When conditions are right, Adam Clancey enjoys the challenge and excitement of deep water fishing, and in this feature he shares his experience and tips with NZFN readers.
Sending a bait down into the dark, mysterious depths is always exciting, watching metre after metre of line feeding off the reel until finally the tell-tale bump of the sinker hitting the bottom registers.
At this point the reel is flicked into gear and the terminal rig generally lifted a metre or two off the bottom in reefy locations. Then it’s time to wait for the bites, with anticipation changing to thrill when bites are successfully converted into a loaded rod as a heavy fish charges away. What has been hooked this time?
Deep-water fishing is great fun – though it can be hard work, too. Fishing in 100, 200, 300 or more metres offers plenty of challenges to anglers, as well as lots of surprises, due to the sheer variety of species that live in the depths off our coast.
Deep water fishing is one of those fishing styles I enjoy occasionally when the conditions are right and the opportunity allows. After all, travelling to offshore spots a long way from any shelter requires a bit of planning and preparation, especially in smaller vessels.
First, you need a reasonable weather forecast. Too much swell or choppy seas can make it very uncomfortable and hard to fish. I look for light breezes, minimal tidal movement, and low swells if possible.
It’s important your vessel has the fuel capacity to get there and back with ample in reserve, and that people know where you’re heading and when you plan to return. Heading out in convoy with other boats is a good safety precaution, too.
When you decide on a deep-water trip, don’t just head out to a certain depth and start fishing. This will likely be futile. Instead, sort out the spot or spots you plan to target. As with most forms of
fishing, the best action will be around structure or close to a good food source, so look for areas like this.
In deep-water areas you will find large rocks that rise up from the sea bed, as well as rapid drops in the bottom contours, or areas of low foul or rubble. To access these spots, it pays to study bathymetric charts and make use of a good GPS and a sonar with a decent transducer.
It also pays to take a little extra time to set up your drift properly. Doing a ‘dummy drift’ first is always worth the effort: stop and drift a while to see which way the boat heads in the existing conditions. After all, it may take a couple of minutes for your rig to reach the bottom, so you’ll need to set up your drift well ahead of the intended hotspot, enabling the rigs to get right down in time to take advantage of the fish holding there.
If the boat is drifting too fast, a number of options can help. You might try starting your drift further away from the spot or using heavier sinkers to get down more quickly. Or you can use the boat’s motor(s) to slow the drift by working the throttles. I use a Watersnake electric motor with GPS and an ‘anchor’ function to hold us right on the spot – a great asset. Otherwise, the good old sea anchor/drogue can make a difference, but use your common sense when attaching it, as you don’t want to leave the boat vulnerable to big swells washing into the cockpit.
Deep water fishing is really exciting and constantly provides surprises, as many different species live in the depths out wide. You never know what might pop up on the next retrieve.
However, as you could hook anything from a 2kg tarakihi to a 500kg broadbill, a variety of different techniques are required to target them. The prime deep-water targets are hapuku, bass, bluenose and gemfish, all of which offer fantastic eating. You can also expect to catch kingfish, tuna and a wide variety of smaller but still tasty fish.
As with all fishing, there is a little more to it than simply dropping a bait down and hoping for the best. If targeting larger deep-water fish such as hapuku and bass, I suggest using a heavy dropper rig tied from 50-150kg trace and armed with two larger circle hooks in the 11/0 size or larger, baited with cut baits or even live baits. These larger dropper rigs should feature some luminous material near the hooks if possible to increase visibility in the darkness.
Sinkers need to be heavy – between 16-32 ounces – to get your rig down to the bottom quickly and then stay there while you are drifting.
Your reel will need to hold at least 500 metres of 24-37kg line, and PE braid is the only way to go for this, due to its incredibly thin diameter, great sensitivity to bites deep down, and an ability to cut through the current flow and hook-up efficiently.
There is a growing trend to use electric reels for this type of fishing, and it makes good sense: you save a lot of the energy normally expended when winding in the line to check on the baits or to boat a hooked fish. This will allow you to make more drifts in a day and explore new spots with minimal effort.
Some may argue that electric reels take the sport out of the fishing, but the fish still pull hard and you’ll know you’ve had a fight if a 50kg bass, say, is hooked in 200 metres, whether you’re using an electric reel or not.
The other popular tactic that works really well in deep water fishing is done using lighter tackle, usually around 15kg class. Again, braid is the only way to go.
This is best done using 3/0-7/0 flasher rigs baited with smaller strip baits such as squid or skipjack – ideal for targeting smaller species such as tarakihi, smaller bluenose and other tasty reef fish. Be warned though: the odd bigger surprise may be hooked on this rig, so make sure your terminal gear is heavy duty. Also, always use really high quality swivels, as the baits and any fish hooked spin a lot while being wound up from the depths. If the twist is not dissipated, bad tangles can occur.
Lures will also catch fish in the deep if fished the right way. Large free-fall jigs are one of the best lure choices because they get down quickly and don’t have much water resistance. Yo-yo fishing over a spot will normally work if the fish are active. Again, ensure your reel has sufficient line capacity and drag power to handle XOS-sized fish.
The other lure type that has worked well for me in deep water is with heavy jig heads up to 200g armed with XOS-sized soft-baits. These are most effective when the drift is not too quick, enabling them to remain in the strike zone for longer.
NOW ALL THAT remains is for you to spot the next calm day, load up the gear, and then hope your winding arm’s up to the tussles ahead – unless you’ve got that electric reel!
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