The spectacular Bay of Islands on the east coast of Northland, New Zealand is a fisherman’s paradise. If you enjoy saltwater fishing this place offers massive potential to fulfil your angling dreams. There are many species here to be targeted from small baitfish through to 1000+ pound marlin and swordfish.

Here are a few of them.


Much of the fishing starts with the baitfish.

Piper Baitfish

Piper or garfish as they are also known are very common in the bay and make great bait either dead or live. These are generally caught by drag net off a beach or with the use of very light rod and reel with a small hook and bait. Piper are also very tasty.

Jack Mackerel are probably the most commonly used baitfish in the bay and are used for many types of fish. They make excellent live baits for fish such as snapper, kingfish, john dory and marlin. Many other species like them as well. Jacks can be caught off the local wharves and jetties but are more commonly caught using sabiki type rigs in shallower areas of the bay.

Slimey Mackerel also known as blue or English mackerel are also a very popular baitfish though not as prevalent as the jack. Slimies are found and caught in the same way as the jacks and are a real favourite as live bait for kingfish and snapper. They fight well and are a lot of fun to catch.

Pilchards move into the bay regularly forming large schools and being of the sardine family are eaten by just about anything that can fit them in their mouths. Pilchards can be a little tricky to catch but small sabiki type rigs will do the trick. Great bait dead or alive.

Kahawai meaning ‘strong in the water’, kaha (strong) wai (water) are prolific in the bay and outer lying areas. Although caught and used as bait for marlin and kingfish they are a great fighting fish and are sought after as a sport fish and for the table. Kahawai can be caught in many ways as they readily take any type of lure or bait, from the boat or the shore.

Most popularly targeted fish

Snapper are the most commonly fished for fish in the Bay of Islands. Relatively easy to catch they are a good fighting and great eating. Snapper can be caught in good numbers all year around using many methods of baits and lures and are caught both off the shore or in a boat. Snapper spawn in the bay during spring and early summer and form huge schools during this time. These fish can be long lived and reach up to 18 kg (40 lbs) in weight.

Yellowtail Kingfish or ‘kingies’ as they are commonly called are one of the favourite target fish in the bay. Famous for its fighting ability kingies put both angler and equipment to the test. They are found on the outer reef of the bay during winter months but spread through out the bay during the warmer months. Kingies readily take live bait, speed jigs and top water lures suck as stick baits or poppers from the shore or boat. They make fine eating raw or cooked (treat like tuna) and can grow to over 60 kgs.

Hapuku or Groper as they are known down south are found on our deeper reefs from 100 to 400 metres deep. Fished with heavy duty tackle hapuku can grow to 100kg and will take live bait, dead cut bait and deep-water jigs. These can be caught all year round and are prized for their eating quality.

Big game fish are in our waters from December through to May and produce some awesome big game action. These include striped marlin, blue marlin, black marlin, yellowfin tuna, shortbilled spearfish, mahimahi (dorado), big eye tuna, bluefin tuna, albacore tuna, skipjack tuna and the mighty broadbill swordfish.

Striped marlin is the most prolific of the marlins in our waters and the largest in the world with all the world records for striped marlin being caught in New Zealand waters. They can reach 250 kg (550 lb) but are most common at 90-140 kg (200-300 lb).

Blue marlin is the second most numerous marlin to visit our shores and grow to well over 500 kg (1100 lb).  These tend to stay in deeper water of 150 metres or more and are fast and furious when hooked.

Black marlin is the least numerous of the marlin found here however they will come right in to the close reefs to feed on the huge schools of kahawai and trevally and are often hooked with live baits in close to the shore. They can reach a massive size, same if not bigger than the blue marlin.

There are several methods employed to catch marlin including live bait, trolling dead bait, trolling lures and tease and switch. The other blue water species mentioned above are mainly caught by trolling lures.

Broadbill swordfish also reach huge proportions growing to over 500 kg (1100 lb) and most of the world records are caught in ours waters. These gladiators of the oceans are targeted in the day by deploying baits to depths of 400-600 metres and at night are caught on baits near to the surface. Swords are present in our waters from December through to September.  Notorious for their tough hard fight these fish are also superb eating.

Hamish Faire