THE BEAUTIFUL BARRIER
Fishing the Western side of Great Barrier Island
With late autumn and early winter often producing several days of continuous fine calm weather around Great Barrier Island, you would be hard-pressed to find a better place to go fishing. says Paul Walker.
With all the troubles this Covid virus has dumped on us, it might be nice to grab the boat and get away for a couple of days and make the most of one of these calm spells. But where to go? Well, Great Barrier Island may tick all the boxes.
This vast island is aptly named the Great Barrier, for it stands the sentinel and guardian of the Hauraki Gulf. Its eastern coast absorbs all that the Pacific can throw at it and leaves the gulf sheltered from the continuous oceanic swells.
Without this barrier island, the Hauraki Gulf would not be the boating playground it is today. Situated about 100 km/h kilometres from Auckland Harbour, it may seem just too far and remote for most people to contemplate making the journey, but believe me, it’s well worth the effort.
There are regular ferries from Auckland, including a vehicle ferry and a daily plane service from the North Shore airfield at Dairy Flat. There is suitable accommodation scattered throughout this vast island that has become popular with tourists, adventure seekers, surfers, trampers, rock fishers, or people just wanting a weekend away from it all.
For me, I believe the best way to see and explore this island is by boat. The massive coastline the Great Barrier provides is an endless fishing utopia. Taking a boat allows you to not only fish but explore all the harbours, bays, beaches, scattered groups of rocks and small islands, plus all the nooks and crannies this fantastic island has to offer.
As far as boats go, I wouldn’t be undertaking this journey in anything less than a well maintained 6m cabin boat. I must stress the need to check your weather once, twice, then three times before leaving. A good starting point is the Omaha boat ramp.
It is an excellent all-weather ramp, and departing from there will cut the boating mileage down to a minimum. The bonus is you have more fuel to use. As for fuel, take heaps a fuel purchased on the island is expensive. The best advice is to take plenty of food, drink, ice, bait, fuel, and fishing tackle, for you may end up staying longer than you intended.
There are four main safe anchorages up the western side of the island; Tryphena, Whangaparapara, Fitzroy, and Nagle Cove in Port Abercrombie. These harbours will give access to different areas of very fishable coastline. There are also lesser anchorages like Blind Bay, Bowling Alley Bay, and Katherine Bay’s many coves. One of my favourite places to lock in for the night is Oneura Bay, opposite the Man of War passage, leading into Port Fitzroy. These safe havens will give you a vast amount of great fishable coast to work on, and that’s just the western side. There is a whole different coast on the eastern side, but I will keep that for another day and another article.
FISH IN CLOSE
Ok, so let’s talk about the main reason you are out there, fishing. You can have a good look at this coast on google maps or check out marine charts 522 and 5225. These charts will give a great insight into what is available to you. In the many times, I have fished out there, I am sure we only scratched the surface, but I can give you a few spots and tell a few stories.
I would tend to fish in close and leave the deep water alone in late autumn and winter.
So let’s start at Tryphena. Turning left and heading east as you leave the harbour towards Cape Barrier, you see two bricks on the chart. Anchor up current of this reef and stray line back into it with plenty of burley. You will get a feed and maybe a couple of good ones. East of this spot is a small island with a drop off on the southeastern corner. Fish here with the incoming tide for kingies and big Snapper. Just watch the current here as on big tides, it can stand up around this area.
Retrace your steps and head back up the West Coast past Whangaparapara Harbour, where you will come upon the Junction islands and Broken islands. Between Tryphena and these islands, there are some possibilities in close. Just pick a likely spot and fish it.
It’s the Junction islands that hold special meaning for me, as it was here I caught my biggest Snapper so far at 22 pounds. That was over twenty years ago, but the memory is still as fresh as yesterday. If conditions allow you to overnight, Bowling Alley Bay is ideal. You will be sleeping amongst some fabulous fishing grounds, great for an early morning start.
BIG SNAPPER OPPORTUNITIES
Continuing north-west through the Broken Islands’ inner passage, there are plenty of scattered rocks and small islands to cast a bait or soft bait into. We also like to drift fish through here in 35 to 40 m right up to Nelson Island, but this deeper water may not fish as well in winter. All of the rocks in this general area offer big snapper opportunities, as does the reef country of Motuhaku Island around from Wellington Head.
Heading north now to Katherine Bay, both points on either side are good for kingfish on an incoming tide. The drop off just out from Moturoa Point is a good place for an evening snapper fish, with the bird rocks just outside you. On the other side of the bay, you have Kirikiriroa Point and its reef. Or maybe drift through the middle of the bay, where I have had some great success. Should you decide to overnight in here, watch for winds from the west through to the north. This is a lovely bay but is unfortunately wide open to these winds.
Moving north up the coast now, you will come to the fabled Miners Head and its associated reef. It’s the steamer Wairarapa’s resting place after she smashed into the cliffs in 1894 with the loss of 135 lives. The reef is an excellent place to jig, and anything can be on the menu; Kingies, Snapper, Trevally, John Dory. In late autumn or winter, this reef may be a bit deep, but what the hell. If you’ve come this far, why not give it a shot.
Moving from Miners Head up the coast, you come to The Needles at the other end of Great Barrier Island’s western side. This group of pinnacles rising sheer out of the water, and with its strong currents swirling through these rocks, it’s a legendary place for Kingfish and Snapper.
Around the corner from The Needles is a stunning, very different coast, but as I said, we will leave that story for another day.
One place I haven’t covered yet are the harbours themselves. Port Abercrombie and Port Fitzroy are huge, and straylining or soft baiting around the perimeter of these large harbours would be well worth trying. Tryphena and its neighbour, Blind Bay, although a bit smaller, are worth trying, as is Whangaparapara Harbour.
So as you can see, whatever piece of this western coastline you choose to fish and explore, the scope is endless. You can mix it up with fishing the coastline or the calmer, more sheltered harbours’ waters. The choice is yours, depending on how you feel when you get out there.
If you haven’t been to Great Barrier Island before, but you feel this adventure might be for you, now is the time to get planning. Spend some time pouring over those two charts, 522 and 5225 and don’t cut any corners on gear, fuel and provisions. Once you have that first trip under your belt, you will be planning another in short order.