Great Barrier Island Kingfish 2016 – Part 1

Landbased fishing for kingfish is best during February and March. For over a decade, I have watched his majesty being targeted, hooked and landed off the rocks. The first kingfish I saw was protruding from a large hiking pack at Port Jackson in the Coromandel. I stopped to have a chat with the chap who landed that monster of a fish. His name was Paul (the angler’s that is)…

We became top friends and meet once a year during his extensive New Zealand Rockfishing Holiday. This year, he arrived earlier than usual and brought his son Connor. We had 11 days on the Barrier, this was Connor’s first time to New Zealand, and our plan was to catch kingfish, talk kingfish, eat kingfish, drink and reassure ourselves that we are the best people to run a country.

The Kingfish Rules For The Barrier

Let me begin with the boundary conditions for targeting kingfish on the Barrier as laid out by Paul:

  1. There are NO big kingfish to be caught off the Barrier. All rats.
  2. There are only three fish during the season (including fish that have to be released).
  3. You have to wear your gimbal at all times when fishing for kingfish.

In five years, we have not seen one big kingfish. Sure, everybody talks about these huge kingfish, be it divers or anglers, however, a 20 lbs kingfish is certainly not what one would classify as big. It’s like claiming that a 31 cm snapper is huge.

First Attempt

Paul and Connor unpacked on day one and got their gear sorted. 10 days left. Actually, only 9 as no fishing will be done on the day of departure either. With rule 2 in mind, I refrained from targeting kingfish on my own. Last year I landed a kingi a week before Paul arrived and then another during his visit, which only left one fish for him. I felt a bit bad…

We went for an easy fish around low tide, three anglers and Rani the fishing dog. We arrived to see a work-up outside of our casting range.

Kahawai working underneath the birds. Hard to see, too far away to cast into it.

Kahawai working underneath the birds. Hard to see, too far away to cast into it.

Connor showed us very quickly that he is keen, able and dedicated. He had no problems catching kahawai or piper, and live-baited for hours and hours, cooking in the sun (and burning) and watching the water and the bait under the balloon. I really liked that because:

  • i) he will land a kingfish on this trip if he stays this dedicated and competent.
  • ii) if he continues to catch kahawai and piper like this, and live-bait for hours, I can take the third row and just relax, letting father and son do all the fishing work.

The fishing was rather slow though. Connor and Paul had live-baits in the water most of the time, we burleyed hard and I climbed a rock to have a better look at what’s happening in the water. There were no signs of kingfish. Nothing. To make things worse, none of us were able to land a decent snapper either. No complaints though, we caught plenty for the table.

Squid like to have a go at small live-bait. Retrieve your bait slowly, so you can net them.

Squid like to have a go at small live-bait. Retrieve your bait slowly, so you can net them.

A mixed bag. Squid, kahawai and snapper.

A mixed bag. Squid, kahawai and snapper.

Second Attempt

The tides were not in our favour and there was a swell on the East Coast. Nevertheless, we went to a rather remote spot, sweating like mules and swearing at the hills like Pakeha. The boys in full gear, I only took my camera kit and a snapper rod/reel combo. On this day, again, none of us landed a decent snapper. We released so many small snapper that I discontinued fishing. On this day, and backed by the remainder of our fishing expeditions, I realised that size-limits are contra-productive to ecological sustainability. More about this later.

Connor caught a perfect-sized kahawai and his dad sent it out under a balloon. Not long after, and a school of kingfish showed up. They raised from the deep while Connor was reeling in a tiny snapper. We probably saw a school of a dozen kingfish. Paul held onto his live-bait rod (possibly double-checked his gimbal) and was otherwise no help. Connor cast the stick-bait out and tried to get a hookup. I was ready with the camera.

On a few occasions the stick-bait got hit, but there was no hook-up. The fish were not interested in the live-bait and within seconds they disappeared. Bummer. But hey, very exciting, Connor saw his majesty and went even harder. He caught a few piper and sent one out. (BTW, I tried squid, pilchards, fresh kahawai, fresh piper and all I caught were snapper about the 30 cm mark.)

A school of kingfish following a dead-bait.

A school of kingfish following a stick-bait.

A better photograph of some of the fish in the school. None of them is big.

A better photograph of some of the fish in the school. None of them is big.

After the kingis had swam off, we experienced slow fishing until about half an hour after low tide. We didn’t see or catch anything significant. Connor burnt those parts of his skin that were not burnt on the first day. I sat way up in the rocks and did what I could to get the fish to come back…

And so they did. A smaller school of kingfish arrived. Paul was again on a live-bait, Connor cast a dead piper on a big overhead reel.

Keep The Fish Entertained – Don’t Just Point At Them

I did better than the first time and chucked pieces of bait into the water to keep the kingis entertained. This time, they hung around for a while longer. We just were not able to get that hook-up. The school disappeared again, but one fish hung around.

To my big surprise, Connor managed to cast the dead piper far enough, so he could give it a bit of action on the retrieve with the TLD20 reel (this is on 37 kg stand-up gear). I didn’t see the hook-up, but he hooked his majesty. The fish had no chance to pull any line. It was hooked less than 2 m off the rocks and couldn’t gain even one meter on Connor’s solid drag.

While Paul was looking away, I got the gaff ready. The fish looked to small though. Too small to keep. I dragged the fish out of the water by the leader and asked Connor to get it off the hook and release it. He was keen to get a photo, but we told him not to muck around. The fish needs water to breathe…

Unfortunately, the kingi flapped too much and dropped out of Connor’s hands more than three meters onto a flat, barnacle-loaded rock. “Well, I guess we can take that photo now. This fish won’t survive.”


Connor with his first kingfish (off the rocks). Just under 75 cm and although it didn’t look like it’ll survive, we released it.

For tea we had a few kahawai, possibly another squid (I forgot) and a couple just legal snapper. On the way up the hill I realised that Connor was not wearing a gimbal today. “Mate, how did you manage to play such a big kingi without a gimbal?” “Ah, that was no problem Ben”.

Rule 3. was, therefore, disproved. Seriously, if Rule 1. holds (there are no big kingfish on the Barrier), why would you bother with a gimbal anyway?

Size-Limits Are Contra-Productive To Healthy Fish Stocks

I claim this and challenge you to disprove me. In New Zealand, like most other countries, there is a size-limit per fish species and a quantity-limit per fish species depending on where you fish. There are also combined limits and rules and regulations about how to fish and so on. Quite a lot really, possible more complex than passing a driver’s license in this country.

For snapper it is 7 fish per day of at least 30 cm size. For kingfish, no more than 3 fish per day and at least 75 cm (this is for wider Auckland region). When you’re fishing off the rocks, you cannot measure a fish until you’ve taken it out of the water. You also cannot control what size fish takes your bait.

When you’re fishing for kingfish and snapper and follow the law, with continuously decreasing fish stocks, you might hook 50 snapper in one session and maybe a handful of kingfish. You hook ’em, drag them out of the deep by using aggressive force, then you have to unhook them, measure them (in an environment that is deadly to fish) and release if necessary.

A lot of damage can occur during this process even if you are well prepared, and well experienced. In other words, thousands of under-sized snapper get hooked and released in Tryphena alone per day. How do we know how many of these fish will survive?

How many fish have you caught that were clearly caught by hook before? How many fish have you landed that had already a hook in them? How many fish have you landed that had obvious damage on the scales? If you have, I bet they were big fish!

Ecological Sustainability First – PLEASE

If I had anything to say, I would change the rules. You are allowed to keep the FIRST 7 snapper you catch and the FIRST 3 kingfish. The advantages for you and the fish are significant:

  1. Less handling of fish, better survival chance.
  2. You always catch a feed.
  3. Instead of filleting fish and throwing everything else out, you’ll prepare meals that include ALL of the fish.
  4. You get out there, catch a feed and get home. Instead of baking in the sun and injuring huge numbers of small fish.
  5. You can still catch that trophy fish. But it is more likely that you leave the big breeders alone and take fish for the table that will have less chances of breading in the future anyway (in statistical terms speaking).

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