Having dedicated more than 65 years of my fishing life to targeting gurnard, I am the first to admit that my knowledge on this topic is far from complete, mainly because they keep shifting the goalposts all the time.
As a seven-year-old boy fishing on the Manukau Harbour in 1947, I soon discovered that most other fishos treated gurnard with total distain as they were only regarded as fit for pet food back then. One day I caught six quite big gurnard so I painstakingly filleted them out after skinning and boning, and left them in the fridge at home for our cats.
I was out when my mum cooked tea that night, and she mistook the gurnard for either trevally or kahawai, which we regularly ate. I was amazed when the whole family raved about the delicious fish I had caught. From that day on I set out to be the best carrot fisho I could. When the weather was foul, and I could not get out fishing, mum used to buy “pet food” (gurnard) which I would prepare for eating.
I am sure the local fishmonger thought we owned a cattery! But the fish was as cheap as peanuts and tasted simply divine. So let’s take a look at the humble red gurnard (kumukumu) and a few tricks of the trade in how to target them.
The "gurnard guru" himself John Moran
I like to think of gurnard as family fish. Their preferred habitat is the relatively calm shallows of harbours like Auckland’s Kaipara and Manukau, which is really suitable for the mum, dad and the kids-type fishing. They can be quite simple to catch when they are in the mood to co-operate but be warned, they can be frustratingly fickle on occasions as well, which to my way of thinking makes them a very worthy adversary.
Gurnard are creatures of habit like a lot of Mother Nature’s babies. They filter into Auckland’s shallow West Coast harbours once the water temperature starts to cool (usually around March/April) although they do not read calendars. They will move when they are good and ready regardless of the month. My diaries sure reinforce this fact!
Conversely when the harbour water warms up, normally in late December, the snapper arrive in numbers and the gurnard exit the harbours in favour of the West Coast where they find the deeper, colder water more to their liking.
While this scenario is my rule of thumb, be aware that significant numbers of gurnard remain in the harbour right throughout the summer to keep us serious carrot catchers happy. Another very welcome fact is that gurnard are fast becoming more and more prevalent on the east coast of Auckland.
The first issue we should address when targeting carrots is their tucker. I have gutted plenty and I have found that the main gut content is crabs, cockabully, very small flounder and other juvenile fish like stargazers and also shrimps.
But I am not suggesting you use these for bait, far from it! By the simple process of trial and error, over the years I have established that most common baits work on gurnard with my favourites including skipjack tuna (sold as bonito) mullet and pilchard cubes.
Yet serious carrot fishos from Hawkes Bay will use nothing but trevally cubes, which I find hopeless on the Manukau.
But as with all types of fishing, always take a good variety of baits with you. Salted skippy and mullet are great as they don’t need refrigeration or take up valuable bin space. Variety is certainly the spice of life, especially when it comes to bait for fishing.
I started out many moons ago using green cotton handlines then I progressed to 15kg monofilament (nylon.) Today my standard gurnard fishing gear is now a basic softbait setup with 3kg braid on a small reel with around two metres of 10kg fluorocarbon secured to the braid by a deckie’s knot.
I fit a small Black Magic swivel and clip to the end, which enables me to very quickly change rigs when circumstances dictate. Sure, heavier line will catch gurnard but never in the numbers that super light line does.
My reasoning is quite simple. Strong currents cause a noticeable humming sort of vibration in thick line, which transmits down to the terminal tackle and scares the hell out of fish, while the very thin braid line does not create this problem. If you must use a sinker, use the lightest one possible, although hapuku fishing is one exception to this rule.
Black Magic KL hooks are so efficient and effective in size 5/0 or 6/0 for gurnard. These hooks are also used on all Black Magic’s flasher rigs. Their profile ensures that most fish are hooked in the corner of the mouth, which is great for releasing unwanted fish.
Flasher rigs are dynamite for gurnard fishing. Generally pink seems to be the favoured colour to attract carrots, although on their day most other colours will work. Flouro green will often produce fish when all else fails.
Carrots love bling! I know fishos who use glass beads, tinsel and all manner of flashy things in conjunction with baits. One Manukau local, Gerald Muir, is a real whiz at making up bling rigs and man, does he catch heaps of gurnard.