The powerful surf rod whips forward, sending sinker and bait flying out into the Waitemata Harbour. Launches chug past while yachts lean gracefully into the wind and a jet ski powers by in a spray of white water. The harbour is a busy place.

The cars lined up along the kerb beside the Tank Farm are older than the shiny models parked around the corner in the Westhaven Marina, their owners possibly cruising the waters around Waiheke Island or Great Barrier Island. But the surfcasters lining the footpath along the breakwater and under the harbour bridge will probably catch more snapper. A couple of them wait while another flash boat steams past then cast, their baits hitting the water well past the wake of the launch that is heading for wide open spaces.

"They are supposed to be at least 50m away, but some of them cut the corner, and our lines," says one fisherman. Then he lifts the lid of his chilly bin revealing four fat snapper of about a kilo. The bins hold ice, the catch, a drink and bait, and double as seats.

There is a sense of community here, of shared experiences and shared knowledge.


"We learn a lot from the Asian boys," says Avei Makaneti, who left Niue Island to work in Auckland. "They use only fresh broad squid, which they catch themselves." He moves along a few paces to where a car is parked out from the kerb, leaving room to drop his terminal gear carefully behind him, checks no boats are chugging past and, with a graceful but powerful swing, his rod bends and the line sparkles in the sun as it soars into the harbour. Some of these guys can cast 100m, which is why they would appreciate it if boaties leaving Westhaven went wide before turning to head up the harbour. Makaneti rests his rod in one of the notches cut into the top rail of the fence and barely sits down on his chilly bin before the tip starts nodding. He strolls over and lifts the rod, taking up the slack until the rod bows over and he slowly works the fish in to the edge of the rocks that form the breakwater. Then, lifting the rod high, he swings the flapping snapper over the fence. Another for the chilly bin.

One cheerful lady regards the fishing excursions as a regular family outing. "It's a great place to bring the kids. We used to fish Devonport Wharf, but it's closed for repairs and this is the next best place to fish. We sometimes put in $5 for the first fish, even if it's a sprat." Then she tells of a 6kg snapper that recently came from "the corner, at the turn of the tide".

Some families are enjoying the lovely weather, with deck chairs lined up on the pavement, picnic lunches and chilly bins of cold drinks. Newcomers occasionally arrive with shiny new rods, their inept casts sending the sinker flying out at the wrong angle and tangling other lines. They are politely told what to do.

They don't just catch snapper here. The occasional kahawai and large trevally add some spice to the action. And a big john dory took a piece of mullet the other day.

At low tide the fish have to be lifted over the sharp rocks and big ones require a careful rock-hop down to the water.

A pair of black shags patrol the edge of the breakwater waiting eagerly for small fish to be thrown back.

This has been a stellar summer for the sidewalk casters. The La Nina weather system delivered warm, northerly and easterly winds, which bring the snapper right in to the harbour. "Last month we were catching snapper of 58 to 60cm. Sometimes you would have your limit [9] in 45 minutes," says Makaneti . "My brother-in-law asks me to go out in his boat. I tell him no, I can catch more fish here." On this Friday afternoon between 2pm and 3pm, Makaneti put five snapper in his bin. But the fishing will start to slow down as the water cools, and the snapper will leave for warmer climes. Soon they will be gone, and the pavement will empty. But they will be back next year, and so will the fishermen.