A guide to Hapuku Fishing

  • HTC - Hapuku

Unfortunately, as life goes on and one gets older/less fit/weaker/fatter, some activities lose a bit of their shine.

Fishing for bluenose, hapuku and bass (with the latter two species often lumped together as ‘wreckfish’) is one of them, especially as success often hinges on dropping baits into increasingly deeper spots nowadays, thanks to excessive fishing pressure.

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I can tell you now that winding up rigs weighted with 32oz (almost a kilo) ‘bombs’ from 250-350m down several times a day really sucks – especially when there’s no fish on the hook to provide some cranking incentive.

So how can you make this easier and more pleasurable? The most obvious way is to decrease the size and weight of the tackle you’re using.

Traditional hapuku outfits commonly consisted of the bigger Penn Senators/Daiwa Sealine reels (6/0-9/0 sizes) filled with strong nylon and attached to reasonably long rods made of fibreglass or graphite composite. But braid has changed all this.

At around a third the diameter of nylon in equivalent breaking strain, a much smaller reel can now be used to accommodate plenty of strong braided line, although this advantage has been negated somewhat by reels needing more line to effectively fish in today’s greater depths, as mentioned earlier.

Besides being thin, braid transmits bites and hook-ups efficiently, even in really deep water, whereas nylon increasingly becomes a stretchy rubber band the deeper it’s dropped.

Lighter materials and improved construction techniques have resulted in the current crop of smaller, lighter reels with incredible capabilities, and skinny graphite rods that appear to weigh only as much as the components fitted to them!

So what exactly is required? We’ll start with reels: whatever brand and model you choose, it must hold at least 400 metres of 37kg braid (but 500 metres is better) and exert a minimum of 8-10kg of drag pressure.

It will need reel lugs too, because you can’t clip onto a good harness system without them – and believe me, you’ll want to (more on harnesses later).

As a ‘flabby angler’ (FA), it can be handy to have a two-speed reel. The low gear in a two-speed reel definitely takes the pain out of winding heavy weights, but since most low ratios are really low, it takes forever to wind up in ‘low’, so only use this function if it’s absolutely necessary. (Note to reel manufacturers: how about making a reel with a ‘faster’ low speed – perhaps two-thirds the rate of the high-speed option, rather than the usual half?)

Lightness is another of the FA’s friends, with graphite components and clever porting in a reel’s metal components often considered a big plus because they cut down on overall weight. However, if a fancy lightweight reel starts flexing under pressure, even a tiny bit, its internal components may become misaligned, causing undue wear – so stick with well-known and proven reel brands.

A level-wind is also useful when fishing for hapuku, because it allows the angler to concentrate on pumping the rod and winding the reel handle without worrying about guiding the line evenly onto the reel’s spool. A level-wind also largely eliminates braid cuts to your hands, caused by line leaving the reel quickly under drag pressure, as well as reducing general wear and tear on your fingers while fishing.

On the downside, level-winds are notorious for jamming or acting up under pressure, and although they are becoming more reliable, it’s still something to keep in mind.

As for the line, there’s no debate: it’s got to be braid of 37kg minimum. Hapuku fishing is harvesting not sportfishing, so there’s no real excuse for ‘playing with your food’ – especially as bust-offs usually mean a dead fish, thanks to the super-heavy sinkers used. Indeed, some people use 45kg (100lb) braid or heavier (but treated as if it were 37kg), as the extra thickness (and therefore abrasion resistance) of these lines provides greater protection against break-offs.

The rod does not have to be flash, but should be reasonably short (1.8m or less) and strong enough to handle 37kg line. Rods with a parabolic action, or which bend reasonably readily in the upper section, will be easier on the angler. Such rods help to absorb the sudden bumps, head-shakes and lunges transmitted up the braid line, as well as effectively shortening the rod’s length so a shorter ‘crowbar’ is being used against you.

However, using a rod that’s too short makes it difficult for anglers to keep the line clear of the boat’s hull, rudder, motor and such.

Avoid rods with low quality roller guides and/or tips. Braid is slippery and easily flattened, especially when under pressure, so it can slip into the slightest gap between rollers and frames.

As mentioned early on, a good harness system makes a big difference to FAs – and not just when fighting fish: they make winding in heavily-weighted ‘puka rigs easier, too. So buy a Black Magic harness system – there’s still nothing better available, and you’ll be buying a product designed and sold by Kiwis.

Just one thing though, upon hooking your ‘puka, bass or bluenose, DON’T try frantically to get your rod into the bucket and the reel clipped to the harness! This is when we FAs must ‘man up’ and lift and wind aggressively for as long as our flabby bodies allow. Hapuku and bass generally have a friendly cave, gutter or outcrop nearby where they’ll try to find sanctuary. It’s your job to prevent this, with every extra metre of line you can keep, or get back on the reel, making a bust-off less likely. So don’t muck around with harnesses until you’re confident you’ve got the fish well up and away from the reef – or you are too exhausted to do anything else!

It is important to set the harness clips at the right distance for your rod. They should be at a length that allows you to let go of the rod and reel completely if the situation allows, but support the outfit at a distance from your body where you can quickly grab the rod’s foregrip at any time with your outstretched arm.

When initially making adjustments to the harness straps, make sure the outfit is under pressure with the rod bent – as it will be when a big fish is being played; you are likely to find that the rod is actually more vertical in relation to your body than anticipated when the pressure comes off...

And buy some gloves. They should be reasonably tight fitting, but don’t have to be expensive – cotton gardening gloves will do, helping to protect your hands from line cuts and aiding fish-handling on deck.

There are other tricks FAs can take advantage of, too. For example, you might like to take a leaf out of the ‘Wicked Tuna’ programme and simply leave your rod in a carefully angled rod-holder throughout the fight, especially if sea conditions are not too rough. This works best with a longer rod and a bent-butt to present the line a good distance away from the side of the boat; you’ll need to time your winds to the drop of the swells when retrieving a fish, or risk prematurely stripping the reel’s gears.

Otherwise, for the real FAs amongst us, there are electric reels. Many anglers – especially those who have never used them – talk disparagingly about electric reels, but once they’ve tried them they’re far more positive about the benefits – converts even.

As mentioned earlier, it’s the winding up of heavily-weighted fishless rigs that’s hardest on deep water anglers. There’s nothing worse than dropping down hundreds of metres, finally getting there, then hearing the skipper say something like, “Bugger! The current’s changed and messed up our drift – wind ’em up, boys!” Ten minutes later, after much huffing, puffing and cranking, up come your untouched baits.

That’s why a machine that does this chore for you is so attractive: simply press a button and up she comes, no sweat. Without the strenuous exercise and regular crew mutinies that accompany failure, skippers can try various deep spots – some perhaps with a risk of failure – on a whim (“What the hell, let’s try that pin in 400 metres!”).

I’ve only been on a couple of trips where we’ve used electric reels, but results were staggering. In fact, a few years ago while fishing aboard the amazing 40-foot Protector RIB Femme Fatale, which is beautifully set up for electric reel fishing, I watched a silent but intense tussle occurring out of the rod-holder. It saw the custom-made bent-butt rod deeply bowed and pulsing, the line seesawing on and off the big Daiwa Tanacom reel as a leviathan of the deep repeatedly charged away, only to be slowly and irresistibly dragged back in again. In the end owner Kim took over the cranking and winding duties, and some time later, up popped a monstrous bass of 83kg!

While I have seen electric reels used reasonably successfully with a portable battery strapped to the angler in a small backpack, it’s much better to have a power source available on deck for this type of fishing. Make sure the reel has a manual-wind function too, just in case the power fails for any reason. Although flabby anglers might not like winding, it’s preferable to having a big hapuku struggling deep down with no way of getting the line back on the reel!

This article is reproduced with express permission of
NZ Fishing News

written by Markn Kitteridge - 2013
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

Originally published in New Zealand Fishing News

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