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Whitebait estuary runs entice trout, kahawai, and anglers

3 min read
Whitebait estuary runs

Fish right down near the waves but in whitebait season, keep the lure or fly small. Photo: Tony Orman

Whitebait are coming into river mouths and running up to spawn. Predatory fish such as kahawai often home in on the whitebait shoals. So too do trout and, of course, humans in the form of whitebait fishers.

For the rod and reel angler, whether a spin or fly fisher, it’s a time when the lower reaches of rivers have the potential to provide some action whether it be trout or kahawai. The whitebait season starts mid-August, but the tiny fish often come into river mouths as early as July and often by the end of that month.

To imitate the whitebait, you need a smaller pattern, be it a spinning lure or fly lure.

Many years ago, fellow angler Colin Jones and I fished the Marokopa River mouth west of Waitomo. There were probably 20 or more anglers there, all spinning for kahawai. Of those 20 anglers, I recall seeing only a couple of fish caught whereas Colin and I caught a dozen or more between us. The reason was we both used the lightest, smallest silver lures possible to imitate the small whitebait. The other chaps were using heavy gear and with large lures, which were far too big to simulate the tiny whitebait.

The kahawai knew the difference!

Read more: The whitebait trout connection

Read more: Catching kahawai – a great family sports fish

Over recent decades, I have tended to use fly gear on kahawai.

Once, at the local river mouth, I met a visiting fly fisherman. He showed me the small size 2 fly signed to imitate a whitebait. He proceeded to hook fish after fish. Although I’m not aware where the simple little fly originated from, what is significant is how and why the fly was so effective. It does not require a long list of materials and it’s easy to tie.

Size is obviously an important factor, hence the size 2 hook. Shape is too, so best of all, it should be sparsely tied and slim. The fly sinks slowly, so it’s probably best to incorporate some lead wire into the body. Alternatively, use the smallest size lead eyes to give weight a la Clouser style.

This simple fly is probably a good pattern in freshwater for sea-run browns and up-river above estuaries where trout will chase whitebait shoals that have entered into above the high tide limit.

It’s also equally important to not overdress the fly. Keep the wing sparse and thin and not too long. I superglue at each stage from lead wire wrap to completion. Coat the head with a clear lacquer and/or superglue.

Materials used for the fly

Hook: Size 2

Thread: preferably light-coloured flat nylon

Body: Lead wire underlay, then Krystal Flash wound around and then lacquered

Wing: Fluoro fibre, white perhaps with a brief topping of chartreuse (lime green). Alternatively, just use sparse white bucktail.

Respect whitebait fishers and be prepared out of consideration to step aside for them. They have a short whitebait season, so they deserve a fair go.

Whitebait season 2020

  • For most of NZ: 15 August to 30 November
  • For the West Coast: 1 September to 14 November

Find out more about whitebait regulations on DOC.

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