The Mighty Mokes
15 September 2015
Here in Auckland we are blessed with the Hauraki Gulf, giving us a huge area of reasonably protected water to play in. But for those looking for a bit of adventure there is a group of islands out beyond this protective ring and, like the Greek sirens of old, the Mokohinau Islands beckon. The fishing here can be exceptional, with a mix of deep pinnacles and reefs along with a lot of shallow foul ground and deep weedy gutters.
There is a wide range of fishing options and methods to fish them but this place is not for the faint-hearted – being almost 50 kilometres offshore, a bit of serious planning needs to be done before undertaking a trip out here.
You need to be sure of a really good weather window before heading this far out. There are a few gutters where a big runabout can shelter overnight and I have done it a few times, but trying to tough it out in bad weather would be a frightening experience to say the least.
Omaha is a good place to set off from as it has a good sheltered ramp capable of launching big runabouts and it is the closest ramp to the Mokes, giving you a full tank for the 30 mile straight run.
Make sure you take plenty of fuel and give some consideration to staying overnight to make the most of your time out there. Some days it is very hard to leave, so take over-nighting gear with you to ensure you are able to make the most of your trip.
Try to leave Omaha at dawn. You’re up pretty early and it’s a long day but well worth it. A cruising speed of about 25 knots will help conserve fuel and give you a run of about 75 minutes. Unless you get sidetracked, you should be cruising past Little Barrier Island on your starboard side as the sun comes up and here may lie your first problem.
I consider Little Barrier to be the most beautiful island in the gulf and the fishing on this western side can be outstanding. A few times its pull has been too great and we haven’t even made it to the Mokes so fight against it, lock onto the Mokes lighthouse and press on.
You will come to an outlying reef close to the Mokes called Simpson’s Rock. It is a long skinny reef that runs back slightly north-west towards the Mokes and it is well worth a look – kingfish love this place and many big snapper have also been pulled out of here over the years, but they’re not always there so give it an hour at the most and then move on.
The Mokes are a stunning place
From Simpson’s, the Mokes are close. Fanal Island is the closest, but watch out for Navire Rock, a large area of shallow reef sitting in front of Fanal with a channel between the two. Navire is a good place to strayline, or use a soft bait or a popper. Apart from the usual suspects – kings, kahawai and snapper – there can be big trevally in here, but they’re not easy to get out of that rough country.
On the western side of Fanal there is a good deeper reef that fishes well, and this continues right around into Cathedral Cove where we have had some great snapper catches, too. This cove saved our backsides once when we were coming across in a 40-foot launch and an unexpected southerly wind got up.
By the time we got to Fanal it was doing 40 knots and we were surfing down breakers. We got into the cove just in time, for an hour later it was doing 60 knots and water spouts were pouring off the two points of the island – scary stuff! The next day the wind was gone and the sea had flattened out to glassy calm by lunch time.
There is a group of rocks behind Fanal called Maori Rocks on the chart but I have also heard them called the Sisters or the Princesses. Whatever you call them, they’re a great place for kings but I find it hard to get snapper there.
A nice local kingi
Between the two groups of islands there is a wide, deep channel. There is foul ground through here and some great pinnacles. It is a bit hard to find but a good place for hapuku if you can find the pinnacles. Some big snapper have come out of here; it is deep water between 50 and 70 metres so that means big sinkers, big jigs and big gear. It is a channel where you could find anything big - snapper, kings, ‘puka, sharks, tuna and the odd black marlin in the season.
On the western side of the channel lie the Burgess group of islands and probably the most interesting of the Mokohinaus. The northern end has fairly deep water in close, one or two little bays and a deep canyon that cuts well into the island, offering some limited protection in a nor-easterly at the southern end of Burgess.
The Edith Passage cuts through a small group of broken islands in the centre of which is a small lagoon surrounded by high canyon walls. This is a good place to overnight if the weather is good. It’s a bit tight getting in there but there’s room for several runabouts inside, and I have even seen a 40-foot launch in there.
South of these little islands is a huge area of foul ground, so from Edith Passage south is great for strayline or soft bait work. However, north of this passage around the main Burgess island is mainly deep water bottom fishing, aside from a few smaller reefs.
On one trip we were doing just that – bottom fishing close in to the western side of Burgess – when we noticed a helicopter sitting up close to the lighthouse, and we guessed they were servicing the light.
The pilot appeared and fired up the chopper, but instead of heading back to Auckland he flew down and landed on a rock ledge not far from us. He pulled out a rock rod and proceeded to catch two really good snapper in a matter of 20 minutes, before flying back up to the lighthouse to cook his freshly caught dinner.
Callum with a nice specimen
Well, what a way to go fishing. It was the highlight of our evening’s fishing, although we got a few good fish ourselves. We headed back to the lagoon to anchor up, where we had four other boats for company the night.
The Mokes make up such a large area you will be hard pressed to fish it all in one trip. I would suggest you spend your first day exploring the two islands and marking areas of interest on your chart or GPS. If you decide to stay the night, check out the lagoon nice and early so you know your way in and out before dusk comes – you don’t want to be caught out.
Personally, I would plan to stay the night out there so that, having checked the place out on day one, you will be ready on the spot to tackle the fishing come dawn. Cooking your breakfast as the sun comes up out there is pretty damn awesome; even better if the big early morning snapper are playing ball, giving you even fresher fish to take home.
The crayfish diving out here can be very good, so you really need to sort out what you want to have a go at in the planning stage of your trip. There is only so much gear you can fit into a trailer boat and if you stay overnight that’s even more gear, so stick with the basics – a 10kg to 15kg strayline set, a 24kg jig set for bottom fishing and a soft bait set which can double as a bait catching rig.
This last one will prove to be a godsend, allowing you to take more food and liquid and less bait. Take plenty of jigs and terminal tackle. There aren’t any tackle shops out there and, as I said before, take plenty of fuel and make sure both motor and VHF are in top order before you go.
If it’s your first time remember the islands are a wildlife sanctuary so you cannot land, but just motoring around the two groups will leave you spellbound. And then there’s the fishing; I am yet to have a bad trip to the Mokes, and here’s hoping it stays that way. Maybe I will try and do it in a launch next time.
A monster mokes snapper
I enjoy a bit more comfort nowadays than I did in my youth when all that mattered was the fishing.
With the changing seasons, different groups of fisho’s use the Mokes as a base. It’s a great kick-off point for game fishermen because that far out you’re in game fish country anyway.
Autumn sees great snapper and kingfish action, as does a fair chunk of spring, and on those beautiful calm winter days ‘puka are about, as well as big kelpie, snapper and big winter kings. It’s just a matter of getting the chart out, giving it a serious study, rounding up a couple of good fishing mates and making plans.
If you haven’t been out there before (and a lot of us haven’t) ask around at a local fishing/ boating club or pro tackle shop and find someone who has been there to get the lowdown on the place. Who knows, they may even decide to take their boat out and come with you.
There’s safety in numbers so don’t hold back; we’re Kiwis and adventure is our middle name. When you get there, just like me, you’re going to love the place.