Hook into a firm favourite
Part seven in an 18-part series. Next week: snapper
Whatever you call them, smooth hound sharks - also known as rig, lemonfish, spotties, gummies, spotted dogfish and even spotted gummies - are fish well worth pursuing.
In addition to being a fine sporting fish, they are also surprisingly tasty; in fact, their firm white flesh made them a favourite of fish and chip shops everywhere till this fact became general knowledge.
Unfortunately, the idea of shark and chips didn't appeal to some people, so it was replaced in many shops by species such as tarakihi, snapper and bluenose. Those fish might be better known for their eating qualities, but in reality the smooth hound is right up there with them.
The smooth hound is widespread over both islands and is very much a coastal waters fish, often entering reasonably shallow, sandy bays and harbours, and feeding on crabs, shellfish and shrimps, as well as other sea creatures, including small fish.
These slender sharks have a relatively smooth skin and dorsal fins, without the sharp spines possessed by their much-maligned spiny dogfish relatives. Their greyish backs are covered in white spots, and they have small, flat, tile-like teeth to crush the hard shells they encounter.
As Kiwi palates have become more adventurous and adaptable to the various sea foods available, smooth hounds have become a lot more desirable, so many anglers now target them, though this is partly due to specific circumstances. When conditions get rough and coastal waters turn a muddy brown, most species head for cleaner waters to escape the roiling sand and grit that clogs their gills. Not so the smooth hound. Instead, it uses the situation to its advantage: the tumult uncovers its favourite foods, while the murkiness hides its presence.
This allows it to feed throughout daylight hours - good news for anglers, especially surfcasters, as this means they have a very worthwhile species to target when almost nothing else is around.
Either a running rig or a ledger rig can be deployed, but unless paddle crab or cray tail baits are used, the smooth hound will usually remain elusive.
Paddle crab baits can be whole if small, but should be crushed to release some scent, and then cottoned securely on. Larger crabs are cut in half, with the hook inserted in through a leg hole and out through the hard shell. The portion of crab is gently crushed and, again, cottoned on.
Cray tail bait is excellent, and fortunately there doesn't need to be much of it to be effective. This too should be cottoned firmly on, with the point and the barb of the hook left well exposed.
Though smooth hounds can muck around a little to start, when they make up their mind to eat the bait, a hook-up usually results. Tough fighters, they are capable of making long, hard runs and, brought in close, are frustratingly dogged - many are lost at this point due to angler impatience.
Almost any sandy bay will produce smooth hounds if the conditions are right. Better known places from the Wairarapa south are: Akito (next to the rocky outcrop); Whakataki; Otohome; White Rock Beach; Pencarrow; Baring Head; Wainuiomata Beach; Ocean Beach and Lake Ferry; Whangaimoana; Whatarangi Point; Nhawhi; Oriental Bay wall; Ohau Bay; Lyall Bay Beach and many more between.
As with most sharks, the best eating qualities will be revealed only if you trunk your fish immediately, removing the head, tail and fins, as well as the intestines. Wash away any remaining blood in salt water and place it in on salt ice in a chillybin.
Mark Kitteridge is deputy editor of NZ Fishing News.
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