Fishing in Oamaru

I enjoy having some spare time to explore further afield over the winter time. My latest foray took me to the area centred on Oamaru (from the Waitaki Mouth south to Karitane), where I discovered a wide range of productive fishing opportunities in this often-overlooked destination.

Lying between Christchurch and Dunedin, Oamaru is a township that many people race past, yet it has recently developed as a city, with a wide diversity of shops on offer. Better still, there are some wonderful outdoor activities on its doorstep, including a charterfishing scene that operates from the town’s harbour.

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As the region is sparsely populated overall, getting out fishing in an uncrowded environment is the norm. Westerlies calm the sea and the coastline often offers clear water, unlike the area north of the Waitaki River, which is often turbid from the sediment emptying from the large braided coastal rivers.

Kayak fishing

There are some several great locations for kayak-fishers to base themselves – Oamaru Harbour, Moeraki Peninsula, Shag Point and Karitane are good examples – with lots of good reef structure close inshore (i.e. within a kilometre) and generally clear water enabling productive sea fishing. A light north-westerly wind flattens out the local surf to make kayak fishing an even more pleasant experience.

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Blue cod, sea perch, tarakihi, gurnard and blue moki are the main species available, but others such as trumpeter will stray into shallow water at times.

Although reduced road access to Kaikoura has resulted in more anglers targeting the reefs, getting a feed of is seldom a problem, especially for those seeking blue cod.

Flocks of shags and terns often mark out areas of open-water fish activity, while cray buoys indicate reef locations.

The clear water along the coast is well suited to fishing with softplastics too, but to date this technique has been rarely practised, so the opportunity is there to be a pioneer!

Offshore reefs and charter fishing

Winter time in the south is often a good time to get out sea fishing for the table fish – specifically blue cod, sea perch and groper – which thrive along the coastline between Oamaru and Moeraki. As already mentioned, there are some good reefs close inshore here, while the sandy patches between the reefs often produce gurnard, red cod and, at times, blue moki. School sharks or tope can also be present in good numbers and are surprisingly good to eat if promptly finned, gutted and trunked.

There is a notable winter groper run on the reefs off Oamaru over the winter, and both Oamaru and Moeraki offer charter-boat fishing options to take advantage of this seasonal occurrence.

Oamaru Harbour itself provides a good family-fishing option, with its sheltered waters providing a good range of fish. The larger yelloweyed mullet are especially fun for the kids to catch; the big numbers of red cod entering the harbour in the winter, along with some large blue moki, provide entertainment and a feed or two for the older family members.


The waters of coastal Otago are often very clear and ideally suited to snorkelling. The rich seaweed beds and reefs along the coastline accommodate good numbers of paua, butterfish, blue moki and crayfish, with the area around Shag Point and Moeraki being popular for snorkelling since the quake. Set-netting is banned along the coastline, so many of the various reef-fish populations are in a very healthy state.


School sharks, rig and elephant fish, especially, move close inshore in large numbers during the spring months and are popular species to target from some of Oamaru’s deeper shelving surf beaches.

The beaches just south of Kakanui have fished well for some very large rig in recent years. Also, the beach just south of the Waitaki River mouth, which steeply shelves into the sea, can be very productive. Red cod and kahawai are often taken in the winter, along with large sevengill sharks. Later in the spring the diversity of species increases as school sharks, rig and elephantfish come close in. It can be very pleasant fishing in a relatively warm north-westerly at night.

Waitaki River

The lower Waitaki River is open over the winter months and searun trout and rainbows can be caught in the section below State Highway One. The river mouth is best accessed at the lagoon’s south side, a short, 10-minute walk along the beach from the south side car park enabling easy access to the lagoon.

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Over the winter there are few anglers around, but the fish are still there. The best fishing over the cooler months tends to be on sunny days. Some good catches of black flounders are also made from the lagoon over the winter months.

Other smaller river mouths such as Kakanui and Karitane also have good populations of yellowbelly flounders, too.

Waitaki Lakes

If the southerly blows, try heading up the Waitaki Valley and fishing the Waitaki lakes – Benmore, Aviemore and Waitaki. These lakes have improved dramatically over the last five years and the rainbows in them are often active and in top condition over the winter months. Omarama and Kurow offer good accommodation bases, with the Waitaki lakes being within an hour’s drive of Oamaru.


There is a good selection of coastal streams for whitebaiting, and many of the coastal streams – such as the Kakanui, Shag and Karitane – can be productive. The smaller streams between the Waitaki and Moeraki generally fish very well for whitebait from mid- September until early November. The Waitaki itself often fires for ‘bait in November, and shoals of kahawai and sea-run browns will move in, too.


The small coastal towns south of Oamaru offer a range of campsites and cheap holiday-home accommodation (especially over the winter season) at Kakanui, Moeraki and Karitane. Oamaru itself also has a good range of understated, yet high quality accommodation options.

The historic limestone buildings along the Oamaru waterfront, next to the harbour, is well worth spending some time exploring with the family. For adults, the Steampunk Museum makes a great visit.

Fleur’s Place, at Moeraki, is a top seafood restaurant that uses and prepares locally-caught seafood in innovative ways. The cosy atmosphere, tasty food and her hospitality makes Fleur’s Place well worth a visit.

There are tours in Oamaru to see the little blue penguins breeding right next to the city.

The region is rapidly developing, so get in now and check it out while it is still uncrowded!

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

July 2017 - Peter Langlands
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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