Hints When Fishing is Hard

Grant Dixon shares his thoughts on how to cover your bases in those times when the weather is a challenge and opportunities are few and far between.

It all started with easterly weather patterns over the summer/autumn period, then winter came and brought with it some shocking weather that created havoc nationwide and reduced fishing opportunities for anglers. As demotivating as this can be for many fishers, it can also lead to fruitful learnings and discoveries if you think outside the box. I find that when opportunities are limited, it becomes a matter of making the most of your chances, trying new spots, and keeping your mind open to different methods.

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Stay on the move

At Mangawhai, we have the advantage that if the east coast is fishable but the bar unworkable, we can tow to Marsden Cove. Here, we can launch at some first-rate facilities and head straight out into Bream Bay via Whangarei Harbour Heads. An alternative option is a short tow across to the Kaipara Harbour on the west coast, a productive body of water with plenty of nooks and crannies to hide from the wind and swell. The Mangawhai Harbour and estuary is also a consistent producer – the adage ‘fish your feet first’ comes to mind. It is well worth putting the effort in when a two-metre easterly swell is stirring up the bar and you desperately need a fix.

In late summer/early autumn, the easterlies had kicked in big time, so I scratched the fishing itch by focusing on pilchard and anchovy workups in Whangarei Harbour. Nik Key tipped me off, and we had some fantastic sessions on snapper – a 60cm fish in four metres of water on light soft-baiting tackle is a beautiful thing! If smoked fish is to your liking, some XOS kahawai were chasing our bait, and Nik encountered some exciting kingfish action on several occasions.

I now have much greater respect for the Whangarei Harbour’s fishery than before and look forward to returning there this summer. The fuel saving (with the fishing being so close to the Marsden Cove ramp) is a bonus.

The writer finds smaller lures work better in the cooler months.

The writer finds smaller lures work better in the cooler months.

Get the intel

With bite times and opportunities shorter in winter, it pays not to spend too much time searching rather than fishing. The local tackle store is a great place to start. We have a well-stocked Top Catch store here in Mangawhai, and owner Dave Gurr is a mine of information (which he willingly shares with customers). Another option is to join a local fishing club. While you might not get specific numbers, over a couple of bevvies most members will at least point you in the right direction.

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Birds can also provide you with good intel. How often have you zoomed past a couple of gannets sitting on the water or a bunch of terns or mutton ducks lounging about as you head over the horizon searching for fish? Hello – the birds have already found them. Sound around your feathered friends, and you will likely pick up what they already know is beneath you. Even the most innocuous bird activity usually indicates fish in the vicinity.

Whales can be a different story. If dolphins and gannets accompany them, your luck will most likely be in. However, if they are flying solo, rarely is it worth stopping. Grant Bittle explained why in his recent Hauraki Gulf Expresso Report at www.fishing.net.nz. Go check it out!

Using the bite times on the Fishing.net website is another great resource I rely on to determine when and where I will fish. For me, a ‘perfect’ time is when the last few hours of the outgoing tide coincide with a change of light (dawn or dusk). But, then again, I also subscribe to the theory that ‘there is no such thing as a bad time to go fishing’. You can’t be catching if you are perched on the couch.

Locked and loaded on a decent winter snapper.

Locked and loaded on a decent winter snapper. 

Cover the bases

If you were to come alongside Tackle Tester during the winter, you might, funnily enough, see an array of tackle deployed. I will most likely be actively soft-baiting, with a slider running off a jig rod sitting in the corner holder and a third bait rod out of the holder rigged with a running sinker. The bait rod will have either a live bait (with a john dory in mind) or a conventionally baited ledger rig (to target those tasty carrots).


If you always use an 80g orange slider as your go-to lure of choice, start with that, but if it doesn’t work, then head back to the tackle box and try some other lure colours, weights, and styles. A good trick that can turn a slow day into a great one is adding a sliver of squid (or other tough bait) to your lure hooks – especially sliders, inchikus, or anything with a skirt. I have tended to turn my nose up at this practice as ‘cheating’, but I must put my hand up and say I have resorted to it a couple of times this winter, resulting in friends and family eating well! The only downside to this is that the baited lures tend to attract the smaller pickers, and if you are fishing at any depth – 30 metres plus – their chances of survival diminish. If you only attract small fish, move away or stop adding the bait.

Similarly, there are several lure additives that you can smear your lure with to increase its appeal. I believe in the ‘power of the pong’ and have proven its use to be beneficial, sometimes essential, over the years. And don’t just add it to your soft-baits; a dab or too on your other lures will do the trick when the bite is slow. An anchovy and garlic mix is one of my favourite flavours – not that great if your shipmates suffer from ‘mal de mer’ though!

Soft-baits and hard-bodied lures will produce better with added ‘flavour’.

Soft-baits and hard-bodied lures will produce better with added ‘flavour’. 

If there are fish on your sounder but you can’t get them to bite, don’t go charging off in search of other fish. Stick around; they will come on the chew at some stage. Be patient – pour yourself a coffee, have a sandwich, and change your lures. Do anything you like but stick to where you have found fish. They will eat, especially if you encourage them with berley or a bait additive.

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One thing I have sometimes thought of doing when lure fishing on the drift but haven’t tried yet is dropping a berley bomb near the bottom, tied off from the bow. This may help stimulate the action when the drift is very slow. Drop and drag a slider or a soft-bait behind the boat, so it can be intercepted by any fish getting a whiff of the berley. As the mouse says in the Cheezel advert: “It’s worth a crack, Nigel!”

We have had a good run on john dory this winter. They are my favourite eating fish, and we have caught some XOS models, mainly on soft-baits. When we encounter a bait school, we will make several drifts through it. If you have an electric motor, spot-lock yourself above it and drop down a livebait or run a micro-jig through it.

Size is Important

My go-to snapper soft-bait is anything with a 7” tail for most of the year, winter being the exception. While ‘big baits, big fish’ is a mantra I have followed for many years, targeting snapper in the colder months has been more a case of ’good things come in small packages’. I tend to fish smaller soft-baits, and in recent times anything with a paddle tail, grub tail, or legs has proven successful. I put this down to the fact that, in the main, fish are less voracious in their feeding in winter. A lure that has more movement tends to attract more attention. Add plenty of oily attractant, and you have a recipe for success.

There are times when ‘everyone’ catches fish, but it is only by using your ears and your eyes to listen and observe what is happening around you that you will become one of those ’10-percenters who catch 90% of the fish’, regardless of the season and the conditions.

October 2022 - Grant Dixon
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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