Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle


Information Page.

Motu River kahawai.

While I was away my pal Alan, in New Zealand, sent me another piece about the fishing there. Even though I've never been there, as usual it transported me to the shore of the estuary and I could almost feel the fish grabbing the lure. I'm sure that his descriptions will have the same effect on other anglers so here it is - the Motu River.

Hi Mike,

I trust this note finds you and Lilian in good health and spirits after the mid-winter Antigua sojourn. We got back from our Ohope holiday on Sunday and I only just managed to clean the boat, car and fishing tackle before starting work today. Despite the hot sunny weather, the fishing on our holiday was fairly patchy and confined largely to the Ohiwa harbour and one session on the Motu River. The main problem was a persistent onshore wind which prevented us from venturing out across the Whakatane River bar to tangle with the big pelagics such as Yellowfin tuna, Albacore, Kingfish and Kahawai offshore. I will summarise the Ohiwa harbour fishing in another e-mail but cannot resist starting with a description of our trip to the famous Motu River mouth.


The weather for most of the first week away had been nearly perfect with cloudless skies and temperatures nudging 30 degrees C. The oppressive daytime heat was softened somewhat by persistent onshore breezes which reached their zenith around mid afternoon. This changed at the start of the second week and we had a couple of wet days before the balmy settled weather returned.

From what I had read before leaving to go on holiday, kahawai run up the Motu River to spawn early in the year when there is a hint of colour and extra volume following heavy rain. The recent rain was certain to have triggered a flurry of activity so we waited 2 days for the river to drop and clear slightly before venturing along the coast to try our luck. The Motu River mouth is about an hour's drive East of Ohope on a windy, well kept but little used highway. The drive itself was stunning. The breaking turquoise sea was never far from sight on our left across the low sandy dunes covered in sun parched Maram grass. Every now and again the road snaked through a copse of regenerating native bush to break the monotony. The sun beat down relentlessly and the cooling breeze from the car air conditioning unit offered a welcome respite.

We reached the Motu River mouth at around 3.30 pm which was about 30 minutes after low tide. After consulting the locals we decided to access the mouth from the true left bank which necessitated a 10 minute detour back along the road just negotiated. At the end of a freshly graded gravel side-road a rough makeshift track wended its way through blackberry across fist sized river stones towards the mouth. We eased the car onto this track and slowly followed it until it ended abruptly at a lagoon (false mouth). At this point Sandy and Tim decided that they would rather collect Blackberries than trudge the remaining distance in the hot sun to the river mouth so the fishing was left to Hamish and me.

The river mouth consisted of two distinct channels. The larger main channel ran straight out and two anglers were stationed on the true right bank. As expected, the swiftly flowing water was a chalky aqua grey colour, almost as if it was an alpine river full of snow melt and suspended silt. A smaller, shallower channel branched towards us about 50 metres from the true mouth. Two Maori anglers were stationed like cormorants on our side, one at the actual branch point and one where the channel entered the sea. Each angler was nonchalantly casting a chromed hex wobbler lure into the channel and allowing it to drift with the current through the deepest section where the fish were likely to be stationed. They were obviously waiting for a sign to show that a run had commenced.

As we approached the river mouth both anglers on the far bank hooked up and in short order landed two fat Kahawai of around 6 lbs. each. Their tackle and approach was a revelation. They were fishing with 10’ surfcasting rods with blanks which seemed as thick at the base as windsurf sail spars. A 4SureSpin would have looked like a twig by comparison. Each rod was fitted with a large spinning reel spooled with 15 kilogram nylon and the drag was screwed tight with pliers. When a fish took the lure they braced themselves so that every muscle on their legs and forearms was stretched taut, brutally winched the kahawai upstream against the current and unceremoniously beached them on the coarse river gravel. They dare not back off on the drag in case the Kahawai turned and sped back into the ocean through the breakers. If a fish made it back to the ocean and crossed the main river outflow then the chance of landing it was minimal.

Seeing this Hamish and I tightened our drags several notches and ventured forth with our anorexic spinning rods to fish each end of a likely lie between the two Maori anglers. It was 4.00 pm by now and we were champing at the bit to get started. Hamish selected a large weighted Storm soft plastic shad and I attached a Yo-Zuri 3D Crystal Vibe bibless minnow. He opted to fish about 25 metres closer to the surf reasoning that there was a greater chance of connecting with a Kahawai if he was roughly parallel to the two successful anglers on the far bank.

Nothing happened for about 5 casts and then all of a sudden my lure was absolutely monstered as it drifted from the main current into a calmer eddy. This fish was an XOS Kahawai and had the Okuma spinning rod bent into a tight fighting curve in short order. Pandemonium! It shook its head to free the hooks and charged upstream to the head of the side channel. Feeling the increased flow it turned promptly and headed back down the channel at warp speed towards the breakers. Applying as much side strain as I dared I was able to turn its head and hold it in the middle of the pool. Here it sulked on the bottom nodding its head in annoyance for a couple of minutes before running back towards the breakers. Again I was able to head it off and turn it back into the current. Realising it was not getting anywhere the kahawai hit the turbo button and took to the air. It jumped clear of the water, showing its impressive girth before crashing back down into the current in a flurry of spray. It repeated the acrobatics almost instantly but this time it landed heavily on the lure and the line went slack. I was devastated to lose a fish of between 6 -7 lb and despondently wound in the lure to find that the split ring had opened completely (see photograph).

Quickly replacing the ring and treble with a heavier set from another lure I re-entered the fray. All this action was too much for Hamish and he frantically rummaged through my tackle box to find something more appetising to the Kahawai. Eventually he settled on a 1 oz. chrome hex wobbler, tied it on and set off back to his chosen spot. He would not have gone 20’ when I came up solid on another fish. This Kahawai was significantly smaller than the first, raced around the pool in a similar fashion but luckily did not jump. It took about 5 minutes to finally tire the 2.5 lb fish out and beach it. Hamish asked whether I was going to keep it to which I foolishly replied (in hindsight) “gently put it back lad we can do better than that!”

Meanwhile the two fishermen on the far bank were hauling in kahawai like they were fishing in a highlights package. Over the next hour they caught 10 fish all beached promptly in the same pugilistic fashion. Things on our channel however switched off completely. The four of us peppered the gut with casts for an hour without success. At around 5.20 pm Sandy and Tim arrived and it was time for us to pack up. The eldest Maori upstream of us hooked a fish at this point and calmly played (= winched) it to the shore in the accepted fashion. It weighed 6lb and was an impressive fish (see attached photograph which really does not do it justice). The kahawai was so wide across the back that it was difficult to get a good hand hold, silver in hue with an emerald green patterned back and perfectly proportioned. It was fat with roe and in mint condition. Just to prove it was no fluke he hooked up again next cast as we were leaving and proceeded to beach an even larger specimen on his home made lure.

The Motu River is a truly magical place to fish between January and March when the adult Kahawai move up river to spawn. The river valley is bush clad and there is an ethereal quality about the setting. It was everything I had hoped for and some more besides. We will be back!

I will write again tomorrow. Until then be safe and tight lines!

Very best regards,


Fantastic stuff eh! Those kahawai must be amazing fish. I'm sure that normal spinning gear will cope and I'd love to have a go with my bass tackle but as I said to Alan there's no way you could compete in numbers with locals capable of 'winching them in' on heavy gear.

If you have any comments or questions about fish, methods, tactics or 'what have you.'get in touch with me by sending an E-MAIL to - docladle@hotmail.com

The lure.

Split rings are just as vital as any other bit of kit.'

What a fish!

I think kahawai look like big fat mackerel.'