Light Tackle Kahawai Spinning makes for Exciting Low-Cost Game Fishing at River Mouths
Video: You can catch kahawai on heavier gear but it just doesn’t compare to the excitement of light tackle spinning! Fishing for kahawai at the mouth of Canterbury’s Waimakariri River using what is essentially light-weight trout fishing tackle.
Spin fishing for kahawai at river-mouths plays a big part in the overall recreational fishing scene in New Zealand. Often under-rated, the humble kahawai is one of the few sea fish species that are readily available to shore-based anglers. They can be caught on baited hooks but are much more fun to target with light tackle kahawai spinning.
The best time to fish for them at the Waimakariri River mouth is during the bottom half of the out-going tide. If this coincides with falling light later in the day so much the better. Kahawai doesn’t like dirty water so aim to fish for them when the water has had a chance to clear following a flood.
River-mouths throughout New Zealand are the temporary home of many juvenile fishes. During spring and summer, huge schools of baitfish gather around river mouths as they move between estuarine nursery areas and the open sea. These include smelt, whitebait, kahawai, yellow-eyed mullet, sprats, and numerous others. Some species such as mullet and little kahawai join together in big mixed schools which are also the target of terns and gulls. On shingle beaches, adult kahawai often chase baitfish schools so close into shore many of the little fish become stranded on the beach where they are quickly consumed by gulls.
It is these little fishes and at times whale-feed or krill, that the kahawai are after at river-mouths. They find any sort of moving baitfish fair game hence their readiness to go after cast and retrieved spinners. I guess they don’t have a lot of time to spend examining the lure to decide if it is a real baitfish or a metal imitation. The best lures for kahawai match the baitfish that are present, at least as far a size and colour are concerned.
You don’t need much in the way of gear to get started kahawai spinning. Just about any old spinning or surfcasting rod can be pressed into service. In my hometown of Christchurch, where salmon fishing is also popular, many anglers target kahawai using the exact same rods and reels they use for salmon fishing. Kahawai can be caught in the surf off Canterbury river-mouths in the same places that salmon are taken. The kahawai will also readily take the exact same ticers used for salmon fishing. So why carry around a separate outfit just for the kahawai spinning?
Light Tackle Kahawai Spinning
So why carry around a separate outfit just for the kahawai spinning? The answer is simple! Once you have tried kahawai fishing with the lightweight gear you will be hooked! It is a very exciting style of fishing. Fishing a 6lb spinning rod and reel combo, you’ll get more hook-ups, catch a lot more fish, and have an amazing amount of fun. Kahawai are powerful fighters for their size, often jumping clear of the water, and pulling hard as they try to escape.
The lighter gear also enables you to fish smaller and lighter lures that more accurately resemble the baitfish that kahawai are feeding on. It also means you get more hits and generally catch more fish than you would on bigger, heavier ticers. Provided you have a good well-balanced light-weight rod and reel set you won’t be giving up much casting distance either.
In the accompanying video, I am fishing with a Shimano Sienna 2500FD reel, spooled with braid and a 3m fluorocarbon leader of 10lb breaking strain, paired with a Shimano Catana 792 two-piece rod. I join the leader to the braid with an FG knot which passes effortlessly through the rod’s line guides. The Shimano Catana 792 is a graphite trout spin fishing rod with a medium to fast action designed to fish 3-6 kg line. The lure weight range isn’t marked on the blank but would be around the 7 – 20-gram mark. The rod measures 2.37 metres (7 foot 8 inches).
I have extended the blank at the butt of this rod by carefully inserting and glueing in place a short section of old spin rod to increase the overall length to 2.47 metres (8 foot 1 inch). Although only an extra 100mm longer it gives even better casting distance with less effort and makes it more comfortable to use – for me at least. The total cost of the rod and reel is around $150.00. I have also caught quite a few big trout down at the canals on this same outfit. The black Hyperlon bottom grip looks a little out of place with the cork grips further up the rod, but I like it. It sits nicely under my arm while retrieving too.
I also have an even lighter Berkley Drop Shot rod that I’ve been meaning to try out on the kahawai as well. It is a 1-3kg rod designed to cast 3-9g lures. Should be a lot of fun. It’s 6’6″ long and really a rod built for single-handed use which I don’t like so I’m going to extend the butt section on that too! I’ll let you know how this ultra-light setup goes.
There are some really good lures available nowadays. You can use soft baits but they don’t cast as far as small jigs and are soon wrecked. I really like the Saltwater Pro Series jigs from Gillies. The 15g Pilchard is a cracker. The kahawai just love these. They are a hard-bodied lure with a bright chrome finish that really makes them pop. They come in plain silver and a blue-backed model. I like lures that look like small baitfish and measure about the same length as my little finger.
I always remove the trebles and replace them with single hooks for kahawai spinning. It seems counter-productive. You would think that with three barbs you would have more chance of hooking and landing a fish than you would with just a single hook. However, this isn’t the case at all. The singles are way better resulting in more positive hookups and fewer kahawai tossing the lure.
I use Mustad 34007 stainless steel hooks in size 1/0 and 2/0 because I have plenty of them. There are better hook choices available that have a bigger eye like the VMC Inline hook. The single hooks also make the fish easier to release and inflict less damage.
Kahawai put up a really strong fight on light line coupled with smaller lures. If you have only ever caught them on salmon tackle you are in for a real treat. It is easy to see why the International Game Fish Association regards the kahawai as a true game fish!
Kahawai are very good eating if bleed straight away. Remove any red meat left on the fillet. They are deliciously coated with Greg’s Lemon Pepper Crusting Blend before pan-frying. This gives them a delightful crunchy coating. Gregg’s also produce an equally good Tuscan Herb Crusting Blend which I recommend you try too.
Most importantly if you don’t intend to keep your kahawai to eat be sure to return them to the water as quickly as possible. They are a hardy fish and usually survive being caught and released quite well.
If you haven’t tried this style of fishing before I seriously suggest you give it a try. The lightweight tackle similar to that I have suggested is a must. Sure you can catch kahawai on heavier gear but it just doesn’t compare to the endless enjoyment you’ll get from light tackle kahawai spinning!