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Home Articles NZ Fish Species – Kahawai

NZ Fish Species – Kahawai

Published on November 3, 2011 by in Articles

This is an article written for Blade Kayak Fishing Journal, AU’s only dedicated kayak fishing magazine 



Kahawai (Car – why) are an iconic species for recreational fishers. They are fantastic fighters and found in most coastal waters, harbours, and estuaries around New Zealand, in both the North Island and South Island. This fish is an excellent target species for light gear and a good sized fish will tow your kayak around.

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Kahawai’s scientific name is Arripis trutta also called Australian Salmon. They are noticeable in the water, with speckled grey-blue to blue-green upper bodies.

“They are a solid, powerful, streamlined fish. “They swim in small groups, and in schools in excess of a million fish, often weighing in excess of 200 tonnes.”

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Kahawai is one of New Zealand’s most exciting fly rod fish in salt water. Most Kahawai caught on saltwater fly tackle are between 2 – 4kg with the occasional over the 6kg mark. Kahawai are dramatic fighters frequently making a blistering run, huge leaps and then diving under the kayak.


Flies are typically baitfish patterns and need not be large, size 1-2/0 coulsers, gummy minnows & surf candies are all excellent, poppers and krill patters in certain situations are deadly. At times it may seem that Kahawai will attack any fly or lure presented with each cast guaranteeing a hook up. At times they can be highly selective requiring a range of flies & lures at the ready.


Many New Zealanders will have memories of catching Kahawai in the summer with their granddad, in a small boat, with a spinner lure just off the coast, surrounded by a flock of sea birds. These days you can be sure to see a bunch of kayaks in amongst these Kahawai work ups either trolling through the school or casting into it. These schools can be mixed with deeper layers holding Snapper & Trevally, the hard part is getting past the Kahawai to these fish, when Kahawai are on the chew they will take anything thrown at them and everywhere in the water column.

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Kingfish too can often be found hunting in these schools; occasionally a hooked Kahawai can be lost to a massive Kingfish in the fight leaving the fisherman a little shaken! For this reason Kahawai are targeted as live bait when targeting kingfish, I have landed some XO sized snapper using a fresh fillet of Kahawai on a floating rig, the freshness combined with the oily flesh makes an irresistible treat for a Snapper, the big fish will not wait till this treat gets to the bottom, they will push the others out of the way to be first, the resulting strike is powerful!

Kahawai can cover vast distances quickly because of their speed. They are fast growing, and are a quick reproductive species compared to snapper.

They eat other fish, but mainly live on krill. The average size of a Kahawai is 40–50 cm and 1–2 kg in weight. Females grow larger (up to 60 cm in length), and can weigh up to 3 kg, often half a kilo heavier than males. The Bay of Plenty is an ideal habitat for Kahawai and has some of the best catch rates. Kahawai are New Zealand’s second most commonly caught recreational species after snapper. They are often keen to take the bait, lure or fly.

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The recreational catch limit for Kahawai is 20 fish. Kahawai were introduced into the Quota Management System in 2004, as a result the fish stock has seen a healthy return. As this species is an important source of food for many other species this increase in stocks has done wonders for the rest of the fisheries. The biggest Kahawai ever caught was 79 cm, in Hawke Bay in August 1997. Kahawai are an oily fish, have a thick fillet, and are delicious smoked, I prefer to eat them hot smoked but they are great in pasta salad or fish cakes. It is best to bleed the fish as soon as you catch it, otherwise it can have an oily taste.

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