Arawata River Mouth Kahawai on Saltwater Fly & Ultra Light Spin Gear

Arawata River Mouth Kahawai on Saltwater Fly & Ultra Light Spin Gear with Dick Marquand

When Aaron Horrell and I visited South Westland during a fishing expedition, we both agreed that we should make a determined effort to experience some kahawai fishing on both the saltwater fly and ultralight threadline spin gear.

The turbid water flowing beneath the Arawata Bridge did not do much for my enthusiasm. I wondered what effect this would have on the kahawai schools at the river mouth.

However, Aaron and I had come this far, so a decision was made to carry on down to Jackson Bay and launch the boat. Besides, if the weather turned foul and forced an early return, we could always check out the brown trout population in Lake Ellery.

On this occasion, we launched my 4.25-metre Stabi-Craft without difficulty into an incoming tide. A school of yellow-eyed mullet rippled the surface close to the shore. I felt that this was the promise of a great day’s fishing.

The sky was overcast and the sea calm with only a hint of a swell from the northwest. This caused me some concern as weather from this direction blows directly into Jackson Bay and can create a serious problem while launching and retrieving boats.

On this day there would be a definite need to keep a careful weather eye open and beat a hasty retreat should a dark line appear on the northwest horizon.

As always, the 30 h.p. Johnson outboard burst into life with a turn of the key. After taking the boat out past the moored commercial fishing vessels and the Jackson Bay Wharf, I opened the throttle and headed up the coast towards the Arawata River mouth.

We had fished this area two days previously and had caught about a dozen very big red cod and a small tope while drifting with baited lines off the river mouth. Aaron had proved his expertise by catching most of the red cod. He told me that as a youngster, he had served his red cod catching apprenticeship at the Timaru Wharf.

On this day, we also caught a few kahawai, not big specimens but great fish all the same while trolling Rat-L-Traps close to the mouth of the mighty Arawata. The birds had been working close inshore, so when the Humminbird ID 600 sounder indicated fish on the screen, I felt pretty certain that these were schools of kahawai. Surface swirls close to the boat confirmed this so we decided to drift and cast.

The author with a kahawai taken on a saltwater fly off the Arawata River mouth. A short leader of around two meters is all that’s needed.

Aaron was tackled up with his Browning Hi-Power Speed Stick and a Penn 4200 SS loaded with 2kg Maxima Ultragreen monofilament. I decided to use my Penn Power Stick PSG 4760 and a 4300 SS Spinfisher, also loaded with 2kg Maxima.

Aaron hooked up on his first cast when his small Jensen jig was taken. My second cast with a small silver Krocodile spoon produced a strike and a solid hook-up. Aaron’s kahawai took him completely around the boat four times, mine about the same, causing excitement when we had to determine which fish was over the other. Both fish fought well, with mine clearing the surface of the sea in five-gill rattling leaps.

The constant pressure Aaron was applying to his fish began to tell and after a display of what could only be described as skilful angling, he secured his capture. Mine was eased to the boat a few minutes later. The kahawai were not big but they were in prime condition. We released them both.

Two days later, we were longing to get back at the kahawai, and on this occasion we were keen to fish ultra-light, using Penn 4200 SS reels loaded with the new Penn Sovereign monofilament in the 1.35kg (3 lb) breaking strength. This line had been sent to me by Penn Fishing Tackle importer Thompson Walker Limited, who like us, were keen to see how this fine 0.14mm diameter monofilament line would stand up to the rigours of kahawai fishing.

The other gear that I was looking forward to using on kahawai was my Penn Gold Medal IMS 6690 fly rod. The reel I chose to put on this rod was my 28-year-old Pflueger Medalist 1495 reel loaded with a Cortland No. 7 sinking shooting taper fly line.

Aaron’s fly gear consisted of a Kilwell 8067 graphite rod and a Leeda Dragon Fly 80 reel loaded with a Cortland 333 sinking weight forward No.7 line.

About ten minutes after launching, we were drifting off the Arawata River mouth. A few white-fronted terns and red-billed gulls were like us, searching the surface of the sea for activity, but all seemed to remain quiet. The occasional swirl on the surface indicated the distinct possibility of kahawai, so Aaron started casting an Australian CT lure with his ultralight threadline gear. I was busy assembling my saltwater fly gear when my attention was drawn to an area of surface activity a short distance from us.

We had three things in our favour, the first being the calm sea which enabled us to see any disturbance on the surface, caused by the feeding kahawai. Then there were the birds, the anglers’ eyes. The seabirds were quick to respond to the easy meal provided by the kahawai as they pushed the small fish to the surface.

The white-fronted terns, affectionately known to anglers as “kahawai birds,” were the ones to watch, as they usually hovered above the predatory kahawai. The last factor and certainly not the least important was my Humminbird sounder which would indicate the presence of any fish beneath us.

When fishing for schooling fish with ultralight threadline or salt water fly fishing gear, I first determine the direction the school of fish is travelling, then I position the boat ahead and upwind of the fish. This enables a small lure or saltwater fly to be easily cast into the most promising area of water.

On this occasion, the area of activity died away and reappeared on the surface only a few hundred metres from us. I headed upwind of the action and slightly ahead in the direction the school was obviously travelling, then cut the motor.

A large number of fish showed on the sounder, so Aaron let his CT lure flutter down beneath us. It was immediately taken and Aaron was rewarded with a solid hook-up. The little Browning rod took an awesome bend as line melted from the spool of the 4200 SS. With a reel capacity of around 240 metres of 1.35kg Penn Sovereign mono and a flat sea, Aaron pretty much had it his own way. Now it was my turn.

The saltwater fly I chose to use was one of Aaron’s creations, a Kamasan B830 No.2 hook tied with blue and white Fish Hair and incorporating a piece of a semi-transparent packing case strap. In the water, this fly looked very much like a small fish. It cast well and landed perhaps twenty metres downwind from us. I let the fly sink for about twenty seconds then stripped it quickly back towards the boat. On my third cast, a kahawai took the fly; however, when I struck, the hook pulled free.

A couple of casts later, I felt the familiar take and I struck hard several times with the Penn fly rod ensuring a solid hook-up. The kahawai came out of the water like a green and silver bullet, rattling its gills as it tried to rid itself of the fly. It was not a big fish, perhaps only 1.5kg, but it gave a spirited fight and when I eased it close to the boat, three others of its kind were swimming with it.

Again it sped off beneath the boat, stripping line from the Pflueger.

Aaron was doing a sterling job of fighting his fish when suddenly the hook pulled free.

Kahawai were boiling on the surface all around us so the action was definitely on. I eased my kahawai close to the boat and Aaron did the honours with the landing net. What an experience! Aaron re-tied his lure and let it run down under the boat amongst the fish that were clearly displayed on the sounder.

A couple of jigs were all that was required and he was solidly hooked up on another kahawai. This time the hook held and after a fifteen-minute display of his angling skills, Aaron brought another kahawai of about 1.5kg close to the boat and into the waiting landing net. The whole episode was a pleasure to watch.

Several areas of the bay, some very close to us, were subject to some frenzied action by diving seabirds. It was the white-fronted terns we watched as they hovered directly above the feeding schools of kahawai.

As Aaron rigged his fly fishing tackle, I headed the Stabi-Craft towards a big area of activity, just off Neils Beach, on the south side of the Arawata River mouth. I could see a dark line out on the northwest horizon and at this stage, I felt pretty sure that our day on the bay would be cut short.

As the boat drifted towards an approaching school of kahawai, Aaron cast downwind, allowed the fly to sink, and then quickly shipped in line. He hooked up immediately and after a short but determined fight by both the angler and the fish, he eased a fat kahawai into the waiting net. Aaron was elated as this was his first kahawai on the fly.

The first puff of what was to be a light southwesterly breeze was barely noticeable, but it was really welcome. I could now forget the threat of a northwesterly and get on with enjoying some great kahawai action.

A few minutes later we were both hard and fast into a couple of kahawai. This fish, like the others, did not appear to be very keen on running more than thirty metres from the boat, instead preferring to lug it out close to and under the Stabi-Craft.

I wondered if there was something big and toothy nearby. This close fighting created some exciting moments as we tried to stop the lines from crossing and the kahawai from swimming around each other. Aaron’s fish was a jumper and he dropped it during a gill-shaking leap only a few metres from the boat.

When kahawai are in feeding mode they will eagerly accept any fly that resembles a small fish.

The kahawai were on and it was only a matter of a couple of casts before he was tight into another fish. It was to be a day that memories are made of. After landing a few more kahawai on the saltwater fly, Aaron decided to see if he could entice one to take a 7-gram copy of an Arbogast Jitterbug in the “redhead” pattern.

The sight of this little surface lure skittering across the waves looked really hard case, yet despite a determined effort, he had a couple of follows and one hook-up that failed to hold. No, the Jitterbug doesn’t look like any natural kahawai food but it was great fun watching the green and blue silver rockets chase the lure along the surface. Aaron eventually went back to the saltwater fly.

A pod of seven Hector dolphins turned up and checked us out. This particular group is well known amongst the commercial fishermen in the Jackson Bay area. These small strikingly marked mammals stayed with us only briefly before disappearing into the green turbid water. Their visit was a pleasant and very special experience.

At one stage, Aaron was talking to me when his fly, which was dangling on the surface only a few metres from the Stabi-Craft, disappeared in a splash. The fish took him completely by surprise and was landed and released a few minutes later.

I disassembled my fly gear and tackled up with the Penn Power Stick/4200 SS Spinfisher combo and 1.25kg Penn Sovereign mono. A small Krocodile spoon landed close to a swirl on the surface about forty metres from us and it was nailed immediately after it hit the water. I was then subject to a great experience of light tackle action, with an exciting display of gill-rattling leaps.

When I eased the fish close to the boat it tangled with a kahawai Aaron was fighting on his fly gear. The fish were well and truly tangled and at the opportune time, I reached down with the long-handled net and managed to secure one of the kahawai. Pressure came off my rod and when I lifted the fish into the boat, I was relieved to see that it had my precious Krocodile spoon in its mouth. I was then able to secure Aaron’s fish.

As the day progressed, the action went quiet and so we decided to call it a day. We had landed thirteen kahawai in all, eleven on saltwater fly gear and one each on the ultralight 1.35 kg thread-line tackle. All the fish were of a similar size, no more than a couple of kilograms in weight and all in superb condition. The five kahawai that we kept for eating were the ones that we felt had the least chance of survival if released.

It was interesting to note that none of the kahawai taken on saltwater fly gear seemed keen to run far from the boat. Instead, they appeared to prefer to sulk and lug it out under the Stabi-Craft. Perhaps we did have a big predator in our vicinity.

The Penn Sovereign line had proved itself to be a good choice for ultralight tackle angling. We later found the guides on Aaron’s Browning rod had lost a coating that appeared to be similar to a hard varnish. This resulted in serious abrasion damage to the monofilament and yet it had not let him down. However, much of the line on his 4200 SS was ruined.

We had experienced a great day of sport, in perfect weather. I was really pleased with my 4.25 metre Stabi-Craft. The stability of this boat has made it an ideal choice for the sport of saltwater fly fishing. The boat makes a perfect platform to stand up and cast, and fight fish on fly gear. This little craft never ceases to amaze me and I feel indebted to Paul and Kevin of Stabi-Craft Marine in Invercargill. Thank you, gentlemen.

Aaron’s first day of saltwater fly fishing had been the experience he had dreamed about. He seemed to be away with the fairies as we headed south, back to the Jackson Bay launching area.

In recent years, l have noticed what I believe is a serious decline in kahawai numbers in our southern waters. Whatever the reason for this, there is a need to conserve our kahawai stocks and protect them from the threat of overfishing. They are a unique light tackle game fish and deserve proper management techniques that will ensure they are able to be the pleasure of future anglers.

About to launch the 4.25-metre Stabi-Craft boat at Jackson Bay, South Westland, and head up the coast to the Arawata River mouth.


This post was last modified on 13/03/2024 4:57 pm

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