Fishing in the Cook Islands: When to Go, Where to Go and What to Catch
Trolling for yellowfin tuna, casting for GTs, bonefishing and spearfishing: just about every kind of fishing is covered in the Cook Islands! The year-round warm waters attract some of the most sought game fish in the South Pacific, while the idyllic lagoon conditions allow for fly fishing in paradise. While there are many enthusiastic local and expat fishing guides eager to take you out on the water, the Cook Islands is also one of the rare South Pacific islands where you can enjoy a spot of independent fishing if you bring your own rod.
So, here we are; the ultimate guide to fishing in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands. This is your complete fishing bible, so let’s get to it.
Frequently Asked Questions About Fishing in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
Before we jump into the thick of this ultimate guide to fishing in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, here are a few commonly asked questions about fishing in the Cook Islands.
Can You Fish in Rarotonga?
Yes, you can fish in Rarotonga either with commercial fishing charters or on your own from shore or a kayak if you’ve got your own gear. There is no fishing license required on Rarotonga but you need to be mindful of “ra’ui” areas which are marine reserves and areas where fishing is prohibited. A big blue sign saying “ra’ui” on shore will indicate these areas.
Can You Fish in the Rarotonga Lagoon?
Yes, you can fish in the Rarotonga Lagoon. Catch-and-release fishing is recommended for the lagoon, as the reef fish in Rarotonga has been known to cause ciguatera poisoning – learn more in our Cook Islands Safety Tips.
The Best Places for Fishing in the Cook Islands
Fishing is a way of life for many communities in the Cook Islands, so the fishing all around the country is excellent. For visitors, however, fishing with a fishing charter is the most practical way to maximise the fun, although fishing from shore is an option in Rarotonga if you have your own gear, as well as in Aitutaki with a license. Fishing charters can be found in the Cook Islands’ most-visited islands: Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Atiu.
Fishing in Rarotonga
Rarotonga is not only the most populated island in the Cook Islands but it’s the island of the country’s only international airport, making it the easiest (and cheapest) fishing destination in the Cook Islands. Most fishing charters depart from the Avatiu Harbour in the capital, Avarua, while there’s the odd charter that departs from the holiday hotspot, Muri Beach. Most fishing charters on Rarotonga offer deep sea fishing through trolling, but many also offer specialised giant trevally (GT) fishing, bottom fishing and spearfishing on request. Find out more about these charters in the 10 Best Fishing Charters on Rarotonga.
Fishing in Aitutaki
While deep sea fishing is also very popular in Aitutaki and there are the charters available to take you out, Aitutaki is perhaps more famous for its bonefishing. The sheltered lagoon offers an idyllic habitat for bonefish and allows anglers to test their skills at flyfishing, spin fishing and spearfishing. There are charters that offer a variety of fishing styles, so check them out in the 5 Best Fishing Charters on Aitutaki.
Fishing in Atiu
The Cook Islands’ third-most visited island, Atiu, has a much more traditional sense of fishing, with locals favouring reef fishing. Fishing guides are available on the island to take you out on the reef either day or night for an authentic experience. That’s not to say that there isn’t the opportunity to deep sea fish, as one of the island’s fishing charters takes anglers out on the boat even as far as the rarely visited and uninhabited Takutea. We detail more of Atiu’s fishing tours in the 10 Best Fishing Charters in the Cook Islands.
Fishing in the Outer Islands (Pa Enua)
The outer islands of the Cook Islands, locally known as the “pa enua”, are also open to visitors but don’t offer any commercial fishing tours. That’s not to say that locals aren’t eager to take visitors out on the water if anyone is savvy enough to chat to them at the wharf at around 8am or 9am when the islands’ fisherfolk return to land for the day. By the next morning, you could be on the boat with them. Learn more about the outer islands and how it works to travel there in The Complete Travel Guide to the Southern Cook Islands and The Complete Travel Guide to the Northern Cook Islands.
Game Fish Species in the Cook Islands
The Cook Islands’ waters are home to most game fish species that are found in the South Pacific. The list includes:
- Yellowfin Tuna
- Dogtooth Tuna
- Skipjack Tuna
- Blue Marlin
- Striped Marlin
- Black Marlin
- Pacific Baracuda
- Pacific Sailfish
- Giant Trevally
For more information on the most popular fish to target in the Cook Islands, take a look at The Types of Fish in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
The Fishing Seasons in the Cook Islands
The Cook Islands has warm air and sea temperatures all year round. With that, most game species are found in the Cook Islands’ waters all year round! There isn’t really a bad time to go fishing in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, but if you are targeting a specific species and perhaps the largest fish of that species possible, then there are certainly better seasons than others.
Peak Months for Game Fish
- Yellowfin Tuna – October to May
- Dogtooth Tuna – October to February
- Skipjack Tuna – October to March
- Wahoo – May to September
- Mahimahi – September to March
- Blue Marlin – November to April
- Giant Trevally – October to April
- Pacific Barracuda – April to June
For a more in-depth look at the fishing seasons and the best time for a fishing holiday in the Cooks, check out our full guide, The Best Time of Year for Fishing in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Fishing Techniques and Specialities
A standard fishing charter in the Cook Islands usually involves trolling the bluewater for game species. If you’re looking for something else, however, most fishing charters in the Cook Islands have the set-up, whether it’s jigging or casting. Some fishing techniques like spearfishing or bonefishing are more specialised and have dedicated charters for this.
Giant Trevally (GT) Fishing
GTs or giant trevally often favour the rougher terrain of the reefs or lagoon unlike other game fish that favour the open ocean. For this reason, they are best caught in the Cook Islands by casting from reefs or from shore. Fishing charters on Aitutaki can take you out to the outer reef (which is quite far from shore) on boats to try out GT fishing with all of the gear included.
Fishing for GT on Rarotonga either means jumping on a fishing charter – some offer night tours ideal for GT fishing, such as Extreme Fishing Charters and Reelaxing Fishing Charters – or you can fish from shore if you have your own (strong) fishing gear. Decent spots for shore fishing for GTs include at the Avana Passage near Muri and the Arorangi Wharf.
Spearfishing is an exciting way to fish in the Cook Islands, with amazing spearfishing grounds and charters in Rarotonga and Aitutaki. There are spearfishing tours for beginners learning to spearfish in the sheltered waters of the Rarotonga Lagoon and Aitutaki Lagoon. Most fishing charters will take spearos out to the bluewater but don’t provide any other gear other than weights. There’s so much to say about spearfishing that we have a whole guide in The Complete Guide to Spearfishing in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Bonefishing and Fly Fishing
Aitutaki is the world’s hidden gem of bonefishing, providing excellent fly fishing all year round. There are a couple of reputable bonefishing guides who provide all the fly fishing and spin fishing gear, as well as expert guidance, to help you land this exciting fish to tackle. For those who wish to fly fish on their own, it’s best to stay at one of the lodges like Ranginui’s Retreat which offers excellent fishing from right outside the accommodation. Note, however, that a license is required to fish for any fish in the lagoon – find out more in “How to Get a Fishing License in Aitutaki” below. Plus, learn more about bonefishing guides in the 5 Best Fishing Charters on Aitutaki.
Land-Based Fishing (Shore Fishing)
Say you have your own rods and reels, where can you fish from in the Cook Islands? On Rarotonga, the Avana Passage just north of Muri is a popular go-to, the reef just in front of Trader Jacks in Avarua and the Arorangi Wharf and Passage are just a few to mention. While there are no rods for hire on Rarotonga, you can pick up all sorts of gear from Reelaxing Fishing & Tackle at the Avatiu Harbour, Avarua.
Land-based fishing and shore fishing are more popular on Aitutaki than on Rarotonga due to there being more fishing opportunities across its expansive lagoon, along with bonefishing and GT fishing (see the sections above).
On the outer islands, such as Atiu, reef fishing and rock casting are more ways to enjoy some reeling action. Atiu is home to the outer islands’ only commercial operations, such as with Reef Fishing with Andrew Matapakia and his family who enable you to fish for flying fish, octopus, crayfish and more. Fishing opportunities on other islands come with a little chin-wagging with the locals.
Fishing Licenses and Other Fishing Restrictions in the Cook Islands
We can hardly conclude this guide to fishing in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands without mentioning the limited but essential fishing restrictions that are in place around the Cook Islands.
Ra’ui Prohibited Fishing Areas
Some areas around the Cook Islands have a “ra’ui” placed on them, usually identifying places where fishing is prohibited. While some are temporary to allow fish stocks to replenish, others like marine reserves are permanently in place. Permanent marine reserves on Rarotonga include:
- Aroa Lagoon Marine Reserve
- Tikioki Marine Reserve
- In front of the Edgewater Resort & Spa
Other ra’ui are indicated by a blue sign stating “ra’ui” on the land in front of the area where fishing is prohibited. Ra’ui can be found all over the Cook Islands, even the outer islands.
Aitutaki Fishing License
A fishing license is required to fish within the Aitutaki Lagoon (not for deep sea fishing). Fishing licenses can be purchased from the Cook Islands Tourism Office in Arutanga and the Araura (Aitutaki) Marine Research Centre near the airport.
Aitutaki fishing licenses cost approximately:
- 1 Day – NZ$10
- 1 Week – NZ$50
- 2 Weeks – NZ$80
- Lifetime – NZ$500
More About Fishing in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
Well, that’s everything we can think of that you might need to know about fishing in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. Although we’ve pointed you in the direction of these additional guides already, here’s a quick reminder of our other fishing content:
- 10 Best Fishing Charters in the Cook Islands
- Fishing in the Cook Islands: The Types of Fish in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- The Best Time of Year for Fishing in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
Finally, discover more awesome experiences in the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.