Raglan Harbour Mud-Flatting snapper, gurnard, trevally, kingfish & kahawai

Raglan Harbour
Raglan Harbour - Map LINZ - Crown Copyright Reserved.

Raglan Harbour – Marlin, XOS Snapper and Tuna Offshore. Excellent Surfcasting. Dangerous Bar and Surf. Mullet and Flounder over Mudflats

By DJ Moresby

Fifty years ago Raglan was a small little known village on the banks of a muddy Harbour. Few people visited it despite excellent surf beaches and rock fishing. Today its completely changed. House prices have rocketed up and it has become a popular place to live or to visit. This newfound popularity would have a lot to do with the upgrading of the road in but there are other factors. The fishing offshore here can be fantastic. Access to those fish has been improved via boat builders in recent years designing and making trailer boats specifically for busting out through Raglans “big” west coast surf. it is considered by many locals safer to launch off the beach here than to tackle Raglan Harbours notorious bar. As these boats come home decks covered in XOS snapper, tuna, and increasing numbers of marlin more folks are taking an interest in Raglan.

The creeks boiled with whitebait where freshwater meets the tide. But that didn't mean they were easy to catch
The creeks boiled with whitebait where freshwater meets the tide. But that didn’t mean they were easy to catch

Located 30 minutes drive from Hamilton City, Raglan township is situated on NZ‘s central North island west coast. It’s a short drive for people living in both greater Auckland and Waikato. The harbour its self does produce snapper, gurnard, trevally, kingfish & kahawai. For the most part that’s the summer months only. Being a small harbour there are not the same opportunities to get a fish inside the harbour as there are outside. I should add that surfcasting here into the Tasman Sea, from beach or rock, gives good results. But must add there have been lots of surfcasters swept to their deaths while rock fishing in the area. The surf is big, take care!

Having given you a little word picture of the place for those using rod and line or sun cream oil l shall now proceed to get down into the more forbidden, exotic places, the purpose of writing this article is to take you where the real dirt is in Raglan. Where so many of you would never think to go, the mudflats of the upper harbour.

A small boat was needed for checking the net at high tide.
A small boat was needed for checking the net at high tide.

Raglan Harbour – Whaingaroa Harbour to Maori – Mudflats Fishing

Raglan harbour is mostly mudflat when the tide goes out, more mullet and flounder come off the harbour than any other type of fish. The subject is however commonly overlooked in other publications that you might read as this is a “net” fishery! Most of us, myself included, would like to see a blanket ban on all set nets inside Harbours in New Zealand. That however would create as well as solve some problems. Answers to improving the fishery will come from a better understanding of it, so come with me to Raglan.

Late October 98 my sister Felicity called to tell me of some big 6 Kilo longfin eels she had seen in a creek near Raglan. A friend, “Rusty” Jackson from Piopio had recently moved his Saler Cattle Stud breeding operation up to Raglan so I was on the phone short shift. “Could he put me up for a few days while l caught some eels?” “Stay as long as you like,” he says, “I’ll take you out on the harbour while your here, heaps of mullet & flounder.” “A feed of whitebait with each dip of the net”!

Arrived up there Saturday 31/Oct/98. Had left Te Kuiti at 9 am in a shower of rain, ground-level fog, floodwater covering the main road, farm paddocks looking like lakes. Grass rotting away in some low lying paddocks due to repeated floods. Arrived at Rusty’s place at 11 am, on a bone dry hot sunny day. The air smelling of tea tree flowers, cabbage trees, salt spray, & green grass. On the road in, wild peacocks, pheasants & quail, were seen in abundance, a delight to see. It’s been years since I’ve seen more than an odd lone quail, just too wet for them around Te Kuiti.

Shoes had to be worn to avoid oyster shell-cuts on the mudflats.
Shoes had to be worn to avoid oyster shell-cuts on the mudflats.

Also, I’d not seen a truly healthy cabbage tree in years. A bug called a Phytoplasma having wiped 90% of them out. Yet here, at the top end & northern side of Raglan Harbour cabbage trees were a feature of the landscape growing in thick clumps on the farms. Raglan seemed almost like visiting a different country.

Dropped a bit of gear off at Rusty’s, then with my sister Felicity, went off for a quick look at the creek where she said the eels were back for lunch to find some more farming friends, Larry and Francis, had arrived to stay overnight. A most enjoyable little moment was when my sister who had met them recently went to introduce me to them not knowing of my long association with them both. After lunch 5 of us piled in and onto Rusty’s rusted Suzuki farm truck & drove to the back of the farm to catch dinner.

The farm jutted right out into the upper harbour. It was an impressive sight driving down the middle of the farm with miles of mudflats on 3 sides & flocks of Canada Geese rising in the air in front of the Suzuki. From our high up vantage point, we could see still more flocks of Geese on the mudflats. Not a pest yet Rusty said but he would not want any more! We could also see two commercial set net boats down harbour busily setting nets in the outgoing tide.

The oysters on the Raglan Harbour mudflats were large, numerous and delicious.
The oysters on the Raglan Harbour mudflats were large, numerous and delicious.

Rusty said they appeared to work a two-week cycle on different parts of the harbour. Larry had brought a 40-metre braid mesh flounder dragnet out with him. One look at the oyster shell covering the out tide mud and we knew dragging was out. I’d been dumb enough to pack a flounder spear and lantern to use late at night. Even in the flat calm conditions, we had the water was way too murky for spearing. Rusty had been getting all his fish in a short 20-metre length of nylon mono flounder mesh sized gill net.

He had already set it ready for us to check at low tide. Two big grey mullet and 3 flounder were there waiting for us. With a lot of extra mouths to feed, we needed a lot more fish and set a 60-metre length of net for that night. To get out to a channel edge with a net involved dodging thousands of razor-sharp pacific oysters growing on the mudflats, the mud was thigh-deep in places.

These oysters were almost scallop sized, fat & healthy looking Larry Summers, wiped out a knife, and ate a couple straight off the mud. He said they tasted as good as they looked & commenced to fill our net sack with them. My mouth watered a bit, but always a little wary of shellfish l figured to wait until we get back to the farmhouse, if Larry was still OK then I’d be into them. He was, and those oysters were as good as they come. Someone suggested frying them in batter, but they ended up dipped in vinegar and eaten raw.

Setting a gill net at low tide. The net was set with the current and at a slight angle to it. Less problems with oysters when setting the net this way. You could also drag a net here.
Setting a gill net at low tide. The net was set with the current and at a slight angle to it. Fewer problems with oysters when setting the net this way. You could also drag a net here.

High tide came and it was out to empty the net for dinner in a small boat. A couple more flounder were all we got. We reset the net for the night tide & decided on French cuisine for dinner. That is to say, those fancy Saler cattle Rusty breeds are french! Very nice eating indeed I’m almost glad we did not get enough flounder for dinner. With oysters & freshly smoked mullet for starters, 3 cm thick melt in your mouth “Saler” stakes for the main course I was more than happy to let the flounder swim free another night.

The overnight set was when we’d get the fish Rusty said and he was right, 6 big grey mullet and nine flounder in the net in the morning. No matter how carefully we had set the net it still got tangled and cut on those oysters. It was the short nylon mono mesh bit of gill netting that had all the mullet and most of the flounder. Rusty was using large size mesh to ovoid getting small fish. We still got them though. Several baby kahawai that should have swum cleanly through the gill netting got tangled and died each time we set a net. Mind you these little kahawai must have been very prolific judging by all the diving terns. The fact is I would have loved to run a lure under the working birds we saw just to see if something bigger was there, it was not practical however to chase them in the boat we had. One little kahawai was brought back for the farm cats dinner, This fish could have almost gone sideways through the mesh yet it somehow got tangled and died.

Also, food for thought was some large fish that half ate a flounder in the net without meshing its self. While we are on about “food” there is a perception amongst the general public that grey mullet is only worth eating smoked. We ate half of our catch as boneless fresh fillets, cut into small sections, rolled in bread crumbs, fried in butter. No one in our group turned down a second helping. Grey mullet is a very underrated table fish.

Flounder coming up in a braid net on the Raglan Harbour mudflats.  A clear monofilament set net that we used outfished the braid net by at least 5 to 1.
Flounder coming up in a braid net on the Raglan Harbour mudflats. A clear monofilament set net that we used outfished the braid net by at least 5 to 1.

Over the course of my stay, another friend turned up, Warren Jakes from Mangakino who bought Rusty a brand new 60-metre mono flounder set net. The 40-metre braid flounder dragnet had not worked well when set. Too easy for the fish to see the mesh. The new nylon mesh net was to replace Rusty’s old short clear mono nylon mesh net. By mid-November snapper were appearing right up the top of the harbour in the shallows at night. Rusty got a few good snapper using this new net. They proved to be expensive fish though as shortly after he started getting snapper the new net was stolen. Anchor ropes slashed with a knife at both ends. If theft was the sole motive one would think the perpetrators would have taken the net ropes and all. It seems likely there are folks in Raglan who just don‘t like set nets.

Visited the northern side of the entrance to Raglan harbour one day of my visit. Got talking to two young ladies rock fishing there. They professed extreme anger at an amateur fisher’s set-net just up the harbour from their home. Been there for weeks they said with no one checking it just killing fish. They could tell that the net was full of fish by all the seagulls hanging around it. Yes, I can understand why anyone might get upset over gill nets anywhere inside the harbour! The other point of view is easy to see too.

Set netting in the harbour is a real easy laid back way to fish. Recreational fishers are limited to one 60-metre set net. To set & remove fish from a net might take an hour at the most, So you have heaps of time to sit back in the sun sinking a can or two while waiting for the next tide cycle. l was much too busy rushing about catching eels to worry about that but a laid back fishing method with enforced rests is likely to appeal to anyone who likes eating fish & who also feels in need of a rest! Line fishing is fun but it is also a stay alert activity if you want a feed out of it. It is inevitable in my opinion, that set nets will go from our harbours in time. Before that happens it’s a good idea to give some thought to just how to catch grey mullet without a set net. They really are top-shelf fish to eat.

Flounder and grey mullet from the set net Raglan Harbour.
Flounder and grey mullet from the set net in Raglan Harbour.

Snapper from Manu Bay, near Raglan.

A bit more on those Raglan Harbour oysters

There are oysters in Raglan Harbour. I have eaten oysters from the mud at Kawhia & Aotea harbours in the past as well as those eaten at Raglan. During the winter with a lot of fresh water in the harbours the oysters are bland and watery, they seem to fatten up Oct. Nov, Dec, then go off again in the new year.

November is my pick of the time of the year to eat them. If you don’t have access through a farm to low tide oysters then to get the best of them would require bringing a boat up the harbour and stranding it high and dry for a tide cycle. While I’ve never yet had any problems from eating these shellfish, they are growing in mud, they are exposed to a hot sun, my parting thought for you today on these oysters is to be a kind, caring and thoughtful person always let your mates eat one before you do!

YouTube video

Crossing the dangerous Raglan Bar. You can catch marlin, tuna, snapper and trevally fishing out in the open Tasman Sea but extra caution must be exercised when crossing the Raglan Bar.

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