There are rich pickings for small budgets with many advantages of being a small boat fisherman.  Writer Scott Cushman looks at your options….

Godzone has an awful lot of fishy coastline that can be easily accessed, especially the east coast of the North Island from East Cape north. This area also has some of Godzone’s calmer waters which makes it ideal for small boat fishing. By small boats, I mean anything from oar powered dinghies up to around four metre outboard powered boats.

Graduating from fishing on the shore to a 10ft dinghy was a pleasurable experience for me many years ago and the increase of catch rates was also a welcome surprise. I could confidently catch dinner from the rocks but there was something about moving slightly offshore, sometimes just past casting distance, taking me into fishier zones.

There are a plethora of boat manufacturers and a healthy second-hand market. If you are looking to buy new or used, the best bargains are in winter when demand is low. If you have a few bargaining skills, you can usually pick up something that maybe 10-20% cheaper than summertime.

While there are limited fibreglass options, aluminium and plastic are the most popular materials for small boats, especially since they will often get dragged across beach, pebbles and bang into rocks and the like. Inflatables are another great option which I have been using over the past few years, they are light weight and the small ones can even fit into the back of a station wagon when rolled up. Plastic manufacturers like MAC Boats and Smart Wave make good models and the early Fyran, Ramco and Parkercraft brands of sub-four metre boats can still be found on the likes of Trademe. If you buy used, just make sure you do a good check on the outboard and trailer as these items can take a hammering in the marine environment if not looked after properly.


One of the key aspects to small boat fishing is the light noise ‘footprint’ that can be achieved from quietly accessing shallow reefy areas. This is one of my favourite forms of fishing – parking up in water that is 2-12m deep and straylining down a berley slick. There is merit in sometimes cutting the engine before you get to your spot and rowing the last short distance, so you approach in complete stealth mode. A quiet lowering of the anchor is also a smart idea.

On the subject of noise, some sacking or plastic tubing on the floor can help dampen the banging of sinkers and flapping fish to help avoid any decent sized, but wily, fish being scared off. Sometimes noise doesn’t make any difference to the catch but sometimes it makes all the difference. I have certainly fished spots that went quiet as soon as excess noise was generated and after a 20 minute ‘quiet’ period, the bites started up again. The shallower the water, the more likely this to be the case.


The first most important consideration is safety when fishing in small boats. If you’re not experienced, do the Coastguard day skippers course as many people die in boating accidents each year. Always wear your lifejacket (a PFD is a good option) and follow the simple principles laid out in the day course.

I remember one day bobbing up and down in my dinghy just off Block House Bay on the muddy Manukau. I was close to shore with a berley cage out and a live jack mackerel on one side and a cut bait rig on the other. A heavy take on the live bait rod had me excitedly hoping for a kingfish but after the first five minutes which saw me dragging the anchor, I realised it was a big black magic flying carpet, aka stingray.

The tide and wind were both outgoing, so it was calm, however the speed I was getting pulled towards the entrance was a little disconcerting. Fortunately, I was close to land when the line finally parted, I only had about two kilometres to get home. Strong rowing for 15 minutes saw me gain a mere 50m against wind and tide. Abandoning that idea, I rowed to shore and had to walk across miles of oyster infested feet cutting rocky ground whilst towing my boat, something I still remember quite vividly. Not having enough anchor rope and chain was my downfall, a mistake I haven’t made again.


Space is at a premium in a small boat so keeping all your gear tidy and stowed when not in use is important. Hooks and lures can easily unhook themselves while travelling and start swinging or end up in someone’s hand if you’re not careful.

Going through your gear each time you head out and removing the unnecessary stuff helps keep usable space to a maximum and when it comes to chilly bins (which can be unwieldy space gobbling pieces of equipment) I would suggest looking at soft padded cooler bags like Precision Pak. These bags can be squashed into corners and areas and sat on if need be and keep your catch cold with some frozen bottles of water inside. They are good at saving space because they sit upright and will only bulk out when they have fish or ice in them.  The new jet ski bags also have a fold out kingfish sleeve, a nice touch for the space challenged boatie.


Being smart about your fishing combos is also worth considering, like taking one rod and reel that can cover several fishing situations. I find stickbait gear can double as straylining gear in the lighter versions so taking a spare spool of lighter braid can reduce the need for two rods/reels. A stickbait rod can also be used for a live baiting rig if need be. A softbait rod can also cover light snapper jigs and staylining in many circumstances.

One of the things I really like about small boat fishing in shallow water is that deploying and retrieving the anchor doesn’t have to be a back breaking and gurnard grunting exercise. Drifting along until you find the fish is easy and softbaiting places like harbours or the rocky coastline can be especially productive. One of my best tips for small boat fishing is to not be afraid to fish close into shore as the sun disappears or before it rises. Fish so often come in close into the weedy shallows where food abounds and sitting quietly with an oily bait in wait can really pay off. I know it’s always tempting to want to go further afield as your boat length increases and your engine gets bigger, but the fish go where the food is and if the food is shallow, that’s where you must go.

Do you need a fish finder? Fish finders are good for lots of reasons and can be picked up cheaply so yes, they are a good investment which shouldn’t be omitted, but having said that, you can catch fish without them. A little local knowledge, trial and error and even looking over the side to see reefy drop offs and similar structure is sometimes all that is needed so don’t let it stop you from getting into a small boat.