Bethells and O’Neils Beaches Surfcasting Contest
A “trend” of 1990’s style sports fishing through out New Zealand was the increasing numbers of fishing contests targeting Kahawai for major prizes. The Bethells and O’Neils beach contest that you will learn a bit about from reading this article was one of the pioneer contests that helped bring kahawai contests into fashion, 1997 being its 6th year. These adjoining beaches are two of Auckland City’s more accessible west coast surf beaches.
As with many of the other kahawai contests this is a surfcasting contest. It’s organized by the Bethells Casters and Anglers Club. That the organizers spell organized with an “S” instead of a “Z” on their tickets is not a sign of the way this contest is run. The Club has very strong links with the New Zealand fishing tackle industry at both wholesale and retail level. It is one of the more active New Zealand Clubs that participate in dryland distance casting events run by the New Zealand Casting and Angling Association. Their home base in the Auckland metropolitan area contains an immense number of fishing tackle retail outlets, distributors, manufacturers, wholesalers willing to help with sponsorship. Prize ratio to ticket price cost has to be seen to be believed!
It was through knowing just who was organizing this contest that got me driving four hours north the Saturday afternoon before the contest. A stroll along Bethells Beach that evening to pick a spot for Sunday’s contest and to see what sinker weight was required to “hold” in the rip saw me bump into two other chaps who had driven six hours to do the same thing. They too knew of the people involved.
Last time I fished this contest in November 1995 I’d fished 0’Neils Beach as it had a reputation of coughing up most of the winning fish through the water on Bethells looked better to me. This year I’d fish a “gutter” in the surf on Bethells. A gutter like this on the beaches west of Waitomo, my “home” fishing ground will produce large kahawai consistently.
Auckland city beaches are a bit different. The organizers pray and hope that “someone” of the hundreds fishing will catch a fish and that this fish will be a kahawai. Aucklanders do catch fish at Bethells but it is mainly rock fishing not off the sand. There is only limited rock fishing space so contestants are confined to the beach only!
Testing your gear and picking your spot on a strange beach is a good move before any fishing contest. Being very human I tend to make a few mistakes if I’ve not had my day before test cast. Tested a 140 gm (5 oz) grapple release sinker but it failed to hold in the rip. Had to use a 170 gm sinker (6 oz). The water and wind were both very cold so decided, northern beaches regardless, I’d be in a wetsuit tomorrow!
Auckland is an interesting place to visit, even on a cold evening with a strong wind there was close to 100 people on Bethells Beach. Maybe 15% of these people were walking dogs along the beach. They had clearly driven some distance out from the city just to do this. I was also not used to the attractive “city” women of various ages walking alone on the beach. When one such lady wandered over to talk to me about fishing I mentioned I’d just “so far” been casting sinkers out to see what would hold in the rip, that I was not actually fishing …. yet! That was the last I saw of her, as mentioned above if you’ve not been on the beach for a while you can easily make some sort of a stuff up!
The morning of the contest was fine and sunny but we still had a cold strong wind with a two-metre surf rolling in. I arrived in the car park prize giving area at Bethells at 6.45 am for registration. That is the process whereby you exchange your receipt for $25 previously paid to enter the contest for a numbered fishing ticket, this helps keep the contest honest.
As well as your ticket each contestant also got given a spiked break out sinker, a packet of black magic hooks, written leaflets on how to catch fish in the surf, excellent value!
I then had 60 minutes to set up my gear ready to fish before a contest briefing at 7.45 am. At a given word from the compere, Lance Pulman, from “Norcross Sports World” the contestants all departed from the weigh in area together to walk to their fishing spots. No getting up at 3 am to sit on your spot for this contest and no driving your 4WD on the beach. There was even a fence erected so that all beach users only walked on the same strip of sand, Auckland folks have numerous strange habits!
At the 8 am official start I was in the water and casting two bonito baits and a ground bait cage out 60 metres into the incoming tide. If the fishing is hard I like my 2nd trace set to slide 3 metres back down my casting shock leader to a fixed stopper knot. I have found it very effective on kahawai.
It was 30 minutes before most of the nearby contestants had picked their spots and settled in to fish. Most had light 113 gm (4 oz) sinkers which failed to hold despite sand spikes, resulting in many tangled lines. Not that it made a lot of difference, in the close to shore area where the kahawai often hunt sprats, and out to waste deep water, there was a pilchard or other prime bait every four square metres and no one getting fish.
I switched to one half pilchard bait, (so the rip was not a problem) a casting release clip, no bait cage, a 5 oz break-out sinker and tossed the bait out 140 metres to separate my bait from the hundreds of others close to shore, and to avoid tangles.
With a Daiwa GS9000 threadline reel and Kilwell brand Pink Panther rod designed for casting 113 gm sinkers over 200 metres, a 140 metre cast is not a big cast if you’re using nylon line. Since I was using 4.5 kg Berkley Fireline 140 metres is a flick of the wrist. Magic stuff all this new age fishing gear that is now available? Not so, this is yesterday’s technology to a dry land distance caster.
There was no shortage of sprats about. I could feel them hitting my bait from time to time. That is another great thing about the Fireline, but where were the kahawai? I was about to find out.
On my right I had Allen Dodds, up from New Plymouth for the contest. I see him most years up at the $200,000 Ninety Mile Beach Snapper Classic. Like me he was in a wet suit fishing deep. On my left I had Clarie MacDowall, a 12 year old local West Auckland girl whose line was one of several children’s lines that kept getting washed down in the rip under my line to settle in one metre deep water to my right. This was not a problem to me as long as I kept clear of their hooks about my feet when they retrieved their gear.
A few excited children’s shouts to my left alerted me to the danger of hooks coming passed and I looked down to see a kahawai headed for my knees attached to Clarie’s line!
I got out of the way fast. The smile on Claire’s face in the enclosed photo says it all.
For those interested in such things the fish took a pilchard bait on a 70 cm running trace. At 1.405 kg it was the second biggest kahawai of the contest and won for Clarie a $1,000 cash plus more product prizes than she could carry in one hit. It was also the only kahawai taken on our part of the beach. One sprat was the only other fish I saw caught there.
The contest marshals only tagged fish on the line at the waters edge. They had blue and white flags flying by them and wore blue and white Bethells Beach Fishing Club uniforms. They carried hand held radios. Sitting on seats every few hundred metres along the beach there was no missing them! The one on my bit of beach told some of us of a large kahawai taken at O’Neils Beach. Allen Dodds, his mate Kevin and several others packed up and moved over for a look.
I caught up with them at the prize giving and Allen said they had left good looking water on Bethells, lost 15 minutes walking over the sand hill that separates these two beaches only to find poor looking water. Though they did hook a spat sized kahawai which they released. There was a problem with surf board riders cutting fishing lines on O”Neils that was also mentioned at the prize giving. Having fished on both beaches over two contests I don’t see any significant advantage for either beach.
The contest finished at 2 pm . Many freezing cold wet contestants then left the beach. In my warm wet suit I fished on with a few others for zero till the 3.30 pm prize giving.
Two hundred people fishing that year produced six smallish kahawai. First prize Terry Sunnby, 1.535 Kg $2,000 cash and lots of product prizes. Second Claire MacDowall 1.405 kg $1,000 and fishing products. Third Hughie Brown 1.245 kg $500 cash and fishing products. Forth Jan Crosbie 0.670 kg product prizes.
The other two kahawai should have been thrown back! But they got prizes too! A 1.160 kg trevally won the other scaled fish prize beating off three rock cod and a sprat.
Compared to the 1995 Bethells contest I fished, this was a good result. That year produced one flounder, a small cock cod and one sprat for 300 people fishing! There were no kahawai caught. Kind of makes me appreciate the fishing back home to see this sort of thing. Still this is “match fishing.” I suspect that these Aucklanders do have a few beaches where they fish for real fish and not for prizes.
Back to that prize giving for a moment, every woman and child fishing in this contest this year who did not win a prize got given a prize, good expensive prizes! It was great to see the organizers promoting fishing via this angle. They did a similar thing when I was last here in 1995. Other prizes for kahawai not caught, for hard luck stories, lucky draws seemed endless. It took a full hour and a half for the contest organizers to give out all the rods, reels, hats, landing nets, chilly bins, and tackle boxes! Towards the end they tossed handfuls of fishing lures into the crowd to speed up the prize giving, incredible.
Money raised by the contest was to assist the Bethells Casters and Anglers Club promote sports fishing with a donation from profits each year also going to the Bethells Surf Life Guards.
To sum up and evaluate this contest is not easy. Most kahawai surf-casting enthusiasts favour selected spots at river mouths in the dawn till sunrise period. The often quite small areas where the bulk of fish congregate are normally known. To catch them off a relatively structure-less surf beach after 8 am is not something I’d normally attempt. It was I think no accident that women and children caught three of the six kahawai despite proportionally small numbers of women and children fishing. Most of the men who were able to cast further were fishing too deep with the kahawai hunting sprats in knee to waste deep water.
This was not the first time I’ve had a female hook a kahawai in a kahawai fishing contest virtually under my feet. I can remember also a girlfriend of years past who caught seven kahawai from ten 20 metre casts off a barren Coromandel surf beach while standing next to a group of distance casting men fishing deep (for snapper) who were not getting any bites. The ability to distance cast does add up to more fish long term but its not always the best option for kahawai.
When I go up to the 90 Mile Snapper contest each year there is a clear fixed established proven formula to follow for locating and catching snapper in the surf at contest time. Eventually, you will see something similar on “contest fishing” for kahawai.
In the meantime, before the top 10% work out how to win all the main prizes a kahawai fishing contest is somewhere where the biggest dreams of the smallest contestant’s really can come true!