Bait and Berley Tips for Straylining

  • Hayden Speed

In the second part of Hayden Speed’s look at straylining techniques, he covers boat placement, currents, bait, and berley deployment.

There are so many different techniques and locations that can be fished successfully when straylining. Whether it’s light tackle over sandy beaches, or heavy tackle over rugged reefs, it really is an exciting form of targeting fish – snapper in particular. Current is a vital component of any successful straylining session. It helps your berley disperse over a larger area, and also holds your bait away from the boat and up off the bottom. In a perfect scenario, once anchored, you want the current flowing straight back behind the boat onto the reef or fish sign you’ve identified.

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However, it’s not always that simple! Before choosing a place to anchor, it is also important to identify which way the current is running.  There are a few ways to do this. If you are fishing on a day with little wind, it is a lot easier to identify the current. Once you arrive you can do a passive drift (particularly while getting gear and berley ready). Provided there is no wind, the boat will move with the current and you’ll be able to see the drift line on your chart plotter.

Hayden’s sister Charlotte with a sizeable snapper caught straylining.

Also, on a still day with no wind, you will be able to identify the current by looking at how other boats are hanging on their anchor. Another tip is to use your GPS speed to determine the current by idling forward in different directions and paying attention to your GPS screen. Your GPS speed will be the highest when travelling with the current, and the slowest when motoring into the current.

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The area that you want to fish should be down-current of where you end up anchoring; this will mean that your bait and berley drift back to where the sign is. Take time to get this right. Success often relies on the accuracy of your positioning while anchoring. I always anchor when I strayline – it helps the berley work much better and ensures that you are always fishing back to where the fish are. When fishing new territory, take time for a quiet reconnaissance by driving slowly around, scouting the bottom for fish and structure.

Once I’ve worked out where the fish are, the next task is to position the anchor and boat up-current from there. If there’s a bit of breeze, I will motor directly up wind – the stronger the wind, the further I will go. As I’m lowering the anchor, I try to position the vessel in front of the target area, which may take a few attempts, but being in the right spot can make a massive difference. The other factor to consider while anchoring, aside from the wind, is the direction and strength of the current. 

Deploying berley

One of the best investments a strayliner can make is in a large wobbly pot. This weighted cage allows you to lower your berley to a certain depth. Having your bait and berley trail at the same depth is essential, and the most important aspect of straylining. The depth you set your berley depends on a couple of main factors: the depth of the water and the amount of current. Typically, the deeper the water, the deeper I will have my wobbly pot (as snapper will most likely be holding in the bottom half of the water column).

However, I will always have it at least 3-4 metres up off the bottom, as the current flow is much better there. It also depends on the strength of the current; if the current is ripping through, I will position my berley only a metre or so above the fish sign, as the strong current will disperse the berley much more horizontally than a weaker current. In a smaller current or shallower water, I will have my berley higher. It will cover more ground as it sinks, dispersing over more area and attracting more fish. If you were to have your berley sitting deep with little current, it will fall to the bottom much quicker, covering far less ground. 

Think of berley as ‘advertising’; you can sweeten the deal for the fish by adding larger bits to your trail. Chop up your baitfish frames, or save any old baits from previous trips to be chopped up, then broadcast regularly by throwing them behind the boat every so often. Follow these chunks down with an unweighted cube of bait – a pilchard chunk is perfect for this – allowing it to drift back among the other pieces. Big baits might not necessarily be best in this instance!

Best baits

When it comes to choosing your bait, fresh is definitely best. It is worth taking some time to catch bait when heading out. Jack mackerel, skipjack tuna, blue koheru, piper, and kahawai are all great fresh bait options.

However, if you are not lucky enough to catch some fresh bait, then frozen blue mackerel and skipjack are my go-tos – I’ve caught some of my biggest fish on these baits. I like to run big tough baits as these will last longer, allowing a big snapper time to find it before the small fish have stripped it to pieces. In my opinion, a big bait is not a whole pilchard! A big bait is a whole jack mackerel or half of a blue mackerel.

You will be surprised at the size of small fish that will still have a crack at these!  It’s important to stay in touch with your bait and keep it active. Every now and then, lift your bait up a couple metres to ensure that you are not snagged on the bottom, and to check that the weight of your bait is still there. You should be able to feel the bait but if there is no resistance, it’s likely your bait has been picked off and you are fishing with bare hooks! 

Even though the above sounds super technical, don’t be so overwhelmed that you don’t try it. If you keep thinking about the key things – where you are fishing, and how you are presenting your bait and berley – then you will be able to adjust your technique as your results improve. It’s not rocket science!

June 2022 - Hayden Speed
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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