Expect a few Kahawai While Surfcasting Around the South Island Over Winter
Arriving at the Birdlings Flat beach, just south of Banks Peninsula, one day during the Christmas holidays I was greeted by the distant sight and sound of hundreds of screaming seabirds. After unpacking the car I hurried across the sand dunes to investigate the commotion. I scrambling to the crest of the last dune and peered over. My heart started to skip a few beats from sheer excitement! The surface of the ocean was bubbling with activity. Little silver shapes were shooting out of the water, chased by a marauding school of kahawai.
I started to sprint to the water edge – not an easy task when carrying a full days supply of fishing gear and numerous other sundry items – for I couldn’t wait to get stuck into some serious fishing. In my haste I fumbled as I raced to assemble rod and reel; it seemingly taking ages to pass the monofilament up through the line guides. On the first cast, I hooked up to a kahawai. Hooking one was easier than getting a lure stuck in a gorse hedge! The dark shapes of individual fish could be seen swimming near the surface. They were herding a densely packed school of sprats along the edge at a good walking pace. Many of the terrified little bait fish were leaping up onto the shingle in their frantic efforts to escape the slaughter, only to be plucked from the stones almost instantly by the hordes of screaming gulls.
Over the next few hours, this scene passed before me three times. So strong was the fight put up by each hooked kahawai on my light salmon gear, I would manage to land only one or two before the school departed into the distance. Exciting stuff but what about those winter kahawai? For those hardy souls prepared to venture down to the beach in Canterbury at this time of year, there are still good fish to be had. Aside from the usual run of red cod and various sharks, there is the occasional winter kahawai.
Unlike their summertime counterparts, winter kahawai seem to travel alone as though they were stragglers left behind by the northward migration to warmer climes. Although many are thin and in poor condition, the odd one can produce a surprising struggle. During a short midwinter’s day in July, whilst fishing for sharks at Birdlings Flat, I hooked just such a kahawai! Even though it had taken a steel trace intended for sharks and was towing a six-ounce sinker, it still managed to jump clear of the water several times, tail-walking as it did so. It weighed three kilos and was in excellent condition.
There are still good fish to be caught surfcasting in Canterbury over the winter months. Birdlings Flat is one of the best places to fish during winter. You have to pick your days when the wind has been blowing from a northerly quarter for several days at least to allow the swell to drop below 1/5m, with a nor’wester the best of all as it tends to flatten the sea quite quickly. Kahawai doesn’t like dirty water. If the sea is brown after having been stirred-up by a big blow you are better to wait a week for it to clear.