So its been blown right open… and open its blown!
Its a surreal feeling to walk into my local tavern to see a dozen severely chaffed men all with grins as wide as cook straight who until now had just been a name and a thumbs up at the bottom of my Facebook posts. These invaders have turned up because of one simple act. A simple act which involved posting a rough 2 minute long clip of a couple of kingfish swimming around at a local beach with some big black stingrays. I have a new appreciation for the power of social media.. It spread far and wide and it did it quickly. A drive past the beach reveals varying numbers of fishers waist deep in water looking like miniature wizards waving wands of carbon fibre. Some days there are 2 some days there are 22. The smiles are present because they are in a beautiful part of the world in warm water and best yet they are fulfilling a dream. Until recently many had no idea this was possible especially in the South Island. Saltwater fly fishing on the flats for kingfish was previously undertaken by patient North Island fly fishermen in Tauranga harbour who only spoke of their success in whispers.
The town of Collingwood lies two thirds of the way across Golden Bay heading West. It is 2 hours drive from Nelson and pretty much the end of the road in the North Western corner of the South Island. The town itself has around 300 residents and another 700 odd people living in the adjacent Aorere valley. On the main Street you will find a couple of general stores, a mini supermarket, a tavern, a cafe, a petrol station/mechanic and a small museum of local history. The people are the real deal, genuine good o’l kiwi folk. Most are farmers and the rest seem to work at Health post (a herbal supplement distribution centre). Of anyone its the locals who have been most taken by surprise at the invasion of fly fishermen.
About 4 years ago I was fishing at the mussel farms about 2 kms offshore from Collingwood out of my 12 foot boat. The wind got up and the sea became very choppy. I decided that it might be best to head towards shore and head along the beach back to the boat ramp so as to shelter from the prevailing wind. As I got to within 50 meters of the beach I ran over the top of a large black stingray. As I passed over I could see two large yellow fish. I suddenly realised these were kingfish. I continued towards Collingwood and again I saw a ray and another set of Kingfish in tow. The next day I went back to the spot in the boat at the same time of day but this time armed with a softbait rod. I soon saw more rays and more kingfish.. In no time at all I was catching them thick and fast. I soon found I was able to get really close to the fish. I had them swim within a mere meter of my legs at times. I witnessed them with their tails out of the water and on the surface creating huge bow waves as they charged into a school of baitfish. I began taking an 8 weight fly rod with me and began hooking them on big trout streamers. This was the next level of fulfillment and from that time on I have never looked back. I have been catching these kingfish in the shallows for a few years now and I find it never gets old and every day that I return from the flats I have always learned something new. During the past summer I decided to share this amazing fishery with the world. It was too good to keep it to myself. I also felt it could be a shot in the arm for local businesses. Next summer will see even more fishermen come to the area. The fishing here can be great and at other times it can be very humbling. The days when the conditions are right you can have 40 shots and other days you would swear there are no Kings in the whole of Golden Bay.
With the influx of extra fishermen comes pressure. Next year will be a true test of how much pressure the fishery and the Kingfish and perhaps even more importantly the stingrays can take. One observation I have made is the speed at which the Stingrays move. When it was just me fishing they would more very slowly and you could pick the Kingfish off them one at a time. Now they move through with some pace and you may only get one or two casts at them. Coupled with that is going to be the large numbers of people on the beach. It will be interesting to see how the dynamic of fishing in a crowd plays out. I see potential for fighting over shots at fish, crossed lines and a few disgruntled fishermen wanting a bit of solitude. My advice would be to spread out. There are several places that fish really well at times and people are starting to realise this but having done a lot of exploring myself I can tell you that there are other places that fish as well if not better and they are waiting for you to discover them. At the end of the day respect goes a long way.
One other thing is that as much you want to…. DO NOT VENTURE BEYOND THE 4KM MARK ON FAREWELL SPIT. It is a nature reserve and the Department of Conservation have protected this unique ecosystem from humans – even the ones catching and releasing fish.. The boundary for the nature reserve is to the low water mark so logistically it is pretty much unfishable. There is signage in the carpark at the base of the spit if you need clarification. DO NOT GET CAUGHT IN THERE – THEY WILL MAKE AN EXAMPLE OF YOU!
Next year we are looking at tagging the Kingfish so we can determine how extensive the fishery is. Also more information on the Stingrays is needed. My feeling is that they are residential and have certain areas they prefer to feed in.
So as for my guiding…. I maintain the best way to do this is book over multiple days and combine Kingfish with fly fishing for trout. It really does add up to the best all-round sight fishing experience in New Zealand. At the beginning of the trip a quick look at the forecast will determine how best to fish throughout your trip. If the weather does not suit Kingfish, there is not much else to target on Saltwater fly. It just makes sense to be fishing in some form.