Hāpuku/Bass

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Māori name:    Hāpuku; Moeone (Bass)
Scientific name:    Polyprion oxygeneios (Hāpuku); Polyprion americanus (Bass) 
All-tackle NZ record:    68.0kg (Hāpuku); 86.2kg (Bass) 
Eating quality:    Excellent

Description

Hāpuku and bass are the deepwater thugs of NZ fishing. These two closely related species grow to large sizes and are available to anglers right around the country. Unfortunately, they’re nowhere as common as they once were as they are slow-growing, long-lived, and vulnerable to overfishing. 

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Terrific eating either fresh or frozen, Hāpuku and bass grow to large sizes, with 50kg-plus fish caught every year. Average sizes – similar for both species – are a bit less than a meter, with the stouter bass weighing heavier for its length. School fish generally weigh less than 15kg. 

Hāpuku and bass look very alike but are easy to tell apart when placed side by side. Hāpuku are greyer in colour (blue when young) shading abruptly to almost white on the belly. They are generally slighter and more elongated than bass and have a noticeably longer lower jaw, giving them a grumpy look.

Bass are more heavily built and have shorter, more rounded heads, with lower jaws projecting only slightly. They tend to be darker brown in colour, grading gradually to grey-brown on the belly. Juvenile fish feature pale bands or mottling.

Where to catch

Hāpuku favour reefs in 80-200m of water but are caught in much shallower water at times, as well as deeper. In a few isolated spots, such as the Chatham Islands, it’s still possible to catch them in very shallow water. Bass are usually found in water over 200m deep or spots very close to the continental shelf.

Acknowledged hāpuku and bass hotspots include reefs and banks around the Three Kings Islands, White Island, and the Ranfurly Banks, but there are thousands of rocks and reefs right around New Zealand that offer good opportunities. Off the west coast, the edges of the continental shelf provide near-limitless fishing opportunities. Some prospecting with a powerful sounder can bear fruit for patient anglers. 

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Larger hāpuku and bass are almost always associated with reef structure; smaller fish may be caught out in the open over mud or sand. Fish found in the open tend to be smaller hāpuku specimens (‘pups’). Bass seldom feed in the open, but both species have pelagic juvenile phases with small fish attracted to floating objects.

When to catch

Little is known about the spawning habits of hāpuku and bass, but seasonal migrations between shallow and deep water are a feature of their lifecycles, thought to be related to spawning activity. Although they are caught year-round, commercial hāpuku catches peak in winter. However, it appears that different areas around NZ have different preferred fishing seasons.

Hāpuku and bass are most often targeted at or around slack water. They favour areas of high current and, in many locations, it’s only possible to fish for them over the turn of the tide (and they are perhaps more active over slack water). If the drift is too fast due to tide, wind, or both, the fishing is poor because baits are not spending enough time in the strike zone.

How to catch

There’s something epic about heading miles offshore, beyond the sight of land, and sending your line down into the abyss in the search for deep-water monsters. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but with the right preparation and the right conditions, you can catch these denizens of the deep with a standard trailer-boat. 

Hāpuku and bass have large appetites and vast mouths which engulf prey. Most anglers fish two or three-hook dropper rigs with short branching traces armed with large circle hooks and 24-32oz sinkers. Almost any fish bait will take hapuku and bass; however, livebaits such as mackerel, blue cod, and tarakihi work very well, often taking fish-of-the-day honours. Adding light sticks or lumo beads can help attract more attention too. 

Rods and reels need to be sturdy – 24-37kg stand-up game or 300g-plus weight jig rods, and reels possessing a decent drag output and holding at least 300m of heavy braid. Braided line is mandatory because its low stretch allows you to feel bites when your baits are hundreds of metres down. While some call it cheating, electric reels make life a whole lot easier than manual winding!

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