Think of yourself at a barbecue smorgasbord table when really, really hungry – isn’t that New York cut prime steak going to appear more attractive than the standard sirloin?
I know which one I would prefer, and believe it’s the same for fish.
Over the Christmas period the fishing out of Bream Bay was better than average, presenting lots of opportunities to experiment with different baits.
Before heading up to the beach, I called into the Half Moon Bay Top Catch outlet to pick up a selection of ‘big fish’ baits, several of which were relatively new in-store.
The main eyecatchers included some XOS piper, along with some Finger mullet, bullet tuna, squid and red plate ‘Individually Quick Frozen’ (IQF) pilchards. All baits were sourced offshore.
Armed with all the above, myself and three fishing buddies headed out of Marsden Cove to some deep-water foul off the Hen and Chicks, where we planned to drift-fish in 50-60 metres of water.
The word on the grapevine was that the bigger fish were there and in spawning mode, thanks to the rising water temperatures. The proliferation of mako sharks was another indicator of the snapper schools present.
We were not to be disappointed. Our first drift resulted in all four of us solidly hooked up on a variety of the baits, and ended with a selection of 10 of the best eating-sized fish covered in ice.
A nice stack of fish showed on the sounder for the second drift, and while not quite as full on this time, a similar result was achieved.
Those of us fishing baits were getting the better fish over the soft-baiters. Our rigs were simple: two 8/0 or 10/0 hooks snooded onto 80lb fluorocarbon trace, with a ball sinker placed on the ‘nose’ of the bait and secured in place with either a rubber band or toothpick.
With the fish holding high in the water column, the trick on each drift was to wait until the fish showed on the sounder, then drop the baits through them. Dragging the baits along the bottom was not as effective.
The most effective baits were whole bullet tuna, with the first hook scooped through the flesh near the anal vent and the second inserted through the nose. It appears everything loves tuna – but arguably no more so than the makos, which were leaving whole, struggling snapper alone to snaffle them up.
The most interesting baits were the XOS piper. They were longer than the bullet tuna, so the hook coverage was not as effective. Several times they came back chopped in half through the midriff, resulting in the snapper missing the point of the exercise – literally and figuratively! (Perhaps a triple hook or gang-hook rig might be the answer?)
While I didn’t try this, I believe these piper will make good trolled skip baits for kingfish and, when chin-weighed, for marlin, too. (The Top Catch stores have ballyhoo in stock this season again, a proven bait for billfish.)
The only bait that failed to fire as well as the others were the mini mullet. Most anglers, especially those on the west coast and in the Far North, appreciate how good a mullet bait is, but they were not the preferred choice that day. (Slitting the gut cavity open a little to let the juices flow has been suggested since.) It seems we were the exception rather than the rule though, with the finger mullet proving so popular the whole shipment sold out – and there won’t be any more till later in the year!
As a ‘control’ to the bait experiment, we also fished Top Catch squid and the red plate IQF pilchards. They both attracted fish, as you would expect, but the bullet tuna were the true stars, once again adding weight to the ‘big bait, big fish’ theory. I know what I will be stocking up with for this year’s Century Batteries Beach and Boat tournament!
We took fish to over 6kg during the morning session, with the best ones falling to the biggest baits.
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