Wild NZ: Paddling for Dinner - Kayak fishing in the Coromandel

Wild NZ: Paddling for Dinner - Kayak fishing in the Coromandel

I felt the typical ‘knock-knock’ of a snapper as line tore off the reel, and, after a quick fight, I landed a nice eight-pounder– which, importantly, was bigger than anyone else’s!

Paddling for Dinner - Kayak fishing in the Coromandel

The peace and solitude was rudely interrupted by an almighty SPLASH just behind me. Thinking a giant fish (maybe a broaching Great White?) had leapt out of the water, I quickly turned to see Elliot swimming around, desperately trying to get his 115kg frame back in his kayak. Seems he’d overturned while throwing a fish into the storage well behind his seat. I ended up laughing so hard I nearly joined him!

According to bumper stickers I’ve seen, 1.4 million Kiwis fish, hunt and vote. Now thankfully, we’re not here to discuss politics (“Phew!” I hear you say!) However, that’s a pretty impressive number – and it says a lot about how many of us enjoy these recreational pursuits.

For those who fancy the idea of providing a fishy dinner for the family now-and-then, there are several methods you can use. Boat fishing’s a pretty Kiwi way to get your line wet; but it’s also the most expensive – unless you’ve got a mate with a boat! Then there’s surfcasting, which is accessible to virtually anyone with the appropriate rod and reel – and a great alternative for those who get seasick!

Another simpler solution is to go out and hook a fish by kayak. Over the last few years, word’s got out just how successful ‘yak’ fishing can be. In fact, it’s become so popular that most canoe manufacturers now include specialty fishing-kayaks in their line-up. The majority are ‘sit-on-top’ types, which are much more practical (and safer) than ‘sit-insides’. They sport various numbers of rod holders, storage areas and other fishing practicalities – and are generally pretty stable, with the most popular ones ranging in length from 4 to 4.7 metres.

Yak fishing (not to be confused with the hairy Himalayan native) has a number of advantages over its motorboat cousin. For example: kayaks are cheaper to buy; there’s no fuel costs; and you can safely fish in shallower, more ‘reefy’ areas. They’re also quiet and a little like a stealth bomber – able to sneak up unawares on their prey. They’re easy to launch by yourself, quick to clean, and are a heap of fun – especially when hooked up to a big fish!

With all these benefits being promised, you can understand why, a few months ago, I bit the bullet and bought one myself …

One of the attractive things about fishing from a kayak, for me at least, is the simplicity. While lots of guys set their yaks up with every piece of fishing paraphernalia under the sun, I just take a couple of rods, a few softbaits and not much else. A little local knowledge also helps when finding the fish.

(I have friends, on the other hand, who take three or four rods, fancy electronic equipment, bait, lures, nets and gaffs – and some guys even have live-bait tanks installed! So while it can be simple – it doesn’t have to be if you’re that way inclined!)

A few weeks ago, after some great fishing locally, a few of us planned a trip up the coast for a change of scenery – and to see if we could bag a few bigger fish out of our yaks. Keen kayaker and cuzzy, Bryce, was a starter – and he invited his friend and well-known kayak fisherman, Stephen Tapp, to join us. Local mates of mine, Nigel (owner of Bubba’s Fishing & Outdoor) and Elliot, completed the crew.

Our destination was Papa Aroha – a few minutes north of Coromandel township and a well-known fishing spot.

After meeting at Bubba’s for last minute supplies, we loaded the kayaks and piled into the vehicle. Bryce and Stephen were meeting us up there, so the rest of us headed off – stopping for a compulsory feed of KFC on the way up. (We don’t get fine dining like this at home!) We made Papa Aroha and the campground mid-afternoon, and, after wrestling for the best bed in the single-room cabin, got our kit together for an evening fish.

Stephen still hadn’t arrived, so the four of us headed out into the glassy conditions – ever hopeful of landing a few fish. And sure enough, it didn’t take long before we started hooking up – small ones at first, and then some bigger, nicer-eating snapper. Bryce and I were solely using softbaits – a flexible lure made of soft plastic which can be fished in a variety of ways. It’s become very popular – and means you don’t need to worry about stinky bait, or making a mess in your kayak! The softbaits come in a multitude of colours, and have cool names, like ‘Nuclear Chicken’ and ‘Lime Tiger’ – so they gotta be good!

After Elliot’s swim, we headed a little deeper to around the 15-metre mark, where there was a bit more action showing on Bryce’s fish-finder. We were all hooking up now – and, just as the sun began to dip below the horizon, I swapped my ‘New-Penny’ colour for one that glowed in the dark. I cast, waited for the lure to sink, and then started my retrieve … when, WHAM! It was hit hard! I felt the typical ‘knock-knock’ of a snapper as line tore off the reel, and, after a quick fight, I landed a nice eight-pounder– which, importantly, was bigger than anyone else’s!

Paddling home after dark was an adventure in itself. Nigel led us into some rocks, swearing it was the channel back into the campsite – but, after a bit of rock-crawling, we finally made it. Stephen was there to greet us, and we lost no time filleting some fish for dinner and putting the others on ice.

After a great feed of fresh snapper, we spent the rest of the evening yarning about ones that had got away, and looking through Stephen’s impressive collection of lures and fishing tackle. As the GM of Viking Kayaks, he has plenty of fishing knowledge and spends a large amount of time on the water. (He calls it product-testing, but we know better!) As the three Whanga boys use Ocean Kayaks (Viking’s main competition), there was plenty of banter as to which was better! Fortunately, majority ruled – but the proof would be in tomorrow’s fishing …

The next morning dawned with a strong southerly blowing, so the call was made to head further north to a little cove near the tip of the peninsula – named ‘Goat Bay’. This was hopefully more sheltered … and full of giant fish! The water looked calm and real ‘fishy’ as we hurriedly got our gear sorted and into the water. The plan was to fish the drop-off at around the 25-30 metre mark and see what was around – my plan was to follow Stephen and his fish-finder!

The going, however, was slow and hard. The guys using bait were pulling in plenty of little ones, but nothing of any size, and there wasn’t much action with the softbaits either. So I decided to paddle south, towards the tip of Fantail Bay, and let the wind drift me north. By now the southerly had got up, and with the current flowing opposite to the wind, some pretty impressive chop was created. Somehow, Nigel and Elliot (who both have reputations for falling out … in calm water!) managed to stay upright.

Hugging the coastline to avoid the strong winds, we continued searching for something bigger than the ‘pannies’ we’d been catching. The most excitement I had all day came after changing my softbait to a ‘Black Catalpa’. My first cast in the shallows resulted in a hard hit, with line screaming from my reel. (It would’ve helped if my drag was done up tighter!) Some hard knocks had us thinking I had a big snapper on, but, after a couple of minutes, a large ocean kahawai surfaced instead.

Bryce was keen to use it as a livebait for a big kingie. So he paddled over to get it. But as he took the fish, it gave a little wiggle and Bryce (the wuss!) dropped it over the side!

As it turned out, that was the biggest fish we caught for the day. We added a few more nice pan-sized snapper to the icebox, but the big one had eluded us … for now!

Heading home, we all agreed it had been a great couple of days. We’d got to hang out with some good mates … in a beautiful place …

… and go fishing!