Collingwood is located two hours drive West of Nelson. It is more or less an “end of the road” destination. The main reason for a visit is to tickle ones curiosity about how the other half lives in such a rural setting or to walk the Heaphy track. The setting of the town is utterly beautiful. The sleepy township is parked at the intersection of the brooding Aorere river and the limpid green waters of Golden Bay. There are two levels in which dwellings in the town are located. Most are perched on a hillside that has magnificent vistas of the western end of Golden Bay and Farewell spit. On the bottom level there are a handfull of home as well as two general stores, a cafe, a pub and a petrol station where they still come out and pump your gas. Around a thousand people inhabit the town and Aorere valley. The town was originally called Gibbstown and was a much larger town during the gold rushes of the 1800’s. When the gold dried up farming and the milling of native timber and flax soon took over.
Geographically the Western end of Golden bay is of huge interest to fly fishermen. The perfect storm of huge shallow sand flats and clear water exsists creating a massive hunting area for predatory fish. The Apex predator on these flats are Yellowtail Kingfish. These fish come up onto the flats over summer to hunt the large shoals of baitfish. Most fish encountered seem to be between 650mm to 850mm with the odd solitary fish around the meter mark.
About four years ago I first found these fish cruising the shallows on the backs of stingrays. I began spending a lot of time observing their behaviour and learning where and when they were around. In the early stages I had some mixed results and found that they were very hard to find on cloudy days and when there were no stingrays present. However when the conditions were right I was making a killing! Initially I could not believe what I was seeing but as time went on I soon got used to seeing big Kingfish tailing and attacking baitfish and my fly in just inches of water. The relationship between the Kingfish and the stingray is very intriguing. It almost certainly appears that the Kingfish are using the stingrays as an ambush vehicle. They seem to be able to get closer to the baitfish schools when they “ride” the stingrays which gives a bit of a headstart in the pursuit of their meal. I use an 8 to 10 weight rod to target the Kings. Going any lighter seems grossly unfair on the fish during the prolonged fights as well as your casting will be severely impacted on windy days. Any bait fish fly pattern will work and at times they can be caught on popper flies. Once spotted the mad rush to get ahead of the cruising fish is on. You are fishing in water from knee to waist deep. Running through waist deep water is a very tiring exercise. Once in position an accurate cast is required as these fish can move quickly at times and if your cast isn’t on the money its hard work getting going again especially with all the fly line trailing in the water. Once hooked these fish will scream off into your backing. Make sure you have 300 meters of backing I have seen fish take that much. Fights typically take between 10 and 20 minutes. The great thing about hooking them on the flats is the lack of structure they can run you to. Once landed they need to be carefully looked after as most are under the legal limit of 750mm and will need to be released. In the coming season we are bringing a tagging programme to the bay. This is exciting and will give us valuable information about how catch and release is impacting the fishery as well as their migratory movements.
I decided to blow the lid on this fishery during the last summer. It was a hard decision to make. I weighed up the impact of many people coming and putting pressure on the fishery and what impacts catch and release would have on the fish. I am primarily a trout fishing guide and am well aware of what human pressure can do to a fishery. Ultimately the financial benefits to the town from visiting fly fishermen was enough to share the secret. I have been working with The Department of Conservation in recent times to protect the fishery. The entire inside of Farewell Spit is part of the “Farewell Spit Nature Reserve”. This area is a very unique ecosystem and is home to many species of sea birds as well as a few species of plants that are found nowhere else in NZ. Currently the signage at the base of Farewell Spit in the carpark does not show the boundary of the Nature reserve clearly. This is about to be upgraded to show a well defined boundary. The boundary to the Nature reserve is unique as it is along the low water mark and moves up and down with the varying tide heights. We are working on a rule of thumb of – No fishing East of Puponga Point. There is talk of adding marine buoys to mark the edge of the reserve but at this stage we are going to see the signs are being ignored before investing in the buoys. This initiative will protect about 28kms of the flats from human intervention. The Kingfish will be free to do their thing out there and the bonus will be new fish will move into the area that fishermen can access – just like fishing next to a marine reserve. Another concern is with the migratory birds that rest on the high-water mark near Pakawau. If you see these birds please give them a wide berth. They travel huge distances to be here and deserve a bit of peace and quiet. With all the extra fishermen that will come there are concerns about freedom camping along the beach. If it is your intention to do this make sure you visit the Tasman District Council website to make sure you are in the right places. Our locals have very little tolerance to illegal freedom camping and you will be moved along if caught. The great news is there are many places you can stay from motels to backpackers to motor camps.
If you are planning a trip to Golden Bay and the Collingwood area to target Kingfish on fly this summer, please be respectful of the environment you are fishing in. If we all do this the fishery will remain here for you to enjoy for years to come.