Gannets, or many seabirds for that matter, are nature’s fish finding gift to anglers, but they do come with some frustrations as Craig Worthington points out. Like their marine electronic counterparts, with gannets it is all about interpreting what you see before you…
Gannets are great. A friend called them “yellow-headed fish finding drones” and he wasn’t far wrong. Active gannets have got to be about the biggest fish indicators out there. Find them falling from the sky over a sea full of anchovies and muttonbirds and you’ve almost certainly found good fish. Kingies, snapper, big kahawai, trevally, barracouta and sharks will be found zooming in on the action. Even john dory and gurnard get in on the act. A full-on gannet plummeting work-up is nearly always a quick ticket to great fishing.
Unfortunately, they’re not always easy to find. The work-ups probably happen frequently, even daily, during the summer season, but that doesn’t mean they will be happening in the small area of ocean you are sitting in. You have to be where the action is and the action has to happen during those short few hours you’ve got on the water.
Then there’s the added problem of work-ups dying the minute you start travelling towards them, or changing direction, or constantly moving away from you. Add a choppy sea and you’ve got your work cut out. Gannet chasing can sometimes be a frustrating and tiresome affair.
That is why I like to keep an eye out for some of the quieter gannet activity that is going on around the fringes. Some of the less obvious gannet action can occur right inshore and be a lot easier to get near.
This sort of gannet action can be easily over-looked. There might be just two or three gannets working a beach and shallow diving because there is a whole lot of piper in there (and no doubt some snapper and kingfish too), or there could be a few gannets spearing into a shallow rocky corner where kahawai have trapped a meatball of anchovies up against the shore. It’s all worth looking out for.
Even sleeping gannets are worth taking note of as they’re probably sitting on full bellies after some good feeding close by not that long ago. If you hang around and watch them you may find out where “close by” is.
A good example of the quality action that ‘quiet’ gannets can deliver is an experience we had here in the Bay of Islands during Labour Weekend. We were seaward in the boat, but had a text request from Jack to pick him up from the Kerikeri Inlet. This took us past the Te Pahi islands on the north-western side of the Bay of Islands and in past the series of bays and coves that lie behind them. This made for an interesting trip as it is a part of the Bay of Islands I haven’t spent much time in. On the way I noticed a small flotilla of gannets quietly resting by one of the beaches. I made a mental note to check on them on the way back out.
On our return a few of the gannets were up in the air. There was an occasional dive into shallow water near the rocks and beach, as well as a few kahawai splashes in by the kelp edge. It looked very suspicious.
Then a group of cormorants moved in and began excitedly working the corner of the bay. There was definitely something going on here. The boys laid out some exploratory soft-bait casts but didn’t receive a touch. I had a bunch of lit-up kahawai come in momentarily behind my fly and a few more gannets got into the air. We stuck with it.
Gannet diving continued in a fairly random and unhurried fashion and a lot of boats drove straight past us, not taking any notice of it at all.
Then Jack hooked up. It was a real screamer and put up a great fight on his light soft-bait rod. It was a nice snapper of about four kilos.
Jack Clarke with another nice fish taken from under diving gannets.
Ben followed suit shortly after with another good fish. The gannets and shags kept working baitfish over a distinct depth line that was quite close to shore. There was no sustained concentration of activity so we kept drifting this line and worked our soft-baits and flies through the water column. On almost every drift someone would hook into a good fish. It was great fishing. We let the big ones go and put five nice eaters in the bin.
Then the kingfish showed up briefly. There was one good hook-up, but unfortunately it fell off.
All this time the gannets continued to dive randomly and the boats that were heading out to sea behind us just kept on going. Nobody stopped. The gannet activity must have been visible from where they were, but everyone left us alone with the fish. Obviously, this small number of gannets diving unhurriedly by the shore wasn’t worth checking out. We were quite happy with that.
Eventually the bait moved away and the action slowed. The gannets went back to sleeping on the water. We left the area very pleased with what we had found. Red hot shallow water lure fishing doesn’t happen like that every day of the week, and especially not on long weekends.
Some nice eaters from under the gannets.The big ones were let go.
The winds had been cool and from the south in the days leading up to Labour Weekend. It made for difficult fishing for a lot of people. In nearly all parts of the Bay of Islands the water was cold and the fish were slow to bite. We did a whole lot better than most other boats simply by watching those gannets.
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