They call them ray riders - it’s a habit of yellowtail kingfish, to swim along over stingrays as they prowl across the Tauranga Harbour flats on the incoming tide.
“There’s an association there that I don’t completely understand,” says salt fly fisher Dick Marquand, “but the kingfish swim with short trailed stingrays.
“One of the ways we catch them in the harbour is we look for the short tailed stingrays because these kingfish swim with them.
You see these big black shapes out there on the water so you sneak up on them and pop a fly over them.
And when you retrieve the fly, that’s how you catch them.
“You may see six stingrays in a day and see 100 eagle rays, but very rarely will they swim with eagle rays.
“If the stingray is moving quite fast you will see the kingfish swimming right over the top of the disk.
But if it is going along at a normal, slow sort of speed, the kingfish will range out five metres from the stingray.
“If the stingray is going really slow and stopping and resting quite a bit, and if it’s in knee deep water, the kingfish will put their heads down the holes to get the crabs, and you see their tails out of the water.
”They only do so until they are about five kilos and before they get into bait fish.
Generally, says Dick, most of the kingfish that are on the stingrays would be undersized.
“We do get big ones, but the average would probably be 4.
7kg - when five kg is about 75cm,” he says.
“It doesn’t make any difference.
People call small kingies rats but I don’t like that word because I don’t see the difference between a fish that’s 76cm and 74cm.
It’s still a kingfish and I still let them go.
”Like most salt water fly fishers, Dick is a tag and release fisher.
For salt water fly fishers catching yellow tail kingfish on a trout rod is the ultimate fishing experience.
“Most of the people don’t fish for food, they fish for their soul,” he says.
“They don’t want to kill the fish because that’s just not the way they do it.
They are more interested in being out there with nature and actually having the big thrill of landing it and letting it go.
”He caught one at Ferguson Park recently that was tagged by Lucas Allen last year at Te Puna.
“Tagging shows that some of them are hanging around being caught close to where they have been tagged.
Lucas has had a number of recaptures.
”Tauranga fishing guide Lucas Allen likens salt water fly fishing for kingfish to hunting - high risk in terms of spending hours stalking a cunning fish and make or break on one opportunity.
“It’s not like popping a line over the side and pulling them up,” says Lucas.
But he gets a lot of overseas fishers keen for the experience - a lot of Australians because they are closer as well as Belgians, Americans, and Japanese people.
“It’s definitely not an everyday sort of thing.
“The shallow water ones - they require quite a lot of tact, a lot of approach.
Good old fly fishermen are always meticulous about making the presentation of the cast.
Some days they can be dead easy, while other days they require a lot of effort and even then you don’t come away with the prize.
“They are pretty smart.
We are fishing shallow water so they are very wary and super smart.
“They liken ray riding by kingfish to a bus coming along.
“The kingfish will be up on the flat hunting with the incoming tide.
Anyhow, they tag along with the stingrays, not the eagle rays.
They basically follow them as cover, ambushing prey.
“They are particularly fond of little baby flounder that get stirred up by stingrays so they will dart off and grab anything that gets kicked out of the way by stingrays, or baitfish happily going about their business and suddenly finding themselves inside the gob of a kingfish.
”They have been running a tagging programme at Collingwood, Manukau, Waiheke and Tauranga for three years and they are starting to get recaptures.
“We’re starting to see habits and patterns they are favouring,” says Lucas.
“A lot of recaptures have been relatively close by within the same little stretch of the harbour.
“I had one hooked and lost it, before going back to same spot - same ray, same fish.
I put a tag in it and went back a couple of days later - and the same fish was there with a tag in it happily going about its business.
They don’t get too put out.
”A couple of Manuaku fish have travelled - one right around the top of Northland to be caught in Rangaunu Harbour and the other one was caught at Awakino.
He’s guided quite a lot of travelling anglers - people who have fished all around the world and have been amazed and impressed with what a great sport fish the kingfish are.
“It’s kind of an emerging fishery really, which is cool,” says Lucas.