Saltwater catches vary by location, from tuna and shark around Fiordland, to snapper and kingfish in the Marlborough Sounds. The far north, around the Bay of Islands has marlin, kingfish and sporting kahawai, with terakihi available around most of the New Zealand coastline. Fly-fishing brings a new dimension to the meaning of light tackle saltwater sport. Kahawai, an express speedster and leaper, when hooked will take with abandon a fly cast from a boat or river mouth. Other fish species such as skipjack, tuna and trevally can give spectacular sport too.
Proper saltwater fly-fishing gear, with a 12 weight rod and all-aluminium reel, is advisable. Trout reels and rods just cannot stand the saltwater exposure or the pace. Saltwater fly-fishing does not have the subtlety or finesse of fly-fishing for trout. It’s action-packed with jolting strikes, searing runs and protracted battles.
Fishing may be good in the winter when still sunny days follow a crisp frost at first light, but light tackle fishing in New Zealand is usually at its best in summer and autumn. This is when warmer water and a profusion of bait fish entice feeding schools of larger fish inshore. There are no closed season restrictions and no licence is required.
In the 1980s the New Zealand Government moved to ban commercial long lining and to institute a moratorium on commercial marlin fishing. With the enlightened approach and controls, game fishing surged back and, in 1995, the Bay of Islands recorded its best ever season in 70 years. In recent years, waters off Whangarei, the Coromandel Peninsula and the Bay of Plenty have also recorded impressive big game catches. Other areas further south, such as Taranaki and Hawke’s Bay, are emerging as big game fishing locations, with shark, bluefin tuna and even broadbill swordfish to be taken. In the South Island, kingfish, albacore, tuna and sharks can be taken in summer.
New Zealand has a wide offering of game fishing species. Here is the best time to try and catch them:
Striped marlin: New Zealand has reputedly the largest marlin in the world and many world records to prove it. Best fishing off the East Coast north of East Cape from December to June.
Pacific blue marlin: More rare in New Zealand. Best fishing off the East Coast north of East Cape from February to April.
Black marlin: Also comparatively rare. Best fishing off the East Coast north of East Cape from January to April.
Broadbill: A rare but prized catch, widespread in midwater and usually offshore. Best fishing from November to March.
Mako shark: Ranges from south to the bottom of the South Island but most abundant in the North Island, particularly the far north. With a streamlined body, it is a powerful fighter and spectacular leaper. Best fishing in summer.
Thresher shark: A prized game fish most common from East Cape northwards but can range as far south as Cook Strait.
Hammerhead shark: Regularly enters New Zealand’s northern waters in summer. Other sharks such as bronze whalers and tiger can also be caught.
Yellowtail: Known in New Zealand as kingfish, ranges from North Island to northern South Island and sometimes further south. A powerful fighter reaching top weight of over 50 kg (120lb). Can be taken by land-based game fishing. All year round in the north, but mainly November to May in the Marlborough Sounds.
Yellowfin tuna: Powerful fighter mainly on the East Coast north of East Cape. Whakatane is a noted yellowfin tuna base. Best fishing from December to April.
In established sport fishing bases, such as the Bay of Islands, Mayor Island, Whakatane, Tutukaka, near Whangarei and Tauranga, charters are readily available, supplying equipment, tackle, bait, and refreshments. Both day and overnight trips can be arranged. Charters range from $NZ700 to $1000 a day.
Charter trips have also been introduced out of Milford Sound in Fiordland, the Marlborough Sounds (Havelock) and Kaikoura regions of the South Island. North Island charters are also available from Napier, Gisborne and New Plymouth.