Following a well-earned break, Craig Worthington looks back on the critical role the internet has played in advancing the latest techniques in recent years.
My Kiwi-American friend Gordy described it perfectly when he said, “I figured out shallowwater kings in my seventeenth year of being in New Zealand, and then wondered about all the time I had wasted in the previous sixteen!”
Fishing knowledge is like that: it changes people’s lives and can have a dramatic effect on catch outcomes. Years without that fishing knowledge can feel like wasted years.
And when fishing knowledge is distributed to a whole lot of people simultaneously and changes catch rates all at once, it can be quite revolutionary. Indeed, it can significantly change how we think about any specific fishery and the fishing outcomes we normally expect from it.
In this regard I consider myself lucky to have witnessed, in this Internet age, the growth and adoption of so much new fishing knowledge.
In the old days, new concepts and ideas moved slowly and generally required people to move from country to country, taking their ideas with them (Glo-bugging for trout is a great example). These days everything happens in a far shorter space of time, and some of that new fishing knowledge even goes ‘viral’.
Take the changes in the New Zealand game-fishing scene as an example. When I moved to the Bay of Islands in the late 1980s, lure fishing for marlin was, in some circles, still being experimented with, and the concept of night-time drifts for broadbill in deep water was just taking hold. These were early sword-fishing days, with small flotillas of boats venturing out to distant offshore destinations such as the Poor Knights Rise in order to hang squid baits in the inky-black depths.
There were early successes too – enough to make the nocturnal approach ‘the way to do it’ – but the chunderinducing rolling drifts in the dark didn’t win too many fans.
Some skippers did introduce slow-trolling for broadies to make the whole process a bit more bearable, but it still wasn’t going to be a mass-participation sport – not in the middle of the night, that far out to sea.
Then came daytime broadbill drops into deep water, with significantly better success. Word spread rapidly in this information age, with the new-found ability to ‘do it in the day’ seeing the whole scene change in the space of a few short game-fishing seasons. Now it seems everybody is out there catching broadies in the middle of the day in boats big and small.
The sheer quantity of broadbill captures by this method has sometimes defied belief. And all of this is thanks to the accumulation and sharing of fishing knowledge.
Soft-baiting for snapper has followed something of a similar path, although the challenge of persuading people to discard time-tested ‘traditional’ methods for catching snapper has made the whole process a bit slower. There are few great secrets to soft-baiting, and it is perhaps more about having confidence in the system. It is a technique that ultimately requires people to pick it up and have a go.
That said, the conceptual changes it has brought to our snapper-fishing practices have been quite profound: many of us now look at wave washes coming off steep rock faces, or those big fields of kelp-covered rock ‘bombies’ that litter Northland’s coast, in a different light.
The thing is, the fishing knowledge that has flowed from the adoption of soft-baits has changed the way we perceive our snapper fishery and changed nearly everyone’s perception of what constitutes good-looking snapper water.
A very similar thing has happened in the last few years in my favoured fishing arena of saltwater fly. As I’ve described before, saltwater fly has certain limitations in terms of casting distance and the depths that can be effectively fished. Saltwater fly fishers are therefore always looking for shallow water with fish close at hand in which to fish their flies. The fact that many of us have found fly-eating snapper in locations that we never dreamed possible has totally changed our perception of good places to fish a saltwater fly. And, once again, because all this information from new snapper-water discoveries has been shared on the Internet, the knowledge is not dying with the discoverer. The new knowledge becomes collective knowledge and we all move forward together to the next exciting ‘new’ event.
Which brings us, of course, to the current situation, where kingfish are being caught off the back of stingrays swimming in sandy bays and over sand flats.
Without the Internet, this whole ray-rider phenomenon would have been a private revelation that may have faded into the annals of Tauranga folklore. Now that this information is out there and widely regarded as real, it changes totally how we act as saltwater fly fishers and the successes we may or may not have. I know this from unfortunate experience.
Around 10 years ago I found myself standing on an isolated beach on an isolated Tahitian atoll in literally the middle-of-nowhere. At the time I was making ill-advised fly casts toward a line of large sharks cruising the beach edge, whilst also wading deeper and deeper to find out what species of sharks these were. It was a bit foolish really, as they were probably tiger sharks (I never did find out) and I wouldn’t have been able to retreat from my waist-deep position in the water with any speed if one decided to come in for a closer look. As it was, I cast my fly at the departing tail of the shark (which shows how very close I was), simply because that’s what fishermen do.
Almost immediately there were big swirls around the fly, along with the heads of large trevally; there was a brief hook-up, but I failed to strip-strike effectively (it’s a bit hard to do that when wading so deep), so the connection didn’t last. Some sensible part of my brain was also telling me I shouldn’t be hooked up to a fish whilst waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean with sharks all around.
Anyway, after that the sharks moved out of reach. I could have waited 10 minutes for the next one to come cruising along that beach (you could just about set your watch by them), but instead I wound up my line and went home!
This was a hot fishing situation ripe for the taking, but I failed to grasp its significance at all. Only in hindsight did I realise how stupid I had been. I did not understand that there were probably packs of big trevally following all those sharks in the very fishable, coral-free water. I was totally lacking in the fishing knowledge that would have given me a full assessment of what was actually going on and what fish might potentially be encountered. In effect, I walked away from a great fishing opportunity.
To this day it still annoys me, but remains as a great example of what can be missed without full fishing knowledge. And, like Gordy, it left me to ponder about all those wasted yearsfailed to grasp its significance at all. Only in hindsight did I realise how stupid I had been. I did not understand that there were probably packs of big trevally following all those sharks in the very fishable, coral-free water. I was totally lacking in the fishing knowledge that would have given me a full assessment of what was actually going on and what fish might potentially be encountered. In effect, I walked away from a great fishing opportunity. To this day it still annoys me, but remains as a great example of what can be missed without full fishing knowledge. And, like Gordy, it left me to ponder about all those wasted years
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