Winter rock fishing: The Coromandel Peninsula
19 August 2016
Coromandel is a great destination for winter rock fishing, and not just because of the huge number of fish that reside in its beautiful, craggy coastline. It is the shape of the peninsula that makes it pretty much a sure bet in whatever weather gets thrown at it. The fat kahawai livey on Mikey’s line suddenly leapt straight out of the water, hot on its tail we could see the green and gold flashes of a massive kingfish. With a broadside smack it took the kahawai, busting the line in the process, then it was gone.
This was not in high summer or autumn, the water was not warm and full of baitfish. It was during the deepest and foulest winter, and over our heads a 35kT northwester was blasting. It wasn’t the first green-backed beast we’d had pay us a call, nor was it our last.
An annual escape
Every winter for the past decade or so, my friends and I have traveled to the Coromandel Peninsula for a weekend of rock fishing. It has become a high-point in our year, a sacred getaway planned months in advance.
Jack Lusk hooked up to a stonker off an Amodeo Island.
As the years have gone on and our lives have become busy, the importance of the annual escape has steadily increased. Our respective partners recognise this weekend as a necessary blowout from the pressures of the day-to-day, and are glad to get us back with our piscatorial needs met and enough fillets to keep our families happy for a few weeks.
Coromandel is a great destination for winter rock fishing, and not just because of the huge number of fish that reside in its beautiful, craggy coastline. It is the shape of the peninsula that makes it pretty much a sure bet in whatever weather gets thrown at it.
I haven’t fished it in a straight southerly or northerly, but the map shows a multitude of potential areas that would provide shelter. If the wind comes from the west, you have the east coast in the lee. From the east, and you can head to the west coast and escape the worst of it.
In addition to this, Coromandel is a practical weekend destination for fishos from most of the central North Island. Although it would be a long trip up from Wellington, and if you’re north of Auckland, why leave! For Aucklanders, once you’ve escaped the Friday afternoon traffic, it’s a pretty comfortable 3 hours’ drive.
Over the years my group of fishing mates has steadily acquired a small fleet of boats. Our boats have broadened our scope considerably, allowing us access to all sorts of seldom-fished ledges.
One of our favourite winter areas, and one which has provided a lot of great action over the years is the Motukawao group of islands off the coast of Amodeo Bay. These volcanic remnants rear up from deep water-between 30 and 40 metres and offer a vast array of ledges, guts and bays.
Mike Lusk with an 8lber from an island off Amodeo
In recent years we have done exceptionally well from these islands. On my best day salt fly fishing I would have sight-fished, caught and released well over 20 keepers. I am yet to encounter any really big snapper out on here, however my brother Jack managed a real stonker a couple of years ago-pushing the magical 20lb mark and released to grow even bigger.
Head as far north as you can (by car) and you’ll reach Fletcher Bay. From here you can walk along the coastline to the Pinnacles, a dramatic stack of blasted rock surrounded by some real tiger country. I have only fished here once, in 2004, when my mates and I were pretty inexperienced.
In beautiful conditions, we caught exactly one 27cm snapper and an eel between seven anglers; a dispiriting result. I mention it here because it is where I would head if I were targeting big winter kingfish from the rocks. However be warned, it is ferociously dangerous water and help is a very long way away if you get in trouble.
Coromandel’s west coast
Fast forward to 2014, and fishing in similar territory on the west coast near Coromandel Town, my bait-fishing mates and I enjoyed one of the most torrid snapper sessions we’d ever seen. It seemed every bait that hit the water was snaffled right up on the surface, and all of this no more than five minutes walk from the car.
Friendly Coro locals
Interestingly the red-hot bite continued unchecked as a big pod of dolphins swum right through where we were casting. I guess that a decent snapper is too awkardly-shaped for a hungry dolphin to get down its throat, or maybe they just weren’t in the mood to hunt.
Last winter on this coast, my brother Jack had an encounter with a real brute of a snapper. The snapper had been chasing a kahawai that Mikey had placed out, and Jack thinking it was a rat king decided to throw his stickbait gear at it.
Toby Littin hooked up to an off-season king.
Upon realising it was in fact a monster snapper, Jack lobbed out a pilchard. The beast smashed the bait almost instantly, after a few withering runs and just as Jack appeared to have the fish under control, the fish snapped the trace. To this day I still believe it had to have weighed over the 30lb mark.
The advantage of this coast is the fishing is so close to your car, meaning that if you are rushing up after work on a Friday you can stop on the way to your accommodation and wet a line.
Jack with another nice fish from a winter Coro mish.
This area is also beautifully sheltered in an easterly, although it gets a terrible spanking when the wind is from the west, and can quickly become turgid and unfishable.
Coromandel’s east coast
A look at Google Maps will quickly convince you of the myriad of ledges to explore on the east coast of the peninsula. The territory here is really NZ rock fishing at its finest; long stretches of perfect ledges, and virtually endless deep bays with fishable points at both ends.
A boat that’s suitable to be launched on shallow beaches will really broaden your horizons here, particularly the further north you head. However, don’t be put off if you don’t have a vessel, as pretty much every beach has great rock options at either end.
Mike Lusk with his PB off the rocks-from an island off Opito Bay.
If you have the time and the physical fitness, it’s always worth pushing a bit further away from the close rocks to seek out areas of reduced pressure. If you can find a spot free of fishing trash, IE cemented-in rod holders, blood and scales, you are much more likely to get into decent fish.
A long walk in and out, but well worth the extra effort.
You’ll see that the east coast has some gorgeous, clean estuaries, in particular Matarangi, Pauanui, and Whititanga. Fishing these areas can be a bit tougher in the colder months if you’re targeting snapper and kingfish, but trevally generally congregate here through the winter and are great fun to catch.
Where to stay?
There are numerous places on the peninsula that offer great accommodation, and over the winter you’re likely to have plenty of options. Far and away our favourite location is Anglers Lodge in Amodeo Bay (http://www.anglers.co.nz/). We have been staying here for years, and it has always been well set up for fishos, even more so these days. The new owners, the Wahlgren family (three generations) have recently moved over from Sweden. The family run the lodge with impeccable hospitality, warmth and efficiency, making it a top destination.
The Lodge also owns and operates a charter boat with the cooperation of famed Coro charters Epic, and bookable through the Epic website. Overall, it would be hard to envision a better place to base a Coromandel fishing mission.
In addition to selling bait and salt ice, the Lodge offers an island drop-off service, a boat launching and retrieval service, and will even smoke your fish for you for $10.
One of my favourite aspects of the Lodge is the big pack of eels that lurk around behind the fish-cleaning benches. Some of them are real behemoths-big endangered longfins. The Wahlgrens are very proud of their eels, and told me that sometimes people come down the drive and try and catch them, which they are quick to discourage.
This year’s trip away was right in the thick of a really big nor’wester, and after days of heavy rain. The water on the west coast around Amodeo was the colour of tea, and we had the lodge completely to ourselves.
In search of snapper, we made the call to hit the east coast. For the first few hours we couldn’t believe our bad luck, it seemed all fish had shut up shop completely. It was a grim start to the weekend.
The weather closing in on the way home. A good time to be leaving!
Then ‘out of the blue’ kingfish began turning up. The first one was a nice 15kg model, then came a couple of fired-up rats that disappeared before we could get a line to them; things were beginning to look up for us.
A nice keeper of around 10kg was next to show his face, we threw everything at this picky fish. Toby put a big kahawai out wide under a balloon, and Simon swam out a perfect piper. Jack whipped poppers around furiously, but nothing.
At 87cm, not a beast, but great for a winter's day.
A lot of small mackerel were zipping around at our feet, so after a while Toby put one of these out. He rigged the hook sideways through the nose just in front of the eye, and just swimming free without weight or floats. The little mack swam off into the depths, and in less than a minute, Toby was finally connected to the green-backed hoodlum.
Toby Littin with the king that finally grabbed a little jack mackerel. This shows the importance of using bait relevant to the location you're fishing.
On a slow day, the pressure is really on to land anything you hook, and today this was amplified by the fact that this king had been getting our hopes up for a couple of hours. Fortunately, it all came together, and Toby kept the fish clear of the weeds and rocks, landing it in a flurry of spray and golden fins.
The wrap up
This shows how one nice fish can really make a mission, not to mention that a 10kg kingfish makes a lot of great eating, not to mention the countless pannies and kahawai that came during the weekend.
Now is the time to plan a winter fishing get-a-way, and the Coromandel Peninsular is the perfect place.