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Motunau Beach - Boat fishing for Blue Cod, Sea Perch and Crayfish
Motunau Beach by Allan Burgess
The flat topped Motunau Island stands guard just offshore. Note the line of breakers show just how shallow the entrance is even at high tide.

The little settlement of Motunau Beach nestles at the northern tip of Pegasus Bay. That's about one third of the way up the coast between Christchurch and Kaikoura. The drive from the city takes little over an hour. This is one of the reasons for the high turnout of boaties and anglers on most weekends.

Motunau is a top destination for Canterbury divers. They are attracted to this stretch of rugged rocky coastline by the abundance of crayfish and good bottom fishing

Bushett Shoal

It is another 35km further up the coast to Port Gibson (no launching ramps) and a similar distance again up the coast north east to Bushett Shoal, and Bushett Rocks. To fish at Bushett Shoal boaties must use the launching ramps either at Kaikoura or Motunau. Bushett Shoal is about half way between these two places. Bushett Shoal Map.

A fishing boat lines up the entrance marker on its starboard side.

This sunken reef system attracts many keen boat fishermen in search of trumpeter and blue cod. Both species being found there in extra large sizes. This excellent fishing area consists of rocky sea-mounts that rise from 40 metres plus to just a few metres from the surface. The whole system is about 5 miles offshore and approximately half way between the mouths of the Waiau and Conway Rivers. These seamounts are boarded on the seaward side by very deep water at the southern end of the deep canyon off Kaikoura. It takes about an hour's travel by boat to get to Bushett Shoal travelling north from Motunau. In other words, Bushett Shoal is difficult to get to, but well worth the effort for those who make the trip. Aside from big blue cod and trumpeter caught there anglers also catch groper, ling, tarakihi and sometimes moki.

Motunau offers Canterbury boat anglers the best chance of catching the much sort after blue cod within reasonable reach of the city of Christchurch. For this reason the area takes a bit of a hammering by recreational fishers. On weekends when weather and tide are favourable dozen of trailer boats head out of this small fishing village

You know the Motunau River must be shallow when these guys can walk along the middle of the channel at low tide.
Another view of the entrance to the Motunau River.
The Motunau Rivermouth from the sea.

after fish dinners. The Motunau Beach Rate­payers Assn., Canterbury Sport Fishing Club, Canterbury recreational Fishers Assn, Basher Charters, The North Canterbury Dive Club, and Sea Aqua Dive Club, have banded together to ask that anglers reduce their blue cod catch to reduce stress on the fishery.

Kingfish are sometimes caught off Motunau over summer. It is also a good place to head out in search of albacore tuna. Boats anglers have successfully targeted this species from here particularly when the sea temperature is just right.

The Motunau River bar is prone to silting and must be dredged periodically. Most anglers try to head out and return on the half tide. Many a prop has been altered from its original shape whilst making the crossing. For this reason the crayboats operating from here use large inboard jet units to cross the shallow bar – or to at least extend the window for a save crossing.

Broadbill have been seen off this coast in the past, and there are certainly big mako and blue sharks out there.

Pegasus Canyon

This is more or less where you get to if you head straight offshore from the North Canterbury coast and keep on going for 25 to 30 miles. Out here are to be found groper, trumpeter, ling, blue cod, sea perch and sharks, as well as other species. Bottom bounching in water over 100 metres deep requires specialist tackle to handle the heavy sinkers and potentially big fish being targeted.

The great thing about fishing these distant grounds is that you never know what you might catch. Nowadays almost all recreational fishing done of these deeper offshore grounds is done with low stretch super lines such as Spectra. Monofilament is now almost a thing of the past for deep water fishing. With Spectra you can feel bits even at 100 metres whereas with mono the huge amount of stretch at this depth means that you are effectively fishing blind.

You certainly don't have to go all the way to the Pegasus Canyon to catch good sized blue cod, trumpeter, and sea perch. But it does help if you have GPS marks for the better inshore reefs It pays to carry plenty of terminal tackle when fishing off Motunau as sometimes you can get stuck into stuck into schools of barracoutta. These things can sometimes be a huge nuisance here much as they are further north off Kaikoura.

Warning for Divers

A word of warning for those considering diving for crayfish with scuba gear off Motunau. Every year divers get into trouble here. The

An “Orange Sausage” inflatable signal device is actually a purpose-made plastic bag. It can save a diver's life. If you ever see one of these held up in the water take action immediately. Either provide assistance or contact the police without delay.

tides are deceptively strong and even very experienced divers can get into serious trouble very quickly. I hate to say it but divers seem to loose their lives off Motunau on a regular basis.

Visibility isn't that good. The water generally has a greenish tint to it. When the surface chops up - which it does most days - it is difficult for a surfacing diver to see the boat. It is equally difficult for boat crew to spot surfacing divers. The fast moving current, wind and tidal stream can separate divers and boat very quickly with disastrous consequences.

My eldest son is a very competent diving instructor but I don't want him diving off Motunau! At the very least all divers should carry an “Orange Sausage” inflatable signal device. These things make you easier for searchers to spot, cost only a couple of dollars, and have been the difference between life and death for divers lost off Motunau.

Blue Cod and Sea Perch caught at Motunau

Crayfish taken at

Boat return to Motunau Motunau blue cod. Motunau River entrance Legacy Fishing Charters - Motunau
Click on photographs to enlarge

Motunau Beach

Low-stretch Super Lines

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