Whareakeake Beach Spin Fishing for Kahawai
By Bill Gilmore
Whareakeake Beach is a good spot for surfcasting not far from Dunedin. It can fish well for the main southern suspects like red cod and blue cod, and over summer kahawai, elephant fish, plus smaller inshore sharks including rig, along with barracouta. The barracouta is much more likely to be taken on a life-bait like a yellow-eyed mullet.
“Aleni and Terry dealt with their ﬁsh in the surf at Whareakeake Beach by stringing them on a rope that trailed behind them.”
Dunedin is surrounded on all sides by beautiful wild places. Both sides of the harbour, and up into the hills beyond, are certainly worth the trip out of the city. In addition, there are many opportunities for anglers in this area. A trip past Ravensboume and down to Port Chalmers can be a nice Sunday drive with the family if you top it with ice cream. But the twisting hill roads that follow the coast over the hills from Port Chalmers, past Purakanui, and drop eventually down to Waitati, Doctors Point and Warrington really make the trip worthwhile.
I have often followed the road and admired the old stone walls that exist all along the hilltops. Eventually, if you follow the signs you come to the road leading down to Whareakeake Beach. It was formerly known as Murdering Beach following an incident there in 1817 when sailors from a whaling ship massacred local Māori.
When I ﬁrst travelled down this gravel and mud track some years ago it was a debate whether I would ever get up it again. It has improved a little since. This beach makes a wonderfully isolated spot to visit on a hot holiday in January. It isn’t a large beach but contains a lovely sweep of white sand backing on to sand dunes and it can be a very attractive swimming beach with a quiet surf that varies according to the weather or the level of the tide.
I have ﬁshed from this beach with my friend Aleni and his brother Terry, casting for kahawai that come in schools into the bay and hit energetically at silver lures wound quickly amongst them.
Scanning the bay for the school still remains a skill that I have yet to master. Aleni always seems to me to see ﬁsh where I peer aimlessly.
The day I recall was the first day I ever ﬁshed for kahawai. Aleni pointed out a darker shade of water, which seemed to move across the bay and asked what I thought. Could that be ﬁsh? It was impossible for me to offer an opinion. I had no real idea of what I was looking for. But then, there was an extra sparkle against the blue just out beyond the second line of breakers. And again. And then suddenly the school was conﬁrmed by a silver ﬁsh that porpoised quickly but unmistakably in the wave. It was time for immediate action before the kahawai moved out of reach. We waded out from the beach, half swam over a gut with rods held high, and onto a sandbank in waist-high surf.
Casting for kahawai requires distance. Aleni uses a twenty-pound line and a two-piece surf rod with a heavy silver wedge. I have seen his brother Terry use a monster of a one-piece rod, that seemed to be about twenty feet long. Both these methods gain considerable distance in casting, well out into the second breakers where we now saw many fish moving in and out of the waves. They also require enormous effort.
Mine was a smaller rod with an eight-pound line and a lighter silver toby. It got out just as far. It just wasn’t possible to reel them in as quickly. It all depends on what you want. If your aim is to catch lots of ﬁsh then the heavier line is the way to go. If your aim is to be able to reach the ﬁsh without giving yourself a severe injury, then I would tend to stick with the lighter outﬁt and have a lot of fun with each ﬁsh.
We spent a good deal of time in the surf, which says a lot for the exhilaration of the ﬁshing, given the temperature of the water in this area. A good number of ﬁsh were caught – I can’t remember exactly how many. I do know that one of them was mine and that I caught it on the third cast. I remember a tremendous hit and a bent rod tip, line pulling hard off the reel and fast winding as the ﬁsh came back in towards me.
I remember that it was impossible to tell just where or how far the ﬁsh was from me with a surprising splash it thrashed on the surface. Surges of waves pushed me off balance as I stumbled back towards the shore, rod tip up, and eventually winched the ﬁsh ashore.
Aleni and Terry dealt with their ﬁsh in the surf and strung them on a rope that trailed behind them. I was rather uncertain about this as a strategy considering the size of some of the sharks that have been caught around this coast.
Kahawai surprise a person who has ﬁshed mainly for trout with their size and their energy. I was thrilled with the catch but rather over-excited and dashed back into the surf. I cast and cast again and time and again kahawai hit the lure, only to ﬂip off after a short struggle. I was too excited to consider why this was happening until about the fourth connection. Then I examined the lure. Two of the three hooks on the treble were bent back almost ninety degrees from their original position. But what did it matter? I was having great fun!
Other ﬁshing and experiences as important as the ﬁshing are to be had at Murdering Beach. If you climb the hill at the north end of the beach, walking up by the fence line, you get a ﬁne view of the beach and behind it several cribs hidden behind macrocarpas and ﬂax. Swampy land dotted with tussock stretches in a steep, rough valley up which the road struggles on the left-hand side.
Walking down from the top of the hill toward the sea, you reach the rocks at the point. You can not reach them from the beach directly, as the sea sweeps against the cliffside at the end of the beach, and although you might leap around the rocks you would end up having to swim quite a distance in deep water, and being unsure of being able to climb out if you managed to reach the point.
We ﬁshed from here one warm day in February hoping to ﬁnd kahawai nearby but only seeing them in the distance where they might have been chased by a boat but where they were certainly safe from land-based casting no matter the size of the rod. It didn’t matter. We baited small hooks with mussel from around the water line and lowered these down into gaps in the kelp where little fish nibbled at them hopefully, only to be ﬂipped up onto the rocks. It was a tremendous way to pass the time. The swell surged softly against the rocks. Kelp slithered with the surge. Curls of waves reached into the rock crevices, whispering up towards the dry where we stood. Apart from the sounds of the sea, it was silent. Seagulls ﬂoated white in the water across toward the beach.
Without warning, as I studied the spot where my line entered the water, a very large, long, black shape rose smoothly from the deep water at my left hand. I started back involuntarily. With a cough, a whiskered blunt head seal broke out of the water. Nose out, it eased past where we stood and glanced up with wet dark eyes that examined us in the way a wild thing might take in something unimportant in its environment, discard it, and pass on. Then with strength and skill of movement that I see to this day it swirled back into the water and disappeared. We saw it only once more, well out across the bay. I felt thrilled and fascinated and very happy. Our day was made, and I have remembered that day with a clarity that would never have been if we had simply caught some fish, as pleasing as that would have been by itself.
When I am confronted by something that is so much a wild thing, that lives in an environment so different to mine, that notices me but appears unconcerned, that is so sophisticated and powerful in its own way, I feel privileged and awed to be able to be in the same place and time and to see it at such close quarters. What did it matter whether or not we caught fish after that experience? It was a wonderful thing to be able to share that place with that seal, and some credit to the way that our environment is being managed and conserved, to be able to share a moment of time with that wild free animal and to hope with a real possibility of it happening, to see it or its cousin on another fishing expedition.