Bumper Season on the Manukau

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John Moran

After a memorable summer when the Manukau produced the best fishing in recent memory expectations were high for the coming winter. After a slow start the winter fishing has kicked in, but the gurnard have proved contrary in their taste for baits.

You know, the older I get the more confused I become when it comes to fishing in my all-time favourite place on earth, the Manukau Harbour. I am frequently referred to as a Manukau Harbour fishing expert which, although I find very flattering, is in reality miles from the truth when I consider what has been happening on this great harbour over the recent seasons.

It has certainly got me well and truly buggered, but to be quite honest I am loving every minute of it as I find myself having to come up against the challenge of finding new hot spots and discovering spots of old that have simply come alive with great fishing action. What has caused this turn of events is anyone’s guess. Global warming? No, I don’t think so. Following a shocker of a so-called summer in 2006/7 we endured a fairly disturbed winter, when my mate old “Hughie” dished out one of the best summers in my living memory. What a ripper she was which extended into an Indian Summer well into April before things cooled down a bit.

Summer fishing on the Manukau, and a lot of other places as well, was nothing short of superb.

So before I kick into winter fishing on the Manukau, here’s a few examples of what I experienced so you can see more clearly where I am coming from.

The marker poles are easy to locate and produce good fishing.


To start with the water temperature was great, ranging from 20 to 23 degrees which was just what the doctor ordered. All my preconceived notions of summer fishing went right out the window as fish of all species were turning up all over the place, in numbers and sizes I used to only dream about.

Moon phases and bite time predictions did not even warrant consideration at all. Every time I ventured out on the Manukau I caught fish and heaps of them, although most were returned. To most Manukau fisho’s, a snapper over the 4.5kg mark was a rarity and, if ever achieved, it became a red letter day all round. But in the past summer/autumn season that scenario became a bit ho hum when anglers caught 5-8kg snapper at very regular intervals with several breaking the mystical 9kg barrier.

You didn’t need knowledge of the secret spots or super flash tackle to nail them. The recipe was simple. Fish the centre or edges of the Papakura Channel (depending on the tide) and use plenty of shellfish berley which doesn’t attract sharks like the blood and guts variety. TopCatch sell a pure mussel meat berley, very finely minced, which is a real top shelf product in my book!

Mobile baits proved the killer rig by either placing your sinkers directly over the bait, or by using a super long trace on a standard running rig. But for some obscure reason, known only to the fish themselves, the top end of the Manukau around Huia way missed the bus completely fishing-wise, and they had a very average fishing season all round. Weird aye!

Apart from snapper, some huge trevally and kahawai were about in numbers which only added to the excitement of this summer fishing season from heaven. But here is the part that has got me completely and totally flummoxed. With the water temp. sitting on 20 degrees the gurnard suddenly decided to join the party as well, and poured into the harbour in record numbers. I know from past experience that 15 degrees is the minimum water temp. to encourage this mass inflow of carrots, and the colder the water gets the more they come in.

But not this year mate!

Some of the best gurnard fishing can be found right in the shallows


My wife and I shot out for a quick fish in early April and I anchored up not too far from the starboard marker number 1A in 10 metres. Wally Simpson from Hamills Hunting & Fishing in Manukau City had given me a couple of gaudy 3-hooked flasher rigs to try out, as he reckoned they were proven killer rigs. I whacked a set on Cheryl’s rod which she baited up and dropped over the side. I cast out a whole headless pillie on a lightly weighted trace, when wifie’s Penn rod tip took a big dive. I went to help her out when my rig went off. Great stuff!

If I live to be a hundred and get the telegram from the Queen I will never forget the sight of my missus having one hell of a scrap with the thin Penn power stick on 3kg Hercules braid. My fish was giving me grief as well! She eventually got the net in the water and lifted aboard a sight to behold. Two huge gurnard in the net, and an even bigger bugger on the third hook outside. Those fish weighed 1.05kg, 1.21kg and the whopper, 1.4kg. I know this sounds like a load of old cobblers, but it was dinkie die as my aussie mates say. My 3.5kg trev seemed to pale into insignificance. I have caught several double headers of average carrots in the past, but nothing on this grand scale. One up to mother bear!

That was the start of a magical couple of hours fishing where we could have filled up the boat if we had a mind to. Our best snapper went 5.8kg. Cheryl was fishing right under the boat and she landed some 20 odd carrots, but she kept just the very best of them. I was casting well back in the TopCatch mussel berley flow and dealing to kahawai, trevs and snapper. They were still red hot on the chew when we came home. The stuff dreams are made of!  Back at the Weymouth boat ramp a few fisho’s wandered over to check out our catch, as us of the fishing brotherhood are prone to do. I think their bottom jaws are still imbedded in the ramp somewhere!

I fished right through this summer/autumn period and to this day I am still firmly of the opinion that this is the absolutely best season I have ever fished on the Manukau in the past 50  plus years. So much for the good old days! No doubt having a decent boat and top quality Penn fishing tackle has a lot to do with our success. I was really pondering over what the winter fishing scene would be like following on from such a great summer season.

The standard flasher rig works best, and John often uses different baits  on each hook. Baits should be small cubes, like this chunk of bonito with the hook exposed


In the last issue of NZ Fishing World I wrote how my new mate Philip Binder from Austria had really enjoyed his day straylining in the super shallows off Brown’s Island on the east coast. Fortunately I had the opportunity to take him out on the magic Manukau in my boat during the hot autumn fishing period where he experienced, to put it in his own words, “the best day’s fishing in my entire life, anywhere on earth!”  

I feel sure that his introduction to the big wide world of Penn super light quality fishing tackle had a lot to do with this, coupled with the TopCatch berley and bait we were using. So come winter of 2008 I decided to do a bit of a trip out and see for myself if the Manukau magic had worn off or not. My good mates Pete Jessup and Glenn Jeffrey were dead keen to join us, so I opted to go out in Philip’s big grunty Ramco 650 Sportfisher which has room to spare, unlike my humble 440 Ramco. Philip invited his neighbour Ash Reidy along, a good keen fisho who had very little experience on the Manukau.

Glenn, our photographer, has recently purchased a brand new 5.5m Surtees powered by a 100HP Yamaha. This is his pride and joy and I had already experienced fishing from this great boat and what a dream machine she is. Glenn and Pete are Westies (although they don’t seem to wear black clothing much) so they launched at Cornwallis while we put in at Waiau Pa that chilly morning and by arrangement we met up at the Tripod which is the number 2 port channel marker up the top end of the harbour.  It was 8am when we came along side for a natter, and decided to start fishing at the start of a blind gutter which is just north of the number 4 port marker.

This spot had been on the extremity of the hot fishing action, and had produced some of the best snapper, size wise, throughout the summer. Dare I dream they could be still around? My hopes and aspirations were knocked around a bit when I checked on the water temp.- 14 bloody degrees! I couldn’t believe it, as only 10 days prior to this, she was 17.5 degrees. Boy the harbour had cooled down quickly.

We anchored up fairly close together and set the shellfish berley bomb down deep on the anchor warp. We were in 14 metres. I clipped one of Hamills gaudy flashers that my missus has done so well on, and put on three different baits. Squid, skippy and a pillie cube. Philip and Ash had been netting off Mission Bay in the city the day before and had a selection of bait fish they were keen to try out. Ash opted for a long traced running rig while Philip stuck with a dropper outfit. We were two hours into the 3.9m flood tide, so she was honking a fair bit when I slipped my 3kg braid line over the side, assisted by a 6- ounce sinker. After about a minute I felt the softest of bites, almost like something sucking on it. That’s what I love about using light braid on my Penn tackle. You don’t miss a thing! I took it for a trevally and gave it the butt. My 7-foot Penn Torque 6kg rod tip did a nose dive and I was in. That fish was full of fight although when Ash slipped the net under a 1.5kg trev I was a bit disappointed, as I was confident it was a lot bigger. It had taken the squid bait. No doubt the heavy sinker and strong tidal flow gave me a false impression after fishing in softer currents of late.

Ash connected to a real beaut with his running rig. He was using a whole sprat and the line-peeling, nodding run looked like a typical big red. But the bloody hook pulled and that was that. Philip got into the act with a decent kahawai while I rebaited and dropped down again. Just seconds after touchdown I felt a lovely familiar nodding on the rod tip. I knew what this bugger was! I never strike hard a gurnard when using recurve hooks as it tends to rip the baits from their mouths. It is so important to have the drag setting quite high when using recurves as you will find that fish just seem to hook themselves. When the nodding on the rod tip escalates, simply lift the rod tip in a smooth but positive action and nine times out of 10 you will have a great hook up right in the corner of the mouth.


I played that carrot nice and gently in the heavy water and was rewarded with a gurnard around the kilo mark. I have never rated squid as a gurnard bait but it was the preference of that particular carrot. Meanwhile Philip and Ash were having their share of fun. Ash was getting some huge hits on his fresh baits but for some strange reason, they were not hooking up. I closely inspected his terminal gear as you often find that the extreme tip of the hook has been knocked off following a hard bite. Both hooks passed the thumbnail test, so we had a look at the bait presentation, making sure that the barbs were well exposed. Over he went, and a legal pannie snapper joined the carrot and trev in our ice slurry. I could plainly see Ash was quite miffed after dropping a few really big heavy fish, which we strongly suspected were snapper.

Philip let out a whoop of delight as he played and boated a really nice gurnard. The bait of choice was bloody squid again! Over the next half hour Philip and I got stuck into the carrots and I am pleased to say we never dropped a single fish by both sticking to the aforementioned methods. Every single carrot took a squid bait, despite having the option of my favourite skippy cubes! Ash saw the light and changed to a dropper rig and began to put a bit of a dent in the Manukau carrot population as well.

I suddenly realized that we were all so preoccupied with our own fun that we had forgotten all about Pete and Glenn. “How’s the A team going?” I yelled out to the boys. “Piss poor actually, mate. Only a few very small kahawai,” was their disgruntled reply. I thought I knew the problem. Even thought we were anchored only 8 metres apart, they were well up the bank side (usually the best place to be) but these fish were in the deep. After a bit of a team talk the boys idled over to the other side of us and set the pick. What a difference that made. In no time flat the Westies were kicking our southern bums with a steady array of carrots, trevs and the odd pannie snapper. After a bit of good natured banter we upped the ante - fish wise  - when after about 20 minutes or so, the buggers went right off the bite. I looked at my watch. An hour and a half to the top of the tide, and the current had abated quite noticeably.

This is par for the course when fishing on the Manukau, like a lot of other places. It was interesting again to hear that Pete and Glenn had caught most of their carrots on squid baits as well. That part really annoyed me. I had never experienced this before and I just had to find the answer! We had earlier planned to shoot right down the Papakura Channel to the start of the Seagrove gutter by umber 1A starboard marker. This was the spot where mum and I had experienced white hot fishing action, but it is a long way down the harbour.

I had an idea.

The 7-metre mark off Big Bay and Oroua Bay is a very consistent gurnard catching area during the winter. This was only five minutes away and quite handy to where our respective trailers were parked up. It was getting a bit lumpy where we were courtesy of a 15 knot sou-wester, and the Big Bay/Oroua Bay areas were nice and calm in the lee of the Awhitu Peninsular, so we were off like a couple of skinny hoggets! In no time we were both anchored up in 6 or 7 metres and what a difference in comfort and fishing methods. The sea was calm with very little in the way of tidal stream. We all changed to one or half ounce sinkers and stuck with our flasher rigs, again baited up with three options. We tossed out our offerings and decided to have lunch. Coffee, bacon and egg pie and sandwiches. None of us realized just how hungry we were until we tucked in.

Isn’t it strange how we never seem to think of food when the fishing is going off!

Philip Binder, holding the gurnard, reckons the day on the Manukau was the best day’s fishing he has ever experienced.


Well this spot did produce a few gurnard, again on squid baits, but the size was nothing flash at all. A few little bronze whaler sharks turned up to annoy us, but by the time high tide and come and gone I realized that this past proven gurnard fishing spot was not going to work today. The wind quarter put paid to heading down the Papakura Channel, so I suggested to the team that we hit the Waiuku Channel which is an area I have thrashed to death in winter over the years mainly because it is just so productive in terms of gurnard fishing. Everyone agreed so we shot on down to a pet spot of mine just south of the end of Hudson’s Bay. This area is where the deep channel slopes up fairly steeply and on its day, in only five metres of water, can be very active indeed.

I took Tim Dower, the radio announcer who often stands in for Geoff Thomas on his Radio Sport fishing show, there one day and man oh man, we cleaned up big time. Well try as we did, we never got a single bite from this spot, so our westie mates decided to head back towards Cornwallis while we opted to try my remaining couple of past reliable fishing possies closer to Matakawau. We said our farewells and we made our way to a nice sheltered area just south of Kauritutahi Island (the one with a Norfolk pine on it) and secured the Ramco in 8 metres. Lines were thrown over and we settled down to our fishing. Within minutes I had that unmistakable nodding of a carrot chewing the bait. I lifted the rod tip and I was on. Not huge but an average carrot of around 700g hit the bin. I recast and the sinker had barely hit the bottom and I was on again with a similar sized fish of the same species. Now this was more like it! I was starting to feel pretty self satisfied that I had made the right call when I had the bloody carpet pulled out from under my feet. We waited there another hour without a single bite. We tried two other shifts without success until we collectively made the call to bugger off home. Fishing is a most frustrating old game, that’s for sure. Still, once the boat was back on the trailer we sorted out the fish and there was more than enough for a good feed each so in reality what more could a man wish for? Good company, nice boat and out there doing it which is what it should all be about. Was I disappointed?

Quite frankly I was as I had expected the magic fishing bubble to stay fully inflated throughout winter, but come on, that’s fishing aye!

There has been no trouble finding good-sized gurnard this winter, and they came into the harbour much earlier than usual.

Winter fishing picks up

Since writing this article I have been fishing on the Manukau many times and the winter fishing has picked up beyond belief, almost to the point where I was going to trash the original article and start afresh. But I decided against it as being a fishing scribe, I am very aware of telling the fishing exactly the way it is with no BS attached. Even the poorest day’s fishing is better than the best day’s working, that’s for sure, and well worth recording.

The pattern of summer fishing was strangely bewitching and ever so exciting with fish turning up in the weirdest of places, and to some degree the 2008 winter fishing period has started off in much the same  way.

From my experience the first major annual appearance of gurnard on the Manukau harbour is in the Waiuku Channel. Not so this year! They came early and headed straight down the main channels of Purakau, Wairopa and Papakura and all the off shoots. For some obscure reason they have preferred the deeper water, perhaps it is colder.

I had half pie expected them to take off for greener pastures but this has just not happened. Since I wrote this article, Wally Simpson and I have been out on several occasions fishing around the bottom of the Papakura Channel, between number 10 and number 8 port markers. Gurnard fishing has been at its absolute best, and we threw back a hell of a lot of carrots keeping just the very best of them. Trevally have kept us entertained with their powerful runs and thin-string-pulling ability, as have the XOS kahawai which we always release.

Despite the colder water, we are still pulling the odd respectable snapper which is always a bonus. In late May a local caught a 4kg snapper in the Papakura Channel, which only reinforces what I have always advocated about the Manukau Harbour, and that is to expect the unexpected!


And finally on winter fishing, I am thrilled to report that my favourite baits of old for gurnard fishing have returned to the correct positioning on my old beat up bait board. I really thought I was losing the plot with the carrots’ sudden preference for squid, but I researched that one out and have come up with a possible answer.

It appears that some species of fish, including gurnard, must eat squid at certain times of the year to trigger off some sort of chemical reaction to activate their reproductive cycle. This does not necessarily have to occur right before spawning time, as the chemical elements released remain dormant for a long period of time until needed at the time the reproductive cycle kicks into gear. This could well explain the sudden interest in squid by gurnard as we experienced. I don’t normally use squid for bait for carrots, but I only included it on our smorgasbord flasher as an option for trevs and snapper. Thank God I did!

I still wonder how the hell gurnard catch squid. I must ask one, one of these days!

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