Cape Saunders, Otago Peninsula Rock Fishing

Cape Saunders from Google Maps - See link below.
Cape Saunders from Google Maps - See link below.

Cape Saunders Rock Fishing By Brad Martin

I would like to share with Fishingmag readers about a spot just 30 minutes drive from Dunedin. It is a spot that I have been fishing for years and will keep fishing there for a long time yet. The place is called Cape Saunders, which is rich in history as well as abundant in sea life. The lighthouse was once owned by a chap called Hendrix who, back in the 1880s, had two children who were died; one from a fire, one with illness. The gravesite is still there.

Just down the track, a bit is an old wharf where the government ship used to drop off supplies to the lighthouse keeper. The wharf is still standing as it is made out of concrete, but not much good in the way of fishing as I have only caught rock cod (Maori Chiefs) and the odd large Wrasse.

The wildlife down there is quite amazing. You could see anything from a migrating Southern Right Whale to a little Blue Penguin floating on the surface. Cape pigeons are common to see as are the massive flocks of shags flying just metres above sea level.

The author with a small trumpeter from the rocks at Cape Saunders.
The author with a small trumpeter from the rocks at Cape Saunders.

I will always remember the day my brother and I was fishing on the rock when out of nowhere two large Killer Whales broke the surface just metres out. To get the chance to witness their sheer power and size right in front of me is something I will never forget. By the way, the fishing was not the best after that! As well as all that there are also the local gulls and seals to keep you on your toes.

Saftey When Rock Fishing

I am now going to talk about the safety of this place as it is one of the most dangerous fishing spots in New Zealand. Over 20 people have lost their lives to the upswelling and totally unpredictable freak waves that just pop up out of nowhere. My theory is, it is as dangerous as you make it. It is simple; if it is rough DO NOT GO, go somewhere else. Watch the waves for ten minutes, check how wet the rocks are, where the seals are basking, are they up high? Are the rock pools full or empty?

Taking a rope is not a bad idea and another tip is to take a couple of empty wine cask bladders in your pocket. If in trouble blow one up to put under your clothing; this acts as a sort of lifejacket. Never fish this spot alone, and remember a fish is never worth a life. How many of us have taken that extra risk to go down to the water’s edge to get the extra-large fish which is caught up in weed or kelp.

Now with the introduction over, let’s talk fishing. Over the past years, my fishing buddies and I have caught a good range of fish as well as the odd black-backed gull. The demersal species include fish such as groper, tarakihi, trumpeter, red cod, skate and of course the most prized fish for me, the good humble old blue cod, which if you get the right day are as plentiful as are mosquitoes on the West Coast, and come in sizes big and HOLY “##’!

Some of the other species include dogfish, the odd bastard red cod, Wrasse, both scarlet and banded. A few very ugly creatures called black cod, rock cod, Maori chiefs, call them what you like but man they are ugly.

The fishing rigs I use are quite simple; they include a 10-12ft rod with a good hardy reel. The line has to be quite strong to lift the heavy flappers up the rock; unless you have a good gaff or try what I use: it is a large ring that is connected to a rope. On the ring is some of the biggest trebles you have ever seen. Now all you do is when you have got a heavy fish on slide the ring on, give it a bit of a jingle and then a sharp hard pull. If all goes well, supper; works well for me as I keep it in a small bag and it does not take long to whip out. It comes out even faster when a salmon is on the end of my line.

Blue cod caught shore fishing at Cape Saunders.
Blue cod caught shore fishing at Cape Saunders.

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The sinkers range from 4-6oz, depending on the conditions or how much surge there is. I like using 2/0 cod hooks the best as I have caught everything from groper to tarakihi on them. For the kahawai and salmon, I normally spin, but I have seen a lot caught on floating baits. As for using berley I do not think it really makes a hell of a lot of difference.

Now that I have told you about this place, what are you waiting for? But please be careful as I can not stress how dangerous it can be. Just use your head. (In remembrance of those who lost their lives).

Species present

The main species you can catch from the rocks at Cape Saunders include salmon, blue cod, red cod, kahawai, barracouta, and in recent years as the sea temperature has warmed yellowtail kingfish. Anglers have even been known to catch crayfish here from baited drop pots.

Cape Saunders Google Maps