D’Urville Island Fishing – North Western Tip of the Marlborough Sounds

D’Urville Island Fishing – Finding the Best Spots by Darryl French

The author Darryl French with a 20lb hard-fighting D’Urville Island yellowtail kingfish.

Looking at D’Urville Island, where it is, and what sort of fishing we have here. D’Urville Island is located at the northwestern end of the Marlborough Sounds, at the very tip of the South Island.

The Island is nineteen nautical miles long and at the widest point, eight miles wide. The island is separated from the mainland by a narrow channel known as French Pass. The Pass is about 1/4 of a mile wide but has a large reef extending almost all the way across. There are really only two navigable pieces of water in the Pass, the main channel which is about 60m wide and Fisherman’s Passage which is about 30m wide. The tidal flow as the tide floods and ebbs out of Tasman Bay into Admiralty Bay is quite fast, getting up to eight knots in the Pass on large spring tides.

Whirlpools and big back eddies and overfalls are common because of the current travelling over its uneven seabed. It is here, where the food chain is at its greatest with the big currents acting like a conveyor belt of food for many species of fish and mammal life. It is also here where a great number of fishermen come during the summer months. A word of warning though! Great care must be taken when either travelling through or fishing French Pass, as it is a very unpredictable piece of water and can change at any time with wind direction and swell. Small boats, in particular, should watch out for whirlpools which can pull your stern down.

The Island has two quite different contrasts between the western side and the eastern side. The west is exposed to the predominant northwesterly and westerly winds, and has sheer cliffs and deep water, whereas the eastern side is known as the lee side and has more coastal bush and sheltered bays. Because of the extremities of the weather, the west side tends to have better fishing at certain times of the year when the fish caught are bigger. In the winter XOS snapper can be targeted on offshore reefs and with them also, as we have found out this year, are kingfish and trevally.

School groper is also abundant. Care should also be exercised on this side of the Island with the weather and currents. The sea can get extremely rough in a very short time in areas like Bottle Point and Nile Head and around Hells Gate in Stephens Passage, and because of the terrain of the countryside, there aren’t a lot of places to hide and get out of it. But if you pick your day and watch the weather, the fishing is certainly worth the trip.

Stephens Passage is probably one of the most well-known fisheries in the Marlborough Sounds, in respect of the amount of fish and bird life there is up there. Like French Pass, there is a great deal of tidal flow to contend with, and care should be exercised again with the weather. I would advise going with someone who has had a lot of experience with the passage if it is your first time. This would have to be one of my favourite places to fish.

Big groper up to 80 lb are about on the pinnacles and drop-offs in the area. Big schools of kahawai and mackerel work the surface on pilchards and smaller bait fish, while beneath these, kingfish up to 80 lb cruise the perimeters of the schools. Snapper are on the bottom picking up the bits and pieces. The cod up there can be enormous, up to 8 lb in weight, and getting your limit of six is no problem.

For those of you into sharks, blues, threshers and school sharks are prevalent and the odd mako has been seen. From time to time tuna have also been caught in this fantastic piece of water. The possibilities of other gamefish (the ones with spears on their faces) being caught are also reasonable, as temperatures of 22 degrees C have been experienced in the Passage.

Coming down the eastern side (lee side) boaties can pretty much go where they wish, depending of course on the boat’s capabilities. The Rangitoto’s have good fishing throughout the year for blue cod, school groper, and the odd snapper. In the summer, all of the above are present, as well as kingfish and big schools of kahawai and barracouta.

The Trios are also worth a look for a feed of blue cod, and if you know how to target them, moki and tarakihi. Finally, the bottom of the Island has good fishing and diving around the paddock rocks, beef barrel rocks and outlying rocks like Hope Rock.

At times, all the summer species are available, although I haven’t caught or heard of anyone catching groper here. Good cod are about, and some excellent crayfish have been caught here. Trumpeter, moki and tarakihi are also present in good numbers, although the size doesn’t get much bigger than a couple of pounds. For those who don’t want to fish all day, there are also other activities to do on the Island, including nature walks, mountain biking, sea kayaking, and four-wheel motorbiking, to name a few.
I hope this article gives you an insight into D’Urville Island and this wonderful part of the country. It would certainly be on a par with a lot of North Island locations.

May your lines be tight and your reels screaming!

D’Urville Island Wilderness Resort, bar, restaurant, accommodation, walking trails and fishing charters. Located in the beautiful Catherine Cove on D’Urville Island NZ.

Map showing the location of French Pass between the D’Urville Island and the upper South Island of New Zealand. Map courtesy of Google Earth.

This post was last modified on 19/03/2020 3:21 am

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