Gurnard is a species readily available throughout the North Island and much of the South. It generally lives over sandy-muddy bottoms and commercially is very much a by-catch of trawl and longline operations targeting snapper and other species. To the recreational angler gurnard can be targeted in a number of locations using a variety of methods.
Recreational anglers inside the harbours look forward to the annual winter gurnard run. Fishers on the Manukau and Kaipara Harbours have turned catching gurnard into something of an art form, developing bait flies that resemble juvenile flounder, one of the gurnard’s favourite meals. Tackle manufacturers have also caught on to this with their own creations, such as Black Magic’s ‘Gurnard Grabbers’.
Over the warmer months gurnard can be targeted by surfcasters off the beaches, while all year round those drifting baits over sandy bottoms offshore are likely to encounter a ‘grunter or two’. Recreational longliners, operating from the boat or off the beach with kites or kontikis, will regularly encounter gurnard, a welcome addition to the day’s catch.
Some claim gurnard are ‘fiddly’ to fillet and skin, but this is not the case. It helps to have the right tools for the job: a mesh glove to protect your hand from the small but sharp spines that protrude around the head and gill plates, and a shorter, but more flexible, and very sharp filleting knife.
The fillet is removed from the backbone as you would a snapper, except you should stop a centimetre or two short of removing the fillet completely at the tail end. At this point the fillet, still attached by a short portion of skin, is flipped over in the opposite direction to the carcass. The knife is then used to skin the fillet in the conventional manner, leaving the skin still attached at the tail.
The other side of the fish is given the same treatment and you are left with two clean, separate fillets and a carcass complete with skin, backbone, guts and head still attached. The small row of fine rib bones needs to be removed, leaving a firm, v-shaped fillet ready for cooking.
If you plan to fry your fillet you can leave the skin on. Seasoned in flour, the skin will crisp one side of the fillet up nicely and add a nice ‘crunchiness’ to the texture.
Gurnard is a species that can be used in any recipe that tells you to take ‘any firm, white-fleshed fillets’. You do need to take care to ensure the fine bones are all removed during the filleting process, but you will be rewarded with a great-tasting dish.


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