There’s nothing quite like the chance to fish an area completely foreign to you to arouse a spirit of adventure and nervous anticipation.
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Once a favourite area becomes too familiar, having been mapped countless times with the sounder and fished in every conceivable wind and tide, you have a pretty good idea of how your day might go. Sure, the chance of a random trophy always exists, which is why fishing is fishing and it beats most other pursuits, but there is also a familiarity that can carry just a touch of monotony.
I was therefore happy to accept an invite from friends to join them at a small camp ground, literally on the beach, for a crack at the local snapper.
Hiding quietly between the two North Island game-fishing meccas of Tutukaka and the Bay of Islands is the beautiful beach settlement – I won’t call it town – of Whananaki.
I had never heard of it. A totally new fishing area only two and a half hours north of Auckland inspired a spot check of every Google based information source I could dial up. None gave much away other than the confirmation that snapper and crayfish might be a reasonable expectation.
Do your homework
A crisp 6AM start
If you plan to head somewhere new on a fishing adventure, a little local knowledge is always an advantage. Nuggets such as the main boat ramp being two kilometres of mud at low tide are definitely handy to bank long before setting the alarm for 5.30am.
Such is the case at Whananaki, where beaches and sheltered bays offer easy launching for kayaks or small boats. Bigger boats can motor up from Tutukaka, and if a rough westerly prevents comfortably heading out to the famous Mokohinau Islands, sheltering in against the Whananaki cliffs would be a solid option.
Another factor that adds to the mystique of the place is driving clean out of cell phone range well before reaching the coast. It’s actually refreshing to be that extra degree separated from civilisation, so make sure your VHF is working as it’s a safe guess there won’t be many boats around to assist if you start drifting towards "next-stop Fiji".
Old school kiwi awesome summed up in a couple of acres of green grass, pohutukawa trees and a golden sand beach.
If you intend to stay for a night or two, prepare for accommodation options that are basic but rich in character. Going top shelf, the Whananaki Holiday Park offers motel units, tourist flats, family units, cabins and campsites. It also provides picnic tables, a gas BBQ, a wood-fired pizza oven, a smoker and even Wi-Fi. A classic selling point is that they claim to offer the only hot showers in Whananaki.
Rush hour at the boat ramp
Nearby are also a couple of nicely positioned campgrounds virtually on the beach at Otamure and Motutara, and a few random book-a-bach options.
Our intention was to arrive late at night and prepare the little Motayak inflatable I had been testing and also get a kayak rigged up ready to go. These were safe left overnight on the deserted beach and the 06.00 kick off coincided with low tide and sunrise.
We would explore as much area as we needed to, drifting south down the coastline fishing only soft baits and Kaburas in the very likely looking water at the base of Whananaki’s foreboding black cliff faces.
Once out to sea, a solid 2-metre lift soon had us disappearing into the oily troughs of the huge swell. This helped enormously to relieve my mate James of his stomach contents. Sieved through his beard it provided a useful if unplanned berley trail.
It was apparent we were no longer in the Haurakui Gulf or the buzzing Coromandel. Evidence of other human life was zero, save for two swaying sky towers far on the horizon that must have been attached to absolutely massive ocean going yachts.
We settled in to start fishing in about 20 metres, which was deep given that it was only twice that distance off plunging cliffs. In the dull light of early morning the still grey sky and slick water surface encouraged a feeling of fishy anticipation. The odd penguin was pleasant and reassuring company; but when shark fins appeared, slicing lazily around our inflatable steeds, to us it seemed more like tiger country. For a while our little boats felt just a wee bit too small. Although we were on the famously sedate east coast of the North Island, there was a definite aura of rugged wildness and a sense of vulnerable exposure to the heart of the vast Pacific.
Fishing unknown areas
Fishing a brand new area with no prior knowledge requires a little bit of feeling things out. Firstly, in light of no other information, start with gut feel. Begin fishing where it just feels right, and take it from there. We had a rocky outcrop that a quick check on the depth sounder confirmed continued under the water. Any structure like this often attracts fish and helps produce feeding areas in a current.
Where shallower foul thins out to meet sand is also a favourite zone for fishing. Often good-sized snapper and kings can be hooked and kept away from busting you off, particularly important on lighter gear.
The sounder showed no real rough stuff, but neither was there obvious signs of fish. A drift out to nearly 30 metres showed we were basically on a sand desert with just a light texture on the floor. Fish sign was slim but we started with high hopes and positive attitude, throwing out the soft baits in search of whatever might be passing by. If there are no fish on the sounder it does not necessarily mean there are none around. I’ve often found they will still school past or zero-in from somewhere out of range to take a lure, so it’s often worth having a go for ten minutes and see what turns up.
A slow start had us wondering if we were all hope, and we began to doubt the area was going to live up to its good looks. As the tidal current picked up a little speed, though, the bite came on and a few snapper started hitting the lures. As is often the way, the bite kicked off and the fish gained size and attitude, including visits from a darting kingie and another more relaxed shark. Drifting out to 40 and then 50 metres consistently provided reasonable snapper, and it was soon evident that the lure of the day was the 40 and 60 gram Kabura.
These lures are arguably one of the most effective fish-catching weapons invented. Fished ideally using a soft, specialised rod and overhead reel simply drop the squid-like beast straight to the bottom of a slowly drifting boat and then slowly wind in a few metres before dropping again. In my experience yellow seems to be particularly effective.
The Kabura lesson
One thing to be aware of is that, much like a tiny trout fly, the diminutive Kaburas hooks are deceptively strong and in the right conditions are capable of handling significant fish; these conditions being mostly in open water. As I soon learned, the wrong conditions are in areas of foul where real muscle needs to be applied to a big fish.
Repositioning to a 20-metre spot, well outside the bite time when things had quietened right down, a nice new blue and pink Kabura was despatched over the side. It had barely touched down before ripping off into the weeds at a pace so merciless and scorching the reel didn’t have a hope of slowing its departure. What might have been one hook in the mouth and one in the foul returned a shattered scrap of hook shank, leaving us with a healthy dose of awe.
Lesson learned is that there is a time and place for these exceptional lures. Hook removal plyers should also be mandatory with your first purchase: snapper jaws and fingers, combined with a stray flailing second hook, is a recipe for fun times if you enjoy special discomfort.
More than satisfied with the day’s action, we had enjoyed just a taste of what this area must be capable of serving up. You don’t always have to be out chasing marlin and tuna.
Without doubt, there is something very rewarding in exploring new territories. We have abundant coastline up north, around the top of the Coromandel, and right along the rugged West that has the potential for epic action if you are willing to find it.
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