Species #58 — Kahawai

Kahawai are the hardest-fighting fish pound-for-pound I’ve ever caught.

Species: Kahawai (Arripis trutta)
Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand
Date: February 25, 2017

After going it alone for weeks, my friend David Clarke and I decided to get a charter. We’d planned to chase tuna and kingfish and marlin off the coast with one of this friends, but when that fell through, we scrambled for a backup plan.

With no cell service (I should’ve paid for it, but I was naive and cheap) and WiFi only available at a per-MB fee in hotels and hostels, I didn’t research it as much as I should have.

So what we ended up doing was a ‘Land-Based Charter’ with a gentleman who owned a bait shop in a town near where we were staying in the Coromandel region.

He promised us big snapper, kahawai, and chances at other fish as well.

I paid the bill as a thank-you. I mean, he let me stay with him for weeks and saved me thousands of dollars on hotels, so it was the least I could do.

***

It started out pretty well. We met up at sunset and hiked a windswept batch of grassy foothills to a rock landing. The guide tossed out a bag of burley (that’s Kiwi for chum), and we started fishing.

Biodiversity around New Zealand is low, and this day was no different. We caught almost exclusively Australasian Snapper from about half a pound to the three-pound beast David landed. All great-eating fish, but nothing like the Kingfish (very closely related to the Yellowtail found in California) we were hoping for.

Australasian Snapper represented the bulk of our catch that day. They weren’t very big, but they grilled up deliciously in avacado oil, lemon, and fresh ground black pepper in a foil sleeve put on the BBQ.

***

The day wore on in the beautiful setting, and though fishing wasn’t great, it was entertaining.

The guide’s burley bag got snagged against the cliff face,  and for some reason, he decided to dive down and unsnag it. I think it was for show, but it was still pretty badass. He dove down and freed the bag while avoiding any sharks, so I’d count that as a win.

***

In the last few hours of fishing, a school of tuna-like fish starting aggressively feeding. The guide, who was fishing with us and not handing off fish as guides normally do, hooked up first.

This ferocious beast ripped line off of his reel and fought impossibly hard for its apparent size. After a few minutes, he landed it on the rocks. It was roughly the same shape as a trout and probably only 24-25 inches long, but it fought like a 20-pound salmon. I couldn’t believe it.

His fish had hit on the drop, but he didn’t tell us that. He just kept fishing. After he caught #2, I cut off my weight and hooked a pilchard head onto an unweighted hook tied directly to my mainline.

It sunk very slowly and stayed in the eyeline of the prowling fish, and I hooked up almost immediately. This fish fought like crazy. Nothing I’ve caught before or since pulled like that Kahawai, pound-for-pound. I was using a heavy spinning rod with 25-pound mono, and this five-pound fish stretched it to the absolute limit.

See? They weren’t monstrous, but they fought like they were.

I landed several more beasts that day, each one taking an unweighted pilchard head in the churning surf and putting up a fight for the ages. None of them topped seven pounds, but I was physically sore after fighting the last one.

***

We hiked out at day’s end and were shocked to learn the guide had kept most of the fish for himself. Despite catching maybe 50 pounds of fish and then packing it out on our backs for miles, we took home maybe five pounds.

I didn’t tip, and I left a review detailing all of his antics. He was a nice enough guy, but he’d basically charged us $450 NZD to go out and fish with him. He didn’t really guide us, and apart from cleaning the fish (of which he kept 90%), he didn’t do much else.

It wasn’t the worst guided trip I went on, but it was up there. To make matters worse, the guide sent me an angry response on Facebook after I reviewed his service with an (in my opinion) a very generous 3-out-of-5 stars.

I guess it proves there are jerks everywhere.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #59 — Widow Rockfish.

Species #55 — Northern Kahawai

Look at this beautiful beast! It wasn’t big, but it was all that it took for an ID.

Species:Northern Kahawai (Arripis xylabion)
Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand
Date: February 25, 2017

Fishing in New Zealand is all about trout. At least, that’s what we’re told.

In reality, throughout most of the North Island, saltwater fishing is king. Snapper, Kingfish, and Kahawai are the big three for anglers in the brine, and everything else plays second fiddle.

While this saltwater trinity reigns supreme on the water, there is relative little information posted or printed about fishing for them.

The saltwater fishermen keep tight lips, and for that reason, I had no idea that the term “Kahawai” was actually comprised of four separate species until this year — five years after I returned from catching them.

***

While we’re dispelling rumors about this place, let’s start with kiwis, Kiwis, and Kiwis. Two aren’t native to the island; one is.

The first kiwi, also called Chinese gooseberry, is the fruit. It’s not native and comes from Asia.

The second Kiwi is term New Zealanders use to describe themselves. They are not native, either.

The warrior Maori arrived in the 1400s in large sea canoes and proceeded to kill and eat the actual natives of the island.

The other (predominantly white) Kiwis arrived about 200 years later and set a singular precedent among white settlers of that era by making peace with the Maori and affording them (almost) all of the same people privileges as Captain James Cook’s people.

No massive wars. No forced relocations en masse. No genocide. It was so unlike the settlement of North America, South America, Australia, and Africa it restores hope in humanity — however small that hope may be.

The third Kiwi is the native bird that gave the other two their names. The bird looks like a large kiwi fruit with legs and a long bill.

The renown of the bird ultimately led to then people taking the name, too.

I’d hoped to learn that Kiwis eat kiwis like an apple — skin on — as I do, but alas, they mostly used spoons to scoop out the delicious green or yellow (golden kiwis were way more popular there) flesh. So I’m a weirdo everywhere, apparently. Cool cool.

***

Rumors dispelled, let’s talk fish. I caught a juvenile Kahawai in the lower, brackish reaches of a river using the small beef scraps I’d used in hopes of catching an eel.

It was beautiful: somewhat like a trout in shape and canvas but with vibrant purple and yellow stripes and markings. I took a few quick photos, thinking it was a juvenile Kahawai, and left it at that.

The Kahawai I caught later on the trip were adults, much larger and more memorable, so the juvenile slipped my mind.

Then, in a frenzy to identify the Estuarine Triplefin, Species #54, and get the blog post done in time without having to list “Species #54 — Unidentified,” I stumbled across a research paper discussing the four species of Kahawai:

Arripis georgianus (Called Ruff or Australian Herring)
Arripis trutta 
(Called Kahawai)
Arripis truttaceus (Called Western Australian Salmon)
Arripis xylabion (Called Giant or Northern Kahawai)

All four species live around Australia and New Zealand. All four species spend most of their lives in saltwater, migrating up rivers and streams to spawn. All four species are notorious for fighting incredibly hard per pound.

Only A. trutta and A. xylabion are routinely found in Kiwi waters, but Kahawai are more common and more widespread than their Northern counterparts and apart from size, they are almost identical.

The main difference is the upper lobe of the caudal (tail) fin. Northern Kahawai have longer tails, typically representing more than 30% of the overall body length (not including the tail) while Kahawai’s are shorter. Using software, I measured my fish from the old picture and found it to be roughly 34% of the tail-excluded body length.

Ignore my alien eyes. This is a cool fish.

It was a Northern, a Giant, an A. xylabion, a new species.

I owe my math teacher an apology. Math had come in handy.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #56 — Shortfin Eel.