Text: Alan Bulmer Featured image: Mark Hoffman
By the time May rolls around kahawai and trevally have moved into most of the northern estuaries. The fishing in May – early June can be hectic with lots of work ups in close as these predators chase bait fish schools in the shallows, especially at the change of light. This carnage has already started in the Manukau and I was surrounded by feeding kahawai for nearly two hours last weekend. Epic.
Just to whet your appetite what follows is my diary note from three successive sessions several years ago. Don’t put away your fishing tackle for the winter, add some layers and make the most of the next few months.
Sunday 31 May
Atrocious would be a kind description of the weather conditions on Sunday. The thermometer in the car registered 7oC as I reached the car park. The wind was from the SW, gusted 25 – 30 knots and gave no doubt that it had travelled directly from the South Pole. It was a “lazy wind”, opting to cut straight through rather than go around! Every now and again a rain squall flashed across the estuary drowning everything in its path. Even dressed in my wet weather gear, beanie and neoprene clothes, it was not long before I was nithered so opted regularly to move to keep warm.
Low tide was at 6.40 pm and I fished from 4.00 – 5.30 pm in the lower harbour as this was comparatively sheltered and it meant that I had the wind at my back. The Maori Calendar screamed Fair so I was buoyed by enthusiasm despite the conditions. I started fishing with a Riptide soft plastic shad and was rewarded with a Kahawai no larger than my hand on the third cast. The water was shallow in this part of the estuary and there was still too much tide to wade out far enough to prospect the channel proper. Consequently I kept on picking up weed as could not cast the lure out far enough. Despite catching a small Kahawai, I opted to change to Yo-Zuri S 3D Vibe bibless minnow as this doubled my casting distance. The remainder of the session involved me casting, retrieving the lure, removing the eel grass and recasting. I did not hit another fish until I’d walked about 1 kilometre and it was a mirror image of the first. Disgruntled and cold I trudged back to the car.
Monday 1 June
The day dawned cold and clear. Low tide was at 7.20 am so rather than cross the estuary in the dark after the rain I opted to fish the first 1 ½ hours of the incoming tide and made my way out at the sun neared the horizon. The car thermometer read 4oC and the little ice warning light flickered as I parked at the reserve near the mudflats. The Maori Calendar said Fair so I was cautiously optimistic. Conditions were perfect for spin fishing, negligible wind and low light. The veritable calm after the storm. I started fishing at 7.00 am with Yo-Zuri S 3D Vibe and worked quickly to where a side stream entered the estuary proper.
As I approached a large fish sped into the side stream scattering baitfish asunder. I cast outside it and immediately hooked up on the second rip. My new Wright & McGill 3 piece Salmon spinning rod took on a healthy curve as the fish charged up and down the estuary. For the first 10 minutes the fish established a repetitive and predictable pattern. It ran upstream into the weak current parallel to shore for about 50 metres and then turned on its head and scorched off back downstream for 50 metres before turning and repeating. All the time it was running parallel to the shore it was shaking its head trying to free the lure. In my experience this behavior is characteristic of large Trevally. I was content to let it have its head and wear it out using the rod. Unfortunately this tactic failed spectacularly on this occasion as the fish swirled at the top of its 6th run and threw the hooks. It was definitely a Trevally and a good ‘un. Trevally had very soft mouths and the only way to land them seems to be to walk them out quickly rather than work them with the rod. The lure was fine and the hooks unbent so the problem was a poor hook hold rather than lure failure.
I then decided to wade across the side stream and fished downstream of the junction. This was a wise move as this was where the Kahawai were holding. My fish cast landed ¾ of the way across the channel and I worked it back to shore at a steady speed interspersed with the odd rip. The lure was walloped as it reached the top of the lip marking the demarcation between deep and shallow water and a feisty Kahawai sped off upstream. It took around 5 minutes to subdue the 2 lb fish and it was perfectly proportioned. Over the next 40 minutes I caught another 3 Kahawai and all weighed between 2 – 2.5lb. Each fish was carefully released to fight another day. The Kahawai seemed to be holding in a deep depression off the end of the side stream confluence. Once again the best fishing occurred when the current was moving, especially incoming. One Kahawai had a sea lice on a pectoral fin which I removed.
Tuesday 2 June
Like Monday the day dawned although the mercury stayed lower in the thermometer column. As I got into the car I realised that the windscreen was covered in ice. I turned on the windscreen demister and windscreen wipers and luckily it cleared immediately. Low tide was 8.15 am so I could fish from first light to low tide. The Maori Calendar prophesized Bad fishing which did not dampen my enthusiasm one jot. I decided to start fishing with a soft plastic as they are normally lethal on big Trevally. My plan was to start upstream of the side stream where the fish were holding yesterday and work my way down to the confluence.
Soon after starting I noticed number of seagulls and gannets attacking a work up further up harbour and set off to investigate. It was about 1 kilometre away so it took some time to get to the scene of the action and by the time I reached the mayhem it was all over. I peppered the area with my lure for 10 minutes but it was obvious by then that the school had sounded and moved on. Bugger! I decided to change back to the Yo-Zuri 3D Vibe bibless minnow and systematically fished the estuary downstream, back to where I’d started.
By the time I got back to the side stream confluence was nearing 8.00 am and the current was barely perceptible as the tide dawdled to full ebb. I crossed the stream carefully and cast out into the deeper hole. All of a sudden the water around me boiled as a number of large Kahawai ambushed bait fish in the margins. I picked the nearest boil, cast outside of it and was rewarded with an instant hook-up. The fish took to the air in a gill rattling leap and promptly spat the lure back at me. I checked the lure and it was fine so I lobbed it outside another boil slightly upstream and it was smacked viciously in an instant. This fish took off upstream but was no match for the heavy rod and was soon turned back into the side stream where it charged about like a demented dervish until it was beached. It was a nice fish of about 2 ½ lb but it was some way off prime condition.
The fish kept on boiling and harassing bait fish but with much less intensity as I waded back into the fray. Two casts later and I was on again. This time a larger fish spanked the lure as it bounced over the lip into the shallower water. The 3 lb Kahawai tore up and down the side of the channel for several minutes until it was safely beached amongst a cloud of seagulls, all eager for a slice of the action. Sandy had asked me to keep a couple of fish if I was successful so both of these fish accompanied me home for dinner.
I have moved up to 12 lb braid and attach a 15 lb Amnesia nylon shock trace. This works a treat and the trace did not break even though I fished with it for around 4.5 hours. Much better!
A post mortem seemed to indicate that the larger Kahawai had been feeding on crabs. Looks can be deceptive though. Kahawai have a tendency to regurgitate their stomach contents during the fight which is why they are often empty and appear to have not been feeding at all. Whole crabs are more difficult to regurgitate so they remain which distorts reality. Some anglers have surmised that the regurgitation attracts other kahawai which is why sometimes a hooked fish is shadowed into the shallows by hungry companions.