Bait vs Lures

  • Mark Kitteridge

Mark Kitteridge weighs in on one of the oldest angling debates…

For around 20 years, nothing beat a freshly stunned mackerel slowly making its way down an oily berley trail, attached to a lightly weighted two-hook rig. Indeed, it had got to a point where I was quite proud of my bait-fishing capabilities; never before had I caught so many massive snapper, thanks to my mantra of ‘big bait for big fish’! I also loved putting out large baits for kingfish, with a much younger, stronger, and fitter Mark Kitteridge relishing the physical brawls following hook-up.

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For similar reasons, I also enjoyed the often torrid battles with yellowfin tuna that occurred after one of them ate a yellowtail mackerel live bait. However, lures have also played a significant part in my fishing life since hooking my first kahawai on a spinner at the age of eight or nine.

Over the ensuing years I’ve been fortunate to enjoy my share of many game-changing lure techniques, including jigging for snapper with flutter and slow-jig type lures; speed and mechanical jigging for kingfish and yellowfin tuna; popper fishing and stickbaiting for kingfish; and soft-baiting for snapper.

Tough soft-plastics can mean a solid day of successful fishing with just one tail that’s still good to go another time!

Fast forward…

These days I’m still predominantly a soft-baiter, although I’ll target kingfish with stick-baits and poppers if the opportunity arises. Also, when the workups are happening out deeper, my arm can be twisted to get out after them using the latest cool slow-jigging gear. After all, something spectacular and/or interesting usually happens when huge concentrations of baitfish, dolphins, gannets, whales and a wide array of fishy predators get together!

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So it’s obvious I’ve become a dyedin-the-wool lure fisherman. And it’s not because I don’t like bait fishing; I just like lure fishing more. Much more. To the point that I would rather catch fewer fish than change to fishing with natural baits (which isn’t really a sacrifice, as this scenario rarely occurs!).

Much of my rather one-eyed obsession is down to the amazing tackle involved with fishing lures. Typically, the compact, high-performance reels combine with ‘spindly bits of nothing’ rods (apart from the top-water outfits used on kingfish) to potentially present a mind-boggling selection of lures in all sorts of ways to produce surprisingly good results and many challenging battles.

Fishing local from small boats makes good sense...

I also like the proactive tactics involved with most lure-fishing techniques. Sure, I completely understand the attractions of anchoring up, sitting back in the sun with beer in hand, waiting for a snapper to find the bait, but that’s not for me. Instead, the idea of drifting with the tide or breeze to continually cover new ground while casting or dropping various tasty-looking artificial offerings keeps me engaged and happy, especially using the aforementioned dinky outfits! So yes, bait fishing and I have largely parted ways, and in recent times I am becoming increasingly thankful for the fact.

The world is becoming a very different one at a head-spinning pace, and I can see challenges ahead for all anglers, but bait fishers in particular.

How much?!

I sell recreational fishing tackle for a living and happened to be in a store while a young couple was buying their day’s requirements. I noted they bought two large berley bombs and two boxes of pilchards, a reasonably practical amount for a decent day spent stray-lining. “That will be $135 dollars, thanks,” the staff member said cheerily.

You could have knocked me over with a feather. Holy crap, I had no idea how expensive things had become! Indeed, I couldn’t help mentally adding up my own typical expenditures for a day out on the water fishing lures for snapper, and comparing the two techniques… (N.B. The 0s below indicate that at times the lure will not have been irreparably damaged or lost and is potentially good to go for another session or even two.) * 0-3 x metal flutter-type jigs: $0-$40 ($60-$75 for tungsten models) * 0-3 x slow-jigs: $0-$60/$75 * 0-3 x Z-Man soft-bait tails (I have selected this brand as it is the most durable, with each tail usually accounting for around seven or eight fish through to 25/30-plus fish; less robust soft-bait brands could cost substantially more) and 0-3 jigheads: $0-$15/$20.

Do rising fuel prices mean chasing the often spectacular work-ups will become a luxury.

As you can see, even the relatively expensive jigs in a ‘worst case scenario’ loss of three lures, still come in around $65 less than the amount spent on bait and berley by our happy fishing couple. At the other end of the scale, I can fish my tough soft-bait all day, catch a heap of fish, and potentially still have it for the next session, meaning zero expenditure.

This scenario happens surprisingly often, and provides a welcome financial oasis amidst a climate of steadily increasing prices! However, I should also acknowledge that skilled anglers are more likely to retain their lure/s over an extended period of time, as a lot can depend on how well the lure is rigged and operated. It also pays to stay away from heavily weeded areas, unless you’re a competent soft-baiter.

Trying to be fair though, this single bait-and-berley-purchase example does not take into account the ‘Kiwi bloke’ who perhaps drags a mullet net, or whips a throw-net over a piper school, or catches mackerel with bait flies, to provide their own bait and berley supplies for little to no outlay. But I suspect only 5-10% of anglers would have the inclination, equipment and/or skills to consistently do so... Bloody fuel prices! Skyrocketing fuel prices aren’t helping anglers either, whatever the fishing preference might be.

My friends and I mostly fish from vessels around four to five metres in length, powered by 30-60hp outboards. Fuel costs for us tend to be around $30-$120, depending on the vessel and the destination, and are typically split between two or three anglers. However, my last three major missions in larger (6-8m) boats involved fuel bills around $180-$640 (the latter was a day trip targeting broadbill and bass in the canyons out off Great Barrier and Coromandel Peninsula, leaving from Westhaven).

So if we were to add $150- $250, say, to the $135 already mentioned for the modest bait supplies, we can see fishing is becoming a very expensive exercise, especially for bait fishers!

Not a good time for multiple big outboards if you’re looking for economical fishing...

The future?

I’m a very keen angler, and my wife is usually supportive of my passion, but I doubt if she’d be as happy for me to regularly go fishing if I were paying $100-$200 a pop. (Which also makes me wonder whether chasing work-up will become a very occasional luxury soon…?)

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Instead, the relatively small, cheapto-run boats and inexpensive fishing methods deployed by me and my friends result in only modest costs, enabling our passion to still be treated as an investment in fresh kai moana for family and friends, as well as an activity that helps us to maintain our personal wellbeing. Indeed, I have been increasingly fishing my more localised areas with micro-baits from my 14’ Stabi’ in recent times, and I truly believe this is the way of the future.

In addition to incurring minimal fuel costs (and time spent on the water at times), the little soft-baits used are proving lethal on so many species of fish in a wide range of sizes, and the light gear used means every battle is enjoyed to the full. Even better, I usually catch more fish than with traditional soft-baiting gear, and the light 10-12lb fluorocarbon trace often sees the bigger, warier fish being completely fooled – the bites attracted are often savage!

The cost?

* Fuel (Honda 30 4-stroke): $10-$25

* Z-Man TRD MinnowZ: $3 (often lasts all day!)

* Z-Man Finesse EyeZ jighead: $5 (often lasts all day)

Total expenditure: $18-$33

August 2022 - Mark Kitteridge
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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