Canterbury Bight Deep Sea Fishing – Tips, advice, on charter fishing

Members of a charter with their catch of groper aboard the 55 foot vessel F.V. Wildfire off the Canterbury Coast. Sadly this vessel is no longer operating off Canterbury.

Canterbury Deep Sea Fishing

Members of a charter with their catch of groper aboard the 55 foot vessel F.V. Wildfire off the Canterbury Coast. Sadly this vessel is no longer operating off Canterbury.
Members of a charter with their catch of groper aboard the 55 foot vessel F.V. Wildfire off the Canterbury Coast. Sadly this vessel is no longer operating off Canterbury.

What could be more exciting than a day spent at sea on a big deep sea fishing charter vessel. The skipper will invariably be an expert fisherman and launch master, which means you are free to relax, forget about watching the fuel gauge, and concentrate on fishing.

Canterbury has seen a mini explosion of charter operators over the past decade – previously there had been none. Top boats and skippers are now working this sometimes wild and difficult coast taking keen fishos out on a unique angling experience. There has always been excellent fishing off Canterbury, it’s just been hard to get at. After all thirty miles offshore in a 20 foot trailer boat is no place to be!

The deep sea off Canterbury is teeming with big fish waiting to be caught on rod and reel. In fact it is only now that many are beginning to realize some of the possibilities for game fishing. Albacore tuna can be caught mach further south than Kaikoura. Big mako sharks are regularly caught off Banks Peninsula. Many also believe that it’s just a matter of time before a bluefin tuna is caught off Canterbury (they have been caught at Kaikoura), or possibly even a broadbill swordfish (sighted off Kaikoura).

There is also very good bottom fishing off Canterbury for blue cod, perch, groper and trumpeter. The problem is that the best fishing is 27 nautical miles, or more, from Lyttelton. This is really outside the limit of small 20 foot trailer craft. Although boaties do go out to the “hole” it is quite dangerous because such boats provide little in the way of a safety margin should things go wrong.

Going on a charter for most Cantabrians meant travel to the Marlborough Sounds. This always involved a long car journey, and usually a minimum of several days away from home, work, and business – not a bad thing at all really! The Marlborough Sounds would always provide calm waters and good fishing.

Then we began to see several excellent charters beginning to work out of Kaikoura. This was a huge step forward as the Kaikoura Peninsula is only a bit over two hours by road from Christchurch.

This huge trumpeter was caught off the Canterbury coast. There are some big fish out there but they are mostly well offshore!
This huge trumpeter was caught off the Canterbury coast. There are some big fish out there but they are mostly well offshore!

It became possible to get up early in the morning, drive up to Kaikoura, spend a day on red-hot fishing grounds, and be home again in Christchurch in time for dinner and the evening news. Albeit the sea conditions off Kaikoura aren’t always as flat as the sheltered waters of the Marlborough Sounds, and traveling anglers who were unprepared would often be seasick on these Kaikoura charter trips.

Some of the Christchurch fishing clubs began to see Kaikoura as their home fishing grounds, perhaps to the detriment of charter vessels in Marlborough. But the two areas are quite different: the Sounds more restful, sheltered, and relaxing; Kaikoura wilder and more exciting.

The Canterbury Sport Fishing Club lead the way by purchasing a bach just south of Kaikoura at Oaro. Members now regularly seek sports fish such as mako shark, albacore tuna, and are even hunting broadbill swordfish in Kaikoura’s deep nutrient rich waters.

Further south at Motunau there had always been excellent sea fishing. Most anglers fishing out of Motunau would fish on the bottom with standard Paternoster rigs. The target species is big blue cod which are both abundant and highly sort after. More recently as yellowtail kingfish and albacore tuna have be targeted and caught off Motunau.

Further south there are now several larger vessels operating out of both Lyttelton and Akaroa, were, as mentioned earlier, just a short time ago there had been none at all. The main reason for this was the difficulty with the weather, distance from shore to the best fishing grounds, and the need for larger vessels to cope with the potentially rougher seas so far from the coast.

In this article we’ll take a closer look at what to expect when going on your first charter boat fishing trip, as well as a few guidelines to follow for a successful day on the water.

As with all types of fishing preparation is the key to a successful day out. This we can divide into two parts: getting ready for the charter; and what to take with you.


This unfortunate malaise can be a real problem for some, yet others are totally unaffected. I’ve noticed the same sort of thing with sand flies on the West Coast of the South Island . Some people get eaten alive, while others never seem to get bitten at all!

I believe that seasickness can be both a physical and a psychological problem.

To begin with seasickness is nothing to be ashamed of. I have spoken to, and heard about, highly experienced commercial skippers who would go to sea for a month at a time. For the first 24 hours at sea they would always be ill. After which they would be perfectly fine. This continued through all their working lives at sea.

On the physical side it is important to stick to a few simple rules:

1. Try to get at least eight hours sleep, if not more, the night before you go out on your charter. Many charters depart early in the morning. Going to bed at 2.00 am and getting up three hours later to go fishing can be a certain recipe for seasickness.

2. Begin taking your seasickness tablets 24 or even 48 hours before your trip. This gives them time to work into your system. It is no use taking the stuff once you feel ill – it will be too late!

I prefer Sea-Legs tablets and take two the night before when I go to bed, and another two in the morning.

Experiment with different seasickness preparations to find the one that works best for you.

3. Have plenty to eat and drink. Take it from me, the theory that if there is nothing in your stomach, then you won’t be sick because there is nothing to throw-up, doesn’t work! Having nothing in your stomach will only make you feel weak. Keep your fluids up as well. I like to drink Coke when at sea. The idea is to eat and drink a little, but often, during the day. This will help to keep up your strength.

4. Keep your head up. When at sea, particularly on a rolling boat, try to avoid spending too long looking down into your tackle box for example. Try to focus on the hills or the horizon. If you do start to feel a bit giddy get into the fresh air, look forward or out the side of the moving boat. Stay in the fresh air even if it is wet and cold. Try breathing deeply and slowly. Suck on a barley sugar or mint lolly, and have a sip of your drink!

A Mental Thing

I think I have told this story before but it is worth repeating.

Some years ago we had a female dog. If we tried to take it anywhere in the car it would vomit straight away. Eventually, even if the car was parked in the driveway without the motor running it would jump into the back seat and immediately vomit. Needless to say it didn’t go on many car journeys. The dog clearly associated the car with bringing up it’s stomach contents.

The lesson is that if you think you’ll be sick you probably will be. Anxiety about being ill, as well as anxiety over the possibility of the boat sinking can also lead to seasickness.

Try to form good habits that you know will work for you. This will relieve anxiety. Always get a good night’s sleep, take your tablets, and so on, so that you form the habit of not being seasick!


My advice is to take far more warm clothing than you’re likely to need. Especially during the cooler part of the year it can be freezing on an open boat. The wind chill factor and driving rain can easily cause your body temperature to drop dangerously.

I like to wear my Dry Line neoprene chest waders when on a charter during winter. These cut out the wind completely. A good alternative is to wear waterproof leggings over your trousers.

Don’t risk spending the day freezing. Wear two pairs of socks, two pairs of tracksuit pants, and plenty of polar fleece, and woolen tops, with a waterproof coat over the top. The coat should have the hood sewn in to prevent water running down your neck. I also like to wear a balaclava. It is made in New Zealand by Everwarm from lightweight poly­propylene. If it is really cold I also wear a woolen balaclava over the top of it. I might look like a clothes horse but it is surprising how much heat is lost from your head and ears! I also like to wear neoprene cloves. In the event that you get too hot you can always take something off!

Its a good idea to wear Polaroid glasses as well, even in winter. Aside from completing your disguise they cut the glare down from the bright sky and sea. Although with the salt spray you’ll find you have to clean the lenses often.

Gumboots are a good alternative to waders for keeping your feet dry. Don’t forget to clean them before going on your charter, particularly if they are worn around the farm. The skipper will appreciate keeping the carpet in his cabin free of cow dung!

Sun block is also a good idea. Even on a cold day windburn will leave you looking like a beetroot at work the following morning.

Fishing Tackle

Most of the Canterbury charter boats carry a complete range of rods, reels and terminal tackle for everyone on board. This includes reels spooled with braid. With this line you can feel bites even in water 100 metres deep. Many anglers prefer to take their own gear. But few will have the type of gear required for deep sea fishing.


Basically what you need is a 24kg standup game rod about 1.67m (5’6″) long, and a reel to suit. You need a 24kg rod to handle the heavy sinkers required for deepwater fishing.

The rod should have a roller tip-guide and slots at the end of the butt to fit your gimbal belt.

My advice, if you are buying a new one, is to spend a bit of extra money and get yourself a good one, and look after it. It will last you a lifetime.

Always carry rods in a cloth bag inside a rod tube. Far more rods are damaged or broken in transit than are ever broken while fishing. Standing on them, shutting them in car doors, and whirling them around in the house before slamming them into a hard object (this is true), are the main causes.

It is also a good idea to wrap the butt section with insulation tape to prevent surface damage while the rod is in a rod holder on the boat.

Penn Senator star drag reel spooled with braid for deep sea fishing.
Penn Senator star drag reel spooled with braid for deep sea fishing. Though getting on a bit in years this reel is robust and has heaps of line capacity for deep sea fishing.


There are many different models on the market. What you need is a reel big enough to hold around 600 yards of 30 lb mono. I prefer a lever drag but this isn’t essential. Ideal models are the Shimano TLD 30 and Penn 6/0 Senator. There are also excellent reels made by other manufacturers.


Almost everyone these days fishes with low-stretch braided super lines. You should too. If some blokes are fishing braid and others are fishing mono there are going to be tangles as a result. Braid has only about two percent stretch, while monofilament has something like 30 percent plus. This means the braid anglers lines are going straight down, while those with mono tend to sail off out the side.

With braid you will be able to feel your sinker hit the bottom even in 100 metres or more. With heavy 24 kg mono you haven’t a hope of keeping in touch with the hooks in deep water.

Fishing with braid allows you to feel the fish biting in deep water. Once you have experienced fishing with braid you’ll never go back to mono!

Braid is also much thinner in diameter for a given breaking strain. This means you can get a great deal more line onto a smaller reel. Which in turn means you can use a smaller lighter reel that makes fishing less strenuous. If the reel is too small it will take too long to wind in your line from deep water.

Most anglers use 80 lb test super braid line. As super braid is more expensive than mono most anglers pack the spool first and load one of the super lines over the top. A leading fishing tackle store will be able to spool your reel for you from their bulk spool and so save you some money.

Kaikoura Fishing Charter

Terminal Tackle

This is what we call the rig at the business end. It includes hooks, swivel and sinker.

You have two options: make your own; or buy them ready made.

If you fish only infrequently, or lack the confidence to make them buying rigs “ready to fish” is a good option. Some of the shops even make up their own special designs that are proven fish catchers – a definite plus. Read here about making your own high performance deep sea groper rigs and also more deep sea groper rigs.

Terminal rigs should be very strong and tied with 400 lb test mono. Tuna circle hooks and power-baiter long-line hooks are preferred for fishing deep water. These are designed to be self-hooking. You could have two big fish hooked on one drop, with both of them swimming in opposite directions. You also have the weight of the heavy sinker (usually 21 -28oz). If the rig isn’t very strong you could be sorry. Also take a look at tying simple fishing rigs.

Almost all deep-water terminal rigs incorporate luminescent tube in their designs. At depths of 100 metres or more there is total darkness. The lumo tube will attract bites even from un-baited hooks! I suggest you take at least six terminal rigs out with you. Three should be shallow water flasher rigs with 5/0 hooks for cod fishing, and three deep-water groper rigs. These can be carried ready to fish in zip-lock plastic bags.

Sometimes schools of barracouta can put in an appearance – usually closer to shore. At such times they can play havoc chopping off everyone’s terminal tackle in short order.

Other Items you may wish to take:

When preparing to go out on a charter it is often harder deciding what to leave behind. I have been on three day charters where the crew takes along an astonishing assortment of fishing gear to cover almost every possible fishing scenario. This might include a few poppers just in case yellowtail kingfish show up on the surface. Then you need a separate casting rod and reel to work them. Before you know it you are bringing along: five rods, five reels and three tackle boxes full of gear! This is fine but is a bit of overkill on a day charter. I have also noticed when looking back that the guy with the most flash fishing gear often catches the least fish! Probably because he wastes too much fishing time changing tackle instead of fishing.

You shouldn’t need to take more than the following items on most day trips:

Day Charter for bottom species

1. A 24 kg standup rod (in a hard tube to protect it in transit).

2. One reel spooled with at least 400 metres of 80 lb super line (braid).

3. An assortment of terminal tackle: Say three cod flasher rigs, and three deep sea groper rigs. You should also bring along half a dozen sinkers.

4. Gimbal belt.

5. Tackle box or bags for gear.

6. Extra warm clothes, wet weather gear, and a pair of gumboots.

7. Food and drink for lunch.

8. Polaroid glasses and hat.

9. A chilli bin (leave it in your car to take any fish home).

10. Sea sickness tablets (notwithstanding our advice to start these the day before).

11. Your camera to get plenty of photos of the huge fish you are sure to catch.


If targeting albacore tuna you would need to switch to a reel spooled with mono, and carry a selection of trolling lures such as Rota Heads and Hex Heads, but otherwise the other gear would be much the same.

The idea is to take as little gear as possible, while covering as many options as you can. Try to take only one or two small bags if possible.

A few closing thoughts

As any angler knows some days on the water will be better than others. Some days deep sea fishing will be slow, and on others red hot! When booking your trip your first contact will often be with the skipper’s wife on the phone. Go ahead and book the trip with her. The skipper’s wife will often have a better idea of future bookings than the skipper himself. It will also be difficult to contact the skipper by cell phone during the day.

Don’t be late. I was once on a day charter that was held up at the wharf for 90 minutes while we all had to wait for one car load of anglers who had become lost. Very annoying!

The usual etiquette is for the catch to be filleted and divided equally at the end of the trip. Try to avoid an unseemly scrum over who gets what.

Be prepared to have the trip called off at the last minute as a result of bad weather. You win some; you loose some – that’s fishing. This can be quite a problem here in Canterbury. Sometimes you can get poor weather at weekeds for weeks on end.

Don’t take along handheld GPS sets. Skippers will take a very dim view of this and are likely to avoid all their best spots if they even suspect you have one aboard. I have heard of at least one skipper in the Sounds who went ballistic when he found out somebody had one of these!

Always treat you skipper with respect. That way his considerable experience will become your asset!

more recommended stories