Species Guide


Scientific Name
Nemadactylus macropterus
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Tarakihi will take 3-4 years to reach the minimum landing size of 25cm and can live up to around 50 years old. As young juveniles, they tend to congregate on shallow reefs up to a few metres deep before moving to deeper water where they can be found schooling over sandy/muddy seabed, as well as reefs and structure; however, they can be targeted in the shallower water which makes them more accessible.

Generally, they are found in much deeper water in most of the North Island, but Wellington and the top of the South, including Tasman Bay and the Marlborough Sounds, hold good numbers much shallower, as do a few other places in the South Island.

Tarakihi tend to be caught at weights averaging 1-2kg, but they can reach over 4kg in places such as the King, Middlesex, and Ranfurly Banks. Fish of this size tend to be the ‘king’ tarakihi subspecies, which has a less distinct black saddle on its shoulders.


Tarakihi belong to the Morwong family, the same family as red moki. They have a thin body shape with a sharp nose and a forked tail. They have a dark grey back with a light underside and are distinguishable from blue moki and porae by their black band behind their eyes, which tends to fade after they have been dispatched.

Another species of tarakihi less commonly caught and known about is the king tarakihi, which is usually found in more remote waters such as the Three Kings and the Ranfurly Banks. It is distinguishable from normal tarakihi by the faded black mark on the top of its head rather than the clear black mark on normal tarakihi.

Tarakihi are picky eaters. They feed on small crustaceans, shellfish and other fish but will take most baits if they are small enough.

They are a schooling fish (you will rarely find a solitary tarakihi), so having several hooks often results in double hook-ups.

An important behavioural trait they exhibit is their tendency to sit just off the seabed, which is something important to consider when targeting these guys.

Tarakihi have a keen sense of smell and respond very well to berley, particularly berley lifted just off the bottom and held at the same level in the water column as the school.


To consistently catch tarakihi, finding a good spot is essential. When looking for an area to fish, there are lots of things to consider.

First and foremost is finding structure or reef – anything from a pinnacle to a cluster of boulders can be enough to hold a shoal of tarakihi.

Watching your fish finder closely and looking over charts and even watching the coastline are all good ways to locate such a spot.

For the North Island fishos, tarakihi tend to be a deeper water species, sopushing out from the coast to deeper water may produce the best results;however, they can also be encountered along weed edges in relatively shallowwater.

For the more southern fishermen,you will be able to find tarakihi in much shallower water, but that is not tosay that you won’t find them out deep as well – it’s all about how far you’rewilling to go.

Tarakihi, like a lot of fish, will sit either just behind or in front of structure where the current is. Positioning yourself so your line is just off the side of the structure often leads to better catches, particularly if the reef or structure backs off onto mud or sand as they really like this kind of territory.

Another important factor that relates to almost every species is tide and current. Tarakihi will congregate and feed in areas of higher current, and for this reason, you’ll find the bite turns on as the tides start to push but dissipates at slack tide, so don’t be afraid to try the same spot more than once at different tides.

They're commonly found between depths of 30-250m but can be found in much shallower waters around the bottom of the south island, such as in Fiordland. 

Interestingly, tarakihi seem to be most abundant around the East Cape’s soft-mud bottoms, where they often form large schools, yet the bigger ones are often encountered while fishing more reefy terrain. Possibly this is because the tarakihi out on the sand and mud are easily trawled, so tend not to reach the same size.

As tarakihi form decent-sized schools, they can be reasonably easy to detect on a fish finder. However, because they school in a very localised manner, it is a much trickier task to position your boat so your baits end up amongst them once anchored.


Tarakihi can be caught all year round, but the depth at which you’ll find them will vary according to the seasons.

In the North Island, in areas like the Bay of Plenty, they move into water as shallow as 20m in winter, whereas summer sees many of them out near the continental shelf in 100-200m of water.

However, in other locations, like the South Island, this trend seems to be reversed. For example, in Poverty Bay, they become more abundant close to the coastline through summer. 


Whether you should anchor up and berley or drift fish depends on the depth, current and how the fish are behaving on the day. Both techniques to be highly effective. In deeper water where there is a lot of structure to cover, drifting is a good way to cover ground and find the fish.

Marking where you are catching the fish is an effective way to narrow down where the fish are, so you can position your drift accordingly or alternatively anchor up in that area.

For shallower water, anchoring up and berleying can be more effective as there is much less water to attract the fish in from.


Tarakihi have relatively small mouths and a sensitive nature which often leads to very subtle, sometimes indistinguishable bites, particularly if using the wrong kind of rod and reel. Very small hooks are essential and will increase your catch rate massively.


To have the best chance and the best fight when targeting tarakihi, a light combo is the go-to. Alight, sensitive rod is pretty much vital for feeling the subtle bites and takes of the picky sea turkey. A small compact reel spooled with light mono or braid is the best setup.

Braid is particularly useful as it gives you a much better connection to your baits, particularly if fishing in deeper water. Our Rainbow Braid Elite 8x or Inferno Braid Elite 8xis ideal due to its low stretch and high level of sensitivity.

A relatively light leader of around 20 to 40lbs is ideal. However, if you’re fishing in deeper water, you will need to increase your leader ad hook size as bycatch of larger species such as groper, trumpeter and cod is always possible.



Strong 1/0 - 3/0 circle or J hooks, like our KS or KLT® hooks are ideal, depending on the size of fish you think are in the area, and the bycatch you might encounter which may need stronger or larger hooks.

A ledger rig with up to three hooks branching off the mainline work well, as tarakihi will feed well off the bottom. Depending on the water depth, it may pay to increase or decrease the length of your leader (between the bottom hook and your sinker). This can help limit bycatch of less desirable species such as spotties, wrasse, sea perch and often undersized cod.

Pre-made rigs are very effective as long as you’re using the right hook size. Our Tarakihi Terror Snatcher® rigs are rigged with 3 x 3/0 KL circle hooks, with the extra attraction of the flashy material which seems to attract more tarakihi.

Another option is a Sabiki rig. They’re essentially tiny flasher rigs, and they mimic small baitfish or shrimp jumping about in an enticing manner near thevseabed. In other words, Sabiki rigs mimic the exact sort of prey tarakihi naturally feed on so it makes complete sense that they would be effective. Adding tiny strips of squid or mackerel pretty much guarantees you a shot at landing yourself a turkey of the sea if you’re in the right habitat.

Most baits will be effective for targeting tarakihi provided they are tough and firm enough to be cut into very small strip baits. Squid, fresh mackerel and barracouta are ideal. Squid is a great bait for tarakihi as it’s tough and can be cut into tiny strips. It will last a long time on the hook and is also readily available at most petrol stations and fishing shops. The tentacles off larger squid will also make a great strip bait that will drift in the current, and the white colour acts as an attractant.

Fresh mackerel is a relatively common bycatch when targeting turkeys as they also have small mouths and are easily caught on the smaller and finer rigs. They make an amazing little strip bait with their oily flesh and flashy skin.

Barracouta are by far the most versatile baits with their oily, smelly flesh and scaleless, shiny skin making them perfect little strip baits for our small-mouthed targets.

In terms of the size, its recommended that baits are no wider than about 1.5cm,and only about 7cm in length but cut into strips with one side shortening into a point. Then hook the thinnest side of the strip bait onto the hook, so the bait doesn’t spin but will flap about enticingly in the current.


Due to tarakihi’s timid feeding behaviour and small mouths, it seems unlikely that lures would be of any use when targeting these picky turkeys.

However, like most fish, tarakihi will often lash out at a flashy moving thing jumping up and down in their environment as much out of curiosity and aggression. Not only this, but due to the schooling nature of these fish, competition for food is undoubtedly high, so often fish may have a go at something just so they can get to it before another fish from the school does.

Tarakihi can be caught on small soft-baits and slow jigs, but you’ll normally find they haven’t been hooked in the mouth, which suggests they’re either being foul hooked or are attacking the lures out of aggression. If you were looking at effectively targeting tarakihi on lures, a small slow jig, like our Sunakku® with their wafting skirts, are highly effective.

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