John Dory


Māori name:


Scientific name:

Zeus faber

All-tackle NZ record:


Eating quality:




John dory are wacky-looking critters; they feature very narrow bodies, giant telescopic mouths, protruding eyes that provide binocular vision, long dorsal fin spines, and characteristic eyespots painted on each of their flanks.

They can be seen stalking their favourite prey – small fish – in comically slow fashion, their camouflaged bodies pressed along by undulating secondary dorsal and anal fins. When in range of their target, JDs open their extendable mouths to create a vacuum that pulls in their unsuspecting prey.

Another notable (and humorous) john dory trait is their ability to grunt, which they often do when caught by anglers. Other than a distress call, research suggests it may be related to territorial behaviour.

Although john dory aren’t built for speed, they grow rapidly and reach maturity at 3-4 years with a maximum lifespan of around nine years. And they’re certainly made for (human) comfort, boasting delicious pearly-white flesh. Accordingly, even though they’re mainly a bycatch species, they are always welcome addition to the bin.

Where to catch

John dory are more prolific in the northern parts of the North Island but can be encountered in the upper South Island. They may reside in depths of up to 200m but are more commonly found in water less than 50m. John dory are typically found around structure, be it reefs, weed edges, rocky shorelines, or man-made constructions such as wharves or breakwalls. Such areas provide cover for the slow-moving JDs to ambush their prey.

Nevertheless, if there are baitfish congregating over the sand, dory will often stray away from the structure, so don’t discount a spot simply because it has a clean bottom.

When to catch

Inshore john dory numbers generally increase over the cooler months; in the Hauraki Gulf and the Bay of Plenty, winter and early spring see much higher catch rates. Research on the east coast of the North Island suggests john dory spawn from December through to April, which is probably why they seem harder to find during this period.

However, they are unpredictable fish and can turn up in numbers at any time of year. And the beauty of john dory is that usually when you find one, others will not be far away.

How to catch

Commonly a bycatch when livebaiting for kings or bottom fishing for snapper, blue cod or tarakihi, john dory are not actively targeted by many anglers in NZ. They do not usually take cut baits when bottom fishing; instead, the usual scenario is that a small fish has been hooked, which the john dory has inhaled!

The two best methods to target JDs are livebaiting or using small lures. For livebaiting, any rig should do the trick because john dory are generally not shy! A ledger rig style will allow the livie to be fished close to the bottom without tangling in the reef or weed. Small jack mackerel are perfect livebaits, although basically any small species of fish will work; just make sure your livie is of legal size if it’s a species with a size limit! Most anglers like to rig their livies either through the nostrils or the scruff of the neck. A decent setup is generally recommended in the likely event that a big snapper or kingfish takes a liking to your live offering!

John dory will not take your bait aggressively and are very lacklustre fighters. A slow and steady wind-up is encouraged, along with a net at the surface, because john dory sometimes get snagged by the livebait’s spines rather than the hook itself!

As predatory fish, small lures worked close to the bottom can be deadly on john dory. Soft-baits are perhaps the most effective, but slow-jigs like sliders and inchikus will also snag the occasional JD. Given that they are sedate operators, try to work lures slowly if you’re trying to target the delicious dory.

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