Gurnard are one of the strangest looking fish common to New Zealand waters. They have a blazing red colouring, huge green wings, three legs and a large shovel for a snout. Gurnard live exclusively over sand and mud bottoms where they feed on crabs, shrimps, small fish and worms. The species prefer a depth between 25 – 55m but can be found right up to less than a metre. They commonly live to around 16 years and reach maturity when approximately 20-25cm long. The maximum length Gurnard grow to is about 65cm and 2.8kg in weight, however, specimens this large are very rare. In most areas, an exceptional specimen would weigh 1.5kg. Gurnard spawn throughout spring and summer.
Finding Gurnard Habitat
Sand or mud bottoms are the gurnards chosen habitat, so finding these areas will put you onto them. A sounder is essential for finding the correct area. Any drop-offs, channels or change in depth can congregate gurnard into big numbers, so try these areas. Looking for sand that is in a wavy pattern is also a good indicator of proven gurnard ground.
Fishing channels can produce big numbers of fish. These gurnard were caught over a short period of time on light tackle in the channel above.
As with a lot of forms of fishing, the tackle you use to target gurnard is very important. Hooks that are too big will not fit into a small mouth designed for small prey, so sizes 2/0 – 4/0 are a good recommendation. The placement of hooks on the rig can improve catch rates greatly and having a hook closer to the bottom will make it easier for gurnard to find the bait. Hook sharpness is vital as penetration through the tough bony jaw can be difficult. Two excellent hooks to try are the Black Magic KL and KLT hooks. Black Magic’s hook penetration is second to none and the strength is proven, so I recommend them to all with confidence.
A stunning gurnard pinned right in the corner of the mouth with a Black Magic KLT 3/0 hook.
Tying Your Own Rig
Gurnard are bottom feeders so putting a bait or lure as close to the bottom as you can get will provide more success. My go-to rig is a two-hook ledger with a few key changes:
– The bottom hook is very close to the sinker
– Lumo beads are added for extra attraction
Bling and Flash
Gurnard are bottom predators, chasing small fish, crabs and shrimps. They respond very well to flasher rigs and a variety of colours work well, but I prefer an orange, red or yellow colour. The movement is similar to a small paddle crab moving along the bottom. Black Magic has an exceptional purpose made rig called the Gurnard Grabber which is very convenient to have in your tackle box for when the gurnard come through. Ask for them in your local tackle store.
Best Baits for Gurnard
Bait fishing for gurnard is simple; go oily! I’ve found that the more oil the better. The natural food source of the species is a good thing to look at. Crabs, shrimp and small fish make up the main diet and so using these bait will be beneficial as well. However, more often than not, the gurnard tend to like a strong scent, so when it comes to bait selection, here are my top choices:
Pilchard tends to be the most common bait used in New Zealand. The oil content and size make them great gurnard baits when halved or cut into small triangles.
Skippy is my personal favourite bait, for good reason. It is incredibly oily, to the point where you can see the oils seep out of the flesh. This means it attracts fish from a wide area.
Blue mack’s are a part of the tuna family, which makes them another very oily option. They also tend to have quite thin flesh, making them perfect for a gurnard’s small mouth.
Sanmar are a type of saury or garfish. They’re very long and slender making their fillets ideal for cutting into multiple baits that are the perfect size for gurnard.
This bucket of gurnard was caught on a mixture of sanmar and pilchard bait.
Best Jigs & Soft-baits for Gurnard
Lures can be more successful than baits depending on what the gurnard are feeding on. They tend to be more aggressive in spawning season too and will more readily take a lure at these times of the year. Watching how gurnard hunt is a great way to see what kind of lure will work. They race along the bottom chasing the prey and snatch it into their mouth. The key is finding a lure small enough to fit into the gurnards small mouth. The hook must also be in the correct position to penetrate. Here are some good choices for fooling gurnard on metal and plastic:
Black Magic Flutter Jig
Gurnard are attracted to movement and flash. The Flutter jig from Black Magic has a strong underwater presence and the 40-60g sizes are perfect for taregeting gurnard.
Black Magic Flipper Jig
The falling movement in the Flipper jigs turn on the predatory spark in gurnard within an instant. Try the 60g size in pink or blue.
Grub shaped soft-baits are effective when drifted down the berley trail and slowly twitched along the bottom. The orange colour tends to be best.
Gurnard are great fun to target and one of the best-eating fish in New Zealand waters. I’m always excited when I see a bright red gurnard with it’s amazing green wings and creepy crawling legs pop up to the surface. They are a fish to be respected and enjoyed. Take enough for a feed and carefully release the rest.
I hope you’ve learnt a thing or two about how I target gurnard and you manage to get out on the water soon to catch some of these amazing fish.
The writer, Blair Whiting with a nice gurnard taken when kayak fishing in a channel.