Hopefully you're now anchored up in a place where the berley is streaming out the back of the boat. If the current's not too strong cast a good distance out the back, but it's not necessary to put so much effort into the cast that your bait flies apart. A firm lob will suffice - around 20-30 metres is a good distance. After the bait has splashed down, do not immediately place the reel in gear or wait for the line to pull off the spool of a freespool reel. These actions will reduce the effective distance of your cast and make the bait's descent less natural. Instead, place light tension on the spool's rim with the thumb of your left hand and steadily pull line off with your right hand, letting the line fall from the rod tip and into the water.
Try to leave some slack or a coil of line lying in the water at all times, and feed out more before it tightens up. Get used to the speed at which the line disappears and be ready for a slight hesitation or decrease in the line rate: this will probably signal that the bottom has been reached - or that you have a bite. As soon as the line slackens when the bait hits the bottom, wait a few seconds in case it's actually a bite, and then engage the reel and wind in a few turns. At first there will be little pressure, but this should increase some more as the slack line waving around in the current is wound out of the system. The bait is lifted off the bottom and is now being retrieved. As soon as the extra weight is felt, flick the reel back into freespool and drop the bait back down again. You will now have a line that is in direct contact with the bait, enabling you to better feel any bites.
Let the bait sit for a while, as its descent often attracts attention, as does the small rise and fall given to it after it touches down. According to the speed of the current and the amount of weight you've used on your rig, the bait should be, or may need to be, repositioned every now and again. Repositioning does a lot of positive things for fishermen:
- it provides a movement that attracts snapper for a closer look;
- it keeps reasonably direct and constant contact with the bottom;
- it places the bait in a position that makes it easier to see or eat.
Depending on the strength or presence of current, baits are repositioned by either winding them in a little or dropping them back a bit. Dropping back can only be done when there is sufficient current to pull line off the reel's spool. This is particularly important when the angler has done too good a job of keeping his sinker to minimal weight.
The length of bowed line in the water often acts like a long skinny sail in the current, lifting the bait off the bottom, and effectively taking it out of contention as snapper generally hold near the sea floor. However, this can be negated somewhat by the angler regularly releasing a little line so that the bait drops back down to the bottom again (for a while, anyway - the more line there is in the water, the more water drag and the more it acts like a sail).
As the line is released, keep a close watch on it for the slightest sign of checking or hesitation, as the current and amount of line that's out can make 'touch-down' hard to detect. As soon as the bottom is reached, put the reel back into gear and wind in slowly until you feel a slight increase in weight. This indicates that you have wound the slack/bow out of the line and are now feeling the bait more directly. As this also means that the bait is once again off the bottom, release some line again - but the amount needed should only be small this time.
If your bait never seems to find the bottom, you are either feeding out a bowed line 'sail' (made ever-larger by all the line you're continuing to release into the current), or your sinker is too light - or perhaps a bit of both. Wind in and see what happens to the line: a line 'sail' will be indicated by a line that increasingly angles down as you retrieve, then gets heavier as the slack is wound out of the line and the bait begins to lift from the bottom. Too light a weight is indicated by a shallow line angle that stays that way throughout the retrieve.
Marginal-sized sinker rigs (small for the conditions) can sometimes be made to fish longer by keeping baits streamlined and minimal in size, and dropping them down rather than casting them out. In all cases don't let your rig drift too far back as too much line in the water makes it increasingly difficult to feel bites and set hooks.
Often, it's better to simply bite the bullet and redo the rig, replacing the sinker with another that is a size or two up. (It may be necessary to change the size of sinker(s) several times in one tide cycle - so don't be lazy!) When it finally all comes together and the bite occurs, the process of hooking up is exactly the same as that used from the rocks and goes like this:
Fish: bite, bite, bite!
You: smoothly move the rod and reel out in front of you, the rod tip pointing downwards and along the line if possible (to allow plenty of room for an up-sweeping strike).
Wait for the fish to run some line off the spool smoothly for a couple of seconds (if the fish appear reluctant to do this, tease them into taking the bait by slowly drawing the bait away - but only for a few inches). With line now spilling from the reel steadily, engage the reel, wait for a little tension to transmit up the line and strike firmly. Keep the rod tip up and hopefully bent at the top of the strike arc, and quickly wind the reel handle until all slack and stretch is removed before allowing the rod tip to be wound down the line so that pumping and winding can commence in earnest.
Look Mum! No Anchor!
When conditions permit (light winds and a slight current) it can be well worthwhile drifting over productive areas with a combination of baits and jigs (the latter will be dealt with shortly). In this instance it is probably unnecessary to berley as we are finding the fish rather than the other way around. To fish this way properly, the previous tips for straylining still apply, but it is doubly important to use the right-sized sinker. I tend to err on the side of a little too big rather than a little too small, as angle needs to be kept to a minimum. Increased angle equals an increased chance of snagging, but to complicate things, too much weight can also result in snagging.
Other things that will help anglers include:
- holding outfits (rather than fishing them from the rod-holder) and adjusting line length as necessary
- burying hooks deeply into soft baits so that they are less likely to snag up in reefy areas
- hooking baits so that they are dragged head-first (as this makes them more streamlined)
- cutting baits so that they are slim rather than wide and flappy (for the same reason as the previous tip)
- using specialist 'drift sinkers' as their long slender shape makes them less likely to catch up in snags.
So keep your lines and sinkers light, your hooks sharp and your knots strong. Happy straylining!