The beginner's guide to bad weather fishing

By Tom LuskNZ Fishing World
The beginner's guide to bad weather fishing

In all but the most cataclysmic of winter storms, shore-based fishos can generally find safe, fishable water to wet a line. It’s all about gearing up, choosing your spots, and gritting your teeth against the elements.

As I write this, there’s a big blow lashing my home waters of Auckland. The northerly winds are gusting to 40 knots, and there is a two metre swell pounding both coasts. Not great conditions for fishing, in fact, it’s downright dangerous!

Auckland storm weather

The view from my kayak on the day I started writing this article. Great to be out there, although not one fish came to the party.

However, experience has taught me that in all likelihood the fish will still be there and biting, provided I can find a spot that is sheltered and safe.

When you only get the odd fishing window here and there, you really need to grab it. The last thing you want is stormy weather. So what do you do? Fortunately, in most parts of the country there will be at least one sheltered nook where you can get your fishing fix.

In the area around my boyhood turf of Hawkes Bay, my go-to stormy spot was Lake Tutira. It was always a safe, and relatively dependable option when the sea was furious and the rivers were off season and/or raging.

Fishing from the rocks in bad conditions

Finding a calm spot in bad weather is key

The question has to be asked-why bother going out in terrible weather? Well, for one thing, it gets you out of the house and blows out the cobwebs. Even if you only get out for a couple of hours, at least you’re out there learning. Also, there is a pretty good chance that the fishing will really turn on, especially if you do a bit of homework.

What to look for?

Waiheke Island on a particularly stormy afternoon


What you want to find when searching for a stormy rock spot, is an area that gives the fish access to food sources like kina, crab and small fish.

A good spot should also provide larger fish with shelter from the worst of the swells. A clear example where I’ve seen this is in Adelaide, South Australia; where a huge pier extends out through the breakers on a big surf beach. Every time a major storm rolled in from the Southern Ocean, the waters below the pier would become packed with cowering baitfish, and the pier above would bristle with a corresponding army of fishermen. Schools of big Australian salmon (aka kahawai) would periodically rip through the balled up bait shoals, and the local fishos above would be rewarded for braving the ghastly weather.

The next thing you want to look for are sheltered areas near to places with plenty of marine life that is getting worked over by the weather. On a headland, this might be where a gut cuts in to a cliff. While big swells are pounding the outside faces, the gut itself will be relatively calm.

Hooked up in stormy weather

Lobbing a pilchard, fly or even a whole dead crab into this type of churned up water can have some very exciting results. The stormy weather often gives fish a false sense of security. Fish tend to be much bolder than in clear conditions, as the cover of the whitewater, combined with the dull sky, will have them feeling safe from overhead attack.

winter snapper off the rocks

Joel Westcott on the lee side of Kawau Island in rough weather

Calm spots

Another key sign to look for is a ‘calm’ spot off the coast. Look for areas where floating debris and flotsam have been collecting. This is where currents are converging, then slowing and depositing accumulated debris they have picked up from the shore. Areas like this are a focal point for opportunistic feeders.

These spots can be dangerous to get to, so always remember to be safety conscious in all your storm fishing decisions. However, if you can safely get to one of these feed zones, you can really hit the jackpot.

snapper caught in a storm

In protected pockets like this, the fish are aggressive and hungry

It is also worth remembering this kind of spot for times of calmer weather, as the same principles of transportation and deposition will hold broadly true, whatever the strength of the currents.

Stream mouths

What you want to look for here are small streams that drain mostly from bush rather than farmland.

A few of the author's favourite bad weather stream mouths in the Coromandel

Farmland tends to equate to heightened erosion and high loads of silt. In this situation, you may find that there is a clear edge where the silt meets the clear seawater, which could well be worth prospecting. What you really want is stream water that is full of worms and bugs, but not too filthy with muck. A bit of a tough ask in such an extensively-farmed country like New Zealand.

Many a fishing adventure has been saved by fishing stream mouths. The best example of this being on one occasion while fishing near the Papa Aroha campground.

Matt with a 14kg kingfish from the shore

A couple of hours braving the driving wind and rain produced a chilly-bin of snapper, kahawai and Matt’s kingfish. This was ample compensation for the discomfort we endured.  

After a mostly unsuccessful weekend fishing the northern Coromandel rocks, we decided to try some stream mouths on the way home to Auckland.

In no time we were catching solid pannie snapper and kahawai, then out of nowhere kingfish started beating up on the sprat hordes around our berley sack. A hasty re-rigging of gear saw a live kahawai bobbing out in the flood. After a torrid battle up and down the beach, our friend Matt had his first decent land-based kingfish from the shore.

Keeping warm

Lower body

Like most fishing, keeping dry is important. This can be hard when fishing in rougher weather, water always finds a way in.

Layering up is my preferred method of keeping warm. I like to wear thermal leggings. I wear thick Icebreaker “Apex” 260gm merino leggings, and waterproof trousers over these.

There are also great products designed for kayak fishermen readily available. In particular, Sharkskins are a great product that feel like a cross between neoprene and polar fleece.  These work well under shorts or waterproof outer layers.

One thing to remember when fishing from the rocks is that your clothing will take a hammering, particularly your trousers. At present my waterproofs have an enormous rip in the seat, and are out of commission. I need to get hold of an excellent product called “Stormsure”, which joins and seals these tears.

Some very experienced and successful year-round rock fishos wear wetsuits in order to stay warm-with the added benefit of some butt-padding to protect you from the rocks. While I haven’t tried this, I do wear neoprene wading socks made by Simms.

You will get wet, layering up is the best method to stay warm

Upper body

The same rules apply to the upper body. When looking for a raincoat, go for as many well-placed pockets as possible. I have a relatively cheap (about $200) Reddington jacket from Rod and Reel which is so well equipped with pockets that I virtually don’t need to take a pack fishing in the winter. Some raincoats even have waterproof pockets inside for phones, keys, etc.

Brimmed thermal hats are hard to come by, but a cap with a brim, covered with a beanie is a good compromise. The purpose of the brim is to protect your polaroid sunglasses from the rain and spray. Bicycle stores also sell thermal ‘skullcaps’ designed to fit under snug helmets.  They have ear flaps often very welcome in biting winter winds. Of course, if the weather is really evil, you won’t need your polaroids, but if there are breaks in the weather, you really want to be able to see what is going on in the water.

Finally, a thick Buff to protect the neck and face is a great addition to your storm gear. The original Buff product, while expensive, is far superior to the cheaper knock-offs.

Westhaven fishing

Look for sheltered areas

The wash up

Whatever you do, if you decide to head out in stormy weather, do your homework. Use resources such as Swellmap and weather sites to gauge just how safe it is going to be. An inflatable life jacket is really a must- no matter where you’re headed. And always tell someone where you’re going, and when you’ll be back.

Find a safe, secure spot, and get stuck in! Whatever happens, it’s better being out there than sitting at home with cabin fever.

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