I go fishing for many reasons, though enjoyment would be right up near the top of the list.
So here I was, staggering down the track wearing a pack that would have been more comfortable (and lighter) had it been full of rocks. My land-based rods and a gaff were strapped to the pack’s side, while I’d hung a 12-volt car battery in an old handbag around my neck, further punishing my already heavily overloaded body.
The battery was powering a Keep Alive live-bait aerator pump, which in turn was oxygenating two 20-litre buckets half-full of seawater, one in each arm (that’s approximately ten kilos of water in each bucket). The buckets held five monster jack mackerel between them, caught the night before. All were full of life and energy in the narrow confines of the buckets, thanks to the aerator pump. I wish I could say the same for myself.
A more minimalistic approach to bag packing may have helped, but when it’s cold and dark in the early hours of the morning, it just seems easier to chuck everything in. The night before, the plan seemed foolproof, but after making my first rest stop five metres from the car, I started questioning my sanity. This wasn’t fun, it was torture!
I have experimented in the past with transporting live baits into land-based spots, enjoying good success, and wrote about it back in 2008. The reason for going to all the trouble is because live baits can be scarce at many of the spots I frequent, are usually hard to catch, and are often completely the wrong size. Spending a full day on the rocks struggling to catch even one suitable live bait is extremely frustrating, while the near instantaneous kingfish hook-up that often results after finally obtaining a good live bait, only highlights what you’re probably missing.
Mostly though, you miss the best part of the tide while trying to catch that precious livie. Pre-caught live baits transported directly to the fishing location really can change your fishing fortunes.
I have used automotive electric tyre pumps (about $15 at The Warehouse) to keep the baits alive in the past. However, this is a relatively crude set-up, and the pumps – only designed to run for short intervals – constantly overheat. Then there’s the noise level – rather like a chainsaw running beside your ear! Driving with one of these running was not so pleasant.
Since then, I’ve gone to the portable ‘Keep Alive’ brand aerator pump, which is specifically designed for this purpose. It is used in conjunction with a big, blue, round, plastic drum that sits in the back of the car and holds maybe 50 litres of seawater. As a result, baits can stay alive in the back of my wagon all day on the road if need be (just watch those potholes to avoid spillages – backseat passengers tend to complain about unexpected saltwater showers). Upon arrival, smaller buckets are used to house the baits on the walk from the car to the chosen ledge. Altogether, this forms a very effective live-bait transporting combination.
So, with five big jacks in the buckets, I had plenty of confidence in a positive result – so much so, I’d already promised a kingfish to a local guy I’d met in exchange for keeping an eye on my car.
Things aren’t so bad with two or more guys sharing the load; one can carry most of the fishing gear and the other(s) can be assigned livebait-carrying duties. However, on this particular trip I was fishing solo, making things a fair bit tricker. It can start a vicious cycle, where a slow pace adds to live-bait transport times, which means more water and a pump to keep the bait alive, requiring electricity to keep the pump going (12v battery), which in turn makes for an even slower and more painful walk in.
If you don’t spend too long away from the water’s edge on the walk in, baits can normally be kept alive in buckets with just enough water to cover their backs, provided the water is changed at regular intervals. Doing it this way makes the carry-in relatively light and bearable. Frothing up the water by hand will re-oxygenate it to a certain degree, and is a useful ploy to buy a bit of bait survival time when a water change is out of range.
However, pain and nuisance aside, it’s a very satisfying feeling to get to a spot, plonk a livie in the water and be kingie fishing within minutes of arriving. Having said that though, a few moments were required first, so I could recover from the torturous walk in!
The tide phase was perfect for kings to swim past my ledge, with a strong current swinging in and running parallel against the rocks. The spot didn’t disappoint, and yellow tails soon appeared all around live mackerel number one. It endured a succession of mauling attacks by a range of kings that were generally too small to get it down, before finally carking it, but not before I managed to switch one of the pesky little rat kings onto a skipped-piper dead bait.
The second live jack mack drew a far more aggressive strike, and despite only getting a glimpse of gill plate and a bunch of white-water on hook-up, I had a feeling this was the one I wanted. The drag was cranked up on the TLD50 and line continued to steam off. Yeehaa!
It had been a while since I’d done any land-based king-fishing; after becoming very accustomed to fighting kings all winter on lightweight, state-of-the-art jig tackle from the boat, switching to a relatively cumbersome, wildly bucking, eight-foot (2.44m) land-based stick felt very strange. With all that leverage working against me, and my gimbal out of reach, I got worked harder by that fish than I have been for a long time. It found the foul briefly, but a quick free-spool saw it swim free.
Given the tussle I had endured, I was half expecting to get a visual on a behemoth of the kingfish world. So when a far more modest fish of around 13-14 kilos appeared in the wash, I’d be lying if I said wasn’t a little bit bemused – either I was out of practice or this teenager was a real scrappy bugger. Perhaps a bit of both?
My next attempt wasn’t until two days later. The morning was spent sitting on the wharf after a leisurely start. With no set plan for the rest of the day, going home had been considered, given that the tide had already started running at my favoured kingie spot, and I was over an hour away from it with no bait.
Funny how in an instant a day can change, though. I fluked a kahawai on my last cast, not too small, not too big, and hooked in the corner of the mouth. It would make the perfect live bait.
I wasted no time getting it into the tank in the back of my wagon, hooking up the pump and hitting the road. A couple of quick calculations suggested that by the time I got this bait out, there would be three hours of light left, with one, maybe two, hours where the state of the tide was still optimum for a bite. Only a short window, considering most land-based trips are full-day affairs, but with the bait issue sorted, all I needed was a king to swing by and I’d be in the money. Besides, I wasn’t going to catch anything sitting at home.
Having learnt my lesson, I travelled light on the walk in: just enough water to cover the bait’s back, a single bait, no battery, no pump and a minimal tackle arsenal, so I could semi-jog and cover ground fast. A few water changes along the way ensured the bait was still in tip-top condition on arrival.
Within the hour the bait was demolished: a few seconds of free-spool and I came up solid. The fish two days beforehand had been a good warm-up and got me back into a ‘fighting fish on the bricks’ mindset. This time around, things were a lot more straight-forward. Although the fish pulled a lot more line than the other one had, and took over three times as long to land, by continuously shifting my position backwards and forwards along the ledge, I managed to stay in charge, steering the fish straight out in front out of the danger zone, and eventually got it up on the rocks without too much drama.
I always find it hard to guess the weight of fish when I’m by myself; the fish looked big, but to me everything seems big when you first catch it, and typically has shrunk by the time you get home. This one was definitely a lot bigger than the previous one, and balancing the camera on a rock and lifting the fish into position for a photo before the timer went off was definitely a lot harder than it had been two days before. However, keeping the shrink factor in mind, it was tentatively estimated to be near the 20-kilo mark.
The walk out stirred up a bit of a rethink. Funny how caught fish always seem heavier strapped to your back than they do lying on the rocks!
It was well after dark by the time I got back and had my suspicions confirmed, with the fish well and truly bottoming out my 25kg scales. An extremely satisfying result and perhaps a just reward considering the effort put in.
It might sound like hard work lugging pre-caught baits around, and I won’t deny that it is a bloody mission most of the time, but in my book the rewards for your efforts are more than worthwhile. One solid fish caught off the rocks is far more satisfying to me personally than catching one after the other from the boat. So while the bucket system might not be ideal or necessary for every situation, it’s certainly a great trick to have up one’s sleeve.
This article is reproduced with express permission of
by Josh Worthington - 2010
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited
Originally published in New Zealand Fishing News