Garfish make good baits for a variety of species including roaming kahawai. Photo Peter Langlands. Surfcasting Baits.
Garfish make good baits for a variety of species including roaming kahawai. Photo Peter Langlands.

Surfcasting Baits

By Peter Langlands

A wide range of baits has flooded the market in the last few years. Southern Bait produces a good range of different baits that you can buy in stores. The range in the South Island provides anglers, for the first time, an excellent range of effective baits (a personal favourite is the baby blue mackerel). Nonetheless, there is still a high level of satisfaction to be gained from collecting your own baits. In this article, I will review some of the surfcasting baits that are effective for southern species, and which can be obtained cheaply whether from the local fish market or the coastline next to Christchurch.

It is also critical to select a bait which is attractive to a certain species as many of our coastal species are highly selective in their bait preferences. These are both baits for surfcasting and bottom fishing.

Strip Baits

Oily fish baits are good all-rounders to use when fishing over open ground. The fish will be roaming large distances and an oil slick coming off the bait will draw them in like a magnet. Jack Mackerel have a high oil content and are good for fishing over sand. They are of a large size and can be easily cut into strip baits. The flesh is rather soft. A large jack mackerel can be bought from the local fish market for $3 – 4.00 (1.0 kg). The guts from the mackerel also make an excellent ground bait. Red cod, kahawai, skates, spiny dogfish and school sharks are particularly attracted to jack mackerel baits.

Kahawai is less oily than mackerel but has the advantage of having a firmer flesh and tough skin. Kahawai is a good bait for fishing near reefs. The firm flesh will withstand the attention of pickers. I have found kahawai to be an effective bait for catching blue cod when cut into strip baits.

Another favourite is the barracouta. Barracouta can be bought at incredibly cheap prices, yet makes a good all-round bait for red cod, blue cod, and kahawai, and in deeper water, is a top bait for groper. Being such a cheap yet effective bait, barracouta is also an excellent option for baiting up long lines. All of these baits are considerably cheaper than pilchards and will catch the same fish in many situations.

Natural presentation of Surfcasting Baits

Sometimes a strip bait is just not a natural enough presentation to catch fish. Whole small fish are often sought by predators, especially when feeding in mid-water. For the purpose of stray lining for predatory fish (kahawai, salmon etc) the pilchard is the best option.

Nonetheless, there are alternatives available. The yellow-eyed mullet, locally (and incorrectly) known as the herring, can be easily caught using a bubble float and small hooks, from either off the wharf or the rocks. The mullet can be attracted by ground bait (bran soaked in oil when fishing off the wharf and mussels placed in a berley pot when fishing off the rocks).

Mullet make excellent bait when stray-lined for snapper (in the Marlborough Sounds), schools sharks, kahawai and blue and red cod.

Over recent years there has been increasing popularity in fishing for salmon in harbours. Salmon generally feed on small prey items such as sprats. Given the salmon’s preference for small prey items, the pilchard is the most appropriate bait to use. Also since salmon are such a worthwhile species to catch the expense of buying pilchards is justified.

Another species which can be caught during the summer is the piper or garfish. Garfish are excellent baits for roaming kahawai. A piper cast and retrieved along the surface near kingfish is also likely to invite a strike when fishing near tidal rips in the Marlborough Sounds

Tuatuas are a cheap and readily available bait. Look for the brown "weed-growth" which is attached to the tuatua’s shell and projects from the sand. Surfcasting Baits.
Tuatuas are cheap and readily available bait. Look for the brown “weed-growth” which is attached to the tuatua’s shell and projects from the sand.

Shellfish Surfcasting Baits

The main shellfish baits available in Canterbury are mussels, cockles and tuatuas. When extracted from their shells all of these species make good all-round baits. Red cod are particularly fond of mussel baits. Although the kahawai is mainly a predator of baitfish they are also partial to tuatua.

It pays to fish a variety of baits, and shellfish make a good variation from fish baits. I recall fishing at Houhora Harbour on the North Island last year. The harbour has legendary status for its kingfish which cruise around the wharf chasing schools of baitfish. The obvious bait to use was a small live bait to tempt the kingfish. But over recent weeks the kingfish had become educated and avoided live baits. The only kingfish that I saw captured were taken by an angler fishing with tuatua baits off the wharf. Therefore the obvious choice of bait is not always the most effective and it pays to vary your baits.

Several fish species found in Canterbury will only eat shellfish or crustacean baits. Three species spring to mind: Blue Moki, rig and elephant fish. Local angler, Harley Scott has demonstrated the effectiveness of mussels for blue moki. The mussel baits are kept whole and presented on a hook with a keeper hook. Rig and elephant fish favour the paddle crab or crayfish baits, but will also take tuatua baits.

Tuatuas can be collected from New Brighton and Scarborough beaches at low tide. The best way to locate tuatuas is to look for a “beard” on the surface of the sand (refer to photograph). This weed growth is invariably attached to tuatuas. Once shelled the tuatua should be salted to improve its firmness.

Mussels abound around the coastline of Banks Peninsula. Their presence along many rock ledges makes an excellent on-site berley.

Mussels are a soft bait that are difficult to thread on to the hook. Wrap a bed of bait elastic around the hook shank first, thread on the mussel, and then wrap plenty more elastic around to hold it in place. The bait elastic also slows the spotties stealing your bait before the moki get a look in.
Mussels are soft bait that is difficult to thread onto the hook. Wrap a bed of bait elastic around the hook shank first, thread on the mussel, and then wrap plenty more elastic around to hold it in place. The bait elastic also slows the spotties stealing your bait before the Moki get a look in.

One of the closest places to Christchurch to collect mussels for bait is from underneath the McCormacks Bay culvert at low tide. The swift water flowing through the culvert makes an ideal area for mussels.

The mussels grow in a dense mat and can be easily collected. Paddle crabs are a fairly tricky bait to get hold of. They are occasionally available from the fish markets in Christchurch. Paddle crabs can also be caught in special baited pots and occasionally in large numbers in set nets. Indeed I have observed set nets being retrieved in which a rig or elephant fish is caught in the net next to a paddle crab which acted as a ‘live bait’.

Other Baits

Sandworms collected from the Avon-Heathcote Estuary are particularly effective for yellow-eyed mullet and flounders. They are an excellent all-around bait to use in estuaries.

Another specialist bait is the yabby. These crustaceans can be located at low tide along New Brighton Beach. A yabby pump is an ideal way to extract these animals. Yabby pumps are available from leading sports stores. Yabbies have a popular following amongst fisherman at the Waimakariri Rivermouth as during the winter months large flounders and sole move into the estuary.

A yabby fished on the bottom with a running rig is effective. Of course, a wide range of other fish species will take yabbies. They are best fished alive.

I hope that this article has given you some ideas about effective baits to use in Canterbury and the Marlborough Sounds. It pays to target a certain species when you go out fishing and pick the right bait accordingly. Collecting your own bait is a satisfying experience in itself and can involve the whole family.

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