Published On: Tue, Apr 4th, 2017

Gurnard, Red – Chelidonichthys kumu – How to catch this tasty eating fish – Video

Other names for gurnard: Kumukumu is the Maori name, also widely known as Carrots!

Video Title: Grunting Red Gurnard Caught Surfcasting in the Marlborough Sounds. Video Description: Red Gurnard are widely known as Carrots! Usually found over open sandy bottoms rather than foul ground. The red gurnard it a good quality eating fish. They make a strange grunting sound when caught. Easily targeted by both shore-based and boat anglers. Notable for their bright orange body colouring and distinctive large pectoral fins. Fishingmag.co.nz exclusive video.

Red gurnard look quite unlike other fishes. The eyes are set high on the large head, the mouth has only small fine teeth, and the body is long, tapering towards the tail. Most notable of all the red gurnard has a bright orange body colouring and distinctive large pectoral fins. These being blue-green in colour with a blue fringe, together with a large dark spot within which are smaller white spots. The head and gill plates are armoured to protect the fish from struggling prey.

Red gurnard are the most common of the species found in New Zealand waters. The others are: the similar looking but smaller scaly gurnard, the spotted gurnard, and the yellow spotted gurnard. These other gurnard species are generally smaller and confined to deeper offshore grounds.

Red gurnard grow to as much as 60cm in length (very rarely) but most sold in New Zealand fish shops and caught by anglers measure about 35cm and weigh a kilogramme at most. I have caught my biggest ones in the Marlborough Sounds measuring up to 45cm in length. The longest red gurnard observed by David H. Graham in Otago waters measured 22 inches (55cm) and weighed 4 lb (1.8kg), but he found the average length was 16 inches (40cm).

Gurnard ,Red, Chelidonichthys kumu (image).

The brilliant coloration of a freshly caught gurnard.

They are generally found over open sandy bottoms rather than over foul ground. They can be caught around most of the New Zealand coastline, usually in shallow water but they are also caught in offshore waters down to 180m. Red gurnard are caught commercially in New Zealand by shallow coastal trawling. If you are fishing from a boat and are starting to bring up gurnard you have drifted off the reef out over a sandy bottom. I have caught quite a few gurnard in the Marlborough Sounds. I have found they are more likely to be caught if you cast well out from shore rather than right in close.   

They are generally found on open sandy bottoms rather than over foul ground. They can be caught around most of the New Zealand coastline, usually in shallow water (15m or so) but they are also caught in offshore waters down to 180m. Red gurnard are caught commercially in New Zealand by shallow coastal trawling. If you are fishing from a boat and are starting to bring up gurnard you have drifted off the reef out over a sandy bottom. I have caught quite a few gurnard in the Marlborough Sounds. I have found they are more likely to be caught if you cast well out from shore rather than right in close.   

I have caught quite a few gurnard in the Marlborough Sounds and off Nelson and Golden Bay. In the Marlborough Sounds I have found they are more likely to be caught if you cast well out from shore rather than right in close.   

Red gurnard and snapper (image)

Red gurnard and snapper caught from Mokau Beach, North Island.

Gurnard are more numerous north of the Canterbury Bight. They are particularly plentiful in North Island harbours over summer. The Kaipara Harbour on the West Coast north of Auckland is perhaps one of New Zealand’s best-known areas for gurnard fishing.

The red gurnard lives on small crustaceans; mostly shrimps and crabs. But will also eat small fishes like cockabullies, along with shellfish and worms.

Gurnard have three small finger-like appendages below the pectoral fins on each side that it uses like fingers to probe the bottom for prey like small crabs and worms.

What do Gurnard Eat?

Of particular interest are the many food items consumed by this fish. In David H. Graham’s Treasury of New Zealand Fishes published by A.H. and A.W. Reed in 1953, the author lists the following as having been found in the stomachs of red gurnard: pilchards, sprats, garfish, red cod (juveniles), together with Ahuru, cockabullies, suckerfish, and the twister (similar to a bully). Plus seven species of shellfish, nine species of crabs, four species of worms, and three species of shrimps. Red gurnard feed not only on the bottom but right through the water column. 

Baits for Gurnard

As for bait, they will readily take most cut fish baits. I have often caught them on yellow-eyed mullet chunks. Shellfish like tuatua and pipi are regarded as top bait for red gurnard as are the prawns you buy at the supermarket – use the head and tail separately. Tie on with bait elastic. They will also take squid which is a good option to try if crabs or lice are quickly stripping the cut fish baits from your hooks.  

This range of Mister Twister soft bait grubs work great jigged for red gurnard over a sandy bottom. The green and red grub is a Berkley Gulp in Nuclear Chicken colour scheme. This thing leeches scented oil and glows in the dark as well! The jig weight is 3/8th of an ounce. Jig weight is determined by the depth and current you are fishing.

This range of Mister Twister soft bait grubs work great jigged for red gurnard over a sandy bottom. The green and red grub is a Berkley Gulp in Nuclear Chicken colour scheme. This thing leeches scented oil and glows in the dark as well! The jig weight is 3/8th of an ounce. Jig weight is determined by the depth and current you are fishing.

Gurnard will also readily take soft plastics jigged along a sandy bottom. The best soft plastics to use look like crabs, grubs, shrimps, or small octopus. The trailing tails on Berley Jigging Grubs and Mister Twisters are excellent for taking gurnard boat fishing. Soft plastic shads also work well. I’m sure the puffs of sand or sediment stirred up as the soft bait bounces along the bottom gets them biting.

The red gurnard has three feelers or lower rays below the pectoral fins. It uses these to turn over stones and probe the sea floor for prey.

The red gurnard has three feelers or lower rays below the pectoral fins. It uses these to turn over stones and probe the sea floor for prey.

Surfcasting for Gurnard

For surfcasters some beaches around New Zealand fish well for gurnard whilst at other beaches, it is rare for surfcasters to catch them. Use 3/0 to 6/0 size hooks. The important thing is to keep the barb well exposed clear of the bait. Gurnard have large mouths for their size. They suck the bait in so watch your rod tip and be ready to strike. Also, keep your baits on the small side when targeting gurnard. They will be feeding on the bottom using their snout and feelers to probe for food.

Red gurnard are generally found in water at least 10m deep so you need to cast well out for them when surfcasting. Gurnard have a strange habit of making a loud unmistakable grunting noise when caught. They sound very much like pigs. It is an unnerving sound caused as they expel air from their swim bladder.

Gurnard Rigs

A simple paternoster rig is all that is required to catch them. If boat fishing 30lb monofilament is quite sufficient. For surfcasting I prefer to use 50lb backbone for my terminal rigs so it will stand up better to the strain of distance casting without the line breaking during the cast.

Gurnard Surfcasting Rig (not to scale). The hooks are chemically sharpened Suicide 6/0 from Jarvis Walker. For surfcasting I'd use 24kg (50lb) monofilament to avoid bust-offs when casting. Note the Mustad oval split ring for quickly attaching the sinker.

Gurnard Surfcasting Rig (not to scale). The hooks are chemically sharpened Suicide 6/0 from Jarvis Walker. For surfcasting I’d use 24kg (50lb) monofilament to avoid bust-offs when casting. Note the Mustad oval split ring for quickly attaching the sinker. The rig is shown with two hooks but I would use three. For boat fishing 30lb monofilament is quite sufficient for gurnard. 

Red Gurnard. Note the amazing colouration on the pelvic fins when a gurnard is fresh from the sea.

Red Gurnard. Note the amazing colouration on the pelvic fins when a gurnard is fresh from the sea. This one was caught in the Marlborough Sounds by Allan Burgess

Red Gurnard. This fish has been out of the water for a while and the distinctive colouration has quickly faded

Red Gurnard caught surfcasting. This fish has been out of the water for a while and the distinctive colouration has quickly faded.

They are poor fighters. Their main attraction for anglers is their good eating quality. When removing them from the hook and filleting watch out for the very sharp spines at the rear of the gill plates which will easily pierce deep into your hands if handled carelessly. It is important to remove the row of small bones from each fillet before cooking. They are easy to fillet. Gurnard are one of the best eating fishes having firm pink flesh.

Red gurnard.

This red gurnard was caught surfcasting at Nape Nape Beach, North Canterbury.

About the Author

- Fishingmag.co.nz website editor.

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