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Destination Hokianga Harbour

22 June 2015
Destination Hokianga Harbour

Mick Hall explores the wilderness of Hokianga Harbour and reveals a few of his favourite fishing spots.

The Hokianga is one of the most understated areas of natural beauty in New Zealand.

Located 85km north of Whangarei on the West Coast of the Far North, the Hokianga Harbour also offers an abundant variety of fishing throughout its 30km from
the Tasman.  

It’s an earthy, unpretentious location to explore, a place of deep Maori history and natural attraction, yet unaccompanied by the usual over-marketed fanfare that can make somewhere seem too contrived for discerning visitors. This is authentic Northland, a bit of a rough diamond, exuding genuine personality and friendliness.

A 10lb snapper in front of Opononi rowing club hut in October, caught on mackerel bait, with 40 knot gusts.

Opononi

If it’s the simple life you’re after you don’t need to go far for a feed.  Bring a deck chair and surfcast off the beach along the 300m stretch between the Opononi Rowing Club hut and the wharf.

There is a channel very close to shore and when the tide is running, a powerful current brings all kinds of fish up the harbour, predominantly big kahawai, trevally and some decent snapper, with the odd kingfish thrown into the mix.

During the summer months this area is teeming with juvenile snapper, which can be annoying, striking your bait seconds after it hits the water. It pays to use decent-sized circle hooks to help avoid killing any you catch and a tough bait like squid or kahawai strips to stand up to pickers.

I’ve had excellent success along this this stretch in early-to-late-spring, with the odd 10lb snapper and plenty of other species to keep you busy. Night fishing here is very productive, while during the day the family can lounge about in the sand, doing their thing.

The harbour looking north from Omapere.

Going further down to Opononi Pier offers the kids an opportunity to catch baitfish, with massive schools of yellow-eyed mullet and mackerel gravitating to the area during the summer months.  

It’s also a great place to cast out a big BOS sinker into the current and slide a livebait down the line for John Dory and the chance of a kingy.  Kahawai come in and smash into the bait schools and you can watch the action under the lights.

It also pays to use a variety of baits as the fish here can go nuts for mackerel, while avoiding sprats and piper and vice-versa. Use this spot a lot earlier in the morning and later in the evening to avoid any crowds queuing for the Hokianga Express service to access the other side of the harbour.

Across the harbour

Across the harbour near its mouth is a spot some call the Sandpit.  Behind to the east lie a series of spectacular golden sand dunes, which offer adrenaline junkies the opportunity to ‘surf’ down hills of sand.

The current here when the tide is running can be ferocious and the waves come in at an acute angle to the beach.  It’s best to cast into the angle of the waves, your rod facing into them in the beach spike to minimise the changes of the BOS sinker being dislodged by current action.

Go for a heavy weight, 6oz or heavier should do the job. Most fishers who come here do so targeting kingfish, which congregate in numbers during the late summer months, ambushing kahawai and baitfish in the current.

Stan Thorburn with a 37lb kingy at ‘The Sandpit’.

Kahawai are easily caught here by the usual methods, the most effective of which I’ve found is firing a piece of squid into the surf using a weighted float, or a small coloured ball float normally used in surfcasting rigs to keep the bait off the sand and away from crabs.  

The difficulty can lie in catching one small enough to use as bait.  Well-known Whangarei angler Stan Thorburn has fished this spot over many years and recommends keeping the kahawai small for livebaits.

Once caught pop one under a small balloon and let it run offshore. Don’t worry if it stays in close, kingies here will strike in extremely shallow water close to the sand on the bank of the channel.

If you want to try a sliding livebait method to get it out further, a smaller bait is essential. To the east of your spot, in towards the beach, lies an area of slack water where baitfish can be lured using a berley bag tied to your beach spike.

Use a throw net or trout hooks on light gear and you’re in business.  Berley and fishing an outgoing tide is the most productive method of fishing here for kingfish, Stan advises.  If all that seems too much like hard work, you’re in luck. Pete says many of the guys hooking into big kingies up here (up to 30kg) do so using whole frozen pilchards!

Decent snapper are on offer too at all times of the day, but particularly at night. If you also fancy hooking into bronze whalers, threshers or mako sharks dump a weighted half kahawai into the surf at night using 24kg gear and a hapuku circle hook.  Chances are you’ll have a seriously exciting fight on your hands.  

A 400lb bronze whaler Stan caught here is mounted on the wall of the Opononi Hotel.

Safety is important at this spot. It is extremely exposed to the elements and even a three-hour stay will turn extremely uncomfortable without adequate water, sun block and a decent hat during the summer months.  

Also, if fishing at night, it will be vital to pitch a tent well away from the high tide mark. Failing to do so and falling asleep inside could prove disastrous given the extreme currents.

To the east of the Sandpit several hundred metres east is a very productive spot for trevally, with a reef structure and broken foul not too far off the beach. Small hooks and chunks of baitfish will prove fruitful.

Rangi Point

Also on the northern end of the harbour lies Rangi Point, with its golden sands and many nice holes and guts to fish into. The Hokianga Express can leave you across from Opononi or by road after using the car ferry from Rawene.  

A community house and several baches can be rented here if you feel the desire to set up base.  If you have access to a 4x4 you even track up the beach past the Sandpit, northwards to the mouth at North Head.The rock ledges at North Head are expansive and quite a few fishermen can fish here without being in each other’s way.

These ledges drop off to significant depths, but are very dangerous in a swell. The spot receives a lot of traffic at times in summer, but are well worth a visit, being very productive. The possibility of bringing in a trophy fish, particularly a monster trevally, is very real here.

Mitimiti

If you want to drive further north along the beach you can access Mitimiti and cast into the impressive breakers rolling in from the Tasman.  If a 4x4 is not an option, access the West Coast Road and it will bring you out here.  Park at the beach entrance and walk down the mussel beds, making sure your gear is placed a fair distance away from the water’s edge.

Cast into the messy surf and hold your rod. This writer stopped for 30 minutes to let the kids have a play on the sand and ended up bringing in six huge kahawai, keeping three to use in a big miso soup that night. There are also decent snapper to be had at this spot after dark and it is favoured by locals. You also have the option of bagging a feed of quality mussels.

Back across harbour, Flat Rock

Back across the harbour at the harbour mouth is another spot favoured by locals called Flat Rock at Omapere.  As the name suggests it is a large flat plateau and offers numerous spots to fish.

It can be accessed by turning right down to the beach immediately after entering the Arai-Te-Uru Recreational Reserve and walking up the edge of the water mark off the rocky beach. There is quite a significant drop off into deep water and again, the current is fierce.  It is very exposed at its most westerly point, so you may not want to venture this far.  

There is a spot further into the harbour before you reach flat rock, which can fish very well, but can be inconsistent, with juvenile snapper at times proving a nuisance. It is also very snaggy with forests of nylon littering the bottom.  There are fabled tales of monster trevally and kingfish being caught at Flat Rock over the years.  

Poppers and livebaits are definitely worth a try.  The current makes the use of livebaits under a balloon challenging so again, casting out a BOS sinker and sliding a modest-sized baitfish down the line using a short trace is a good idea.  

Access to this spot is dependent on conditions, so be sensible and try to fish with another person to enhance safety. Falling into the drink here will see you caught in a rip and heading out to sea across the harbour’s dangerous bar in a hurry.

Taking a boat or kayak out too close to the mouth can be risky too.  An anchor will obviously not set so drift fishing using a drogue to slow the boat is the way to go, but having a very reliable outboard is a must, as any failure will again see you swept towards the bar.

Up the harbour

Up the harbour offers good opportunities too, if presenting less dramatic scenery. There are several piers off the beaten track which offer family-friendly fishing and the real chance of catching decent fish, notably the jetty at Te Karaka, where a 30m hole lies close by to the west.  

Several species of fish are on offer at the right times, including John dory and big trevally.

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