I believe that March, April and May offer some of the Hauraki Gulf’s best fishing opportunities.
The weather gets better: as it’s not as hot, the winds start to die down, and we then get more consistent weather patterns. The colder conditions also bring back the more intense and longer-lasting work-ups, which hold good numbers of bigger snapper and other predators.
These work-ups can last for days on end and cover vast areas during May, with snapper, kingfish, mammals and birds feeding up for the winter. This type of activity is usually out wider than the spring work-ups, so you need a big boat and an urge to go wide. However, with fewer boats out fishing, you can have this magical playground to yourself – sometimes for weeks.
The water also starts to cool off during April and May, and with that change in sea temperature we see more baitfish appearing, including pilchards. They, in turn, are accompanied by various marine mammals and, of course, the bigger snapper. So if we didn’t find the work-ups when venturing out last year, we would go to where the baitfish were holding; the snapper and kingfish would be nearby. If you find the baitfish, you’ll find the predators.
Last year we found huge areas of baitfish over towards Coromandel in the Fantail Bay area, across to the 50m marks north of Anchorite Rock, and over to Little Barrier. The baitfish in this instance consisted of juvenile fish (whitebait), along with anchovies and pilchards. There was so much food around that the skipjack tuna hung around until June.
That’s what makes the Hauraki Gulf such a fantastic fishing ground: shaped like a huge bucket, the baitfish are pushed into it and then find they have nowhere to go.
The Hauraki Gulf is visited by an astonishing one-third of all marine-mammal species found on earth, and also has many residents (dolphin, orcas and whales). Obviously they live or visit here due to the abundant food.
Last year we often looked for the skippies feeding, then fished under them for the snapper feeding up on the scraps drifting down, forming a natural berley trail. By working out where the current was running and then fishing down-current from the skippies, we fished slow-jigs with great success. There were acres of skipjack, so we had huge areas to fish!
Many of the prime snapper taken under the feeding skippies in late April last season ate a pink 140g slider/kabura-style jig. (I also find that pink works well in spring.)
Sometimes we target the skippies themselves for a bit of fun, and this is done by ‘matching the hatch’. If feeding on anchovies, I set up a soft-bait rod with a small anchovy-imitation-type lure (soft-bait or compact jig/spinner). Such offerings are cast ahead of the fast-moving skippies and retrieved, the rod tip pointing at the water and the angler winding as fast as possible. When hooked up, these fish fight really well on light gear, and my clients quickly learned a lot about angling while attached to these powerful torpedos!
We also find inchiku-style slow-jigs are very effective in these conditions. I get my clients to drop their jig to the bottom with the rod tip pointed downwards, and upon touching down (sometimes fish are hooked on the drop), I tell them to slowly wind in around 10 turns of the reel handle. If they get bites on the retrieve, I tell them not to strike, just keep on winding until the weight comes on (sometime the bigger snapper chase the small ones, nipping at the lure and hitting out of competitive instinct, even if not feeding).
Kingfish and other species are also attracted to these baitfish aggregations. While we had a lot of fun catching snapper and skippies, we also encountered other predators hunting the small fish. For example, we often catch kingfish and trevally during May on our light slow-jigging gear. They are a welcome by-catch and fantastic fun on the light gear!
Sometimes we get multiple hook-ups on kingfish. I remember one day in particular, when I had only three anglers on board and we were targeting the bigger snapper. Upon finding a depression at 50m, the sounder lit up with baitfish, so I set the boat to drift over it and instructed my anglers to get down as quickly as possible.
Well, none of them got to the bottom, as all had their light snapper-jigging gear smashed by kingfish during the descent. We had a bit of a tangle as these hoodlums tried to bust free, but these guys knew what they were doing, followed instructions, and somehow sorted it out, resulting in all three fish eventually being brought onto the boat.
We have also had a lot of large trevally turn up in May and June. They seem to come into the area just west of Channel Island and down to the barges off Coromandel. These fish are all in the 4-5kg range and also like kabura-style slow-jigs (60g in green-red is very effective).
If the drift is slow, we find that lightly weighted soft-baits work well on these hard fighting fish too, although the deeper waters mean some anglers struggle while others are almost constantly hooked up.
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