For me from here on in till spring is the best time to go fishing, firstly the snapper are full of body fat and are just stunning either fried or smoked. Post spawning the snapper go on a feeding frenzy to build up fat reserves to carry them over winter as they will not be feeding to the same degree or manner as over summer, this makes catching the suckers a bit harder but it tunes you into mother nature and really makes you a thinking fisherman that in time will make you one of the twenty percent that catches eighty percent of the fish.
This was highlighted to me in the weekend when a couple of well known fishermen came alongside for a chat as I was deciding which bit of foul I was going to target on the Rangitoto shoreline. Long story short within an hour and a half I had caught all the fish I needed and released quite a few around the 34-45 cm mark and heading home where as the other two had spent the entire day out tossing soft baits for a grand total of zip, zero, narda! A number of factors come into play in winter (practically on Sunday due to the wind direction and chill factor) and it is only time on water building up a history that will put you in the right spot and to be fair I had tried a couple of spots prior to hitting the fish but it was the fact the other two spots failed and why that gave me the reasoning to try where I did.
Factors that really come into play are tide strength wind direction/chill factor and the moon phase to a degree, the smaller the tide the chillier the wind will dictate as to how the snapper will feed hence you need to know where best to target the fish given these conditions.
Times like this I find it often a waste of time fishing the open water (I tried this as there was good sign showing yet not a bait got touched) so I would rather find a bit of rocky shoreline where the stern of the boat will lay towards the shore so I can cast baits to the exact spot I want but even then it will take time and cunning to get hooked up. Firstly burly is a must to draw fish back towards the boat, ground bait (chopped up pieces of bait) must also be cast as far away and in all directions for the fish that get drawn in by the scent of the burly to chew on. To be really effective the burly needs to be shaken every 10 minutes along with a handful of ground bait being tossed out.
Cover your bases with squid pillies and bonito belly flaps and note where each bait was cast to and which baits are being chewed, chewed being the operative word as on days like this the fish will just chew on a bait without moving so those tiny bites and munched up baits that come back are not always the result of small fish. Fresh baitfish are great but like a pilchard I butter fly them to make them release more scent and this also lets smaller fish rip them apart, the activity and commotion of small fish feeding draws in the bigger fish.
A pattern and range of un-weighted baits cast towards the kelp to float naturally down in the current (just like the ground bait) will often not be seen to be taken yet when checked the hook is clean hence you must be constantly checking the line. Having cast the bait hold the rod so the tip is pointing directly in line with the mono as it enters the water as this allows you to be able to lift the rod tip and feel if a fish is mouthing the bait or see the slightest line movement. Note this is a really important as in time watching the line becomes second nature and is often the reason you hook up when others fail is you will know by the way the line is straightening up when to give the fish a bit more line or when to strike it.
Most of the fish I hooked I never got a bite but it was only by watching the line for the slightest movement and constantly checking to feel the bait (by slowly lifting the tip of the rod) that I was aware the fish had the bait in their mouth allowing me to strike. Only after a while when the burly and ground bait have kicked in and the fish become competitive do they pick up a bait and run. Feeling the fish take a bait is key to catching fish in winter as each day they will be in a different feeding mode, by concentrating and learning about the way they feed will in time go a long way in deciding as to where you should be targeting on a particular day.
What I have found to be very productive is a big chunk of bonito belly flap folded over a couple of times (it is a tough bait) rigged on a circle hook cast well away from the boat, it does two things, firstly it allows the bait to be ripped at by smaller fish drawing in others but it also holds together long enough for a decent size fish to hook up.
Having spoken to a number of fisho's since the weekend they all report they struggled out in the deeper water yet all managed a few nice fish out of the foul.
Now is the time to get out and try new spots, to stray line look for broken rocky kelp strewn areas , invest in ground bait and burly, focus/concentrate on your line angle and movement and you will be rewarded.