Even small snapper put up a great fight when taken on medium-power spinning outfits. Gulp! jerk shads, grubs and minnows are all productive snapper baits.
The water boils ahead of me as kahawai, a popular pelagic sport fish, chase baitfish near the surface. Gulls swoop at the turmoil, picking off their fill. The Ocean Kayak Prowler lives up to its name letting professional guide, Rob Fort of Coromandel Kayak Adventures, and I sneak to within casting distance of the watery mayhem. We deploy drift socks and float with the tide. I hop a soft-bait back through the churning subsurface. Strike!
The medium-powered rod loads up and the reel sings as the fish peels drag. Soon it's airborne. The kahawai is going ballistic. Fort looks over with a smile.
"I knew you'd appreciate the power of these fish," he says.
"This is amazing! These kahawai don't surrender," I reply.
This episode was but the icing on the cake of an amazing morning full of battles with hard-fighting red snapper.
Five hours earlier I arrive at Papa Aroha Holiday Park just twenty minutes north of Coromandel Town. The village is located on the western side of the Coromandel Peninsula, which is on New Zealand's Upper North Island. Fort has the kayaks ready on the beach. Immediately I'm struck by how well they're outfitted. These are serious fishing platforms with quality accessories, including a well cover, leashes, rod holders, dry bags, trolley anchor and drift chute -- many of which Fort manufactures and distributes.
All these items and their operation are topics in Fort's pre-fishing briefing, which also covers the best baits. Top picks include Gulp! 4- and 6-inch smoke grubs, 5-inch jerk shads in nuclear chicken and 4-inch sardine baitfish, all of which are in the bait station resting in my kayak's cockpit.
Rob Fort of Coromandel Kayak Adventures battles a kahawai.
Despite having my own rain gear, Fort recommends I use the apparel he provides with the guiding service. From a plastic tote comes neoprene boots, waterproof pants and jacket, gloves and a knife.
"You right handed?" he asks.
"Buckle the knife sheath to your inside left thigh. It's a safety precaution in case you need to cut the fishing line quickly. It doesn't happen often but there's always the chance of a big fish or a shark grabbing your catch at boat side," Fort says.
While I secure the sheath Fort tests his marine radio. Already confident about catching fish, I now feel properly prepared and safe thanks to my guide's meticulous preparation and kayak fishing practices.
Lessons in Precision Drifting
Paddling the inshore waters of the Coromandel Peninsula, Fort leads me to a massive, slow-tapering sand flat.
"There's a breeze picking up, so we'll continue into the wind for a while. Then use a drift chute to slowly fish back across the flat," he says.
Once at the starting point I maneuver the kayak's stern into the wind, before deploying the drift chute. The chute connects to a trolley anchor, an adjustable loop of rope running from the outside of the cockpit to the stern. A few pulls on the rope sends the chute's main line to the stern, delivering the most effective drift angle for the conditions.
Using the chute has many advantages. It slows the kayak and maintains a consistent path, while simultaneously reducing wave bounce and preventing boat spin. A knife isn't the only must-have item for inshore kayak fishing I learn.
The author with a New Zealand snapper taken on a Gulp! Jerk Shad caught with Coromandel Kayak Adventures.
Seeing Red at the Bar
With the kayak on a steady course, I begin fan casting the flat. It doesn't take long before an average-sized snapper takes the soft-bait. Snapper are tenacious fighters and catching them on medium-power spinning rods with light tackle is a riot. I make no attempt to hide my enthusiasm as I land one after another.
From a tactical perspective, a lift-fall jigging retrieve proves best. Fish frequently hit on the drop. Leaving the bait on bottom for a few seconds also works as snapper have no qualms feeding off the floor.
"When you feel a bite, set the hook hard. New Zealand snapper have a really hard mouth," is one of Fort's tips.
He spools reels with 20-pound test Rovex Viros Braid. Its no-stretch properties helps achieve stout sets. For its near-invisible underwater characteristics he uses a 36-inch lead of 20-pound Rovex Fluorocarbon before the 3/8-ounce jig. Fort uses a loop knot to give the jig the maximum range of motion possible.
It is while Fort is answering one of my many snapper fishing questions that I feel a heavy strike. I rear back on the rod and instantly know I'm into a big fish. The snapper takes several hard runs, before bulldogging beneath the kayak. After a hearty scrap I hoist in the chunky red for a quick photo before returning it to the cool waters.
After a short lull in action, Fort recommends redoing the drift. This becomes the morning's pattern and I quickly lose count of the number of snapper we catch. The adventure becomes even more memorable after we intercept the school of aggressive kahawai, but eventually other commitments force us to call it a day and return to the beach.
Offshore Kayak Options
Fort also provides multi-day offshore kayak fishing charters along with skipper and commercial fisherman, Peter McKenzie. A mothership serves as home base and sleeping quarters and it, combined with kayak exploration, allows for a unique experience on the Hauraki Gulf and the many remote islands of the Coromandel Peninsula.
"Activities include all types of fishing (including: soft bait/plastic, mechanical jigging), kayak fishing, spearfishing, diving, sightseeing and cruising.... The areas [we take you] all offer opportunities to discover prime country in remote locations that are predominantly untouched, and offer you the chance to catch from eight to twenty species of fish, not to mention what's on offer for the diver," says Fort.
Bryan Dalton of Love Kayaking with a Lake Taupo rainbow.
Freshwater Fun: Torquing on Lake Taupo
New Zealand's inshore and offshore sport fish aren't the only allure for anglers. The gigantic rainbow and brown trout swimming in New Zealand's fresh waters also draw visitors. Although fly fishing is popular, the South and North Island's streams and lakes are just as accessible to the venturesome kayak angler.
To experience the freshwater kayak scene my wife and I team up with Bryan Dalton, fishing guide with Love Kayaking, who introduces us to the country's largest lake and rainbow trout factory, Lake Taupo. All three of us use an Ocean Kayak Torque. The watercraft's Minn Kota trolling motor swiftly propels us to the mid-basin drop-off where trout lurk. Upon arrival, Dalton explains how to use the motor's viable speed control to achieve a controlled drift, which is essential to properly presenting the wet fly rigs.
"Start by moving the kayak so the stern faces the wind. Then put the motor in reverse and adjust the thrust until you move at a slow-crawl. You may need to play with the rudder to fine tune the drift and boat positioning," he says.
Sue and I quickly pick up the technique, and despite a rainy cold front we coax a few rainbows to bite. The fish come on a two fly dropper and spoon set-up. The flies are set approximately 30-inches apart. Popular patterns include grey ghost, camo parson, and the ginger mick. Eighteen inches below the bottom fly is a 3/4-ounce jigging spoon. Fly and metal will both take trout and this is Dalton's preferred rig from December to May.
Unfortunately torrential rain and swift winds force us off the water early. The short taste of trout fishing on Taupo along with Dalton's cheery disposition and extensive knowledge of the region's fishery has me yearning for better weather. I had corresponded with him for months leading up to our fish and was keen to try and catch a mammoth trout like he had sent me images of in his emails. Perhaps next time the weather will be more cooperative.
From inshore and offshore excursions in the salt to plying picturesque trout-loaded lakes and streams, kayak anglers have endless opportunities in New Zealand. Whether with a professional kayak fishing guide or as a DIY fish via a kayak rental, exploring the lush waters of the North and South Islands is an experience not to be missed.
IF YOU GO
Coromandel Kayak Adventures
Contact Fort for accommodation recommendations to align to fishing activities and travel budget.
Love Kayaks Guiding on Lake Taupo
For Taupo Region accommodation options, visit: www.greatlaketaupo.com
New Zealand Tourism
Tim Allard of Ottawa, Ontario is a full-time outdoor journalist and author-photographer of the award-winning book, Ice Fishing: The Ultimate Guide.