Species:Northern Kahawai (Arripis xylabion)
Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand
Date: February 25, 2014
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 relocation 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 #56, and get the blog post done in time without having to list “Species #56 — 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.
It was a Northern, a Giant, an A. xylabion, a new species.
I owe my math teacher an apology. Math had come in handy.