More tall tales than whitebait on first day

20:45, Aug 15 2012
Whitebait season begins
WET WAIT: Tracy Skelton, of New Plymouth, inspects his scoop net after lifting it out of the Waiwhakaiho River, on the first day of the whitebait season.

A spot of bad weather has never been enough to deter whitebaiters.

Last year it was snow, this year wind and rain, but still the hardy were out chasing the delicacy yesterday as the season opened.

"I was up under the bridge [Te Rewa Rewa] last year and it snowed," a New Plymouth woman, who only wanted to be known as Joy, told the Taranaki Daily News at the Waiwhakaiho River yesterday morning.

"It's still friggin' cold, though."

Joy was on the riverbank at day-break and by 9.30am had netted herself about half a cup of whitebait.

"I wasn't even going to have a fish and I got down here and it got the better of me," she said.


She bagged 92 cups on her best opening day, but she said those days were long gone.

"It was a few years ago now, down around Stent Rd, around the coast. You don't get whitebait like that now."

However, it was not all about how much you caught, she said.

"I have more fun catching them than I do eating them. It's just good to get out and about in the fresh air.

"We all know each other down here and we all have a fairly big chin wag."

New Plymouth artist Tracy Skelton said he arrived at the river about 7am.

"It was already busy, there were about eight others here," he said.

He had also caught about half a cup of whitebait but said it was more about the experience.

"You get some real characters down here."

The Conservation Department vowed to take a hard line on anyone breaking the rules.

DOC marine ranger Callum Lilley said one whitebaiter was caught fishing within 20 metres of a tide gate (where a small stream flows into a bigger stream or river) and faced a maximum fine of $5000.

"That leaves little chance for any of these whitebait to make it upstream and be part of the future breeding cycle," Mr Lilley said.

DOC would also be on the lookout for anyone moving rocks to build structures hoping to improve their catch.

"The Whitebait Fishing Regulations 1994 clearly state that no person fishing for whitebait can interfere with, alter, or modify the natural bed or banks of any river, stream, estuary, or channel."

Awakino Hotel owner Margaret Bell said many people returned to the same spot every year.

"It's really good to see some of the old faces," Ms Bell said.

While there had been no tall tales told yesterday afternoon she had no doubt that by closing time there would have been a few - "once they've got some rum and beer into them."

The Mokau butcher, Graham Putt, said he had been out first thing yesterday but did not catch anything.

"There's too much mud in the river," he said.

The season runs until November 30.

Taranaki Daily News