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Lemon fish can be caught year round and are a fantastic table fish when given the right attention straight from the water . They have been eaten by most people at some stage or another through out fish and chip stores all over the country. Known commonly as rig, smooth hound shark and lemon fish they cruise New Zealands waters growing in excess of 35 kilos. As far as sport goes, like most sharks they are very good fighters and use the ocean swell to there advantage in prevailing conditions. Even in huge swells when nothing else is about, the local surf dwelling power house's can be found lurking !!

This is one species where distance is not a factor at all, wether casting into a foot of water or five meters of water it doesn't matter. ledger or double hook dropper rigs are ideal, you can fish cray and crab at the same time to see which is hot on the night. Don't make the droppers to short though, you want a bit of clearance from the backbone, 100mm is a good distance. Another great rig is the running rig, this allows the lemonfish to run with the bait without feeling the tension of the sinker

Lemonfish are mainly night crawlers, prowling the waters edge under the cover of darkness in search of the elusive paddle crabs. Being a sand dweller they are very rarely caught over rocks. They are most prolific and in big numbers along our coast lines through summer, February being the most dominant month. However through winter lemonfish come into the little sheltered sandy bays to breed undisturbed and out of the swell.

Although it is possible to catch lemons on fish bait, they generally don't take conventional baits like pilchard and bonito, there main diet is based on paddle crabs. There are 3 main baits that are excellent for targeting lemons and the first and most obvious is crab, 50mm crabs work well as a whole bait. The bigger crabs with a 100mm plus shell are best used as a cut bait. Crayfish is also an excellent bait for lemonfish, many will cringe reading that thinking what a waste of crayfish, if your serious and you want to target them it's definitely a great option. Thirdly prawn can also catch lemonfish, perhaps not as good as crab and cray but its an easy to get bait via the supermarket.

How do you bait up a crab?
step 1. remove the shell
step 2. cut the crab in half
step 3. remove half the legs so it casts better and is more appealing in the water
step 4. use the leg sockets to thread your hooks through as the shell can be difficult to push a hook through.
step 5. use plenty of bait cotton to secure the bait to the hook.

Lemonfish very rarely have the tendency to sit there and nibble at the bait, they are more likely to smash the bait and make a run for it like a freight train. This can happen very quickly out of no where, seems to always happen when you are walking away from the rods or grabbing a bite to eat at the truck ! The bend won't stay in the rod, after a good burst, they stop and go again ether heading back towards you or straight out. It's important to be at hand when this happens to strike, because quite often they will spit the hook and drop the bait.

Circle hooks are great because the lemonfish hook themselves on there first run , especially when you cant get to the rod in time. Circle hooks rely on pressure to set themselves, so a reasonable drag is essential. Heavy enough to set the hook but light enough to let them run with the bait and get a good mouth full of it. Should a lemon strike and drop the bait, don't retrieve your line to check the bait, it will be fine, just let it sit for another five minites, they usually come straight back. Gamakazu circle hooks are fantastic on lemonfish, anything from 3/0 to 8/0 is suitable, personally i find the mid range size around 5/0 to be most effective.

Although mainly a night species, lemonfish can be caught during daylight hour over the change of light and during overcast conditions in good numbers. The other alternative is fishing dirty water, they do very well in murky water, it allows them to get closer to crabs undetected. Even when the swell is pumping and it seems as though there would not be any fish about, quite often lemonfish are about feeding amongst the rough and tumble, they are very good swimmers and down mind getting amongst the white wash. When the water is calm lemonfish can also be caught, but best results will be found during the night under the cover of darkness.


Most dominant predatory fish or sharks carry a high level of ammonium. With lemon fish ,you can avoid this and keep most of the ammonium out of the flesh, by cutting all the fins off flush with the body, also cutting the head and tail off, this is called trunking . Trunking the fish straight from the water will yield the best result, while the fish is still alive. Lemon fish are very easy to fillet, simply run a sharp knife down the length of the back of the fish on each side. There is a circular backbone which runs down the middle of the fish, other than that there are no bones and the fillets are very large and clean. Try this fish smoked also, very tasty !!

Chad Prentice


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