Gurnard

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  • HTC - Gurnard

M?ori name:

Puwhaiau; kumukumu

Scientific name:

Chelidonichthys kumu

All-tackle NZ record:

2.39kg

Eating quality:

Excellent

 

Description

Gurnard, colloquially known as carrots by Kiwi fishers, are a terrific eating fish that can be found in inshore waters around New Zealand. Not only are they shaped like carrots, with a large, bony head tapering down to a small tail at the opposite end, but they also sport the same orange-red colouration. 

However, their distinctive characteristics don’t end there. Gurnard have oversized pectoral fins (or wings) that are bluish-green with dark, white and blue spots and a vibrant blue margin. These are believed to be flared as a display or to startle potential predators. The lower three rays of these pectoral fins are finger-like feelers that contain sensory organs. These are used by gurnard for wandering along the seafloor and identifying crabs, shrimps, worms, shellfish, and small fish living in sedimentary bottoms.

But wait, there’s more! Carrots are also capable of making grunting sounds via drumming muscles beaten against their gas bladders. Here’s some fishy trivia: their name comes from the old French word ‘gournart’ which refers to this grunting noise.

Although they max out at a length of around 55cm and aren’t the best fighting fish, their succulent, flaky-white flesh ensures they attract plenty of angling admirers.

Where to catch

Gurnard are distributed right around our great country in inshore environs, making them a very accessible fish for any angler. They are most abundant north of the Chatham Rise in shallow waters up to about 50m. Some notable hotspots include the Manukau and Kaipara Harbours, M?hia and Hawke’s Bay, the Marlborough Sounds, Wellington, and the K?piti Coast.

Gurnard like to stalk along flat sandy or muddy bottoms. When fishing behind surf beaches, depths of around 10-20m are generally favourable. However, if you’re fishing a harbour, it’s more a case of targeting the channel edges or the shallower guts and flats, depending on the tide. Gurnard come right up onto the mudflats with the rising tide, so don’t be afraid to fish in just a few metres of water in the harbours.

When to catch

Although you can encounter carrots throughout the year, if you want to have a good ol’ fashioned carrot harvest, there are a few timings to consider. Winter and early spring is hands down the prime time to target gurnard in the harbours. They spawn in spring and early summer, so the winter months are when they start congregating and feeding up hard in preparation for the impending action.

In most areas, the best time to fish for gurnard is when the current is flowing. However, slack tide is best in the west coast harbours. Not only is it much easier (from a practical point of view) to fish when the current isn’t ripping past, gurnard seem to be more active around slack water in these areas of serious water movements.

How to catch

Gurnard catching isn’t rocket science, but a few little things can increase your catch rate. Light soft-baiting sets are perfect for targeting gurnard in the shallows. The light braid produces less vibration in the current than thicker lines, and a sensitive tip helps you feel the often-subtle carrot nibbles. And best of all, a big carrot can pull some string from a lightweight combo, giving you heart-in-mouth excitement!

At the business end, it’s hard to go past a 5/0 recurve hook pink flasher rig. Tie the sinker close to the bottom hook to account for the gurnard’s mud-hugging nature. If surfcasting, a breakout sinker will help keep the baits in the strike zone. But, an even better rig for boat fishing is to tie a small sinker at the base of the flasher rig and have a larger sinker sitting above the swivel. This allows all of the baits to sit hard on the bottom in the prime carrot zone. Just watch out for tangles with this set-up when the kahawai are flowing!

Although gurnard have relatively big mouths, use small triangles of skipjack tuna, fresh kahawai, or mullet hooked through the skin once. This ensures you don’t choke the hook's point with bait and risk not being able to penetrate their bony upper jaw plate. Try to give carrots a bit of time to suck down baits before slowly lifting the rod to set the recurve hooks.

A burley bag tied to the anchor chain usually helps drag in a few orange customers; just be judicious with it (on the west coast particularly), as spiny dogfish can be a nuisance. Small softbaits or sliders dragged slowly along the bottom (or even left in the rod holder on the drift) can also be effective.  

 

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