As holiday time looms many people look to casting a line off the shore or from the rocks, and the most common question posed is, where can I go to catch a fish? The Northland and Coromandel coasts offer endless opportunities and the key elements to look for are ease of access and proximity to deep water and currents. For example, the points at either end of a bay will be more productive than the sheltered water between. The contour of the terrain leading down to the water will continue on the sea floor, so a steep hill suggests deep water. Conversely, a sheltered beach will lead to shallow water.
Currents will also be stronger as they sweep around a rocky headland. This applies to the west coast and, near Auckland, popular spots such as the rock ledges at Whatipu, Muriwai and Piha attract large numbers of anglers. But this coast is also a dangerous one, and being swept into the sea is a real possibility.
Standard precautions include always watching the sea, as rogue waves appear regularly; wearing a lifejacket; avoiding heavy clothing and gumboots; and being aware of rising tides.
The south head of the Manukau Harbour can fish well, but it is a steep climb down to the water's edge, and Hamilton's Gap a little further down the coast is another productive surfcasting spot.
Closer to the city, people regularly catch snapper and kingfish from the rocks at Duncansby Rd on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. Kingfish can be hooked on a live bait too, but landing them is another matter. This also applies to the rocks at Orete Point on the coast past Maraetai.
The rocks at Milford, Browns Bay and Murrays Bay can fish well and, like all shore fishing, the early morning or late evening are prime times to have a bait in the water, particularly if it coincides with a rising tide.
In the city, the popular wharves all attract a lot of anglers. From Devonport to Birkenhead and Orakei, it is common to see long rods lined up all along the rails. Vehicles crossing the harbour bridge always look down on rods lining the footpath, and some of the fishermen who frequent these paths are skilled anglers. They use powerful surfcasting rods to hurl baits on thin braided lines out into the Waitemata Harbour.
They will have short traces with pieces of pilchard secured with thread on hooks cooling in a chilly bin, waiting to be clipped on and cast out. And they catch fish, during the day and at night. Large numbers of snapper move past the rocky breakwater wall as they hunt for little green crabs, and a lot of them end up in a chilly bin.
Some inventive types will try to increase their chances of taking home dinner by seeding the water with pieces of bait. This is best done at slack tide so it settles in the immediate zone, rather than being instantly swept away on the current.
Others try different baits. On the west coast, where octopus lurk among the boulders and inshore reefs, a squiggly 10cm length from one arm makes a top snapper bait. It can be hooked through one end, leaving the thin tip to wave around in the current. Shellfish such as tuatua always make good bait, but being soft they should be secured with multiple winds of elastic bait cotton.
When fishing in strong currents such as in the harbour, a sinker is needed and many anglers like to put the weight at the end of their line, with the short trace and hook attached to a clip above it. This makes distance casting easier, as a trace hanging below the sinker will pendulum in the air, creating drag and reducing distance. This type of rig is fished with the drag on the reel set tight, and the fish virtually hook themselves.
But rock fishing is entirely different. For a start, distance is not a requirement, as the fish will venture in close, and a sinker will quickly snag in the rocks or weed, causing break-offs. Floating baits are usually large ones, such as a whole pilchard or mackerel to provide weight for casting. Such baits will sink slowly through the water column, and the angler should keep the line tight to keep in touch with it, while remaining ready to let line slip out when a bite is felt. Snapper like to swim away with their food before swallowing it, and they should be allowed to swim for several metres before putting the reel in gear and setting the hook by winding until the line comes tight, then lifting the rod.
Another technique for rock fishing is to use a small float, keeping the bait suspended in the water. This is usually associated with fishing for small bait fish or surface-feeders such as piper, but can be used when targeting snapper in water that has a lot of weed on the bottom.
You can use a tennis ball as a float in this situation.