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Inshore Bait Species Guide

This guide has been written by Blair Whiting.  A young but experienced New Zealand angler from the Hawkes Bay.

Jack Mackerel


Jack Mackerel are my favourite species to use as a live bait, they are an ideal size plus they have plenty of kick in the tail, much like a small tuna.  However, they do make great dead baits too.  These fish can grow up to 50cm but you will mostly find them around 15-30cm.

Finding Them
Jack mack’s are usually found hanging out around structure.  Weed beds, wharves and reefs are a good place to look for them.  Sometimes they will be right out in deep water, this is normally when the krill and plankton are at the surface.  Look on your sounder for tight red balls of bait over the bottom.

A light burley trail in shallow water will bring the mackerel on the bite.  Black Magic sabiki’s in the 'Midnight Mackerel' or 'Pink Shrimp' colours do the trick.  Adding some bait will boost your catch rate.  Hook sizes 12 – 01 are the best to use.  The reason for using sabiki’s is to imitate the natural prey of mackerel, which is krill and plankton along with small fish.

Small Jack mackerel are by far the best live bait for targeting John dory.  They send out lots of 'eat me' vibrations with their tail beats which signal predatory fish that a wounded fish is nearby.  Using them whole as a dead or strip bait works very well too.  A variety of bottom species like snapper, kahawai and trevally love fresh baits and jack mackerel is one of their favourites.  Live mackerel also make great kingfish, tuna and marlin baits.  Their versatility is what makes them my favourite bait.


Horse Mackerel


These mackerel grow over 60cm which is much larger than all the other common species.  They also have larger eyes.

Finding Them
You will find them anywhere there is structure, near wharves and reef under 10m in depth they form small schools.  Further out to sea the size of the schools and the size of the fish become much larger.  They will show up as red arches in tight schools.

For small models, use size 14 – 12 hooks.  The larger models require a stronger hook, I use size 1 – 1/0 KL circle hooks and have an excellent hookup rate.  Horse macs also respond well to small jigs.

They are a top live bait for kahawai, snapper, John dory and kingfish.  Horse macs of over 40cm make excellent live-baits for big kingfish as they cannot be swallowed by rats as easily.  Strip baits are top quality for ledger and stray-line fishing.



Blue Mackerel


These mackerel are a part of the tuna family and grow up to 55cm in length. The backs are dark blue with zig-zag markings and a large eye making them very distinguishable from other species.

Finding Them
Blue macs tend to be found in deeper water, from 15 – 60m.  They form large school’s midwater chasing small anchovies and krill. Drifting over foul and pinnacles and looking for heavy red arches in a tight school on your sounder is a good way to spot them.  They can be tough to find sometimes as they migrate up and down the coast constantly.

Jigs and spinners dropped into a school will result in instant hookups, but baits are equally as good.  Pink Shrimp sabiki’s work very well on the smaller stragglers that end up inshore.

Being a part of the tuna family, the blue macs flesh is very oily making it great for bait fishing on ledger rigs, running rigs and stray-lining.  Snapper, tarakihi, gurnard, blue cod and many other species will all readily eat it.  If you can get one live onto your hook, they are a perfect kingfish or gamefish bait.



Blue Koheru


Koheru are a small baitfish renowned for use as live baits.  They range from north cape to east cape.  Their size maxes out at 50cm in length.  The body shape is much more similar to a tuna and the colouring is electric blue on the back to golden yellow on the flanks.

Finding them
Looking around reefs and pins in clean water with good visibility is the key.  Offshore islands are a good spot to start looking.

Small jigs or baits well-hidden into a small KL hook are good techniques to use.  Koheru can be very frustrating so it pays to approach with the best bait presentation.  Pumping berley is a great way to keep a school in one area in order to load up on live baits.

Koheru, in my opinion, are by far the best live bait in New Zealand for a range of species.  A renowned big kingfish, snapper and marlin bait.





Piper have a slim profile with an extended lower jaw. They grow up to 35cm.  They follow warm water and are common to see in the shallows over summer.

Finding Them
The key with finding piper is remembering their less than stellar swimming ability.  Areas with light current and shallow water are good places to look, like harbours, wharves, shallow reef and weed beds.

Piper have tiny mouths so going small with bait hooks is the only way you will reliably hook them.  Going down to the smallest fly hooks (I’d recommend a Black Magic A16) will boost your success.  Burley is essential to keep the fish interested and tiny squid strips would be the best bait.  Striking piper quickly stops them from swallowing the hooks, look for your line moving away slightly rather than taps on your rod tip as piper will grab the bait and swim away with it.

Piper aren’t quite as hardy as other bait fish so you need to be carefull when deploying them as live baits.  They will swim for an increased amount of time if you use smaller and thinner guage live-bait hooks.  That being said, kingfish and snapper love them.  They are also great as dead baits to use whole for stray-lining.


Yellow eyed Mullet


These fish are one of the most abundant in New Zealand and will turn up almost anywhere on the coast.  YEM’s reach 40cm in length and form large numbers on the surface where they feed mainly on algae.

Finding Them
Yellow eyed mullet stay close to the coast and stay to under 10m of water in estuaries, harbours, around wharves and even up freshwater rivers.  They can be spotted on the surface in all of these spots.

Mullet will readily take small strip baits of squid and most other kinds of fish.  Sizing your hook size right down to A12 – A16 hooks will improve your hookups.

A lot of people believe mullet aren’t the greatest bait, but I’ve put them through their paces as live bait and they last impressively long on a hook.  They work well for kingfish and kahawai who feed on them naturally.  As a strip bait they are excellent as their flesh is tough, meaning they stay on the hook for a long time.  I caught my PB blue cod of 2.2kg on mullet along with many other desirable species like gurnard and snapper.




Kahawai are a very common species in New Zealand.  They grow up to 70cm but average around 40 – 50cm.  Juveniles feature yellow spots on their flanks, while adults develop dark blue spots on the back.  They feed on anchovies, whitebait and many other small fish.

Finding Them
Kahawai love areas with wash and current.  Being very common you will find them in schools, pretty much anywhere.  River mouths, harbours, reefs, sand flats are a good place to look.   They're often found in huge numbers mid – top water where they feed on whitebait or krill.  Juveniles stick to shallower, more sheltered water away from predators.

Larger kahawai will fall to baits and all kinds of lures.  It’s best to swap around depending what they are feeding on.  When kahawai are at the surface, going for a small spinner or jig will be best but when on the bottom a bait on a 4/0 KL hook would do better.  Small kahawai are almost always in schools, to target them you should use sabiki’s and small spinners under 7g.  Wasabi sabiki’s work great in most sizes.

Kahawai provide a versatile bait that cover a wide range of options.  They make great live baits for big kingfish, marlin and sharks.  Cutting them up into strips makes great stray lining baits for larger fish.  Putting them onto ledger rigs or running rigs will produce catches too, as the majority of all common species fished for in New Zealand will readily eat them.


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