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The Catlins coastal region from Kaka Point onwards is very special. Quite apart from the long historical significance to both Maori and Pakeha.... it also has a rugged character and wilderness feel that is unlike other legendary rock fishing (LBG) locations such as those around Coromandel and East Cape in the North Island.

It is also very, very dangerous and I can't stress that enough. No fun with a heavy pack and fishing rods. Access to the best ledges in the Catlins is only suitable for highly experienced cliff fishermen. I'm not kidding okay. You will die if you slip in many places.

There are plenty of nice flat easy ledges with good access for family fishing. They are generally shallow and surrounded by kelp but a bit of exploring will usually find a channel that can be fished for kelp feeders like Butterfish or crab eaters like Moki. Areas like this abound around Kaka Point all the way out to the Nuggets and are only five minutes walk from the road and not usually dangerous at all. One of the best spots for family rock fishing is just along the beach from Mike and Jenny's Beach Unit where there is a channel through the kelp and an excellent flat and safe fishing platform.

There is no shortage of deep water ledges with big currents if you are into the more extreme levels of rock fishing. These ledges are the equal of anything in the country in terms of access to deep water and oceanic currents. They're the sort of places where you're a bit scared about just what you might hook because it's big fish country. Probably the best shark fishing from shore anywhere in NZ but just keep that to yourself okay.

All the big oceanic ledges have three main challenges. First of all, and most importantly... you can't get to the best of them. All the Catlins cliffs are made of loose crumbly rock that turns into a landslide if you sneeze unexpectedly. Some ledges can be accessed with ropes and/or climbing gear but that is just too extreme for most fishermen. There are ledges in the Catlins better than anything I've ever seen (including East Cape and Corromandel in the North Island) but you can't get to them. Many of them drop straight down into huge undersea cliffs and chasms that have rarely ever been fished. So the deep sea spots you can get to are a very closely guarded secret amongst the locals. Some of those locations are deceptive too. You may think you know the right spot but the real right spot is often just a bit further... around a rock, through an arch, over a hill. There are a lot of secret paths known only to the locals that take you to the real rock. Pretty much all the best spots in the Catlins are like that. You finally find out some special spot and you hike in and it looks okay and you fish it a few times. Eventually you find out that the REAL spot is somewhere else entirely just around the corner.

The second issue is that almost all the good rock fishing locations involve crossing private property. In most cases this will involve getting permission from the property owner. I suggest that you don't get on the wrong side of locals and landowners. It only takes one idiot to go and ruin it for everybody and that has already happened in a couple of locations in the Catlins. Landowners who were once quite friendly are now reluctant to let anybody across their land due to stupid behaviour by tourists. Sheep measles are an issue in the Catlins so don't take dogs anywhere on private land without permission. Just remember almost all fishing spots in the greater Catlins region involve driving down one way roads and you have to get back out again. So don't mess with the locals. Don't steal anything, don't frighten stock, don't leave gates open, don't light fires, and don't leave ANY rubbish behind. You might think you're alone but the locals watch everything.

The third and final issue is the Southern Ocean itself. There are big seas all around the New Zealand coast but be prepared to be impressed when those giant swells start rolling in from the Antarctic. They can make the whole Catlins coast unfishable for days or even weeks. Finding a ledge and getting to it in the Catlins is only half the battle. You have to hit the spot on just the right time. Different locations fire on different tides, swells and wind directions and it can take many trips before you know for certain just how good a particular location really is. Considering that every trip may involve considerable hiking up hills and along dangerous exposed cliff tops, often for hours, risking your life at every step in places... then you can see that rock fishing in the Catlins involves a certain amount of commitment. The whole Catlins coast is a heritage area full of relics that have significance to the Maori people and all such items are protected. It is a powerful and mystical place to the Maori and you'll run into trouble if you don't respect the history of the area. The whole coastline is a Conservation Area with many rare and unique species of flora and fauna. So don't mess it up okay. Leave only footprints.

What fish can you catch?

Safety Tips
If you are determined to explore some of the more dangerous fishing locations around the Catlins then here are a few tips.

Always tell somebody where you are going. Most of the Catlins coast is remote and unforgiving.

Just because you can scramble down to a rock doesn't mean you can get back get up again. Also, it's one thing to crawl down a cliff face without any gear. It's a whole different story with a pack and fishing rods and that also needs to be considered when carrying fish out.

A sudden unexpected gust of wind can easily blow you off a cliff. I'm not joking okay. The winds swirl around the Catlins cliffs in strange ways and a gust can easily catch you by suprise. Some fishing tracks go along very dangerous knife edge ridges that are fully exposed to the wind so always be prepared and aware.

Don't wear a stomach strap on your backpack while hiking around dangerous bluffs. A heavy pack can easily catch the wind or catch a bit of scrub or just overbalance your centre of gravity on a steep path. Be prepared to slip the pack off real fast and dump it. Better to lose your pack than your life. The same goes for any other gear like cameras and fishing rods. If you ever do slip on a dangerous part then immediately dump everything and grab for safety. Good luck with that.

Be very, very careful if you have a dog. Dogs are stupid and they get excited and push past you and in doing so push you over a cliff to certain death. They can also dislodge rocks from above and kill you that way. They can accidentally trip you up or get terrified themselves (yes it's that bad in places in the Catlins) and jump on you for comfort and send you both over the edge.

Footwear is obviously of the utmost importance when scrambling around cliff faces and rocks. Grip is more important than anything else. If your footwear slips on wet grass then it will be useless on the rocks. Choose wisely. Many of the best locations involve hiking for several kilometres along coastal tracks. If you go lame there is nobody to help you but yourself. Most places would need a helicopter to get you out if you got hurt.

If you do fish with heavy line then be aware that a sudden jerk on 24kg line will pull you off the side of a cliff into the sea. It takes a lot to break okay. So if you get into a heavy duty fight with a shark or even a massive wave then make sure you have your feet planted firmly and your balance sorted out. Always be prepared to cut your line if you have to.

Lastly, the Golden Rule of Rock Fishing... anywhere in the world. Never take your eyes off the sea because it will bite you if it can and it will be when you least expect it. After a few hours in a new location you get a feel for the swells by the sound they make so you know when to watch out. Train yourself to listen to the rhythm of the ocean and soon it will become second nature.

Where to go Fishing off the rocks?
Anybody staying at Mike and Jenny's Beach Unit can just ask Mike and Jenny for advice. Mike is a very keen fisherman and Jenny always seems to know who to contact in regard to access to specific areas that may involve private land or private roads.

Mike and Jenny cannot guarantee access though. That is between the individual and the landowner.

As for fish... well there are no kingies or snapper. If you want a feed then there is no shortage of kelp fish virtually anywhere... even off the Kaka Point beach near the rocks only five minutes walk from Mike and Jenny's Beach Unit. Fish such as Butterfish seem to abound in the kelp. If you use shellfish for bait then there is Moki around. At certain times of the year there may be Red Cod and Trumpeter though they are more sandy bottom fish.

Certain ledges will produce Blue Cod in good numbers at the right time on the right tide. For the hardened LBG fisherman into catch and release.... well the whole Catlins coast is a breeding ground and sanctuary for seals so there is a lot of big sharks around. They are mostly far too large to catch from shore though. The real Holy Grail for Catlins rock fishermen is to catch a Grouper. Everybody says that kingfish are the toughest scrappers and a big kingi can be tough all right but for sheer brute force and dirty tricks then I personally don't think anything beats a big Grouper in shallow water amongst reef. They're fast and powerful and head straight into the nearest cave or hole where not even a bulldozer and wire rope can dislodge them. The Catlins is one of the few places left in NZ where a good rock fisherman can get into places a boat can't get to and actually have a chance of finding a grouper.

Most of all though... for me personally... the Catlins isn't about the fish. It's about the adventure and the thrill and the wild untamed landscape. It's one of the few places left in NZ where you can just simply get up and go exploring and have a real life adventure... as easy or as extreme as you choose.

If you want to target the big fish or fish the more extreme locations then you will need heavy rock fishing gear and plenty of line. Some of those Catlins ledges are very deceptive. It looks like you are only a few metres above the water until you cast out your line and find half the reel empty after the bait settles. Plus you have to allow for the inevitable snag though you do get the knack of fishing amongst the kelp eventually.

I personally prefer Alvey gear simply because it's the only type of reel I've personally used that can handle the rough treatment and hold plenty of line. You need a tough reel because sooner or later you'll get snagged in the kelp during a big swell and as the kelp is pulled by the swell it pulls on your line far stronger than most fish ever will. Just getting snagged a few times can wreck a cheap reel.