Wellington fishing shots

The Wellington region is a wholly unique recreational fishery because it embodies nearly all the best parts of fishing opportunities available in other regions.

Why is this? The reasons can be attributed to the diverse habitat variations and the quite outstanding mix of fish species and sea life within the fishery. A vibrant freshwater fishery, including white baiting opportunities, just adds to the excitement.

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Other natural factors also contribute to the fishery’s distinctiveness. Chief amongst these is the region’s comparatively gentle tides, where the bigger tides of the month level out at around 1.8 metres. The region also has three distinct geographic zones providing distinct east, south and west coast fisheries. Each zone has a coastline of around 100 kilometres, and no fishing spot is more than a 2.5 hour drive from any point within the region.

The Wellington region stretches from Castle Point on the east coast through the South coast and the Capital City and on up the west coast to Foxton. This coastal configuration not only allows heaps of different opportunities for anglers, but can often provide a place to fish when one, or two coasts are weather affected.

The region also has three major rivers (Ruamahanga, Hutt and Manawatu), which in themselves, along with many other moderatesized rivers, provide excellent freshwater angling and white baiting opportunities.

The region has two prominent marine reserves, located at Island Bay and Kapiti Island, which provide permanent no-take zones for all marine life within those reserves.

First up, a look at the landbased marine scene.

Castle Point southwards

Wairarapa’s east coast is a good challenge for surf casters who like to explore a mostly rugged, challenging and – in places – quite isolated stretch of coast. The good news is that reasonable (if in many cases unsealed) roads will take you to all major areas of fishing potential.

The fishing can be accessed through the towns of Masterton (Castle Point, Otahome and Riversdale), Carterton (Flat Point) and Martinborough (Te Awaiti, Tora and White Rock). Once you reach the coastline and wish to access more isolated areas, be prepared to walk or ask permission to use (usually) farm access roads.

Dominant target species for this area are moki (Te Awaiti, Tora and White Rock) trevally (White Rock), spotty shark, gurnard and kahawai (all areas).

Species, rigs and bait

One of the attractions of fishing in this area is that in most cases gurnard weigh close to, or over, a kilo in weight – a compelling reason to target this fish. A favourite rig (which also doubles for moki) is a two-hook dropper (down to one hook for moki where the terrain is rocky and/or weedy).

Moki have smallish mouths relative to their size, while gurnard seem to prefer a not too big bait of around 3cm x 2cm, so keeping hook sizes to 2/0-3/0 work well.

Gurnard can respond to a little bling around the hook, but don’t overdo it as relatively gentle water movement doesn’t give the rig much action. Pinks through to orange are colours gurnard will respond to.

As for baits, gurnard just love small, triangle-shaped oily fish fillet – bonito, mackerel, trevally and even kahawai work well. Number-one readily accessible bait for moki is mussel, while crayfish can also be very effective.

A useful alternative to both is paddle crab, which is also the preferred bait for spotty sharks in the preferred eating range of 2-3 kilos that can be caught in good numbers on this coast.

The open, sandy beaches at Otahome, Flat Point and White Rock give the best options for spotty sharks. A longer cast will also enhance catch numbers, so definitely use a single 3/0 to 4/0 hook, preferably on a clip-down rig.

A last little tip for this area is to check the swell along with wind direction and strength before committing to the journey. East or south winds can generate swell and weedy conditions. The best option is a settled period of north to west winds where the wind speed is under 25 knots.

Palliser Bay and Wellington’s south coast

Located at the very bottom of the North Island, this area takes in the genuinely vast expanse of Palliser Bay from west of Palliser Light to halfway across the island at Cape Turakirae in the east. From here the Wellington part of the area takes over, crossing Fitzroy Bay, Wellington Harbour and on past the famed Terawhiti Rip to the eastern point of the North Island.

The fishing terrain is best described as a massive area of mainly gravel beaches sandwiched between rocky shorelines at either end where small channels and beaches are a moki fishers’ dream.

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Access to the Wairarapa side of this coastline is through the South Wairarapa township of Featherston, nestled at the foot of the Remutaka Hill. Here, an east and a west road running either side of Lake Wairarapa give points of access for non-4WD vehicles to fishing possies at Corner Creek and the base of the Ocean Beach spit on the lake’s eastern side. 4WD access is possible along the spit.

The road west of Lake Wairarapa accesses Lake Ferry, Whangamoana and points east of here right out to the Cape. The Wellington part of the area, including the harbour, have well defined coastal roads, while westward access past the Owhiro Bay quarry is 4WD territory, to be tackled only by the skilled offroad driver. For the adventurous, the walk is flat and hugs the coast.

Wellington has a harbour of quite diverse habitats, which accounts for an astonishingly high number of species. My personal count is that over 50 different species weighing at least 500 grams have been caught in the harbour on rod and line.

Species rigs and bait

The Wairarapa fishing component of this area is a truly 24/7, all year round fishery. Any time during a 24-hour period, a bite time of between one and four hours can be absolutely full-on, and during the winter and spring months, the biomass of fish here is astonishing.

At times the species mix can also be revealing, and while many species may carry the ‘not so desirable’ tag – a variety of small and larger sharks, skate and conger eels – isn’t it better to be catching and releasing than not catching at all?

Kahawai, moki, red cod and spotty sharks are pretty much year-round catches. Snapper, blue cod, elephant fish and gurnard are a lot more seasonal (spring and summer). Of the more targeted species, kahawai, snapper, moki, elephant fish and spotty sharks can all be caught from the open beach areas.

There are good moki and blue cod fisheries from small bays and channels east of the Ngawi township. Rigs and baits generally follow those described for the east coast area, but because there are at times many, mainly small, sharks with sharp teeth, it pays to use a terminal trace of 30-40 kilos and circle hooks to save on gear losses.

As for catching species not named here, always expect the unexpected. This coast is adjacent to some pretty deep Cook Strait water, and I have seen hoki, ling, groper and other rarities caught. This area has a conservation covenant with ‘Mother Nature’ in the form of frequent southerly winds that often produce un-fishable swell conditions, so do check your swell map before undertaking travel here.

During daylight hours, Wellington Harbour can be a challenging place to fish as vast numbers of spotties living in nearshore habitats can pick baits clean in a few short minutes. You can negate this somewhat by binding strips of squid to your fish baits with bait elastic.

Another good trick is to keep your hook sizes on the smaller size, say 2/0 downwards, as there are a lot of smaller, but legal, species such snapper, blue cod, trevally and tarakihi. Using re-curved hooks also assists in releasing those fish that don’t meet the minimum size.

Harbour kahawai are year round catches and easily caught on lures during frequent bait work-ups, easily identified by flocks of surface feeding gulls, terns and shearwaters.

Tarakihi fishing using a twohook 1/0 ledger rig can be productive around most harbour headlands, reclamations and bays where water depths are five metres plus. Fishing from dusk and during darkness hours are best. Small mussel, fish fillet and squid baits are all acceptable.

Since the advent of slide baiting, harbour kingfish captures have risen to unprecedented numbers, mainly because they are now also being targeted from areas where few bothered to previously fish. Locally sourced jack mackerel remain the favourite and most successful live bait.

Favoured moki rigs and baits as described elsewhere are the dominant forms of fishing in the many small bays and channels in all areas west of the harbour entrance.

West coast – Makara to Foxton

This area has two very distinctive habitat types ranging from Ohau to Paekakariki. The coastline is predominantly rocky, punctuated with a few small bays and the very shallow inlets of Porirua and Pauatahanui which in themselves are superb estuarine nursery areas, while Paekakariki to Foxton is virtually one long, predominately sandy beach with several points of access to the many named beaches along this coastal strip. The rocky areas of the Makara and Pukerua Bay coastline have limited vehicle access, the eastern starting point being Makara Beach. From here, anglers can walk the coastline either east to Opau Bay or west to Boom Rock – both around a 1.5-hour walk. Any further either way means a steep up and down climb to get around coastal cliffs.

The Pukerua headland can be accessed by foot from either end at Plimmerton or Pukerua Bay – a two-hour point to point walk.There is vehicle access to Titahi Bay where rock fishing from either side of the beach is possible.

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Species Rigs and Baits

To keen surf casters, the entire Makara to Manawatu coastline is known to produce over 90 per cent of the region’s trophy snapper, while the small beaches within the Makara area are where nearly all of the region’s trophy trevally are likely to be caught. One of the region’s very few rock platforms – Boom Rock – is one of the best land-based kingfish possies around.

But it is the snapper that really draws anglers to this area, and just as different as are the two habitat types dominating here, so too is the terminal tackle and line weight used in them.

Targeting snapper from the rocks is best done using a line with a breaking strain of 10-15 kilos. Rock and weed take no prisoners, so sinkers should be tied to your terminal rig with around 8-kilo line. Include a onehook – minimum 4/0 – ledger rig and the package will give you the very best chance of landing a hooked fish.

On the other hand, the open, clear-bottomed but generally shallow beaches north of Paekakariki need a line weight of around 6 kilos and a clip-down terminal rig as a reasonable casting distance is necessary.

Baits can include squid, oily fish fillet, pilchards and, for variety, crabs – an acceptable snapper bait which also doubles as the preferred bait for the good local spotty shark population.


   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

September 2018 - Jim O'Brien
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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