Many ports have closed access to fishing, but Port Taranaki, in New Plymouth, still has plenty of options available, as writer Peter Langlands was happy to discover…
Port Taranaki is centrally located on the west coast of the North Island and offers a sheltered oasis for the southern part of the North Island’s west coast. It’s also the only deep-water seaport on New Zealand’s western coast and, better still, provides outstanding, accessible sea-fishing opportunities for a wide range of fish.
Of particular interest to me, the sheltered port of Taranaki offers a lot of choices for kayak and small-boat anglers, and if conditions allow, as they often do, they can venture out a couple of kilometres to find clean blue water and depths of up to 50 metres.
The port was established in 1875, and work on a breakwater to provide an anchorage safe from the Tasman Sea storms began in 1881.
Port Taranaki now has two sheltering breakwaters that extend from both ends of the naturally curved bay. The port itself has a good depth of water – 5 to 12 metres – and a wide range of habitats are accommodated within it. The sheltering structures include rock walls and wharf pilings, with soft-sediment habitats helping to feed the wide assortment of fish species present.
Currents from the Tasman Ocean constantly flush the port, keeping the water quality high and ensuring a frequent flowthrough of food. This aspect combines well with the facts that: the area is a sheltered oasis on an otherwise exposed coastline; it has a steep shelf; and only only a relatively small population of inhabitants are there to take advantage of the great fishing on offer. And, as if this wasn’t enough already, a dynamic mix of cool and warm water species throughout the year makes for really interesting fishing experiences.
While often underrated by outsiders, it’s become a Mecca for kayak fishers when the Nationals are held each year, with astonishing results often achieved here, especially for large snapper, gurnard and albacore tuna.
The northern part of the port boasts a rock wall and several floating jetties to provide the public with access to fishable water – and the outer side of the rock wall offers good fishing options, too.
Unfortunately, the southern section is closed to land-based access, but boats and kayaks can still do well fishing along here and outside the port entrance – with care. It pays to keep in mind that Taranaki is a commercial port, so always act responsibly and stay clear of any shipping activity.
The port’s clear water means it’s perfect for soft-bait and lure fishing from kayaks or small boats, with these vessel’s stealthy approaches covering lots of water and proving very effective. It’s also a good venue for salt-water fly-fishing, with kahawai, kingfish, barracouta and snapper providing worthwhile targets.
As mentioned, New Plymouth has a wide diversity of fish species, and understanding how the seasonal changes impact on the selection available is important. For example, gurnard are taken in good numbers by kayak and boat fishermen in the winter and early spring, especially just south of the port’s entrance on a mud bottom. Then, from November onwards, the fishing in the port really heats up, with trevally, snapper and kingfish arriving. During summer it gets better still, with various jigging-type lures and flasher rigs tending to be popular ways to target fish through to May, when there is a wide range of active predatory fish about.
There are many other options available, too. Around this time of year there is a wide range of open-water fish, such as albacore tuna, which can be caught just off the port by trolling or even harling flies behind a kayak.
Then there are john dory, which are present for much of the year, so many anglers routinely have a livie out, sometimes just on a hand-line, in case one is on the prowl.
The port’s sheltered nature also makes it a good spot to take kids fishing. The humble yelloweyed mullet (aka sprat) is a mainstay throughout the year and they make top john dory baits. Other baitfish, such as jack mackerel (yellowtail) and piper, are also prolific inside the port and provide a good source of fresh bait for snapper, john dory and kingfish.
Float fishing for these baitfish is great fun and a good way to keep the kids focused as they watch the float. Berley plays a big part in successful baitfish catching, as this sees the small fish schooling up and feeding, and able to be caught in good numbers. The commotion of baitfish being caught often attracts predatory fish, too.
The port’s northern rock wall provides a good location to surfcast for large snapper – many fish over twenty pounds are taken here in the cooler winter months, providing the area with a reputation for big snapper that really puts it on the map. Then, over summer, the smaller snapper move into the harbour in schools to provide a bonus for fishers over the Christmas period.
Be warned though – a good-sized landing net can be needed to land some of the fish hooked from the rocky breakwater and many the port’s jetties.
Rays can be a problem by-catch at times during the summer, but when the eagle rays turn up, the snapper and kingfish often do, too.
The outer breakwater often faces clear water with strong currents, and can be a top spot to target rig with a whole paddle crab – with the same bait frequently producing a worthwhile snapper bycatch.
This structure also provides a good land-based fishing spot for school sharks, along with blue, mako, thresher and even bronze whaler sharks at times.
Affordable charter fishing trips are available from the port, either inshore or offshore, allowing visiting anglers to experience the diversity and productivity of Taranaki’s fisheries.
Divers are well catered for too, with a large marine reserve area to the south offering them the chance to observe a range of fish in a protected environment – and all sorts of seabirds and dolphins can be sighted just offshore as well.
For anglers visiting the area in need of further info or tackle, several good fishing shops are near the port and able to offer expert local knowledge and insights into the port’s fishing opportunities (which I experienced first-hand, thanks to Kyle Adams at the Hunting & Fishing shop adjoining the port).
Then there is Chaddy’s Shop, which has many interesting marine curiosities and also offers marine-museum visits and sightseeing tours around the port should you encounter rough weather and be looking for land-based entertainment.
A good fish and chip shop on the waterfront means you won’t go hungry should your fishing luck be out.
SO NO WONDER Port Taranaki is high up on my list of places to visit again this summer – it’s a true Mecca for keen saltwater fishers.
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