The Kaikoura Honey Hole

After their west coast hunting trip was cut short by bad weather, Struan Purdie and his two mates were forced to come up with a Plan B. So they hitched up the boat, packed up any fishing gear they could find, and set off for a spot just off the Kaikoura coast they’d heard a few good things about. Struan tells the story of the day…

Some people are die hard fishos, but that’s not me. I prefer to hold my breath and shoot my fish rather than hooking them. However, this trip to Kaikōura almost had me convinced on the rod and reel option. This story follows on from our West Coast hunting mission, which I wrote about in the last issue. The plan for that trip was to fly into the alps for four nights with a good friend from Auckland, Josh, and another mate Jimmy. However, the weather forced us to cut our hunt short or risk spending a full week and a half on the tops till the next weather window opened for a pickup. This meant we had a couple of unexpected days to kill so, after a quick overnight pitstop back in Christchurch, we packed up the boat and headed north. 

Kaikōura is an incredible piece of coastline to explore with a unique underwater typography. Just 800 metres off the coast, the Kaikōura canyon plunges to depths of up to 1200+ metres. The canyon is part of the Kermadec Trench system which extends far out into the Pacific Ocean. As cold water moves along the base of the trench towards the coast, it begins to rise, bringing with it nutrients from the deep. This in turn creates an incredible fishery with deep-sea species such as hoki, bluenose and groper (known as hapuku in the North Island) in abundance. Our target for this trip was groper but we weren’t going deep. Jimmy had sniffed out some coordinates for a hole 20 minutes from the boat ramp in 80 metres of water. What we lacked in groper fishing experience we made up for in sheer enthusiasm. We spent that evening at the pub getting way ahead of ourselves, even going so far as to discuss groper recipes. 

The next morning, we were up early and had the boat launched before dawn. There were definitely a few sideways glances at our wee 4.7 metre Buccaneer from the disapproving charter boat captains. None of this phased us though. We had our GPS mark and a boat load of confidence. What more do you need for a fishing trip? The sun was just popping up over the horizon as we rounded the peninsula. It was a stunning morning. The swell had completely died off and the water was glassy. We pulled up at the spot with no other boats in sight. Our rigs were questionable to say the least. Although we had picked up a bunch of large hooks and sinkers, our three rods were a motley mix of affairs. The plan was to rig up one main groper rod and a second smaller setup to try nab a blue cod or two. Jimmy was elected helmsman and remained glued to the GPS and sonar as he idled us onto the spot.

The first drop was full of anticipation. Reels were whirring. The albatross were gathering.

Everything seemed to being going well – until we hit the bottom. A series of short sharp bites, then nothing. According to Jimmy we had a window of about a minute before we drifted off the mark. We wound our lines in and tossed back a couple of perch. Jimmy lined us up again and down we went. We repeated this process for about 40 minutes. With each unsuccessful drop, our spirits sunk lower. Being a spearfisherman, my patience for sitting in the same spot catching nothing is abysmal. However, Jimmy assured me this is how fishing often goes. Then it all changed. 

Suddenly, Josh announced he had a reasonable weight on his line. Although he didn’t think it was a groper, it was the first bit of action we had had all morning. Hopes were high for at least a couple of cod. As his rig neared the surface, we got distracted trying to stop Nuuna the schnauzer from jumping out of the boat to chase the numerous albatross that had gathered. We didn’t even notice the hulking white belly that had floated to the surface 20 metres behind the boat. “Groper!” Josh yelled. We hauled the fish into the boat with plenty of hoots and hollers. Although it was far from breaking any records, it was a groper and that was all that mattered. We snapped a couple of photos and sent a few high fives flying. We were over the moon. Time for more. 

Jimmy circled back round to our mark, and Josh and I dropped our lines. It was my turn on the groper rod and I was pumped. Not long after we both hit the bottom, Josh’s cod-slayer started bending. My rod, meanwhile, remained motionless. Josh wound up furiously, making sure to keep the tension on the line. We all piled to the side of the boat to see what he’d hooked. Amazingly, two groper emerged from the deep – a double hook up on an orange snapper flasher rig! We got them in the boat immediately, scared the tiny rod would snap in half. These two were smaller than the first one but still an awesome eating size. Over the next hour we managed to land half a dozen more groper, which meant the one fish bin we’d bought with us was maxed out. We made the call and headed for home, overjoyed with our success. 

After some massive filleting efforts, we had a mountain of fish to distribute to family and friends. For me, this is the joy of hunting and fishing in New Zealand – being able to share the spoils. Since that trip, we’ve had a few more good days out at the Kaikōura honey hole and are certainly looking forward to many more this summer.

Article by: Struan Purdie