How To Go Fishing In New Zealand

You could write a book, and many have on how to get a good-size fish on the end of your line in New Zealand, but there's far more to fishing than rods, reels, bait and boats.

And, besides, learning what works best for your region, your favourite spot and your favourite catch is half the fun of becoming a good fisherman - so this blog is definitely not going to try to teach you the fundamentals of livebait, soft baits, jigging and trawling.

But they also say that you're never too young to learn, so whether you're a newbie who's just got their first kit for father's day, or an old hand who's been dragging in snapper, kingies and kahawhai for donkeys' years, here's the Burnsco guide to what we fish for, why and how around our coastal waters.

A favourite pastime

In 2001 fishing was rated New Zealand's fifth most popular pastime after walking, gardening, swimming and exercise and we've certainly had a long history of not only supplementing our meals with kai moana but also enjoying the time we spend reeling it in. For example, The Bay of Islands Swordfish Club is the world's second oldest existing game fishing club - being formed in 1910 as the then Bay of Islands Kingfish Club.

Ministry of Primary Industries figures from data collected between October 2011 and September 2012 revealed that recreational fishers caught and kept more than 4.5 million snapper, nearly 1.2 million kahawai, 682,500 blue cod, 430,500 gurnard, 361,000 tarakihi, 174,000 trevally, 160,000 sea perch and 144,000 flounder and other flatfish. Although kingfish were 12th on the list by number, the 64,700 caught during the survey period had an average weight of more than 10kg meaning they were third in the list by weight at 662 tonnes.

When you consider that the total weight of snapper caught was calculated at nearly 4000 tonnes, you can see that our nation of 4.5 million Kiwis is enjoying plenty of full plates thanks to one of our favourite pastimes.

Know your limits

The National survey of recreational harvest 2011-12 is due to be repeated again next year to give a guide as to the healthiness of New Zealand's coastal fisheries. But the results of the 2011-12 survey were used in the 2013 stock assessment for the region known as SNA1 (from Bay of Plenty, via the Hauraki Gulf to Eastern Northland) and led to the changes to bag and size limits for recreational snapper fishing.

There are seven fishing areas around New Zealand - all with differing fishing rules: the largest are Auckland and Kermadec; Central; South-East; Challenger and Southland, with smaller regions around Fiordland and Kaikoura. You can check the specific rules on the Government's MPI website or download the MPI NZ Fishing Rules App for your smartphone.

Within each area there are also specific region rules (like the snapper size and bag limit in SNA1); closures and restrictions due to marine reserves, tangata whenua bylaws or areas of special significance to an iwi or hapu; temporary closures due to depletion of fish stocks or food safety; and set net restrictions.


The onus of knowing your fishing limits is firmly on your shoulders - which means that you need to keep up to date on any law changes even if you've been fishing for years. It also means that if you've just got hold of your first surf-casting rig, or taken possession of your first boat or kayak and intend heading straight out to grab yourself a feed, then you need to stop for a second and find out exactly what you can take, where and how.

And it's not just about the Government's facts and figures. One of the best resources on the web for fishing in New Zealand is the excellent legasea.co.nz website, of which we at Burnsco are proud partners, and which sets out exactly how Kiwis can help keep our coastal waters well stocked for future generations as well as making sure we enjoy what's there at the moment.

Legasea's founding five principles are that:

  1.  We should rebuild the fishery to at least 40% of original stock size pre modern fishing.
  2. New Zealand should remove indiscriminate trawling within 100m depth to reduce waste and illegal fish dumping.
  3. The creation of royalties from quota holders to go to the public purse.
  4. Equal size limits for recreational and commercial fishers.
  5. New Zealand needs to recognise the value that recreational fishing brings to our economy.

The website is also stacked full of great educational resources offering practical advice on how to fish sustainably, information on campaigns (check out the latest fundraiser for their What's Fishing Worth survey) and their innovative volunteer and partner programmes.


No guide to fishing in New Zealand should really be complete without a good, hard look at safety. Of course, if you're surfcasting from a beach on a nice calm day, then you're probably going to be fine in short and a t-shirt (although we probably ought to add that a quick slip, slop, slap with the old suncream doesn't go amiss thanks to our harsh sun and soaring skin cancer rates).

But for pretty much every other method of fishing you need to keep your wits about you and go prepared.

  • Fishing from rocks is one of our most popular pastimes - but also one of the most dangerous. You should always wear a lifejacket; know the weather and tide forecasts; keep your eyes firmly on the sea; plan an escape route in case of a rogue wave; wear light, warm clothing but not gumboots; and never, ever go down to retrieve a fish or equipment if it's swept into a dangerous area.
  • Fishing from a kayak is becoming more and more popular as a way of getting fully kitted out for the sea without the expense of a big boat. Again, though, always wear your lifejacket – don’t have it stuffed into the kayak somewhere; check forecasts, tides and currents before you go; be well versed in how to get back into your kayak if you do end up falling out; take adequate food and water for your trip; learn how to navigate and get a map if you’re somewhere new; and let someone know where you’re going.
  • Fishing from a small boat carries its own dangers – sharp hooks etc etc, but it’s how the boat is handled which requires the most care. The Coastguard.nz website has all you need to know about learning how to handle your boat safely and, if you’re new to boating and have just taken possession of your first craft, you really should take a course before heading out. Lifejackets, again, are a must as well as understanding marine communications and forecasts. But the main rule of the boating safety code is skipper responsibility: The skipper is responsible for the safety of everyone on board and for the safe operation of the boat. Stay within the limits of your vessel and your experience.

For more information on how to get yourself set up with the right gear to enjoy the great fishing around New Zealand, phone us on 0800 102041, email us, or Livechat with one of our staff via the website.