There’s something about live baiting I absolutely love. I’m not sure if it’s the reward that you get when you actually have enough livies in the tank, a whole new challenge in itself, or if it’s the thrill of holding the rod and connecting with the underwater actionjust before the baitgets engulfed by a king or snap.
It’s been so exciting some days, that we have had grown men holding the rod shaking in anticipation. I’ve only been charter fishing for five months now and already the top bait on my boat is the humble jack mackerel. They’ve earned a well deserved nameof ‘snapper candy’ on my boat but they also get ‘maccas’ on occasions. Maccas are ideal not just as live bait, but also as fresh butterflied bait. If we have a few that weren’t used up on kings, and a snapper session is on the go, maccas are the way to go for big snapper, and if they’ve been knocked around a bit by some kings then even better.
Jigging is the primary method of fishing on our charters, but when the fish are fat and lazy over the winter monthsand chasing jigs seems to be too hard for them, maccas are the go. Alazy macca casually fining in the currentis irresistible andpretty much a sure thing for a fat lazy kingfish. And the best part is it’s not just kings that will take a lazy mackerel. Snapper are also suckers for them and will quite happily swim up 20 to 30 metres to grab one. Generally the fish that do thatare the big variety and of course, John Dory will gobble one at any opportunity and JD’s arefine table food too.
If you’re in a new area and want to track the little blighters down, I suggest you do two things; find current on the edge of some low foul or look for birds out in the open. I have caught most of my livies on open ground. Birds are good luckandI have always done well in close when there are birds around. When I was scoping out my new turf it didn’t take long to find the massive bait schools. A small family of shags were mooching about and the odd gannet plummeting from great heights, indicating to me that there was something there. Being curious I cruised over there and found tonne of mixed bait: pillies, jack and slimy mackerel.
To be honest it took me by surprise the amount of fish that were there. Since then I’ve been able to follow the fish’s cycle in both weather conditions and moon phases in this area. I pretty much get what I need most trips. The upside of this is that there are usually predators of one form or another hanging about the bait. It makes sense reallyandwe’ve had some massivescraps on the light line, with the average sized kingfish being about 15kg, it makes for a great fight on a sabiki!
I do find that you do need to change your method from place to place.
I fish out of Tairua as well, and we do need to bait our sabiki’s in winter to get better results. I don’t know what it is, I’ve never been able to put my finger on it. It could be metabolism or be predator population putting the fish off. So don’t just drop the sabiki and pray, try different techniques to get best results. There are so many different types of sabiki out there; most are quite cheap and certainly not up to catching kingfish. There is one brand out there that’s never let me down, that’s the ‘Mac Flasher’, whichseem to be in a whole new league. I’ve caught over 20 odd kingfish on this brand now, and put it down to the high quality hooks that are used. Even after 50 or so fish, they don’t fall apart; the feathers are snelled on lasting well over 100 fish. Quite often you’ll get slimies, maccas, and pillies hitting the flies, a real bonus.
Fast swimming fish such as slimies and pillies don’t last well at all in the live bait tank. Macca’s are muchhardier and up to the punishment of being hurtled to greater depths numerous times.
Finding them in the low foul is a bit more of a challenge and requires a bit more exploration. Again, gannet diving is a good indicator but typically they hang around the edge of the foul and it’s a matter of giving it some time searching. It can be frustrating when you’re itching to go slay some kings. My guys get 90% of the macca’s on the drop, I guess they like the flies when they are traveling at speed. I get them to fish a depth by a continuous drop and retrieve. Unless using a baitedsabiki, they just hold it and wait with a small lift if they get bites. Striking is not recommendedas they have soft mouths, and a fast retrieve usually ends in tears. I remember fishing on a Charter boat, The Earl Grey, and Steve,the captain, actually had a small rubber bungee to absorb overzealous anglers’ gusto. I find having a whippy rod just as effective.
Finding maccas on your fish finder is a pretty easy thing to do. I have a Raymarine with 1kw transducer, and I look for schools of the bigger maccasmake thebestbaits. Seeing them at speed,they are just light blue dots when not being rounded up by predators, slowing down gives the fish finder time to automatically adjust the gain setting and they soon show up as nice sold red targets. Naturally when they are swimming tight they are a solid red mass which most people are accustomed to seeing, but they are not always swimming tight. Finding them when they are free swimming is just as important. Always, always, have a free swimming livie when catching bait – the outcome can often be a kingfish, large snapper or even a JD. Just hopethose nasty ‘couda don’t show up!
Rigs and Methods
For deep water there is only one livebait rig we use, and while I’m sure maccaswork as well on a dropper style, we use a 4 – 6oz sinker on top of a~1-1.5mtrace, a very standard rig. This way when you’re fishing four out of a boat you can safely fish one each side and have two others jigging. The jigs are importantas they act asattractorsand also as adepth indicator if you have trouble seeing the fish on your fish finder .Remember to set your live baits before you drop your jigs, otherwise you’ll have tangles galore and grumpy skippers!For shallow water free swimming bait I use a single hook on 60lb fluro for the light rigs.
The fluro does make a difference, trust me, and for the heavy gear I use a 120lb fluro. I use only Duel Fluro, it’s the best! All traces are PR knotted on, it’s such a strong knot and well worth the effort to tie them up. Having confidence in your gear is paramount. When we hook up in shallow water I always chase the fish down, it’s too easy for the fish to dart under the boat, and trust me they will. Staying on top of the fish is ideal, especially if you hook up on the sabiki.
The same goes for big fish out deep where you must keep upwards pressure on the fish the whole time. Trace length is not important; I usually have a fairly short trace, it stops tangles with neighbouring lines. The biggest king we have boated came off a 1 foot trace!
I attach a livie on in two different ways. For slow trolling in the shallow water it’s in the shoulder, inserting the hook from left to right. I usually tow two fish at different distances from the boat. This does make a huge difference to hook up rates and more than often than not one will be weighted to fish in the deeper water column. Reading what the fish does is really important and it’s very simple.
A free swimming fish looking at it the livie, will cause the livie to come to the surface and skip. Quite often, this is visually really exciting. If I don’t get a hit within 10 seconds I will slow down as soon as this happens and mark the area, you know fish are there so that’s the area you want to work. You won’t always get a touch if it’s a fickle fish but sometimes temptation can be the killer, go back and try again. Slow trolling can be a great way to find new areas to fish at the same time it’s well worth the effort to do so. Watch out for diving gannetsas they’ll hit your baits when slow trolling.
Again when I’m drifting through bait schools and stocking up the livie tank, distance can be a big factor. I’ll have two free swimming rigs at different distance from the boat. I very rarely have a heavily weighted rig as you can bet the macca will tangle up in the weighted rig. There’s nothing like a sabiki tangle to really test your patience. A small ball sinker on top of the hook will be enough to get a fish down deeper in the water column.
Speed is of essence if you hook up, get on top of that fish as soon as possible. Always stay on the driver’s side, like you are playing a marlin, this way you know exactly where you are and what you need to do. I’ve seen a few snapped rods now from unintentional high sticking when the fish has changed direction and darted under the boat. The angler has not lowered the rod to allow for the extra angle created. Working with your skipper is paramount, communicate, or it will turn to tears in a heartbeat.
For deep water it’s the old heavy sinker on top of the swivel trick. If you attach the fish in the shoulder the chances are you’re going to just have a spinning bait, so hook the maccain the nose. They have a pretty strong upper jaw and I find that the fish will be guided down and still be able to swim pretty happily while waiting to be monstered.
Either attach the hook from the lower jaw up or from left to right in the nose. Both work really well and I have a really good hook up rate. Using rainbow braid is a must when fishing the deeper reefs. Being able to put the bait right where the kings or bait balls are is a must, and sometimes 10m can actually make a difference to lazy fish. Most of our bigger fish have come from 40m below the boat, so I set fish at two depths, 40 and 50m, sometimes 60m if I was fishing a 70-80m reef.
We fish exclusively 80lb braid for kings, these fish will not give you any slack and being able to thumb the spool with confidence is key. Unfortunately, 18kg of drag and thumbing the spool is sometimes not enough. I snell my recurve hooks, this is ideal for me as we tag 90% of our fish for a nice easy release. They are typically a lot cheaper than the so called live bait hook.
De Coro do a great 10/0 livie hook, $15 for 30 hooks. A bargain and they work! Just one more thing, don’t strike when you have a knock down. God knows it’s in our genes to strike as hard as we can but all you’ll do is waste a bait and an opportunity. Wait for the weight and slow lift, then get to work getting the fish under control. Big fish will just come along and say “thank you very much” so you won’t have time to think, let alone strike at it.
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by Toby Kemp - 2011
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Originally published in New Zealand Fishing News