In New Zealand you often see people fishing from a harbour wharf, or along an urban shore where bridges cross the waterways. If you ask why they fish, they will often say, ‘There’s more to fishing than catching fish.’ Although it is illegal to sell the catch, the satisfaction is not just in bringing home a meal, but also in the anticipation and planning, reading the weather and sea conditions, and the pleasure of being outdoors.
Whether fishing from the shore or from a boat, anglers need a rare quality – patience. They must be willing to put up with the hours when the fish are not biting, to be rewarded by the minutes when they are.
Although Māori traditionally caught fish for survival, fishing and gathering shellfish were also social activities. Coastal tribes excelled at fishing. When Captain James Cook and his crew visited the Marlborough Sounds in 1773, they were easily out-fished by Māori: ‘We were by no means such expert fishers as them, nor were any of our methods of fishing equal to theirs.’ 1
Fishing for introduced freshwater fish, liberated into the waterways by British settlers from the 1860s, required a licence. But sea fishing remained an important pastime, free for all. Much of the population lived near the coast, so on Saturdays and Sundays men and boys would drop a line from the wharf, or drag a net behind a dinghy. Even commercial fishermen might spend their free days at sea. In the 1960s, at Easter, some Kaikōura fishermen would row off for a weekend with a keg of beer, and lines, nets and pots for catching butterfish, moki, blue cod or crayfish.
Who goes fishing?
A 2001 survey of leisure activities placed fishing (both sea and freshwater) fifth after walking, gardening, swimming and exercising. It is more popular among Māori than Europeans and Polynesians, and more men than women participate.
Experiences vary widely – from solitary surfcasting on a deserted beach, to cruising in a luxury yacht on the busy Hauraki Gulf. City dwellers drive to a nearby wharf or coastline, or launch their boat from a ramp for a day’s outing. Children catch spotties off the jetty, while serious sportsmen compete in contests such as the Snapper Classic at Ninety Mile Beach, where the winner can pick up $50,000.
Books and other information
New Zealand’s literature on sea angling does not compare with that on trout fishing: perhaps those drawn to sea fishing are a less contemplative bunch. Most ‘saltwater’ publications are guides on how and where to fish – useful for those entering the sport. There are also monthly magazines such as New Zealand Fishing News, established in 1978, with information on fishing trends and catches.
Popular television shows include Graeme Sinclair’s Gone fishin’ and The fishing show. Increasingly, anglers are using websites, which have marine forecasts and tide information.