Most of the year the harbours are choker full of bait and that is what snapper, trevally and kingfish feed on. That’s why you’ll find these species ambushing prey up on the flats in water only half a meter deep. Harbours take a bit of working out but when you really sit down and study them, it is pretty easy to work out where the fish are.
On the incoming tide predator fish move along the edges of channels and as soon as the tide allows, they pop up onto the flats to feed as this is where the bait has been taking shelter. Snapper and trevally do similar movements as the shellfish beds and small shrimps are also up on the same flats.
For the last 2 hours of the incoming tide you will find trevally, snapper and kingfish right up in the shallow water, as low as half a meter, and you’ll often find some very big fish, too. They are always there but no one is fishing for them.
Catching fish in a meter of water takes some learning. First you’ll have to figure out the where the fish are feeding and then you have to sneak in quietly. There are miles of flats in most New Zealand harbours, so you do have some ground to cover.
What we have found is that once you’ve find these spots, there’ll be fish to be caught most times you visit.
A good indication of resident snapper and trevally is their diggings. Walk around at low tide to try and find their holes. The big ones belong to the rays but the small deep holes are made by snapper and trevally.
As the tide starts to recede the fish move off the flats fast. The first 2 hours of the outgoing tide fish the best. Fish move in harbours like we do in streets, sometimes people go off road but most of us follow a path.
All sand flats have paths, these paths are the slightly deeper parts which you could call a channel. These channels can be as shallow as 200mm deep but they are the start of a network of channels merging into gradually bigger channels. The main channel is the place to either drift past or anchor up and pump a berley trail, and at that stage those flat fish are now going to disperse along the channel and either wait out the tide or move into the deep holes.
Sometimes we drop down to Mono and lighter braid to fish the harbours. On these days you can guarantee the big fish will turn up! You may think they are easy to catch -and sometimes you are lucky. Don’t be fooled though, as most of the time those big fish know exactly where the oyster rocks or logs are so they can break that line off in an instant.