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Last season I went into a fishing charter partnership with local commercial fisherman, Dave Wood. On board his vessel, Sandra J. I have learned a lot about the deepwater fishery throughout Cook Strait, especially the Nicholsons Trench area and the three main species, groper, bass and bluenose.

Two revolutionary enhancements in tackle and gear - the low or non-stretch braided and fusion lines, and the GPS (Global Positioning System) help immensely while deepwater fishing. The former allows you to feel the fish bite and turns them into sportfish, while the latter allows you to pre-program the good fishing spots and get back to them without having to line up landmarks.

For deepwater fishing the first thing you should do is obtain depth and bathometric charts for the area you plan to fish.

From these you can see where the fish are likely to live and plot some good looking fishing locations.

You may consider obtaining a suitable depth sounder to get down to and give accurate readings to approximately 350 metres in depth. Colour sounders certainly give a much better picture than the single colour CD models.

The GPS is a great tool for getting onto the spot and programming in new places, but you can get away without one at a pinch. If you are buying one make sure it has tracking (leaves a trail where you have been).

NICHOLSONS TRENCH - is a canyon about 3 miles out from Sinclair Head running down to Terakerei Head and into Palliser Bay. It is approximately 1.5 miles wide. The good fish (groper, bass and bluenose) are usually abundant in about 200 to 250 metres of water.

There are a few different recognised fish patches in the trench. These are very localised and to get into numbers of fish you just about have to hit the nail on the head. The patches are about the size of half a rugby field.

Different areas fish well when the current forces the food and plankton up against the side of the canyon. If the current pushes all the food away from the spot, results aren\'t as good. Therefore you need to be drifting up into shallower water.


Look for rock or reef structures where food (small fish and plankton) is abundant.

With the bathometric and depth charts take note of any interesting shallow patches, hills and the like that might catch a bit of back current and hold food for your target fish. The fish generally like the top of a gentle rise, seamounts and edges of canyons.


BASS - A superb eating fish classified under the same commercial fish quota as groper. They generally grow larger than groper and are often found in deeper water. We never seem to catch them in depths of water under 200 metres.

Every year there is usually a fish caught over 50kgs in Wellington. A good one is generally 20kg plus. Further north they are caught up to 100kgs. Bass can be distinguished from groper by their deeper stomach, shorter lower jaw and a larger eye. The best months are normally August to October but last season we caught them through to January.

There are a couple of spots on the West coast to catch them but most get caught at the Trench or on the East coast.

GROPER (hapuku) - A solid fish but more slender than the bass. They are happy to live in shallower water but are often swim with bass. At certain times of the year the big ones will be as shallow as 75 metres but generally live from 125 metres down to 250 metres. An average fish is around 10 to 15kgs, a biggie is 30kg plus but again the odd 50kg plus fish gets taken in Cook Strait.They normally arrive in October and disappear around June/July preferring deeper colder water to spawn.

BLUENOSE - From what Ive observed the bluenose is the more aggressive fighting fish of the `big three\'. You can catch them in the same area as bass and groper but sometimes shallower ground of around 150 to 200 metres can produce good numbers of fish. They can feed well up off the bottom as well. Average size at the Trench is about 5 to 7kg but a good one can be 10 to 20kgs. The best I have heard of is 25kgs from the Wgtn area. They are available all year round and seem to be on the move more consistently than other fish (there one day gone the next).

ray foster with a 20kg bluenose aug 07

LING - If you are catching ling you are probably in too deeper water to catch groper but may hook the odd big bass. The ling is a much maligned fish because they don’t fight terribly well, and they don\'t taste quite as good as groper.

However they are still good eating and deserve more recognition than some of the more experienced anglers give them. Keep them on ice before filleting. They are a great stir-fry fish with soy sauce and vegies in the Wok!

The average size varies at different times of the year. Just lately they have been around 8kg. At other times they are closer to 15kg. For a big ling say 20 or 30kg plus, I would be fishing in 300 to 400 metres water depth.

HOKI - These fish are often up off the bottom and at certain times of the year are in huge numbers at the Trench. They are good eating if you look after the fish (keep them on ice). They are also very good bait.

SHARKS: There is a very healthy shark fishery in the deep water. We have had many encounters with blues and makos. A few with porbeagles and threshers and many with tope, particularly when you are fishing in less than 150 metres. They provide great entertainment for sportfishing enthusiasts and the smaller ones are able to be processed for food without too much danger of losing limbs! One thing to be wary about is puncturing the ammonia sack inside the gut cavity. It can give you a nasty dose of \'shark fever\' which from personal experience, I cannot recommend.

120lb puka caught by alcatal april 07 on melicent

OTHER SPECIES: Some of the more interesting species we have caught at the Trench are frostfish, rat-tail, orange perch, seal shark and ghost shark.

XOS tarakihi and blue cod (2 to 3kg) are often on the top of a reef say in are around 100 to 150 metre depth. It is worthwhile sending down some smaller hooks to experiment with other species from time to time.

The potential tuna fishery needs further investigation.


BASS: strips of hoki or mackerel have proved best. Pilchards always work well too.

GROPER: everything works well - squid, pilchards, strips of barracouta, kahawai or mackerel. Whole or fillets of sea

perch is a goodie. Groper often have whole perch inside their stomachs.

BLUENOSE: squid is certainly tops - the fresher the best.

GENERAL BAITING UP TIPS: Cut baits into torpedo shapes and hook once through one end . This stops them from twisting and spinning their way to the bottom. For the extra chance of a hookup add a pilchard or two by hooking them through the eye socket hook


Putting fluoro tube and beads on your rigs seems to increase your catch rate but it is certainly not imperative to catch fish. It is widely believed that using cylume sticks attached to the top of your swivel or sinker work well for deepwater species. They certainly don\'t put the fish off. Fresh squid, octopus and hoki are three baits which have natural fluoro. It would be interesting experimenting with the bait additive glow-bai to see how it works in the deep water.


Boat handling: In deep water (200 mtr plus) dont bother anchoring. If possible, get the skipper to back into the wind slowly. This will keep you on the spot for longer and keep your lines from streaming out the back of the boat.

Doing this also reduces the weight sinker you need. PLEASE NOTE: This practise is dangerous in small boats so be careful.

When you hook a fish put a mark on the GPS so you can get back onto the ˜fishpatch\'. Look for fish sign on the sounder. If the sign is up off the bottom it is likely to be bluenose, hoki or possibly baitfish.

Water colour: Dirty water normally means hard fishing. Consistent catches frequently happen in clean blue water.

Avoiding tangles: If you have more than a couple of people fishing, get everyone to drop their lines at the same time.

Make sure everyone has similar weight sinkers on. Just fish one side of the boat and along the stern. Keep the braided lines, dacron and monofilament lines away from each other (nylon one end of the boat, superbraids the other).

If you see your line going towards someone elses cross over or under until it looks right - this is important when you are winding up with or without a fish on.

Hooking up fish: When someone hooks up there should be more fish around. Click your reel into freespool for a while. Often this will result in a hookup. Be in touch with the bottom - keep letting a bit more line out. If you hook a small fish like a sea perch (you will tell when using braid but not if using nylon), rather than wind up, leave it down there. Groper like eating them whole. If you get snagged, back the drag off then click the reel into freespool for a while. Again this will often result in a hookup.

Weather - Generally you dont want more than 20 knots whilst fishing in a launch or 10 knots if you are in a small boat (under 6 metres). Keep a lookout for wind or fronts coming across the water. They are easy to see.

Have your VHF radio left on scan to pick up any wind warnings or weather reports from ships.

In Wellington, Beacon Hill (harbour radio) are on channel 14 and 62. Wellington maritime radio are on channel 16 (the emergency frequency)

THE WEST COAST: Spots are usually shallower for groper - 75 to 150 metres with the common ones marked on the depth chart and as follow: Fishermans Rock, Hunter Bank, Mana bank (off the back of Mana Island). There are some good spots out from Boom Rock, Makara and Ohau point as well.

THE EAST COAST: The groper can be abundant in quite shallow water during the summer months.They will often be mixed in with trumpeter, tarakihi and blue cod.

There some awesome deepwater fishing possies all the way along the Wairarapa coastline particularly from Cape Palliser through to Urity. Some of the commercially fished spots are in depths 300 to 500 metres. With the weather being a good conservation measure on this coast the fish are often bigger.

RIGS - The standard deep water rig is a beefy ledger rig. 20 to 40 ounce sinker on the bottom attached with a snap swivel or slightly lighter nylon than used for your mainline. This is so if you get snagged you only lose your sinker. The trace line is usually 300 to 400lb with droppers coming off crimped swivel sleeves. The droppers are normally 150 to 200lb. My preferred hooks are 15/O mustad tuna circles or 10 to 12/O livebait hooks.

TACKLE: My choice is a Daiwa 900H and either a VIP 24kg rod or a 24kg interline (line running through the center of the blank). I fill two thirds of the reel full of 24kg nylon and then top it with 500 metres of platypus 37kg superbraid. The reel is a superb workhorse and the rod is supple enough in the tip section to take the lunge of the fish but has great lifting power. A practical gimbal and harness like the E + V combo makes the hard work of deep water fishing into fun!

FISHING ETIQUETTE - Zapping someone elses spot on your GPS is not good fishing etiquette. No one likes it having it done to them when they are on their good spot so think about next time you are out there.

If someone is anchored up keep a reasonable distance away from them. If you try and anchor too close and your pick doesnt hold you can foul up their rope and lines. That doesnt go down particularly well.

Shooting drop lines (long lines) on a recognised fish patch will stop everyone else fishing. It is normally first in first served when arriving at a fishing possie. When a spot has long line buoys on it you can bet it is going to be very tricky to pull a fish out without getting caught on the drop line. If that happens, you lose your gear.

SAFETY - watch out for rips after turn of tide, weather changes and be prepared for engine failure with the usual safety equipment - EPIRB, VHF, FLARES etc.

Having 2 x 200 metre coils of 5 mm rope on board means you could anchor up if your engine fails while you wait for assistance. Always allow for another 10 knots on top of forecast.