Fishing from rocky shorelines is one of New Zealand’s most dangerous pastimes with 63 fatalities from 1980-1995. Little is known about the characteristics of these fishers, their perceptions, and their water-safety practices. We selected four high-risk rock-based fishing locations on Auckland’s west coast were selected as sites to conduct a survey and safety campaign during the summer months of 2005-06. One third (n = 81; 32%) of fishers estimated that they could swim 25 m or less non-stop. Almost one half (n = 120; 48%) had gone to the water’s edge to retrieve a snagged line or engaged in other unsafe practices. Most agreed that wearing a buoyancy aid makes fishing a lot safer (n = 177; 71%), but almost three quarters (n = 180; 72%) admitted that they never wore one. The results indicated that many fishers have limited safety skills combined with an overly optimistic view of their survival skills. Based on our findings, we recommend widespread posting of fishing-safety messages along New Zealand’s west coastline that emphasizes the twin dangers of overestimation of ability and underestimation of risk.