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Blowing up around Kawau

07 January 2016
Blowing up around Kawau

Scott MacDonnell proves you don't have to head far, or have a big boat, to head home with a full bag.

Facebook is inundated with photos of monster snapper and grinning anglers. A growing trend among these photos is that they seem to be happening out in the Hauraki Gulf between Kawau Island and the Coromandel under the distinctive thumping of gannet rainstorms.

But getting access to this fishing Nirvana is not always the easiest. Much of this activity is out at sea and limited by weather conditions, and requires time, often mid-week, as well as access to a reasonable sort of boat capable of making it out to the 50 metre mark.  

Workup fishing is seasonal, and provides incredible sport when it’s on, but great fishing can be had within much easier reach, without biting off such a big mission.

Between late December and into the early New Year the snapper move in shallower to spawn and this will bring them well within reach of shore based fishermen and small craft.

Kawau Bay and the North Channel

All maps used are created by LINZ / New Zealand Hydrographic Authority and made available by Creative Commons 3.0. Maps should not be used for navigation.

One of the best regions to fish in these months is within only an hour or so of Auckland, and easily accessed from anywhere between Mahurangi and Tawharanui.  It makes a worthwhile spot to stop past on the way out to sea, or can be the prime destination from a small boat or kayak with limited range.

Kawau Island and the North Channel that funnels past the Tawharanui Peninsular, provides a pretty consistent chance of catching fish most of the year round. School snapper are common in the summer months, and even in the depths of winter this area provides shelter and a stock of resident fish that are often big and fat with characteristic darker kelpy colouring.

This area has it all, with foul in shallow, crab and shellfish beds out on the sand and a couple of good reefs. Backing up to a marine reserve possibly helps keep things freshly replenished, but the real fish stimulator seems to be the current that races up to a good pace exciting snapper and the odd kingy into a feeding pattern that can at times be quite frenetic.

Trophy snapper reside there, but there is a high proportion of smaller fish that sometimes can frustrate, and at other times are welcome to fill the pan.

I recently enjoyed exploring the area, testing a novel new entry to the adventure fishing market that was almost purpose built for such a handy shore based location.  The Motayak sport, a fully inflatable kayak/dinghy crossover offers anglers and divers a way of launching in locations that are accessible by car but lack a boat ramp.  It turned out to be a great little unit and the tried and true spots didn’t fail to turn up a few nice snapper as per usual.

Motayak Sport

To test the Motayak Sport, the smallest of the inflatable craft range offered by Motayak, I wanted an area I knew well to see how this kayak/inflatable/dingy crossover concept would perform as a fishing platform in familiar conditions.

On a perfect forecast, I arranged to meet Jamie, Motayak’s importer, at Jone’s Bay right on dawn. Getting an early start he was already good to go with two boats, a drone and cameraman all set up waiting to record the morning’s action.

I’m usually fishing this area from a kayak, which is a perfect stealth weapon but have, on occasion, found the wind and outgoing tide combo pretty tiresome.  However, that goes with the territory when you are paddling and the reward is an esoteric quality offered by being so silently and directly connected to the ocean.  

Today I’d be hitting the channel in the Motayak sport, resplendent in army camo colours with a 3.5 Mercury outboard doing all the work. Jamie and Matt would give chase on the bigger 35 horse Adventure Cat which was quite a beast and effortlessly coped with the two of them and full camera gear.

I have to admit that I had some initial reservations about combining a fully blown up boat and pointy fishing stuff, so the knife and gaff stayed in the car.

However, in the flesh it was immediately clear the little Motayak was quite substantial with a heavy, rubberised feel, high-quality construction, and a firm separately-inflated chunky floor mat.  I had asked for multiple rod holders and Jamie had four conveniently mounted, two on star ports on the front bench, and two more off the backboard.  

There was no fish finder, but one could easily be mounted with the transducer on the transom.

By the time the boat was loaded the sun was in full view, the sea was dead flat and high tide was only 45 minutes away, so I was pretty keen to rip into it. There’s always that time just before you start fishing on a brilliant morning, where slightly manic excitement and anticipation course through the system and fish jitters seem to somehow slow everything down as if intent on delaying that first cast.

This is the textbook moment to usually wonder if you locked the car or left anything on the beach.

There was no time for much of a brief other than how to operate the outboard, which chuffed into life easily. Within 2 minutes I was firing along nicely towards the orange sunrise, the drone materialising around me like some Jurassic camera-wielding dragonfly. All that was missing was the smell of Napalm and some theme music.  

At this point I wished I had brought my 12 year old son along. This was fun! The Motoyak had 2 bench seats and would have effortlessly accommodated him, something a typical fishing kayak can’t do.  

At 1.1 metres wide, and 3.5 long the Motayak is really more Mota than yak. On board, moving around and even standing up was very easy, and there was plenty of space in compartments up front and under the seats to store gear.

Deploying a normal kayak sea anchor, the Motayak was very easy to slow down and fish from. Right on queue the first few casts produced typical North Channel pannies, most of which went back to grow up, and a couple that popped into a standard chilly bin up front.  

Rated to take up to 5 horsepower, 3.5 felt like plenty for what you might use this boat for. There are 2 longer versions with the same beam and a range of colours available on Motayak’s online store, as well as a couple of significantly bigger ‘cat’ models.

The Motayak Sport is a nifty combo of opportunities and compromises, providing a quite unique fishing platform or utility runabout that might also be stored on a mothership or maybe at a beach house.

Easily inflated by rechargeable 12v electric pump, or by hand, I watched Jamie deflate and roll the boat into a 30kg bag like a tent in about 5 minutes flat.  

It's limited in range and material it is constructed from naturally require the user to employ common sense regarding safety, but this is certainly a craft that offers a unique experience and a license to access rich fishing locations with ease.

It is an instant boat, easily accommodating two people, and actually cheaper than most upper end kayaks, even accounting for the engine which is purchased separately.
At the end of the day I was very pleased to be able to move spots quickly and motor home under power, and am dead keen to get out on it again.

When to fish

Conditions that are favoured in this area include any sort of current immediately after a low or high tide. Being relatively shallow, a change of light increases chances of big fish, but bite times are often good for no apparent reason during the day. This makes the location worth a crack whenever a window of time presents itself.

Most winds in this area are not too much of a problem, but Easterlies are unfriendly, especially as the current races out to sea after high tide in the opposite direction. With wind coming from the North or West, Tauwharanui peninsular provides shelter and this is a nice option even on a bit of a grubby day. Southerlies can whip the chop up, but you can still fish well enough if the tides and moon are cooperating.

Summer fishing with soft baits is really effective, and when the bite is hot micro jigging is loads of fun, with 10 -30 grams providing plenty of weight.

Winter slows things down, but soft baits used nice and slow can still be deadly, often resulting in fewer but bigger fish. Ground bait is a good option at this time, wafting down the current either at anchor, or dangling from a drifting boat fished up and down the same line on a gps plotter.

Where to fish

The inner Kawau Bay and into the entrance to the channel around Rabbit and Takangaroa islands is shallow with fish holding around the islands and schooling about in only 6  to 10 metres.  A great way to fish is to cast out far from the boat and just drift or really slowly wind a small curly tailed soft bait across the sandy bottom.  

The best fishing I have found consistently happens right up the middle of the North channel between Motutara Point to Maori Rock. There’s an obvious shallow reef just before Maori Rock that is best fished around the fringes as too close seems to produce more reef species and snags and less snapper, but the outskirts can host good sized moochers.

The magic 18 metre mark can actually be fished all the way out of the channel mouth and right around the East coast of Kawau Island with decent fish a possibility at any time.

Snapper pulled up here are commonly full of small sand crab and shellfish remains that are expelled profusely from both orifices as they come to the surface. This is obviously a major food source, although schools of bait fish are also usually picked up by a fishfinder or can be seen randomly skittering across the surface on a fishy day. Small gulp crabs work well, drifted out on a running trace behind a small ball sinker, but a ½ oz jig head and a 4-5 inch soft bait have proven to be so effective here fished whilst drifting around that they can almost be guaranteed to produce something.  The floor is sand based with the odd bit of drifting weed, and there are no real issues with foul, so light line and a 15 – 20lb fluorocarbon trace can be used confidently.

Closer to the reefs there are still some really solid fish so step up in gear a bit if you are going to target this area. Squid can be caught on jigs around the shallow weed close to shore and these make killer live baits for big snapper and kingfish.

Scott MacDonnell's top Motayak softbaiting tips

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