The challenge of Mainland based contributor Tony Orman has a confession to make. He has done much less trout fishing this year than any other year in his 60-odd years of angling after becoming hooked on fly fishing for kahawai.
Much of the reason is due to the fact that pound for pound (or should that be ‘kilo for kilo’?), a kahawai’s fight is so much better than its freshwater brethren. Also, they are generally much easier to catch than trout – but not always. Most people know the old trout fishing adage ‘matching the hatch’, which involves matching the fly (and its presentation) to the particular insect trout are feeding on. Well, there are days when kahawai can be just as single-minded!
Several years ago, I was at the mouth of the Wairau River with my fly rod. Four other spin-anglers were to my left within 50 metres of my position. That evening, I hooked and landed about 20 kahawai, while the others caught one between them. I killed and gutted three kahawai and all had tiny baitfish in them. The simple analysis was the other anglers’ spinners were too large, so failed to match the bait fish. My small kahawai fly fitted the bill perfectly.
Sometimes with kahawai it gets even trickier. One afternoon I took Alan Simmons, a very experienced fly fisher in both freshwater and salt, down to the mouth to have a look at the kahawai action. He wanted to watch, not fish, so it was just me casting.
The fish were there, but they seemed reluctant to take, chasing and just swirling behind the chartreuse-winged fly. “Try a blue fly,” was Alan’s advice. I did as suggested, and hit the jackpot thereafter, hooking and landing several good kahawai before we departed for dinner. Colour proved to be the vital ingredient.
At times such small details can be crucial, because kahawai
are not always a pushover. Even when spinning, such details can be important. As already alluded to, I believe many spin anglers targeting kahawai use too large a lure. Kahawai often feed on small fish such as whitebait and anchovies, and in such instances only a small lure proves enticing.
Also keep in mind that kahawai are not spread evenly over the river channel just before it issues into the sea. Instead, they often occupy certain spots, such drop-offs from shallower water into deeper gutters. This season, I discovered one such gutter at the river mouth that was right in against the bank, making casts of only a few metres necessary. The kahawai caught here were superb, fat specimens averaging two kilos and sometimes reaching three kilos. On being hooked, they screamed line off the reel at a furious rate, well into the backing.
But some days these fish proved decidedly fastidious. It took quite a while to sort, but eventually I found that a slow, lingering retrieve was the way to hook them. Such challenges and thought-
provoking analysis simply enhance the success.
I like Clouser-style flies, but avoid over-dressing them with excessive glitter or sparkle materials. These flies need some ‘flash’ but not too much.
If fish are not taking, try varying your flies’ size and colour. And when you do hook a fish on a tough day, it’s usually worth checking the stomach contents to see what they’ve been feeding on.
Speaking of which, if I’m killing a fish, I do so straight away to be humane and retain the best quality fish flesh. I then immediately gut and take the kahawai’s head off to allow the surplus blood to drain away. The remaining dark meat should also be cut off the fillet before pan-frying the kahawai fillets, or perhaps making them into a delicious Thai green curry.
But once you’ve got your dining-table needs, I urge you to catch and release instead. Kahawai are awesome to catch on salt-fly and light spin gear, and survive the release experience well. So let them go for someone else to enjoy!