there and you have to be in very good shape.


All sheltered waters west of the Russell to Rawhiti road as well as the Waikare Inlet and Veronica Channels. There are also several opportunities along the southern shore of the Kerikeri Inlet. First is via public land at the very end of Inlet Road, then there’s Quinces Landing off Wharau Road, and finally, the very end of Wharau Road itself.

Trailer boats

The Cape Brett peninsular running north from Rawhiti provides good cover during a southerly cycle with sections of most islands as well as the upper Kerikeri channel also supplying cover. Best shots are the cement ramps at Rawhiti and the Opua Marina. The Tapeka Point ramp might also be worth a good look.

Westerly Quarter

Any time the wind blows off-shore is good for fishing. A sou-west is the dominant wind of the region and during high summer, east coasters generally fail to recognise that it is in fact a sea breeze arising from the Tasman. This is why a summer sou-westerly always collapses at the end of the day. This is very good for dusk and evening fishing. With most of the Bay of Islands in the lee of a west-sou-west wind, both sea conditions and fishing are generally good for both the inner and outer Bay.

Rock fishing

The Russell Peninsular fromTapeka Point via Long Beach through to Paroa Bay.


Same as for southerly conditions.

Trailer boats

Launch anywhere. The Waitangi ramp would have to be the most popular in the Bay for all weather conditions. Rawhiti can get you closer to the action quicker.

Target Species

Apart from the very seasonal striped marlin fishery, the two major reason fishers visit the Bay of Islands is to catch either snapper or kingfish.


Best Locations

Cape Brett and environs as well as Hanson’s Reef to the north-west of the Ninepin are the two most highly regarded habitats. More sheltered habitats include Kingfish Reef, Bird and Onslow Rocks as well as the Whale Rock - Red Head region. Further down the priority list one would have to include The Sisters, The Ninepin, The Black Rocks and Capstan Rock.


The technique that has been most favoured over many years is to deploy live baits so as to appeal to the predatory instincts of the target species. While dead baits and well deployed plastic baits will be taken on occasion, by far the most successful strategy has been the live bait. This traditional method requires an initial bait-catching session with jack mackerel or kahawai the most likely targets. Remember that the bigger the bait the bigger the kingfish, so while a large kahawai may seem excessive, although your strike rate will be reduced, the chance of a 20kg plus kingfish will be proportionally enhanced. By spreading the message, a berley trail will always enhance the chances of success

There are three basic methods of live bait deployment:

  1. Dead slow and drift trolling about 5-10m behind.
  2. Drifting the live bait out under a balloon, and
  3. Hanging the fish off a weighted, single-hook ledger-style rig

The last few years have seen a remarkable uptake of Japanese-designed knife-style extra long jigs. Imitating an injured fish more surely than smaller jigs, when deployed radically/vigorously as in “speed-jigging”, this style of jigging is fast replacing the more traditional live bait technique. A much busier method of fishing, success rates when employed over correctly identified schools of kingfish are so high that most are released so as to meet fishing regulations and to ensure the fishery survives.


The two regions of Red Head-Ninepin and Roberton Island-Capstan Rock provide more exciting snapper fishing than all others combined. This having been said, trophy snapper can be found almost anywhere and at almost any depth and any time. Other possies of interest include Cape Brett and the Albert Channel as well as the Black Rocks and the Brampton Reef. While most fishing strategies can work at times, stray-lining with whole mackerel/ pilchard squid baits or their plastic equivalents is the most proven if a trophy snapper is on the menu.

By spreading the message, a berley trail will always enhance the chances of success - the thicker the better. The Rolls Royce of snapper catching strategies is to deploy fresh bait captured in situ, alive but wounded and bleeding.

The seasonal behaviour of snapper has not been well documented. In essence there are two snapper communities: one a migrant community that winters off-shore in deep water but returns to ancestral spawning grounds every spring, the other a resident community that occupies a defined territory. As serial spawners, migrants mingle with locals and they all start to spawn once the water temperature settles above 18°C. In heavily fished locations, resident snapper are often fished out over winter and are only replenished when spring migrants take up vacant habitats.

Another pattern worthy of note is the tendency of some snapper to visit shallow estuaries during autumn. During this cycle, snapper can even be caught amongst the mangroves. Typical fish weigh in the 1-3kg range.

Other seafood


Hapuku and groper fishing is at its peak from August through until October. They can be targeted on most of deeper pinnacles labelled where you find kingfish and on numerous areas of deeper foul off Cape Brett. The most productive technique is probably using live mackerel fished hard on the bottom but jigs can be effective if fished on solid marks.


The Bay of Islands are absolutely chock-fill of fat mussels. Late winter finds them in great condition and well worth the effort. Remember scuba gear cannot be used for gathering mussels. Any rock exposed to the swell in the Bay will produce the goods. Best spots are the Black Rocks and foul around the Nine Pin.


The Waikere and Te Puna Inlets have reliable flounder fishing for those in the know.


Oysters are everywhere up the inlets. Looks for an exposed mud bank at low tide and be prepared to get wet. If this method is not to your liking fresh oysters can be bought locally from places like Ben’s Oysters on the road between Paihia and Opua.


If diving for the table is your thing then put crayfish and scallops on the menu. Crayfish can be found in most places but the best diving is probably on the coast between the Ninepin and the Cavallis or the Eastern side of the Cape Brett Peninsular. Scallops are plentiful inside the main island group and in a few other locations but stay within the season and within the other fishing regulations.
Free diving is very popular in the Bay of Islands and numerous locations like Bird Rock and Piercy Island provide excellent spearing opportunities.

The Black Rocks is a popular but very dangerous location to dive. Filled with silt-laden caverns, many divers have found themselves lost here and there have been fatalities. Snorkelling for mussels is worth a look however.

Area Fishing Map - Bay of Islands  - Download a larger area map HERE.


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