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Top tips and tested tricks for rock-fishing newbies

27 October 2015
Top tips and tested tricks for rock-fishing newbies

Rock fishing is an addictive and often highly productive way to fish. It’s also available just about everywhere in the country.

The following is a selection of tips and tricks that I’ve found helpful over the past ten years fishing on the rocks:


If you’re walking in to your spot, a key consideration is the tide. An easy walk in at low tide may become difficult or dangerous at high. Some spots can only be accessed at low tide and require you to fish through the cycle, walking out on the next low.

This is especially true around the east coast of Auckland, where long fingers of submerged rock can only be accessed at low. It’s easy to be caught out by this problem. I’ve had to swim more than once, which is not fun in the winter, and at times positively life-threatening.

A few years ago I saw a couple of older anglers trying to walk out to Ninepin Island (at the mouth of the Manukau Harbour), only a couple of hours before dusk. At low, they could have waded out through the knee-deep breakers, but once the water level had risen a little, they’d where risking a knock over. At half-tide and in the dark, it would be a tricky swim for an athlete, and virtual suicide for a fully-clothed fisho!These two old boys had no idea about the stage of the tide, expecting the Ninepin to be connected by a strip of sand, as it periodically is. Fortunately, they thought better of it and were still around to fish the next day.

The swell

Once you get to your ledge it’s a good policy to check you have plenty of space behind you to back up if a big swell comes in. Gear you don’t need to use during actual fishing, such as your pack and extra rods are best stashed well above the barnacle line. I’ve lost several items over the years when a surprise wave has swept over a ledge and dragged low-lying gear into the drink.

Berley sources

Kinas make fantastic locally sourced berley. Hooking them out of the water with the crook of a gaff head takes practice.

If you’re in a remote spot, it’s pretty likely that you’ll find a lot of kina carpeting the rockpools and seabed. Kina are great eating and sensational berley.The kina population has exploded in recent years, due to the demise of their two main predators: big crayfish and bigger snapper.

Often kina will seem tantalisingly out of reach but can be fished out with a gaff. The trick is to get the kina in the U-shaped bend of the gaff, rather than trying to pierce the shell. The structure of their spines mean they jam on the gaff surprisingly easily and securely.

When using them for berley, whack them hard with the back of a stout knife so the kina shell is fractured but the whole animal doesn’t shatter. This makes it easier to lob the kina in to where you’re fishing. It also means the offering will have some resistance to the little reefies that will quickly gobble that snapper-luring roe.

Boat taxis and secret spots

If you’re lucky, you’ll have the option of getting a boat to drop you off at a fishing possie that is seldom accessed.

The actual mechanics of the drop-off can be tricky, especially if there’s any swell. Before approaching the rocks, hang back a bit and see how the waves are moving up the rock face and formulate a plan.

It also pays to organise all your gear for an easy handover. Bags should be secured shut and rods should be broken down and bundled tightly together with neoprene bindings or similar. Anything that’s not waterproof, especially cellphones  (I’ve drowned three and counting) should be taken out of your pockets and stowed in a drybag or Otterbox.

When you’ve decided that you’re ready to offload, move slowly in towards your chosen landing spot. Time it  the first person jumps off at the top of the swell, the boat retreating back down down the face behind them. Disembarking at the bottom of the swell can see the boat ride over the top of them or the swell knocking them off their feet.

Never reverse in to a ledge as this puts the prop in danger of damage on the rocks. It’s also wise to tilt the motor so that the skeg bears the brunt of any impact. Once you’ve lost the prop you are in real trouble.

Keeping it cool

If you’re serious about rock fishing, instead of a cumbersome chillybin, it’s much better to get one of those excellent NZ-made fishing cooly-bags. Look for a larger model as they fill up pretty quickly after a kingfish or two.

I have a kayak model from Katikati-based Penguin Sea and Surf. It’s lasted me seven years so far and is still going strong. It did lose its insulating properties when the padding inside flattened from excessive use so I put a slit in it, stuffed it with Pink Batts and sewed up the slit with braid. Now it’s as good as new.

When walking out, the annoying issue of blood and slime unning down your legs can be mitigated by putting the fish and ice into a tough plastic bag, such as a survival bag or doubled-up rubbish bags.

Love my Leatherman

One tool I swear by on the rocks, and indeed for any type of fishing, is my Leatherman. The three essential implements are the pliers, for removing hooks and crushing barbs; the knife for cutting and iki-spiking fish (carefully and precisely, though!); and the diamond hone. I consider the hone, in particular, crucial. The viciously sharp point on a modern hook is very easily dinged but a couple of swipes on a diamond hone will have it straight back in action. I like to put two angled faces on the inside of the point. The point should feel sticky and should carve a scratch in your thumbnail with minimal pressure.

My current Leatherman model (I’ve lost four; luckily they have come down in price from the eye-watering $300) is the Surge. The Surge is heavy but the beefed-up pliers give much better purchase on a hook shank than smaller models. It’s also more practical for mechanical tasks like freeing stubborn bolts.

A quality multipurpose tool like a Leatherman is a must, particularly when it is necessary to keep the gear list to a minimum.

I don’t particularly like the sheaths that come with these tools so I made my own from leather. I’ve fitted a bungee cord to the Surge, so hopefully it will last longer than its predecessors.

Unfortunately, the Leatherman stable doesn’t currently include a tool with all the above plus line-clippers and split ring pliers. A pig-sticker would also be a more practical iki-spike but if you know where to aim, the knife is fine.

Tom Lusk's rock-fishing quick tips

  • It’s a good idea to carry insulation tape. It’s great for patching up cuts, covering blisters, bundling rods, doing short-term shoe repairs and any list of other emergency fixes.
  • Have plenty of dry, absorptive rags. Old towels ripped in to strips are great for this, being very useful for gripping fish, cleaning hands etc. They even come in handy for drying off when you unexpectedly end up in a rockpool. You can usually buy a heap at an op-shop if you don’t have any around the house.
  • Keep 10 metres of paracord permanently in your pack. it is strong, cheap, takes up next to no space and has a huge number of applications, including makeshift repairs and replacement berley lines.
  • Get your measure mat or other fish-measuring device laid out ready on the rocks. You don’t want to be fumbling in your bag while a fish is gasping its last breaths and damaging itself on the rocks.
  • Take a cheap yoga mat. A mate has devised it as an excellent rod protector for rock-fishing. He rolls his whole bundle of rods into this and straps it all up on the outside. The mat protects the rods and will float if dropped. It also acts as a protective mat to lay fish on to measure. It’s also a great slide for drawing a kayak in and out, not to mention a bum protector while you’re eating your lunch.
  • Salt water destroys pretty much everything. Anything that gets wet in the salt needs to be soaked in fresh water, including your pack or its lifetime will be seriously reduced.

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