Last month, after finding a decent location, discussing useful accessories and settling in, we looked at several bait options. Now it’s time to get one of those baits in the water.
Look at the area in front of you. Is there a clearing amongst the weed and rocks that might allow you to present your baited hooks, yet not snag up too much? Is there an obvious drop-off, deep channel or gutter in the vicinity? Does a nearby reef come out of relatively deep water, ideally covered in mussels and with swells foaming over it? Structures like these need thorough investigation – but otherwise, simply prospect the area around your possie with your bait, taking care to vary the distance/direction with each cast.
Control that line and bait!
It is in your best interests to hold your outfit whenever possible. Leaving a rod, reel and bait to look after itself in active seas is asking for trouble (except when using a ledger rig). Rigs that resist the movement of the weed strands in the surge often become snagged, so anglers will do better if they ‘move with the flow’.
This is achieved by moving the outfit back and forth as the pressure (or lack of it) dictates, or – when bigger, more powerful swells are present – may mean releasing some line from the reel’s spool and then retrieving it again when possible. In all cases though, the trick involves not allowing the line so much slack that it can tangle around the weed and rocks, but also not to hold or retrieve it in a manner that causes the bait to conflict with the weed and current movement. As a basic guide, look at the length of line hanging between the rod tip and the point where it enters the water. Perfect contact means it should have a slight belly along its length, whereas taut means let line out, and completely slack means retrieve some line.
Sometimes you will find in doing this your bait comes back in steadily, sliding and slipping over the reef and through the weeds as it’s gently carried along by the incoming tide. After each slither, try to let it sit there for a bit, but if the line gets too slack you’ll need to keep on retrieving. This technique is called ‘walking the dog’ and it is especially good for fishing over light to moderate foul.
The reason this works so well is that the moving bait attracts attention and often stimulates a fish’s predatory instincts. It also serves to reposition the bait regularly, moving it in and out of good and bad places, so instead of the fish having to seek out the bait, the bait often finds the fish.
Although this technique often involves a fair amount of snagging, generally this is only temporary. Whenever the bait comes to a firm halt, it’s important not to strike hard or try and pull it out. Instead, let out a little slack and wait several minutes so that the line can wash around a bit. The swirling weeds tend to create different angles of pull, often causing the bait to come unstuck. It’s also amazing how often a fish will find the bait while you’re waiting, and bite it out of the snag for you. (What a great bonus: not only do you retain your terminal tackle, but you score what is perhaps a good fish as well!)
The bite and strike
Big snapper generally don’t grow large by being silly. Consequently, they may bite and push the bait around a little before making up their mind to take it. On the other hand, they may simply inhale it and steam off at high speed!
In every case, try to reduce the many things that can indicate to a snapper that something’s wrong so they prematurely drop the bait. These include: the pressure and/or vibrations of the ratchet; the tension of even a lightly-set drag; the sudden ‘clunk’ of the bail-arm when a spinning reel is wound into gear; or the desperate thumbing pressure caused by anglers trying to control fast runs on freespool reels.
Some remedies to the above are:
Use freespool reels with the lightest spool weights and smallest line capacity you can get away with, as this makes the spinning spool much easier to control;
Hold the outfit with the reel in ‘free-spool’, or, if it’s a spinning reel, with the bail-arm open and the line held lightly between the thumb and forefinger;
Engage the bail-arm manually, so the heavy ‘clunk’ of winding a spinning reel into gear is avoided.
The above partly explains why I prefer overhead reels for this type of fishing. For a start, they can be left out of gear, so when the tidal surge pulls, one simply allows the line to pull off, spinning the spool under your thumb. Then, when the line slackens, the angler’s forefingers can flick the spool the opposite way to retrieve the line.
Despite a personal inclination towards freespool reels though, there are some occasions when spinning reels excel: when the surge is not too big (so the angler does not have to constantly engage and disengage the reel to adjust the line) and when baits are large. By holding the line lightly between the fingers and with the bail-arm open, the angler can let snapper do whatever they want with the bait without feeling suspicious amounts of pressure.
When using a standard spinning reel, it can be hard to determine when one should strike once a fish has grabbed the bait and is running off with it, the line spiralling off the reel’s spool in a blur. Assuming your drag-setting preparation was done correctly earlier on, striking means engaging the reel and waiting for some tension to come on. If using circle hooks, simply lift the rod slowly at this point to set the hook, whereas Beak/Octopus style hooks require a much more decisive and comparatively complex series of actions. Generally this involves a full-blooded heave upwards, checking for a bent tip to indicate some pressure’s on the end, and if so, quickly cranking the rod tip down the taut line by winding the reel (so pressure is kept on throughout), before firmly lifting the rod again to set the hook properly.
Making things harder still, striking at exactly the right moment is more difficult than it sounds. If you wait slightly too long, wary fish can become suspicious and drop the bait (especially as the pressure starts to come on), whereas striking prematurely, before the weight comes on, tends to remove the line’s belly and not much else, particularly since spinning reels can’t help spilling excess line into the water while a fish is running off with the bait.
‘Baitrunner’-type reels are an exception – and I guess this is as good a time as any to discuss this reel more fully before carrying on.
While Baitrunner-style spinning reels have revolutionised this type of fishing for many anglers, I’m still in two minds. On the one hand, I do like the basic concept: it’s great to have the two sets of tension controls, one for the ‘bite’ pressure and one for the ‘strike and fight’ pressure. I also like the fact that to change from one to the other requires just a wind of the handle or a click-over of the ‘feeder control. A third advantage stems from the way the line is released from one static position (the bail roller) under minimal ‘bite’ drag, so the line stays straighter and is more direct to the fish than when the line comes off an open-bailed spinning-reel spool in big loops. Consequently, the weight of the fish comes on more quickly and strikes can be made earlier and more decisively.
On the other hand though, even the slight ‘bite’ pressure may still prove too firm and lead to snapper dropping baits. It is therefore always in the angler’s interests to set the ‘bite’ drag at the lightest tension possible – a pressure that allows the fish to run off fast, but without causing the spool to overrun. To get the correct ‘bite’ pressure, simply simulate snapper runs until you get the desired result.
Other lesser disadvantages of baitfeeder-type reels include:
As it’s easy for anglers to pull line from the reel without opening the bail-arm, line twist can become a problem over time;
Most of these reels don’t allow line to be retrieved while in the ‘bite and run’ mode, so when line is wound in (even just a small way, as is often required) the reel’s drag is set at the full fish-fighting level
(so better not get a curious bite at that time!);
It’s common to see anglers striking without engaging the reel’s main drag first – a rather silly thing to do, but understandable when the blood is rushing around in your head.
Back to the article proper. When you get a bite, it may be hard to distinguish, due to the surging swell moving the line around, especially if new to rock fishing or the swells are big. An easy way to determine real bites is to see if your line is moving in a different direction to the waves. If the swell’s coming in and your line’s steaming out, you’d better react!
However, initial fishy interest will often start out as bites, which can also be tentative, so you’ll need to get more commitment from the fish. To do this, very slowly pull back on the rod – no more than 15cm or so – and watch the rod tip. Often it will bang and thump as the fish grabs the bait again, aroused by the apparent life shown by the bait, and concerned that this potential dinner might get away. If nothing further eventuates though, either wind in the slack line you’ve created or drop the bait back a bit. Repeat these actions if necessary, and be prepared to react at any time – generally in response to a more determined bite.
If the rod tip begins to bend, your choice of hook again determines whether you steadily lift to set the hook, or allow the rod to move with the pressure until straight out in front, slightly out-thrust and pointing along the line. Then, as the tension comes on harder, whip the rod back smartly. Do not allow the rod tip to drop back down until any stretch in the system has been wound out and real weight is bending the rod.
With the fish now firmly hooked (hopefully), keep the pressure on at all times, as taut lines are harder to wrap around clumps of weed. However, beware of winding a spinning reel’s handle while line is offloading or if the pressure is so great that line is not coming back onto the spool, as this quickly produces line twist.
The only time you may wish to ease the pressure right off is if the line is obviously rubbing on a reef (but I don’t) or is firmly snagged (I do). Keep in mind that on the whole, every extra inch gained by the fish increases the chance of potential disaster – both on the way out and back in. By the same token, don’t keep cranking up the drag to slow a fish down – that’s flirting with disaster. If you believe that your drag was set correctly at the beginning of the day, don’t touch it again, especially if you’re in a state of mild panic.
Once the fish has been played out and is flopping around on the surface close by, try not to get overexcited. Take your time and either scoop it headfirst with the net or nail it in the head, shoulder or lips with the long-handled gaff, depending on its size and whether it is to be released or not.
No net or gaff? Don’t panic, as provided your line’s not in the spider-web category and you’re reasonably patient, it’s usually possible to find a place where the swells will push the snapper up onto the rocks, so it can then be slid to safety or grabbed. Failing that, if the seas aren’t too big I’d try wriggling my fingers into its gills to secure it that way.
Too easy, eh?
This article is reproduced with permission of
New Zealand Fishing News
2009 - by Mark Kitteridge
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited