The experienced waterman washed out to sea while fishing near Kaikoura with his best mate yesterday had gone for "one last fish" before the end of the season.

Michael Dean Coates, a 51-year-old Kaikoura local better known as "Mino", drowned after being pulled into the sea while fishing for salmon shortly before 10am at the mouth of the Clarence River.

A series of large waves knocked the keen angler, surfer, swimmer, diver and hunter off his feet and out to sea.

The 51-year-old Kaikoura local had been fishing at the river mouth when he was swept out shortly before 10am. Photo / Supplied
The 51-year-old Kaikoura local had been fishing at the river mouth when he was swept out shortly before 10am. Photo / Supplied

His mate alerted emergency services and a massive search and rescue operation was launched.

Senior sergeant Stu Koefoed, of Tasman police, said Mr Coates was seen floating in the rough seas before rescuers lost sight of him.

A local helicopter spotted him before a fishing boat recovered the body and returned it to shore.

Today, Mr Coates' partner of 25 years, Kathy Thompson paid tribute to a "true Kiwi bloke who provided for his family".

"He was a water baby ... he lived on the water," she said from their 5ha rural Kaikoura property.

Mr Coates worked for a local building firm.

He is survived by two daughters, Catlin, 17, and 18-year-old Isabelle, and two step children.

Mr Coates "lived for fishing", Ms Thompson said, and loved bringing home paua, crayfish, and rig.

"He went down to the beach on Friday night and caught four rig in an hour," she said.


"He loved the Clarence and he loved salmon fishing - it was his absolute passion."

Yesterday, Mr Coates and a friend he hadn't seen for about 15 years decided to head to the river to fish and spend time together.

"It was the end of the season and he just thought he might go for that last one," Ms Thompson said.

It was a set of about five waves that took him away.

Ms Thompson praised the devastated mate who witnessed the tragedy for notifying authorities straight away.

"It was a split second - there was no way any man could survive," she said.

"If his friend had tried to save him, he would've been gone too."

She also thanked Kaikoura rescue services for its rapid response, and in getting the body back to the family.

The grieving family is now planning a fitting farewell on Friday in their backyard, surrounded by "beautiful native trees and native birds".

Deer antlers and a fishing rod will be placed on his coffin.

"That's where he'd want to be, not in some stuffy hall," Ms Thompson said.

The family is also going to drive Mr Coates' beloved blue 1972 Ford Falcon station wagon for a drive to the cemetery.

The death has been referred to the coroner.