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Author: Will Hay

The darker mornings and cooler nights remind us that summer's come to a close, but that doesn’t mean the action and adventure of getting out on the water has to stop with it. Autumn is a fantastic season for boating around the country, offering epic shoulder season conditions and thrilling fishing opportunities for those in the know. One distinct advantage of heading out on the water during this period is the noticeable lack of crowds at the boat ramp or around your favourite anchorage, as the summer rush to hit the water subsides. As boating has surged in popularity in Aotearoa, autumn has quickly become my favourite season to hit the water.

Auckland Anchovy Runs

Any salty dog of the Hauraki Gulf will be familiar with the autumn anchovy runs, as these schools of baitfish peak in number around March-April. As the water cools, it creates the ideal spawning window for anchovies, with their numbers peaking in late autumn into winter, creating an unmissable feast for larger fish. While this isn't a guarantee of a fishing bonanza in the Auckland region over autumn, due to the fickle nature of... well, nature, if the spawning goes well, it entices the next rung of the food chain into a feeding flurry, especially in the Hauraki Gulf. Snapper and Kahawai are the common predators of the anchovy, so fishing with smaller lures or soft plastics around 4-8cm in size, mimicking the anchovy size, should see consistent hookups. A key indicator of a good anchovy feast is the flurry of bird activity from gannets, terns, and other marine birds either diving or 'hopping' on the surface, indicating a solid bait ball being pushed up underneath by the predatory marine life, so keep your eyes on the horizon and pack a good pair of binoculars when scouting around.

Larger snapper and other species such as kingfish and even the odd jack mackerel will no doubt be on the prowl, so sometimes getting passed the kahawai can be a challenge in itself. If targeting snapper, I find it best to fish around the edges of the workup rather than casting into the centre, using slightly heavier lures to get under the school of baitfish where the larger snapper often hang back. Topwater lures cast into the ball will no doubt attract the attention of hungry kahawai, mackerel, or opportunistic kingfish should they make an appearance, which can lead to electrifying fishing! I recall one still autumn afternoon I was out on the ski near several workups with no less than 15 odd other boats around, and the hooting and hollering across the water as boat after boat scored would have rivalled a test match at Eden Park, I swear. The water was alive and the fishing was as hot as it could be.

Golden Hour Delights

Aside from fishing, autumn is a great time to spot other wildlife without having to venture too far from shore. During these months, it's not uncommon to find pods of dolphins on the surface, hunting some of the predatory fish mentioned earlier. With marine life preparing for the changing season, migrating animals such as humpback whales can often be seen or heard, especially on calm mornings. I remember one glassy but very foggy morning we were drift fishing just on the change of light. As the darkness started fading into the misty grey, a faint whoosh sound caught my attention, getting progressively louder every 1-2 minutes or so, until a humpback whale breached the surface abruptly out of the mist about 10m away from our boat as it meandered its way north. It was such a tranquil moment sharing the surface with this huge ocean mammal who was clearly unfazed by us floating nearby.

With the summer rush subsiding, the usual holiday hot spots on and off the water also cool off, meaning the boat ramps and bays become quieter, allowing you to truly escape the hustle and bustle of life. A day or two of fine autumn weather is therefore a great time to hit those popular spots without the rest of the nation vying for position too. Places such as Great Barrier Island or the Far North are worth a visit during this time, as summer tends to cling on a bit longer here, while the locals will appreciate the added business outside of peak season too.

Seasons of Change

Spring and autumn are both seasons of change, and this is usually expressed in the weather, making sure you are well prepared, having a constant eye on the forecasts, and planning out your journey is crucial during these seasons. The ending of Daylight Savings can catch you off guard with how quickly nightfall can consume the light, so keep an eye on your watch and ensure your trip timings are adhered to. The moderate climate during the season can offer relief from the heat of summer; however, it’s important to be mindful of the regular boating musts such as sunscreen. Even on an overcast day, sunburns still occur, especially as it’s reflected off the water below, doubling your exposure.

Wearing an outfit fit for all seasons is something Kiwis are well used to, but it's especially important this time of year when temps can feel like a typical summer's day yet plummet into winter-like conditions as soon as the sun falls behind the horizon. Make sure if you are planning a day on the water with the family that you adequately prepare for each end of the spectrum, as hypothermia is common at all times of the year when unprepared. It can be hard to choose the right clothing so I find layering well and donning light outer layers work best that you can easily slip on and off depending on how the sun feels. Line 7’s Ocean crew fleece jackets or the Ocean harbour10 range work well providing all round protection from the wind chills yet allowing full breathability when fishing or generally being active.

So in short, don’t rush to stow the boating gear now that the clocks have rolled back as for some Autumn can be the most beneficial season for a coastal or inland adventure. As the seasons change and nature transitions into Winter, embrace the beauty of Autumn and set sail for unforgettable adventures Aotearoa has to offer!

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