In recent years, there has been a sea-change in the way jetskis are perceived in New Zealand. Whereas, once upon a time mainstream boaters hardly considered jetskis as worthy of their attention, the compact and powerful watercraft have generally become larger, quieter and more fuel-efficient. Their owners are, on average, older and manufacturers have successfully pitched jetskis to families. For many people, they are now a viable and practical alternative to a boat.
But perhaps the biggest change in the way jetskis are seen today has come about because many are used primarily for fishing – which is nothing new (you can, after all, fish from anything that floats), but what’s changed in NZ is that many jetskis are now rigged up specifically for sportsfishing.
On any given weekend and many summer evenings during the week, the waters of Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf and elsewhere around the country are traversed by hundreds of keen jetski fishers racing out for a couple of hours of quality fishing time. Many of them travel long distances, taking advantage of the speed and easy handling their craft provides to chase down the best fishing.
Jetskis favoured for fishing tend to be larger two- and three-person touring models with bluewater hulls and fuel-efficient four-stroke engines. All of the major manufacturers have suitable models in their ranges, including Sea-Doo, Kawasaki and Yamaha. Fishing skis are then rigged with rodholders, ice boxes, powerful electronics and, sometimes, even livebait systems.
In New Zealand, jetski fishing clubs, organised events and fishing competitions have proliferated. Most mainstream fishing contests, including the prestigious, week-long NZ Sport Fishing Council Nationals Tournament, now offer PWC sections, while a number of businesses and dealers specialise in manufacturing and rigging custom fishing kits for jetskis.
EXPERT FISHING KIT
One of the largest retailers of fishing jetskis in New Zealand is JFK Powersports in Mount Wellington, Auckland. JFK is a BRP dealer selling Sea-Doo jetskis – and skis rigged for fishing are an important and growing part of its business. JFK sponsors and hosts the wildly successful, biannual King of Jetski Fishing contest, which attract hundreds of entrants.
Turning a suitable jetski into a serious sportsfishing machine requires a few modifications and some add-ons. Jetski Fishing, in Bucklands Beach, East Auckland, owned by PWC-fishing pioneer Andrew Hill, is one NZ company manufacturing bolt-on fishing kits to fit a variety of popular jetskis. The company specialises in customising fishing jetskis and also supplies a huge range of fishing accessories and fishing tackle – it also organises numerous PWC fishing events, including the King of Jetski Fishing contest.
Jetski Fishing can supply anything a budding fisher requires, from handheld VHF radios and locator beacons, dry bags, specialist clothing and fishing tackle, right through to full-on fishing fitouts. Whenever JFK Powersports fits out a PWC for fishing, they use Jetski Fishing-supplied fishing kits.
By trial and error, Hill developed his fishing kits over a number of years, building on his own experiences.
“When I first started fishing from my PWC, I carried my rods tucked under my knee and the bait in the glovebox, which wasn’t ideal,” explains Hill. “Storing the catch was a challenge and I lost more than one rod and reel set over the side in transit.”
Hill put his practical and engineering skills to work by customising his craft with a fishing kit he designed, which included rodholders and a cooler. Electronics came a bit later and fitouts became increasingly sophisticated over time.
At their most basic, PWC fishing kits comprise a stainless-steel frame that fits over the back of the craft, sporting rodholders and securing a high-quality chilly bin/esky, with or without an integrated bait tray. However, Hill specialises in turning jetskis into ultimate sportsfishing machines – he can even fit a pump system that turns the esky into a livebait tank.
Most fishing kits also include a fishfinder/GPS. Hill fits Raymarine products, with the transducer mounted through the hull for the best-possible performance. The more basic kits make use of a more vulnerable exterior transducer.
A dual-battery system is also something Hill recommends for fishing jetskis, especially when equipped with today’s more powerful fishfinders (he sometimes fits 1kW transducers), but also as a safety feature for those fishers travelling well offshore. Catching a marlin from a jetski is no longer a rarity and many fishers travel long distances chasing game and bottom fish.
EXPLORING KIWI FISHING GROUNDS
Recently, I joined Andrew Hill’s Ultimate Jetskifishing Experience, along with 24 jetski fishers for four days on the water, based out of Pauanui on the Coromandel Peninsula southeast of Auckland. Andrew and partner Kristy run regular jetski fishing adventures from venues around northern New Zealand.
I was lucky enough to borrow Lisa Kelly’s personal jetski, a 155hp naturally aspirated four-stroke Sea-Doo that’s very popular with fishers due to its size, stability and excellent range. Kelly is owner of Auckland BRP dealer JFK Powersports.
Kelly’s late-model PWC was kitted out with a Lowrance fishfinder and one of Andrew Hill’s fishing kits, comprising rodholders and a good-sized icebox on the back.
Four days in the saddle in a variety of conditions ranging from sunny and warm with flat seas, to wet, windy and rough, really showed off the potential of jetski fishing.
We crossed the Pauanui Bar each morning to explore the Bay of Plenty’s western waters, running 25km offshore to the Aldermen Islands and beyond on the good days, and fishing closer inshore when it was rough.
The fishing was a mixed bag, but some good catches were made: I managed the group’s largest snapper for the weekend, a 9.4kg specimen, and kingfish to 18kg were weighed.
My Sea-Doo proved capable in all conditions – fast when the seas were calm and amazingly stable and comfortable even after eight hours on the water. It allowed me to safely fish close to the rocks and reefs targeting kelpie snapper, or to explore deeper water for kingfish and school snapper.
After four days in the saddle, I could actually envisage owning a jetski – kitted out for fishing, of course, and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Jetski fishing offers significant advantages in our increasingly time-poor world, including the ability to launch, blast out to your chosen fishing ground and return home within a few hours.
– John Eichelsheim
Ultimate Jetskifishing Adventure, phone +64 021 864 560. Web: JetskiFishing.co.nz.
If owning a sizeable offshore boat or storage for your boat is becoming a problem, or even if the family are just not on the same wavelength as you when it comes to offshore fishing, then switching to the fast-growing craze of customised jetski fishing craft could just be the answer.
From entry-level through to top of the range jetskis from different brands, these little ocean weapons are being kitted out with some fancy fishing bling in the form of simple stainless frames with eskies and rodholders for a few hundred bucks, to the serious set-ups specifically designed with tackle storage, cold storage, rod storage, fuel storage and even some serious GPS/sonar systems.
Fishing off jetskis is nothing new, especially in New Zealand and even more so in South Africa, where I’ve witnessed in excess of 100 of them competing in offshore fishing competitions.
They might be small craft in comparison to offshore boats, but they most certainly do not lack when it comes to landing serious fish, like marlin and other gamefish.
In Australia, the sport is generally not yet as developed but, in the last year, I’ve noticed a definite increase in fishing-rigged jetskis. Users recognise advantages such as the initial low cost of the craft in comparison to an offshore boat, the simplicity and ease of use, ease of storage, and comparatively low fuel costs.
From a safety perspective, it’s important that riders don’t overload their skis. Ideally, and especially when heading offshore, it’s best to have a buddy on another ski with you. And, of course, you should always have all appropriate safety gear, including a quality PFD and an EPIRB is always a good idea.
GET YOUR KIT ON
Those on a tight budget can choose the simple DIY route with items possibly sourced from your own shed. You can start with an esky/chilly bin/cooler box (depending on which Tri-Nations country you stem from) that can be lashed to the rear boarding step to act as a fix box. Bolt a few plastic rodholders to the esky, fit a small GPS/sounder, and you can be on the water and fishing for just under $500.
Cranking the spend up another $450 to $650 will get you a decent stainless rack set-up with built-in rodholders, a bit of tackle storage space, extra fuel and esky storage. JSW Powersports, in Arundel near the Gold Coast, is a Sea-Doo dealership that offers a range of accessories suited to fishing, including the Whiteybox 47lt fish box setup for $550 and the latest Lowrance Hook-4 GPS/sounder for $775 fitted. Total spend for a mid-range package like this can work out to around $1200 to $1400.
A decent option to look at if you’re chasing a bit more that standard gear would be something along the lines of the fitout on the Sea-Doo GTX 155 fishing jetski we sampled on a recent day out on the water. It was kitted out with the latest Fishski fish box system and Lowrance Elite 7 Ti, which took our rig to a higher level in terms of capability and utility.
The Fishski custom 68lt fish box includes rodholders, baitboard, sealed tackle storage, insulated esky built in, extra fuel storage and cans – it’s even colour-coded to suit the jetski. It’s a really cool, quality set-up and is ergonomically sound. It will set you back $1000, but is well worth it in my opinion.
The GPS/sounder was the latest Lowrance Elite 7 Ti with a Totalscan transducer and was flush-mounted into the glovebox, in front of the seat. Positioning was good, although I would prefer my unit on a gimbal-mount in front of the steering if possible – both installations would have pros and cons.
What I did like was the transducer being fitted into the hull as a through-hull mount. It’s a great idea as it protects the transducer and it has zero interference at speed or in the rough. Installed by JSW Powersports, you are looking at $1500 for the unit.
At the end of the day, the options are limitless, depending on budget. You can add top-end electronics, more add-ons or pricier fish boxes, pod systems for more stability depending on the brand of jetski, insulated fish bags … I would even like to see a decent sound system fitted to one, although you would have to upgrade the battery.
As tested, JSW Powersports’s Sea-Doo GTX 155 fishing rig could be considered a mid-range jetski as it’s well-priced and perfect for the job at $22,150, fully kitted out for fishing. As a three-seater, it’s a good, stable platform to fish from, rides softly in the chop, and pumps out some perky performance out of the hole, with a decent top end of around 85 to 88km/h.
A full day on the water off the Tweed River and out to the nine-mile line and the FAD, with constant trolling for a good few hours, had the fuel burn sitting at mere 1 to 2lt/hr at idle (2 to 4km/h), depending on wind and current. Higher troll speeds of 10 to 14km/h produced a fuel burn of 5 to 8lt/hr which, again, is still economical. A heavier finger on the throttle saw figures of between 35 to 40lt/hr, which can start to cut into your range and fishing time, given most skis carry around 60lt in the standard tank.
The combination of running offshore, trolling and a bit of sporty fun over the 65 to 70km travelled on the water ended up with a total fuel burn for the day of 32lt which, if you compare it to an average-sized offshore boat with similar horsepower, is not bad at all, as the boat would easily chew more than double the fuel over the same distance.
The GTX 155 also boasts good storage up front, sporty good looks, and rides and handles exceptionally well. It is suited to both novice and advanced riders alike, with functions such as novice and advanced rider keys, standard ride mode, eco-mode and sport mode settings, as well as intelligent braking and reverse (iBR), full multifunction display and a wad of other features as standard.
If you fish solo, the price of up to $22,150 fully kitted out, as tested, is not too bad at all in comparison to a boat – although you don’t have the same storage or fishing space. But a ‘ski can easily be launched by one person and doesn’t take up the space of a boat in the garage or backyard.
The choice of jetskis from the three major brands is breathtaking in terms of variation and specification. Sea-Doos suited to fishing in the lower horsepower range would be the new 90hp GTi for around $14,990 on a trailer, excluding fishing accessories. The more adventurous might want to consider the big boy 300hp RXP-X that retails for around $24,450 on a trailer, excluding fishing accessories.
Overall, you need to consider that you won’t be taking the family or friends along, unless they have their own jetskis. Also, jetski fishing is generally more weather dependant and you don’t have the manoeuvrability that you do in a boat if you’re hooked up to an agile or larger adversary.
The positives include the price advantage over a boat, the fact that jetskis are very agile, relatively cheap to maintain and tow, and are comparatively quick when you need to get to a hot bite fast.
Based on feedback from JSW Powersports and others in the industry, it seems we’ll be seeing a lot more jetskis with rodholders on the water from now on.
– Kevin Smith
JSW Powersports, tel: (07) 5529 2616.