Kāwhia, on the North Island’s west coast, provides some of New Zealand’s most scenic landscapes and, as writer Tom Black found out. It also boasts one of our most bountiful fisheries...
The harsh vibrations of my phone alarm tell me it’s time to get up, hop in the car and drive to Kawhia. It’s 3.30am, there’s a thick fog swallowing most of the Waikato as I pass through, and I’m in desperate need of a coffee. Despite this I make it to the picturesque King Country town of Kawhia with time to spare. I can see my vessel for the day; the Venturer moored in the Harbour. She’s a sturdy looking ship.
Fifty shades of green
I can see Rob and Graham, my co-captains for the day, prepping the engines. Meeting the rest of the crew I begin to feel like a bit of a fish out of water. Thinking I’d dressed for the occasion in a newish hoody, shorts and some Nikes, I’m, starting to feel like the awkward, Auckland city-boy.
My comrades on this west coast adventure are dressed in what I would ungrudgingly describe as 50 shades of green polar fleece with a hint of brown. “Gidday” I say, strutting like a cocky in lambing season. “Yeah, gidday” they respond, “Where ya from?”… the game is up, my shoulders drop. “Auckland”, I whimper. Graham cracks a wry smile. “Ah, well we won't hold that against you, welcome aboard”.
My preconceptions quickly evaporate as Rob introduces me to everyone. There are nine of us on board today. Our boat the Venturer is a sturdy wooden 10.1m walk around. There are no fancy see-through live bait tanks, no fancy neon lights. If this boat were an All Black it would be Brad Thorn; big, strong, versatile, experienced and with just the right amount of scars and scrapes.
Passing the bar
The conditions in the harbor are like glass, stunningly reflecting the orange and pink of the rising sun. Rob tells us we are to head out over the bar and into about 50m of water. This is where the action has been over recent days.
Crossing the bar
Everyone is very welcoming and up for a chat as we head out. While it’s no speedboat, the Venturer gets us out over the bar comfortably. After about an hour's travel past some of the most rocky and rugged coastline I’ve seen we come to a stop. There’s a few other boats scattered in the area. “This must be where the fish are,” Graham announces.
The fellas start getting their rigs sorted and conversation moves to bait. Rob has a selection for us today, his personal favorite squid; as well as mullet and mackerel. The fish can be a bit fickle out here on the west coast, so sometimes it takes some trial and error finding what gets the bites on particular days. Rob hands me a Penn 320GT overhead set up with a flasher rig and a heavy sinker. “Here you go, chuck this on down and see what happens”.
As we wait for bites to start Graham comes out of the cabin. Graham took the Venturer out on its maiden charter back in 1981, and has commercially fished from Kawhia most of his life. As fate would have it, his grandson-in-law Rob would eventually buy the Venturer 31 years later and he would continue taking her out.
Rob, who has recently passed his captain's license, bought the Venturer charter operation with his wife Jacqui last December and have made a few changes to the boat since taking over. Apart from the typical clean up and paint job, as well as adding a toilet they have added a canopy over the deck, this is much appreciated as the November sun starts to heat up.
Skipper Rob Fitzgerald
“We see them all here; novice anglers, experienced anglers, even children and stag parties are common. (Although, not all at the same time)”. Rob loves the stories, the banter, and its always something different, meeting different people. It’s not a bad way to earn a living, as Graham puts it; “when builders or farmers get a holiday they come here fishing, when I get a holiday I don’t go milking cows”.
Rob does the rounds asking who would like a tea or coffee; before I can respond he apologises as they “don’t have any non-fat soy lattes or what ever it is you drink in Auckland”. The Auckland insults are kept to a minimum; it’s all a bit of fun.
Two out of three
It’s not long before the fish start flying in. Roy and Morris are competing right from the outset. I’m getting in on the act too with a nice pannie to start the day. Morris takes a second to boast as he pulls in two solid snapper on the same drop. “You’ve got three hooks there, mate, you’re supposed to use all of them.” Graham counters.
The author proving you don't have to be awake to catch fish
The who’s who of NZ fish species
After a small quiet patch it’s all go again, amongst all the excitement a mako jumps meters into the air, flipping before splashing back to the water. I seem to be the only one on board happy about the fact there’s a shark hanging around.
The fish keep coming in; among the mix we take aboard lemon sharks, kingfish, big snapper and a heap of gurnard. Just before lunch time one of the boys shouts he’s got something big on his line, “mate, it’s gonna be huge by time it comes to the top because it will have aged years if you’re gonna pull it in at that speed” Graham playfully jabs again. Everyone comes to watch as it surfaces, and much to our delight a nice fat 12lb snapper comes aboard.
Three from three ain't bad
The complete mixed bag of fishing continues with kahawai, barracouta, blue shark and even a tail hooked mako finding its way onto our lines. Amid all the excitement Morris lets out a shout; “what was it you said about the three hooks Graham?” as he pulls up with three legal snapper all on the same line. Graham just shakes his head and smiles.
The author with a end of the day double hook-up
Steady as she goes
The day continues and the fish keep coming, admittedly the barracoutta are becoming more prevalent and there is an intermittent appearance by an ominous grey shadow under our boat. Much to the protests of the crew Rob announces its time to pull up the lines and head home just after 3 pm. I’m lucky enough to manage a clutch double hook-up with a minute to spare, my best snapper of the day as well as a small kahawai.
The day's haul
Destination Kāwhia, King Country
With this being not just the first time I’ve fished from Kāwhia, but the first time I’ve travelled to this beautiful part of the country; I thought it only right to get some local insights as to what makes this place a great fishing location.
Venturer skipper Rob Fitzgerald:
Being on the West Coast, the fishing is often dictated by Mother Nature; if we’re lucky we could probably get in 180-200 fishing days a year. This gives the fish stocks plenty of rest time in between biting our hooks. Also we don’t have the same big recreational fishing populations that other destinations like the Hauraki Gulf and the Bay of Plenty have.
The West Coast bar seems to put a lot of people off from fishing here. While it can be dangerous, if you give it the proper respect it deserves as well as playing to the conditions, fishing here can be very rewarding.
The best time to fish is September all the way through to July. As the water temperature changes the best spots change too. September to December in 40 – 60m holds some tremendous snapper specimens. It isn’t unusual to get four 20 pounders in one trip. It’s pretty awesome to see the punters getting their PB’s. January to July we like to move to some of the in shore reefs such as Aotea Reef or head south to Taharoa or Marakopa for some shallow water fishing.
With West Coast fishing being so versatile its good to try different rigs and baits. What works one day might not be so successful the next. We rig most of our hire gear with ledger or flasher rigs with 8 to 10 oz sinkers.
What a day it has been was on Venturer! While there was the occasional lull in action, it was always remedied by changing up the bait. It has been a day filled with lots of fish, lots of chat and judging by my now pink legs; lots of sun. There is a real genuine salt of the earth feeling aboard Venturer, or should I say salt of the ocean.
The boat: Venturer
Launched in 1981 the Venturer was built in Hamilton by Ray and Lance Fink. Made from kahikatea and macrocarpa, all the timber used to build her came locally from Otorohanga.
Initially, she was used as a gill-netter and a cray boat before becoming a charter boat. Graham Taylor (co-skipper today) taking her out on her first trip.
The Venturer had a few stints in Tauranga and Great Barrier before coming home to where she belongs, The Kāwhia Harbour. Rob and Jacqui Fitzgerald purchased the boat and operation after the passing of the previous owner in 2014.
For more information on Venturer Fishing Charters visit www.venturerfishingcharterskawhia.co.nz or phone
07 871 1717 or email Rob or Jacqui at email@example.com