Give me sand, lots of sand...

Saltwater Flyfishing

CRAIG WORTHINGTON
Last updated 13:38 28/10/2011
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Above: Releasing a kahawai. Kahawai dominate the New Zealand surf environment, but trevally love the sand as well, with kingfish a very real possibility. Below: The sexy supermodel in the white gumboots is not the best, but you get the idea – sand is a lovely environment to fish in.
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Above: Kingfish off the rocks on fly are a huge challenge. Anything bigger than this can be extremely difficult to land at most rocky locations. Below: Trevally love sand, but they also love a wharf and/or some rocks mixed in as well.
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Above: Sandy rivermouths can offer some of the best chances for connecting with trevally or kingfish over sand. Below: Trevally have a tubular mouth adapted for sucking and sifting food items out of sand.

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Occasionally we get rocks in our head and feel the urge to travel somewhere where the coastline is not so dominated by crazy jungles of confused and fractured basalt.

I choose north-facing beaches, sunny days, and periods of low swell with a clean sea. Rarely do we catch much; it’s just nice to be there. Standing on firm white sand casting a long line into sparkling surf is almost as good as visiting a coral atoll.

Unfortunately, New Zealand doesn’t have bonefish, and the most exciting sand-based sport fish we have – the trevally – tends to be a little nervous in bright, clear conditions on a sunny day.

Fish the same beach on a dull day or as the sun dips below the horizon though, and you will be surprised at the number of trevally you can catch. They move fast and are often in a school. Poor fishing results can be transformed in an instant as the light levels drop and a whole heap of fish quickly move in. The only difficulty is that if one sole rock exists out there, even the most inconsequential lump of basalt with the smallest tuft of weed on it, then the trevally will find it. They are undisputed kings of the bust-off, and this urge to fish for them over sand is designed to take the agony out of the equation.

Trevally are obviously not stupid, and will show strong preference for locations with a mix of both sand and rock. Add a strong and regular current to this blend and you have the ultimate trevally destination. I know of a sand channel where they hang out between two sets of reefs. There is a respectable current moving between the reefs on a good tide, and no doubt the sand floor between is rich in trevally food. I figure I can hook the trevally up in the channel, let them run towards the far reef, and then hold them hard, keeping them well out from the reef and rock I’m casting off.

Well, it all sounds good in theory. The practical reality of it is that the trevally turn around the minute the pressure comes on, and run straight back at you or swim in a wide sweeping arc to bury themselves in the weed and rock directly up the beach. These fish take absolutely no prisoners. Consequently I find myself dreaming of locations that are one-hundred-percent sand – with fish mixed in.

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Kingfish present similar problems. One of the most challenging and exciting fishing activities you can try is casting to kingfish from a land-based position with a fly rod. I rate it as high (or higher) than gamefishing for marlin, with similar levels of boredom intersected with moments of pure pandemonium.

At the best locations I have, I can count on four or five decent shots at kingfish over the few best hours when the tide is flowing. The trouble is, all of these locations are still dominated by rocks, and the minute a kingfish hook-up is achieved (not an easy task itself on land-based fly), one’s brain must be thrown into gear instantly to try and anticipate what the kingfish might do, so steps can be taken to counter it. For example, if the king runs down the weed line, you need to run down the rocks after it to try and get direct ninety-degree side-pressure on it, encouraging it to run out to sea. Should it run straight out though, you must consider where the bulk of the kelp and rock is located and how far from the rocks is a good distance to try and play your fish out.

The truth of the matter is that none of the locations I have for land-based kings on fly have yet to give up a decent fish to yours truly. There have been plenty of hook-ups on large fish, and quite a few smaller fish landed, but for the most part the environment wins the day. The only real way around it is to find an exceptional location where the underwater rocks are smooth and not easy for fish to get under or around – or have a go for them over sand.

This means finding sand locations that have both strong currents and baitfish. Typically these are at the mouths of rivers or harbours. Fishing such locations at a time when kingfish are present is not easy. They will be there at specific stages of the tide in specific conditions at specific times of the year. They do not like floods or too much freshwater anywhere near them, and they do not like rough seas and stirred-up sand. Add to this the minimal casting distance that can be achieved with a fly rod, and you have a real challenge on your hands.

The great benefit is to know that any hook-ups achieved have a high chance of a successful outcome – provided you have good joins and plenty of backing. This has got to be a whole lot better than waiting for that sickening feeling of line rubbing over rock.

It can be sight-fishing too, with kingfish being more visible than trevally in a sand environment, and not so put off by bright sun and clean water. To actually see a big kingfish hunting sprats and piper in warm, clear water is a spine-tingling experience. Putting a fly over these fish is truly exciting – but managing to do so while pounding after them along the beach and wildly whipping the fly rod around is another matter altogether.

This is obviously another environment where stealth will pay dividends. I’m just not too sure how to hide myself on a wide-open sandy beach. All I know is that the benefits of fishing beaches has to make it all well worthwhile. Give me sand…

Give me sand, lots of sand..

- © Fairfax NZ News

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