Edging slowly out towards roaring surf between some unnervingly big sets, as the water starts to get deeper, there’s a feeling of regret about a throwaway comment a few days earlier that led to this scenario.
Having already been wiped out once by a powerful breaker, there’s a little more caution exercised in the next advance into the sea to cast.
This is surfcasting on the West Coast’s Ripiro Beach and it’s a dramatic place to catch a fish.
About a week earlier, a casual comment to colleague and mad-keen surfcaster Mathew Hewetson that I had never caught a trevally in the surf had been enough for him to make it his mission.
Not only that, but he was so confident that he gave me his personal guarantee of a trevally on the trip. Big talk, but could he deliver?
Ripiro Beach, close to Dargaville in the north, is a pretty spectacular place to fish even by New Zealand standards. It’s rugged and raw and an imposing location to get your surfcasting baptism of fire.
Mathew Hewetson grew up around these parts and much of his early fishing was done on this beach. Local knowledge is always one of the most useful weapons in any fishing mission and Hewey wasted no time in heading for a part of the beach that’s proved successful for him in the past.
The ability to read the surf gives the beachcasting fisho a much better chance of catching fish. Once a deep spot had been located, it was out with the gear and time to tackle up.
The first job of the day though was to find bait. That’s one of the great things about fishing from the beach – your bait is already there. You just have to find it and that in itself can be fun.
As we were targeting trevally on this trip, we were looking for a personal favourite of theirs – tuatuas. Like most shellfish that live buried in sand, you tend to find pockets of them. Once you’ve located one or two, there’s usually lots more to be found in the same area.
The best place to find tuatuas is usually on a sandbar at low tide. You’ll usually find them in knee-deep water. Shuffle your feet to locate them then dig down. Easy!
Once we had enough tuatuas to get fishing, we wasted no time in baiting
up and getting out into the surf to find
Surfcasting is not easy. It’s a form of fishing that requires practice. However, when you get it right, you know the second the bait leaves you that it’s going to be a good cast. Likewise, when you get it wrong, you know almost instantly you’ve made a booboo. In that sense it’s a bit like a golf swing.
The key to surfcasting success is distance. The further you can get that bait, the better your chance of catching the big one.
This theory was proved bang on as my early casts returned nothing in the way of fish. As I struggled to get any real distance on the cast, the sinker was routinely caught in the surf and carried along the beach away from any biting fish. Only when I began to get some decent length on the cast did I begin to get some bites.
As day turned to evening, the cast was as good as it was going to get with only a day’s practice. It was no coincidence that my best cast of the day finally yielded what I was after – a trevally from the surf.
If there’s one accessory that’s absolutely vital for surfcasting, it has to be the humble cotton elastic. This stuff is a Godsend when casting soft shellfish baits.
Once you’ve baited the hook, take the cotton and wind it round the bait all the way up the shank. Be sure to put plenty on as this is the one thing that’s going to stop the bait from flying off during the huge amount of force that it is put under during the cast. It’ll cost you nothing more than small change but it can make all the difference to your day’s fishing at the beach. Don’t forget it!
As the sun started to drop, I was shaken out my reverie by a sudden aggressive, unmistakable bite. It was so unexpected that there was a bit of a stutter in my actions.
Endless hours without success can slip you into a bit of a coma so my reactions were hardly lightening quick. Nevertheless, the fish remained hooked and the fight began. Hewey seemed as happy as I was when he noticed me fighting the fish.
Fighting fish with a surfcaster is unlike any other form of fishing. The hooked fish has an uncanny knack of using the powerful surf to its advantage and will tend to fight its way across the water, parallel to the beach.
This makes for an interesting tussle.
Once it felt like the fish was starting to lose the battle, it was time to walk backwards up the beach, as instructed by Hewey. In the shallows, the fish can be seen splashing around for a long time.
It’s this part of the fight that’s most nerve-racking. Trevally have notoriously soft mouths and many are lost at this stage. How galling would it be to watch your catch slowly swimming away from you in the shallows?
At this point, it’s a good idea to get your buddy to walk in behind the fish so that if the unthinkable does happen, there’s a chance he or she can stop its run for freedom.
As it turned out, there was no need to panic. The fish was landed and I finally had my trevally. What a great feeling. It was a good fish too, estimated around the 1.5kg mark.
The next couple of hours turned into some of the best fishing this writer has enjoyed in a while. The majority of my fishing these days is from a boat so it’s easy to get a bit arrogant about fishing from the shore. This trip made me feel a little silly on that count.
As darkness approached, the fishing went wild. Bite after bite and a fine array of species including trevally, kahawai, snapper and gurnard left me with the feeling that I had been missing out for years. Surfcasting is a hugely rewarding method.
You work bloody hard for your fish. Spending close to 12 hours at the beach, constantly in and out of the surf, getting wet, drying off, getting wet again, hunting for more bait, getting smashed by surf – it takes it out of you.
But when that bite comes and you get your first glimpse of your fish coming through the surf, it really is worthwhile.
The icing on the cake was a stunning sunset that broke through the black clouds just as we decided to call it a day.
Twelve fish and four different species is an impressive return from a day at the beach.