Ninety Mile Beach Surfcasting Classic by DJ Moresby – Tips and Techniques

Return to New Zealand’s Premier Surfcasting Competition – Tactics of the Top Five Percent

Snapper have strong mouths. I got this fish on to the beach but before I could remove the hook the snapper bit down hard and broke it. The hook was a small size 2 kale wide-gap. Photograph: DJ Moresby.

Fishing Ninety Mile Beach

This time around conditions for the Ninety Mile Beach competition were much more favourable. Predominately easterly offshore winds and overcast skies. The easterly aided distance casting and flattened the notorious West Coast surf. It was much easier to wade out to the better fishing water without getting knocked off your feet by a wave and sucked out to sea in a rip. Only two fishermen needed the services of the beach surf rescue team for the entire week!

Lots of big fish were taken including the eventual first prize $53,000 cash, contest winning snapper of the week weighing 8.8 kilograms. In the words of the kids living next door, “It was a monster.” On another day the top five fish were all over 6 kilograms.

This photograph was taken 100 metres from shore. The snapper could possibly be another 200 metres beyond this point! It is common to have to wade out a long way, then cast a long distance – but not always!

There is a contest within a contest at the Ninety Mile Beach Snapper Classic where an elite handful of our most skilled beach surf fishermen, and sometimes woman too, fight it out in four-man teams to be the first team to tag and weigh in 12 snapper each day. Luck hardly comes into it. The main cash prizes may go to those who as an individual catch a big fish. However, the glory of “we are the current best surfcasters in New Zealand,” and maybe in the world will, in my opinion always go to the members of the winning team. As an individual one can get lucky and catch a big one. As a team member, you have to consistently catch a lot of snapper each day!

The author Denis Moresby with the first school snapper he took on day two of the competition.

Last year’s winning team blitzed the field with a total of 25 fish for the week. This year it was neck-in-neck all the way and only a fish or two between teams. The eventual winning team tagged 44 fish for the week. A fair indication that there was a lot more snapper to be had this year if you know how to catch them.

Last year with vehicle mechanical problems I arrived at the contest virtually as it started. This year, my timing was a little better and there was time for me to settle in at the Park Motor Camp complex, catch up with some friends from previous
contests and get myself organized to do a full day practice fish on the beach before the contest. There was time also to see some of the fish coming into the weigh-in from the 90 Mile Beach Fishing Club Sunday “Twilight” pre-contest contest.

As I walked into the Park Motor Camp reception area on arrival it was really nice to be recognized, greeted by my first name by Paul Brljevich. One of a thousand competitors and you are made to feel like family. This sort of thing is no doubt a big factor in the popularity and continuing success of the Lion Red Snapper Classic Competition. The Brlevich family who runs both the Competitions and the Park enjoy treating their guests and competitors as extended family.

The Lion Red competition is snapper only. The “Twilight” allows for other types of fish. lt was clear from the bins full of kahawai that the locals have a few hot spots for this species on the beach. This has some relevance as Tony Brljevich in conjunction with “The Park” will be organizing a 90 Mile Beach Kahawai Classic for the 5th and 6th of June of this year on similar lines to the Lion Red Snapper Classic. Some good-sized trevally came in too, biggest 4.28 kg and so did the snapper. Lots around the 2 to 3 kg mark.

All contestant’s vehicles must be parked above the high water mark. Parking near the water will lead to disqualification.

Familiar faces carried many of these fish in. Folks I know well like Vern Ireland, a local 90 Mile Beach Fishing Club Member. Lance Pulman, a top dryland competition distance caster from Auckland. Mike Dowden and Darren Maxwell from Opotiki and Whakatane who are high scorers in the team’s events each year, to name just a few.  A quick chat with some of these folks and it was clear the snapper were in, the fishing was good and the Lion Red event was shaping up to be a good competition. It was off to bed that night with high hopes for the next day’s practice fishing.

Greg Gourley shows how it’s done! Note the Alvey reel and the long gap to the first-rod guide.


After going through the competition registration process it was off up the beach at low tide marking the fishiest looking spots into the GPS. Its essential to productive beach fishing on this beach to know how the shellfish beds, holes, rips, channels, sandbanks and other key beach structures look at the low water. The plan was to drive the entire beach then fish the northern end. It took too long doing just the southern end of the beach, it’s a big beach! The tide was coming in. One adapts to the fishing conditions available and halfway up the beach, I spotted a promising looking “hole” for a practice fish.

A place where the channel of water that ran parallel to the beach gave direct access to the deep green sea. Right smack in the middle of the said hold was one of the very best snapper indicators you can find on Ninety Mile Beach. An experienced
fisherman with a line in the water! The fisherman, Greg Gourley, is a friendly easy to get on with ex Aussie. Had just seen Greg win one of the trevally prizes in the “Twilight” competition the day before. Unobtrusively zapped “his” spot into my GPS then wandered over for a chat. Greg was happy to explain some of the details of why a spot like this would produce snapper.

There was a dense bed of tuatua shellfish exposed at low tide directly in front of the channel that leads out to sea. As the tide came in snapper entering the channel that ran parallel to the beach would hit this feeding area first and he had waited for the tide to get waist deep over these tuatua and now he was standing only knee deep. So as not to scare the fish, he cast his tuatua bait a short sixty metres onto the bed of shellfish. It took Greg only ten minutes to make his every word come true as he proceeded to hook and played out a nice school snapper of about 1.8 kg. Greg was patient enough to wait while a camera was fetched for a photo. During the competition proper, it gets a bit hectic for me to run about taking too many fish photos.

Denis Moresby with four good snapper from a “practice fish” on the day before the Ninety Mile Beach Lion Red Snapper Classic a few years back.

The hook sticking firmly in Greg’s snapper’s mouth was a long red Mustad, In fact, it looked just like the ones we had both just now been issued with “free” when registering for the competition.

Shellfish beds are prolific on Northland’s Ninety Mile Beach.

There are numerous free sponsor product give away samples at the Ninety! Zapped a few notes down to go with the photos then grabbed a rod. Before the rod was rigged Mike Dowden and Darren Maxwell drove up and greeted me with “hey Denis don’t fish here you’ll catch too many snapper, someone might see you and one of our pet spots will be blown!” They then walked straight over to Greg’s Suzuki jeep and got inside it, opened his chilly bin (Esky, Greg’s from Aussie) to see what he had caught.

It soon became clear all three knew each other well and were best of mates, the joke was on me though they had me worried for a bit. With my assurances no fish would be dragged out of the water in front of passing cars Greg, Mike and Darren motored off to check other spots and my first cut grey mullet bait sailed out to the exact spot Greg said the snapper would be. A six-ounce grapple sinker, three-way swivel, Mustad size 1B Duratin Ringed Tainawa Long Line hook. For sand beach snapper surfcasting I’m a fan of KS Black magic hooks if I’m holding the rod, KL hooks if rod stand fishing only. Mustad suicides and any type size or brand of kale/wide gap hook for all round surfcasting. In fact, boat fishing or surfcasting for snapper a strong kale type hook of about 5/0 size is the one hook I feel most at home with as an “all-rounder.”

Always tie them on with a long line type knot. Each hook has its own best uses. The long red Greg was using is, for example, is well shaped to hold a string of tuatua shellfish baits.

This is the rig I use to catch snapper on the “Ninety.” It works well most years. Most surfcasters use something similar with slight variations of trace length and different hooks.

I like to test new ideas. Two mates had reported some great rod stand fishing with this Mustad Duratin Ringed size 18 hook, was it as good as a KL? Also, the kale hook (wide gap) is one of the best surfcasting hooks around, when distance casting I use a small bait, How small a kale hook could I get away with on a big fish? Had two rods to set in stands. Put rod number one in its stand, walked ten feet and looked back to see it buckle over with a 2-kilo snapper well hooked. Tossed rod one out with a fresh mullet bait, set up rod two and rod one was bent double with a 3 kg snapper. Five bites in two and a half hours produced four decent snapper and a solid Kahawai all of which was well hooked. All the fish bar one on the Mustad Tainawas. The forth
snapper hooked up solid on a tiny size 2 Kumho wide gap kale type hook. I was impressed even though this 2 kg plus snapper bit the hook in two just after I beached it. One snapper was kept for dinner, the rest were well received by my fellow campers at the Park. That was a most enjoyable start to the week.

Ivan Brljevich pulled the 8.8 kg winning snapper out of the chiller so I could get a close-up photograph while it was still fresh on the day it was caught.

Next, stop the before contest briefing. Some clarification of minor rule changes, the first of many give away prizes handed out, including a boat, outboard, trailer – and the week’s social program outline for us. If you need to lose 20 kg in weight would suggest trying to fish in the competition and go to all of the social entertainment’s that these Northland folks put on for the visiting fishermen, their wives and families.

Tuesday 23 February

Day one of the competition, overcast, an easterly wind blowing. A six am start to get to a spot near the Lone Northic Pine Tree at the southern end of the beach in the fishing area one. A 9 am start fishing time. On reflection, I kicked myself up the butt for going to one spot where I’d not walked out into the water to check it out fully. It did not fish well with no one near me getting bites. My one bite at 3 pm produced one 2 kg kahawai and that was my only fish for the day. One other smaller kahawai three rod stands away was all my bit of beach produced. Yes, I used the size 18 Mustad Longline hook. And yes a solid hook up.

There were several “new” contestants fishing near me using lightweight 4 oz grapple sinkers which failed to hold. Resulting line tangles took up a lot of my time. Eventually, they all learned that 5 oz (140 gm) sinkers or even heavier sinkers with wire spikes are used in this competition.

It was pleasing to see so many strangers, of both sexes and all races getting along so well together, helping each other untangle lines. Sharing a bite to eat, a cup of tea, fish baits, sinkers and conversation. Enjoyed the day via the friendly people I fished with.

Graham Morgan from Taranaki with a kingfish taken surfcasting on day four.

At the prize giving that night it was clear only low numbers of snapper had been caught. Biggest snapper today weighed 5.62 kg to Joe Tau of Herekino, prize $3,000 cash. The southern part of Ninety Mile Beach seldom fires up during this competition, in daylight, day one is regarded as a sorting out period for many of the competitors.

Day Two of the Competition

Easterly winds, and overcast. Was up on the northern part of the Ninety Mile Beach for an 8 am fishing start time, early at 6 am. Had gone to a place I’d seen snapper taken repeatedly in previous competitions. One four-man “team” was on my GPS mark so I put my rod stand at the standard socially acceptable spacing at the water’s edge next to theirs. Drove up past the high tide mark near them and ate breakfast. No vehicles are allowed near the water as you fish!

After getting ready, wetsuit on, line baited up I wandered over for a chat with the team. The other spaces had by then all filled up. Each fisherman marking his or her spot with a rod stand at the edge of the water. It came as some surprise to me when my friendly hello to the “team” next to me was greeted with a stream of an abusive language quickly followed up with threats of violence. What’s more, one came right out of me spoiling for a fight. To report them to a patrolling Marshal? Or take some other action? In the interest of smoother running competition, I decided to tolerate and ignore them provided I got no more abuse. However, I’d be fishing here all day and it promised to be an interesting day. When their “mates” who had slept in turned up late and had no space to fish near them the probable reason for their abuse was seen.

Ninety-nine percent of folks at this competition make extra effort to get along with each other. All races and classes mixing with few if any problems. Nasty types are few here.

Peter Bryant of New Plymouth (left) about to win the Daiwa Dry-Land Distance Casting Competition. On the right is John Elliott who organized this event on behalf of Daiwa New Zealand.

Fired up by some considerable withheld anger I was chest deep 100 metres offshore tossing 6 oz’s of lead and a mullet bait 140
metres beyond the last sets of breakers shortly after the 8 am start time. Still using the Mustad longline hook. Fifteen minutes down the second cast and I hooked up. So did two others just south of me, not the “team” who fished net to and north of me. All three of us landed our snapper and waited for the tagging truck together. One chap had a 5 kg fish but mine and the other fish
were just school snapper of about 1 kg. Got a laugh out of it as the chap with the other schoolie remembered me from last years Auckland boat show SALTEC stand where I’d talked to him about fishing the “Ninety.” It’s a very small world at times.

Daiwa Casting Competition: Alan Dodds (holding the rod at right) about to show the locals what a dry-land distance caster can do on ! Daiwa Surfcasting Reels.

That was about it though. Of the 40 fishermen in sight, a total of 7 snapper came in that I saw for the day. It made my day to see the bad guys next to me catch zero. At the prize giving we heard of several hundred snapper tagged just north of me at a hot spot. Figuring that the more folks that went North tomorrow the more room I’d have in the south at another spot so did my best to help spread the rumour.  I’d heard about good fishing on the northern bit of section two. Today’s first prize to Daryl Willis of Taranaki his snapper weighed 6.84 kg $3,000 cash.


Still easterlies and overcast. Same section 2 of the Ninety Mile beach to fish. My chosen spot for today was a small hole I could fish in on the morning high tide. As the tide dropped it would be possible to walk through the neck-deep channel and get on to the sandbar and cast into the deepest part of the hole. Three casts resulted in three baits stolen off the long-line hook each time. The woman next to me got a school snapper. Next to her a chap took a kahawai. Up the beach further another snapper. No more bites.

The contest is hard on equipment. Riders Sports of Kaitaia brings a mobile tent shop to the competition headquarters.

I considered changing hooks. Decided to hang on for a bit and headed for my sandbar with a container of bait. Arrived cast out, bite and bait lost. But it was working so well on Monday!

Baited up cast out hook up! Good schoolie of 1.5 kg. Tagged it and two others but I was not in a team so decided not to tag any more under 2 kg. Three fish had cost me ten or more baits. Time to change from Stren mono nylon line to a spare reel spool loaded with Fireline braid. Exchanged the long line hook for two 3/0 KS Black Magics at the same time. Also dropped the 6 oz sinker and used a 5 oz for more distance. Had a running rig for the KS hooks and would not rely on the sinker to set the hooks!

Cast out to an instant bite and instant solid hookup! The fishing was hot. Sixteen snapper and two kahawai in total for the day. Tagged one more snapper the biggest for the day of about 2.2 kg. As tagging takes up valuable fishing time most of the fish were released. Six were kept to feed some mates at the Motor Camp.

Today’s smallest “weight” prize fish weighed 3.4 kg. My biggest was well beaten. I’d lost only one bait since changing to the twin KS 3/0 hooks. Was out casting others on the sandbar getting fish they could not reach. I’m not up there with the top distance casters who consistently do well at the “Ninety”.

For me that was a great days fishing. Prize or no prize. Heaviest fish today went to Andrew Potbury of Karikari and weighed 8.8 kg. Friday’s New Zealand Herald reported 382 caught on the Thursday but figure on double that total counting folks like me releasing those we did not need.

Back in the Park that night the lads in a tent opposite me were tiding themselves up for yet another night out being entertained by one of the local Ninety Mile Snapper Classic sponsors. Tonight it was a strip show. Each day they fished less and looked thinner but they all smiled a lot!

There was also a dry land distance casting competition tonight using the latest Daiwa Eliminator surf rods and S 5500 reels. Daiwa lnterline rod and 6000T reel to test cast as well. No entry fees to Ninety Mile Beach competitors. Two brand new rods and reels as prizes.

Peter Bryant of New Plymouth took out first place with a 150-metre cast which was not bad considering the light 3 oz weights and heavy line used for safety reasons. I took some photos but did not wait about for a cast this year. It had been a full day and I elected to give away the day’s fish and eat a relaxing meal inside the fully licensed bar restaurant at The Park.

Contestant’s fishing on a “sand-bar” with deep water in front of you and deep water behind you, it is nice to know that the surf rescue is on patrol! It is against the rules to swim to a sand-bar. You must be able to walk.


Today the wind on Ninety Mile Beach had shifted to a northerly, still an overcast sky and calm seas. We would fish the middle part of the “Ninety”. Figured Monday’s practice fishing spot was the place! With all the early starts, late nights, hard fishing its easy to get a bit tired and screw up.

Got up at 5.30 am pressed the wrong button on my GPS and ended up at the wrong spot. Time I figured it out it was too late to go elsewhere. I compounded the error by morning. But by 12 noon a lot of folks are on the move trying different areas. The water looked much better at this new spot, there would be snapper here alright. Walked out “deep” on to a sandbar and muffed the first cast. The rings on my best rod are too small and while it does not seem to affect my casting nylon it does at times affect my use of braided line, which can catch on the rod rings. Back to shore for a new sinker shock leader etc! Next cast was better.

A contestant making his way out to a sand-bar through a deep channel. You can just see him in the centre of the picture. It looks awfully hairy! Photographs courtesy of Denis Moresby.

Instant bite and hook up! The fish went around some one’s rod stand. It then tangled with another line before getting off! I started to feel like a right dork! My next cast I got a bite and a hookup. It was something that fought like a wet rag; a gurnard. Again it tangled in the same guy’s line. At least this time it stayed on my line.

I cast out again. Then after a long wait, I had another hookup. After a short run, I discovered my trace had been bitten through. Sharks! I was using a 45 kg nylon trace – not my day!

I tied on a new set of hooks and cast out. but this time there were no bites. My Daiwa GS9000 reel had been underwater all week as I fished neck deep at times. The reel was starting to play-up. Saltwater corrosion happens quickly inside most brands of reels once you teach them how to swim. A major design fault on the part of most modern reel makers. The answer is to strip the reel down each night and fill the guts up with fresh grease. There was no time to clean out my reel now. My alternative is to carry a spare Alvey reel which can swim all year and still work one hundred percent.

The fish were possibly out of my casting range though, as I could not get the required 140 metre casts with the Alvey. Mike Dowden and Darren Maxwell moved in to fish near me. Mike hooked up right off, and again, and then again, three school snapper. Mike was getting the distance with his old style Pro Mitchell reel, well packed with fresh grease. He and Darren both train their reels to swim at birth and use the “pack your reel full of grease system.” I went over to Mike while he waited for a fish to be tagged to see if there were other factors involved.

He is a skinned octopus tentacle bait man. I normally see him using very small size KS Black Magic hooks but today he was using one larger size suicide pattern hook, together with one spray hook sized suicide keeper!

Mike Dowden showing his support for the sponsors after an epic win!

I considered my own twin 3/0 KS hooks and mullet baits and figured nothing in it. The factor was distance casting and his well organized simple style of fishing. I moved up the beach to a spot where a 100-metre cast might get a fish but to no avail. Mike and Darren told me later they remained fishing on “the spot.” It was one we had found together three years back, for several more fish each and that had carried their team into first equal place with the Black Magic Team lead by Robert Parker of Orewa. Rob’s team had weighed in their 12 fish for the day ahead of Mike though, so took out that days team Prize. It would be a neck and neck finish for overall team honours tomorrow.

Robert Parker is a known, distance caster, fishing guide, and manager of Orewa Water Sports. Really knows his stuff. I had a chat to Rob, was he still using a single pilchard bait? Yes! With twin 3/0 KS Black Magic hooks in the one bait?

“Yes!” “But Denis” he says, “I could use a KS 3/0 and 5/0 and still get the fish.”
“How you put the pilli on your hooks is important. A lot of folks stuff that up. Then there is finding the fish, casting distance, it’s a combined thing.” Could Rob maybe even get the fish without the Black Magic hooks? We won’t print that answer! All I wanted for the readers was that Rob Parker had turned that combination of two KS Black Magic Hooks in the one Pilchard bait into one of the most successful formulas for catching Ninety Mile Beach snapper!

Someone reading this will end up fishing the “Ninety” as a first timer and be looking for a choice of proven fish catching systems, it might be you!

Today’s heaviest snapper winner was Leon Jury of New Plymouth, Leon is into rod building, a proven distance caster and known for his use of extremely light lines to get extra distance. He has won prizes in surfcasting competitions all over New
Zealand. This was only one of the many big prizes he has won at the “Ninety” over the years.

Back at the Park that night Graham Morgan from Taranaki, one of my close by tent neighbours had a 17.4 Kingfish for me to photograph. Graham had caught it that day during the competition on a small bit of octopus bait and 7 kg line! Each day a lot of “other” types of interesting fish are caught with snapper!

Saturday – The Last Day

The Five Day Winners with $65,000 cash worth of fish! (from left): Andrew Potbury, D. Tepania, Leon Jury, Daryl Willis, Joe Tau.

Last chance at a prize. Punched in the right button today and got to Monday’s hot spot. With the tide in but going out I’d only get a brief fish on Greg’s tuatua bed. Start time 9.30 am and folks to the left and right of me walked out chest deep and actually stood on top of the bed of shellfish I was about to cast my bait on, somewhat pissed off there was no choice but to follow them out. Goodbye snapper!

We had short fishing hours today, the northerly wind had swung to the west and the sea was getting up. Elected to stay put and get out on a sandbar to one side of the hole. Zero. There was one small snapper taken 100 metres north of me and that was it.

I felt sure there were fish there in a good patch of water just 30 metres out of my casting range. Eventually moved to another sandbar, the tide was coming in and the water looked better each minute. I expected to hook up anytime… but it was time to go to the final prize giving. Time to see how two hundred thousand dollars in prizes got divided up!

Less fish had come off the beach today as was reflected in the smaller weight sizes of the fish at the prize giving. Mike Dowden’s team had done a remarkable thing. Not only had they taken out that day’s teams prize, and the teams prize for the most snapper for the week, but of the four team members, three of them had also taken out 3 of the 5 fish prizes available on a weight basis that day to a thousand fishermen.

Andrew Potbury of Kari Kari with the biggest snapper in the history of this competition, and his cheque for $53,000.

Mike from Opotiki, took the 5th prize, Darren Maxwell, from Whakatane took the 3rd prize, Alan Dodd from New Plymouth took the 2nd prize. And there is more too. Their forth team member Milton Arnold of Auckland had got 2nd place in the weight section the day before with a 6.84 kg snapper! The teams part of their prizes was worth $4,200.00 to them in cash plus there were Daiwa Rods, personalized Wheeler Knives, and many other products and perks. Not forgetting their glory, pleasure and personal satisfaction.

Today’s heaviest fish of 4.66 kg went to D. Tepepania of Albany. $3,000,00 cash. The Weeks Heaviest snapper went to Andrew Potbury of Karikari $53,000.00c cash. Then there was the Toyota ute give away done on a ticket number draw. Twelve names were drawn first, all twelve contestants put on stage and then names are drawn till the last person left gets a brand new Toyota 4WD ute. All finalist get increasingly expensive prizes.

When I first fished this contest seven years back I meet another first-timer Greg turner from Turangi. We have exchanged a few ideas on how to fish the Ninety each year since. Greg is not a hot fisherman just a regular guy. But there he was up on stage with a shot at the Toyota! I crossed my fingers for him a few times and he ended up with the 5th prize. The Toyota Hilux 2.8 double cab diesel ute was won by a very happy Fred Hati of Auckland.

The Ninety Mile Beach contest means more to me each year as I get to know a larger number of the regular competitors. Each of them has something of interest to add to my information base. For example my neighbours at the Park this year, Ron an ex-commercial West Coast surf beach set net fisherman. He told me big old snapper were often caught in pairs in his net. Normally next to a hole off a surf beach, seldom off a sandbank or inner beach channel.

Norman, an old guy doing maybe his last Ninety Mile Beach contest who had a son commercial longline fishing. His son had switched from his trusted Octopus bait to pilchard bait on his long lines! Then there was the well-known Wellington surfcasting personality in the next tent, who for this contest, was using a Sea Martin reel. On his latest best available Daiwa rods rather than a Daiwa reel because he had found the Sea Martin, like the Alvey reel could swim all day in the surf, for years on end with no corrosion problems. Like the Alvey, it was an excellent distance casting reel when used with a rod suited to the reel with big rod guides
well off the rod blank, together with a big gap to the first guide.

Winners of the Teams Event: (from left) A.Dodd, D. Maxwell, M. Arnold, M. Dowden.

Saturday night parties after the competition are always a goer. Much sponsors product is consumed. With the winning team staying at the Park Motor camp, the whole of the Park complex turned into one big happy party area with folks intermingling between the various tents, cabins, the restaurant and bar.

Next morning before pressure hosing my Niva free of salt spray and sand in the Park’s car wash in preparation for my own departure I noticed several groups of campers posing for group photos. Lots of people moving from group to group shaking hands to say their goodbyes to friends they only meet once each year, and the new friends they had made this year. Must admit I did a bit of that handshaking and hope to see you next year stuff myself. It’s not something that I’ve experienced a lot of elsewhere, but its all a part of this great annual event.

See also: Fishing the 90 Mile Beach Five Day Surfcasting Contest by DJ Moresby

This post was last modified on 14/03/2024 2:06 pm

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