Makara was a fishing spot of his youth, writes Gary Kemsley, and it is still a special place for him…
My father fished at Makara and my uncle had a bach on the western beach. It was rough but had a weatherproof roof and room for four to bed down overnight. The frontage was adorned with rope-covered glass floats picked off the beaches over the years, an anchor and some odd-shaped driftwood sculpted by the ocean and cast on the beach.
Makara Bay was a few metres away, often still and serene while strong southerlies ripped over the hill behind us, but sometimes ruffled by undecided winds that scurried around the bay. The water was as clear as crystal, a situation that diving gannets took advantage of, plunging deep and emerging with a mackerel or mullet.
Climbing the hill behind the baches gave us an unrestricted bird’s eye view of our watery playground. Cook Strait was close at hand and swells marched though the gap between North and South Islands. This was a wild spot, often with wind-whipped wave tops – dark and sullen looking lumps of water moving from south to north. Even big ships like the Cook Strait ferries were made to look small and insignificant in the turmoil of waters.
I was looking at all this through the eyes of an eight-year-old. I was awestruck. What a fantastic place! I imagined a large whale making its way through gap, or was it real? The wind-whipped waters away to the north and west looked less than welcoming for any ships making passage. I was always pleased to have my feet on dry land.
Nothing has changed – these days the water and waves look just as menacing. The sea is never still and reacts to any wind and tidal changes. The flat, sheltered spots are as attractive as ever and the gin-clear water gives little indication of what it hides.
To the east of Makara Bay is a rough point of rocks that jut out from the shore. Long flowing tendrils of dark-brown kelp sweep back and forth with the tide, offering cover for fat kina and limpets. We used the limpets for bait on our crude handlines sporting one hook and a sinker. Two or three limpets were added to our hooks and we threw our lines into the deep water flanking the rocks, known as ‘The Creek’.
The water in The Creek is about two to three metres deep and in a big swell the water sloshes back and forth. This of course dislodges food which in turn attracts fish, so we never minded a swell, as long as we could get on the rocks safely.
There were always fish to catch – usually a wrasse or two, or maybe a Cloudy Bay cod. Sometimes a desirable tarakihi would take the bait and on more than one occasion a big snapper. We fished for food for the family. All fish were utilised and I remember no mention of minimum sizes or catch limits. I do remember the fish all being of decent size though.
The Creek was the ideal place for a youngster. It was safe enough and we could be seen from the bach. There was always a chance of catching a fish and some would become our dinner. I loved it and knew where to find the fish each visit, as only an eight to ten-year-old can.
I learned about limpets and chitons and how they could make great bait for the fish that lived in and visited the Creek. I learned also that sacrificing a few limpets as berley made a difference to the number of fish that would be present. My father and uncle would often go to The Creek with us and the fishing would be competitive with the youngsters often coming out on top.
As well as The Creek we fished the bay from my uncle’s clinker dinghy. If it was flat-calm and no nets were to be set we were able to go out and line-fish from the boat. My uncle knew where the fish were without going out far and we targeted the tasty tarakihi. If we hit the right spot we would catch plenty, but sometimes there were none.
I well remember one day when my dad and uncle were heading out to clear the butterfish net they had set the day before. They dropped me off on a trawler that was anchored in the bay and unmanned. They rowed off around the western corner of the bay and out of sight about the time I caught my first tarakihi. They returned fishless over an hour later, while I was a proud youngster as I handed over a dozen tarakihi of decent size. My morning collecting limpets had been well-rewarded.
I caught my biggest tarakihi ever from a boat, fishing in 60m of water out from Makara. It was a monster over 3kg and took a soft-bait. It wasn’t alone either and I caught two others of similar size that morning, along with a string of normal sized fish. I thought of The Creek and the tarakihi of Makara Bay. Had these fish been in there?
On the cusp of 2019 I drove out to Makara, some 60 years after my last visit to The Creek. In the interim all the baches in the bay have been removed and public toilets grace the road end at Makara Beach. It is quite a change there, but walking around to the bay the memories came flooding back.
There was The Creek. It looked smaller. My first thought was that it was an unlikely spot to catch a snapper of any size, but we had as kids and maybe it could happen again even now. Out in the bay was an orange buoy. It may be tied to the same anchor point as the trawler all those years ago.
There is a well worn walkway to the bay, not for fishermen these days, but rather for the endless stream of tourists parking in the carpark and heading off around the coast. Lookers are the best type of tourists – they don’t disturb much and leave the place as they find it.
Tourists on the walkway and beach. Stream mouth is under the hill.
I did see a couple of rod fishers – I never saw other fishers back in the 1950s and 1960s. If I had lived nearby in my twenties and thirties I am sure I would have hounded Makara and uncovered more of its secrets. There must be some good moki spots in the area. It would just take time and effort to sort them out.
Nearby and to the north are other exciting fishing spots like Boom Rock. It was over an hour’s walk at low tide, but well worth the effort. I remember stories my father told of Boom Rock where he and his brother hurled heavy hand lines into the water in front of the rock and caught big snapper – fish over 10kg in weight! Then they had to carry them back to Makara. Sounds like it would have been a big day.
He told me of one day when they arrived at Boom Rock only to find another fisherman there. He was just throwing out his line in the normal manner, which was to wind up with three metres of line spun around ones head helicopter fashion. He slipped on wet seaweed and the line wound around his head and slammed his big snapper hook into the palm of his hand. The point protruded from the back of his hand. They cut his line, packed his gear, gave him a cup of tea and sent him on his way. They had the place to themselves. A short time later Dad’s brother caught a 10kg snapper. Anything was possible.
There were rod fishers near the rock but they were not busy.
Big kingfish took their baits some days and a few were landed. In more recent times, with better gear and more modern approaches to the fishing, there have been some great kingfish catches, as well as other species including snapper, a singular hapuku and blue sharks.
This whole area supports many species of fish and an angler who has a number of techniques at hand will have good and interesting results. There is a variety of fishing positions, from shingly beaches to heavily-weeded rocky coves and deep-water opportunities.
I didn’t fish on this last visit but I plan on going back in the future with my surf and rock gear. I won’t expect too much but I hope to relive some earlier visitations. Maybe there will be a fish or two.
I’m pretty sure I saw a kahawai splashing around to the right of the carpark where the Makara Stream enters the ocean. That could be a good spot to spend an hour or so with a live-bait or a floating pilchard. That’s the best way to find out. There is a lot of weed around in that area which could make it difficult if there was a swell on, but it looks to be a likely fishing spot.
Another spot past The Creek looks good too. Just an offshore break in the weed and rock but a typical moki hangout. It needs some fishing.
Yes, Makara is calling and I am keen to respond.
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