The 5:20am alarm was tough after five weeks of lockdown. My kayak was already on the roof, the rods were rigged (the soft-bait combo and the optimist stickbait setup) and the pack of muesli bars purchased, so it was straight to Army Bay after only clicking snooze twice – a good start all round.
The choice was tough. There was a lot of pressure to pick the right spot for my first fish in Level 3, particularly as I had ditched the daily 9am NZ Fishing News team meeting. If I didn’t catch, I would not only suffer my usual bitter disappointment when coming home without a feed, but I also wouldn’t have just cause to ditch future meetings. The issue was that these are unprecedented times. I’d heard rumours that Arkles Bay was firing, but by rumours I mean my mate had been walking there most days and said it looked fishy.
With no one having fished for a month, it was a lottery, so I went back to my roots – Army Bay. It juts out into Hauraki Gulf, and is part of what is known by most as Whangaparaoa Bay. There’s plenty of structure, weed line and one hidden rock usually plagued by spearos. It was this hidden rock I chose as my destination. It’d been untouched for a month, so I thought there should be plenty of bait in the area, and hopefully a few kingfish in tow.
It was my first kayak-fish for about a year, so the 2km paddle took no less than 40 minutes. Taking well-deserved rests every couple of minutes didn’t help with getting the early bite, but I arrived at Wellington Rock in good spirits and with a bit of energy left in the tank to catch fish.
The silence was bliss, and for a few minutes I thought how little it mattered if I caught anything; just to be breathing in the salt, drifting through the deep blues and nameless ripples, to know the currents push and move and live with or without the watch of us fishermen, was more than enough.
But three minutes later I hadn’t hooked up and I was livid.
The 15-20m contours off the back of the rock looked fishy on the charts and were producing plenty of bites on the soft-baits, but nothing stuck on the first drift. Thankfully, a small change in technique saw a couple of hook-ups on the second. For whatever reason, these fish were only biting hard when the soft-bait was moving fast – on the drop or retrieve or when jerked sharply. I started casting far and wide, working the soft-bait hard back to the kayak, and the fish started coming on board.
For the next couple of hours, the bites were steady and a couple of snapper around the 50cm mark were landed, as well a few more smaller pannies. When I thought I had my limit – I forgot I’d released one, so I actually had six – I called it a day and struggled my way home.
While it didn’t go crazy and there were no trophy fish, I can confirm that there are plenty of fish to be caught in Whangaparaoa Bay and up the Coast. Another friend of mine did well in the shallows off Army Bay, and there still seem to be plenty of anchovies hovering over the sand up the peninsula.
If you’ve got a surfcaster or a kayak, get out, cast a line and let us know how you get on!
- Ethan Neville