Fishing in New Zealand: How to Catch Kai Moana

“Don’t you want to kiss him goodbye?” asks Ronnie the deckhand.

Er, no. Not really. Although I’m sure this handsome lad is incredibly tasty, size matters in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty. The snapper I’ve reeled in doesn’t quite meet the legal minimum length of 27 centimeters (10.6 inches). So back into the Pacific he goes.

I’m on a day-long fishing charter on the Te Kuia. Built entirely of kauri wood, its Maori name means “the Old Lady,” and skipper Scott is at the helm. We sailed at 8.00 a.m. from the docks at Tauranga, a seaside city on the North Island.

Fringed by long sandy beaches, the Bay of Plenty teems with snapper, blue cod, tarakihi, gurnard, kingfish and other fishy delights. It’s not even necessary to put to sea as you can fish for snapper from wharves and the shore in many places. But I do so enjoy boat trips.

I haven’t been fishing very often—only in Iceland and Florida—so I was a little concerned about remembering the mechanics of a rod and line. And if I caught anything, what would I do with it? Everybody else came aboard bearing cooler boxes packed with ice.

Scott obligingly offered to store my hoped-for haul in his box—and also promised to fillet it. Although IL’s editor doesn’t expect me to forage from the land and sea, I’m staying in a Tauranga motel unit with a kitchen. And one of the joys of the Kiwi lifestyle is catching and cooking your own supper.

After a quick recap lesson on the mysteries of fishing rods and baiting up hooks, I was all set. A wickedly sharp knife, a chopping board, and a bag of bait—lovely! Fishing isn’t for the squeamish, but I’ll happily slice up bits of pilchard, squid and who-knows-what.

Throughout the trip, the boat gets tracked by brown shearwater gulls—Kiwis call them muttonbirds. Mostly a Maori delicacy, around 250,000 muttonbirds get harvested for food, fat and oil each year.

“Do they taste like mutton?” I ask Ronnie. “No, more like sulky chicken.” (OK—won’t bother foraging for any of those, then.)

Maybe I’ve arranged my baited hooks too nicely. I keep getting bites, but reeling in the line produces no supper—only empty hooks. I try not to look envious when the guy next to me bags two snapper at once.

“Ooh, Ronnie—come quick! I’ve got something!”

The something turns out be a “granddaddy,” a spiny and bizarre-looking orange creature with a mouth as big as a bucket. They’re also known as scorpion fish—and mine doesn’t look too tempting. A small flatfish also goes back over the side.

My luck changes when we move into waters where Scott expects shoals of tarakihi. With their white flaky flesh, these fish are a favorite in NZ fish ’n’ chip shops. I’ve already tried battered tarakihi and it’s delicious.

So I’m thrilled to catch two beauties—both well over legal size.

I can already picture them pan-fried in butter, washed down with a glass or two of Sauvignon Blanc. My jeans stink of fish, my nose is sunburnt, and my hair is a windswept tangle—but who cares. Days don’t get any better than this.

Part of Blue Ocean Charters, a day’s fishing—8 hours—on the Te Kuia costs $81 (NZ$100). The cost reduces to $61 apiece if there are two of you or more. Rod hire and bait supply is $24. Tea and coffee is brewed in the galley, but bring your own cold drinks and packed lunch. Tauranga’s Tourist Office also books fishing trips.

If you plan doing any amount of fishing in New Zealand and haven’t packed a rod, it’s probably worth buying a second-hand one. I saw good ones for as little as $33.

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