As a busy charter captain, Tony Orton has the rare advantage of regularly fishing lures in some of the most fertile waters in NZ. After a lot of trial and error, he now has a pretty good handle on knowing what lures to fish where…
In the last seven years, I could count on one hand how many times I have used dead bait and berley to go out and catch a feed. Pretty much all my inshore fishing these days is with lures, with the exception of livebaiting.
If you had a peak around in my tackle box, you would not find a massive selection of lures as over the years I have weaned it down to what works for me and the different locations I fish. All the lures are straight off the shelf and consist of soft-baits, sliding head style lures like the Shimano Baku Baku and Dotera lures, and small jigs. When targeting snapper, gurnard, trevally, kahawai, blue cod and john dory, these are all I use. For larger fish like kingfish, I use knife jigs for deeper water and floating and sinking stickbaits whenever the kings are higher in the water column.
Quite possibly one of my favourite styles of fishing is topwater casting to kingfish. It’s very active and nothing beats the feeling of working a lure well then getting a spectacular surface bite. A lot of my biggest kingfish have been caught casting surface lures. I will always have both floating and sinking stickbaits ready, especially when fishing around large surface feeding bait schools. Changing out to a sinking stickbait when fishing in large surface schools of kahawai and trevally can trigger a bite if a floating lure is not working. The new Shimano Sardine Ball with “Flashboost” (a pivoting holographic foil) really stands out and as the lure swims below the surface, it won’t get lost in all the commotion of krill-feeding fish. Don’t be scared to change out lures or change the swimming action of the lure with different techniques like long or short sweeps, or the ‘walk the dog’ retrieve.
My typical setup is an 8’3” rod that can work 70-130g lures, a reel that can punch out 20 plus kilos of drag and has a high retrieve rate, 60-80lb braid and a short 1.2-1.5m 100lb leader.
I am always looking for new areas to topwater fish. Kingfish are predators, so looking where bait schools congregate is a great start. Drop offs, ledges, points and areas where current pushes up krill and smaller baitfish are all places to start looking.
The new Shimano Sardine Ball with flash boost (pivoting halographic foil) sinking stickbait (left) and the new Shimano HD Orca floating stickbait (right) cover a wide range of fishing opportunities.
Back in the day, my jig bag use to be full of so many different styles of long jigs I felt like I needed a forklift to just get it on the boat. It was also a task just to pick one out. These days, my jig bag is pretty baron with only a small selection of kingfish jigs.
I now like to run with shorter jigs as opposed to the more conventional long knife jigs. The shorter jig allows you to change your technique to alter the action of the jig to suit what you are targeting. At certain times of the year, a lot of the pins we fish for kingfish will also hold hapuku down deep and large snapper feeding on the bottom or under the bait schools, so it is great to use a jig that allows you to traditionally mechanical jig in the feeding zones for kingfish, but still flutters more on the drop and can be yo-yo style jigged on the bottom. This means we can keep the jig working ‘in the zone’ for longer. Over my years running a charter boat, I have noticed the jigger that mixes up the action will trigger more bites more than the angler who jigs the exact same way drop after drop, so don’t get locked into just one style of working a jig.
A nice kingfish boatside, caught on one of the writer’s favourite jigs, the Shimano Pebble Stick. Insert: Kingfish feeding at 37-50m, a perfect time for mechanical jigging.
A nice kingfish boatside, caught on one of the writer's favourite jigs, the Shimano Pebble Stick.
For me personally, this is one of the most rewarding ways to target snapper. To work points and ‘wash’ areas is an active way to fish. Eyeing up where to put your next cast, getting the bite on the drop and then trying to pull a fish out of rocky or kelpy terrain makes for a very fun experience.
Traditionally, we have mainly used soft-baits for this style of fishing but more recently I have started using small jigs in the 20-40gm size with great success in some of the areas where there are steeper drop offs or points that drop away in very deep water.
For wash fishing, I like a long 7’6” to 8’ rod to (a) get a long cast in, (b) help set the hook and (c) have the length and leverage to pull a snapper out of the rocks or kelp. I use reels spooled with 15lb braid and fluorocarbon leaders in the 15-25lb size range depending how shallow, rocky or gnarly the terrain is.
For this style of fishing, it’s all about watching and understanding what way the current or tides is hitting the structure. Most of the time we fish the up current side of structure – areas where the milky water is washing back off the rocks or gutters and basically areas where a snapper could ambush its prey. Having a Minn Kota or trolling style bow motor is a massive asset for this style of fishing as it allows you to be more accurate in your boat placement and a real bonus is being able to “spot lock” you boat in an area you are getting a lot of bites. Being able to slow your drift is also great as it allows you to work the zone more comprehensively. Some of the areas I wash fish are very shallow at the top (3-8m) then drop away very steeply into 35-70m, so I use a jig head in the 1/2 to 1oz size as I like my soft-bait to look like its swimming down to trigger more bites. If you’re fishing shallow areas, then reduce the jighead size so it has more hang time in the bite zone.
Perfect wash fishing conditions - swell, current and lots of bait to target with soft-baits or micro jigs.
Nothing beats that feeling when you are dropping your lure or soft-bait down on a reef and half way down it gets slammed by a hungry snapper.
Your sounder and chart plotter are critical for this style of fishing as sometimes the drifts are fast and there is limited time to get your lure in the zone. I see it time and time again: a boat marks fish on the sounder, stops, drops lures and then by the time the lures are at the right depth the boat has drifted way off the feeding area. I mark where the fish are on my plotter then drive up wind or up current and start my drift so I know my lures will have time to reach the “zone” as I drift towards the mark. We pick the weight of the soft-bait jig heads, sliding lure heads and micro jigs to suit the speed of the drift and depth. The idea is to keep the lure as light as possible while still having enough weight to get you in to the zone.
For soft-baits, I like to put in a big high cast way down wind. The high cast gets a good amount of line off the reel and allows the lure to drop more naturally, stopping it getting hung up in the water column. You want the line to lie straight on the water just as a fly fisherman would lay his fly line out. You then can also keep an eye on the line lying on the water for any sudden movements or bites.
All my soft-baits/slow jig setups now have multi coloured braid so when fishing over deeper reefs I know exactly where my lure is in the water column. Combine this with marking fish on your sounder and you will spend more time in the bite zone.
For reef fishing, I like to slow drift the area I have marked fish or hold myself with the Minn Kota trolling motor. If you are holding yourself with a trolling motor, then you need to change your casting technique and lure placement. You will to need to cast into the wind or current and strip off enough line so the lure can drop quickly and naturally back to the ‘zone’. Pretty well all of the jigs, sliding heads lures and soft-baits are going to work better fished vertical under the boat so casting the right distance and stripping the right amount of line off is paramount. Most of the bites are going to come on the drop as the fish will be feeding up off the bottom on bait, so it’s also really important to stay in touch while the lure is dropping.
For this style of fishing, I mostly use a spin setup (as a lot of the time we are putting big casts in), 7’ to 8’ rods, 15lb braid and 15-25lb fluorocarbon leaders.
A soft-bait dropped into rising bait over a deep reef can prove deadly when targeting snapper.
It’s a pretty surreal feeling when the entire food chain kicks of right in front of you. Gannets, whales, dolphins, snapper and kingfish all feed up hard on mackerel or pilchard schools and can all be in the same place. I really focus on fishing the “exhaust” of the work-up. This is the area just to the back of the work-up. I like this area because we are not disturbing the feeding fish, birds, whales etc, so they can keep doing their thing. I also think the bigger fish feed in these areas on the scraps dropping down.
In recent times, I have been using 30-40g small jigs like the Shimano ColtSniper with great success and I’ve been really surprised at how the fish are consistently bigger than what we have been catching on other lures.
Other styles of lures that have proven deadly are soft-baits with heavy 3/4 and 1oz jigheads and sliding heads lures.
It’s all about staying in the zone as long as possible, so I use a sea anchor to slow the drift down. With all the lures, we cast down wind and the distance varies on how fast the drift is. When using sliding head and small jigs you will get the best results when they are worked directly under the boat.
Gannets are great indicators of what is happening under the water. The way they fly when looking for or have found bait, how deep they are diving to catch bait and also the way they sit on the water indicate the movement and direction of the work-up.
For this style of fishing we use both long 7’-8’ spin setups for soft-baits and an overhead setup with a ‘nibble tip’ (a very flexi tip to detect bites and assist the hook up) for micro jigs and sliding head style lures, 15lb multi colour braid on a bait-caster style reel and 15-25lb fluorocarbon leaders.
When using sliding head style lures like the Shimano Baku Baku or Dotera lures, we use anything from 40g up to 200g heads depending on the speed of the drift. One of the problems we see on our charter boat is when people strike on the bite. The best technique is doing very slow winds to get the bite and then keeping the slow winds going until the rod loads up. Once the weight comes on, just speed up your wind to set the small hook.
The writer with a snapper caught on a soft-bait under the gannets.
A good sounder and plotter is key to good results. Once you mark the fish, line up your drift and give yourself time to get your lures in the zone. I really like soft-baits and sliding head style lures for this type of fishing. Some of the areas I fish over sand, mud and shell are very tide dependant and I sometimes wait patiently for a change of tide or the tide flow to increase or decrease to bring on the bite.
My six-year-old son has a great technique for fishing the sand with soft-baits. He only casts 10m in front of the boat, lets the lure hit the bottom and then closes the bail arm. As soon as he feels the lure hit or pull on the bottom, he lifts the rod high and then lets the lure drop. He does this over and over until he can’t feel the bottom. He then lets more line out and repeats. It’s amazing how many fish he catches and being six years old, he will tell you his technique is best!
Sliding head lures work well when drifting over sand/mud/shell bottoms – just the action of the lure head hitting the sea floor and puffing up a little silt attracts fish, and the slow motion of winding off the bottom is great for a variety of species.
At some point of the tide, the bait and snapper will move off the bottom and start feeding harder – this is the time to pay more attention when your lure is on the drop.
Sami with a prime eating snapper caught on the sand. A sliding head on an inchiku style lure is perfect in this scenario.
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