Fishing Report - Issue 977

23 Nov 2021

Fishing Report - Issue 977

The trusty and forever underrated Kahawai (kaha - strong/strength, wai - water)

I know exactly what you are thinking, “Yep they are great for bait,” but believe it when I say the humble kahawai is not only totally underrated, it seems to have been given a raw deal when it comes to being considered one of the most prolific and bountiful species found all over the North Island of New Zealand and parts of Australia.

Power to weight ratio it is one of the hardest fighting fish to land and some can grow just short of a metre in length.

As a charter operator, we found the Aussies (when they were travelling here) loved to catch these fish on light gear. It’s exciting and very challenging. Kahawai have surprisingly soft lips which can be ripped easily, thus losing the fish from the hook. Both the jaw and pharyngeal teeth are hooked for seizing and holding prey which is then swallowed whole, so you need to know what you are doing when using light gear.

There is no minimum size limit, but there is a daily take limit of 20 fish per person.

Did you know there are actually two species of kahawai? Arripis trutta and Arripis xylabion, the trutta being the smaller species. Arripis descends from arripidere - to grab/attack/pursue, trutta - trout, so the Aussies call them sea trout occasionally.

These fish feed on other fish and crustaceans, but also feed on krill. When they are feeding on krill, they rarely will take lures or bait. They often feed on krill on the surface and some call this a “boil up”. This itself is an impressive sight.

Female kahawai are always larger than males. The fish becomes reproductive from about four years old and can live up to 25 or 26 years old.

Studies have shown that kahawai spawn in warm shallow water during the months of March and April, and huge schools move into coastal waters at this time. Mass spawning occurs in mid-water in late spring and summer. The eggs, which are almost 1mm in diameter, are found in surface waters during summer. The eggs have a sculptured chorion and a non-segmented yolk which contains a single oil droplet, 0.25mm in diameter. Embryonic development is rapid and the larvae hatch within 40 hours of fertilisation. 

You will find these fish in estuaries, but they are considered pelagic. Adult kahawai really only have two predators, humans and dolphins, while juveniles often have to contend with kingfish as predators. Kahawai swim extremely fast and in huge numbers, so they have a good survival rate.

The kahawai's flesh goes off quickly because of some enzymes it contains. It pays to kill the fish quickly and mercifully by spiking its brain, rather than to let it fight itself to death while suffocating. It also pays to bleed the fish. This is best done by removing the gills. Get the fish into an ice slurry as soon as possible.

When cooked fresh, kahawai is absolutely delicious. Take your fresh fillets to one the local fish shops - trust me you won’t be disappointed. It’s a great cheap and fantastically tasty meal for the entire family and friends. It is also irresistible when smoked fresh with its oily texture. Smoked kahawai fish cakes are amazing. Of course, I have mine raw as sashimi with Kikkoman soy and wasabi.

These fish are truly misjudged as being one of the best available fish right on our doorstep. Handled and prepared correctly, you will wonder why anyone would ever consider kahawai simply as bait. Get out there and get amongst it.

Be safe and keep an eye on those pesky easterlies… and if in doubt, don’t go out.

By Tony Marsters
Warfish Charters
Phone (021) 298 5750
Email tony@warfish.co.nz

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