Winter and early spring feature shorter days and even shorter bite times, and some of the standard snapper-fishing techniques may not produce their usual results. At times like these, it pays to get creative. Adam Clancey shares one method he uses to combat a slow, cold-weather bite.
How many times do you know there are fish under your boat because you can see them on the sounder, but no matter what you throw at them, you can’t get them to bite?
At certain times, especially during the cooler months, fish will be found in deeper water where the temperature is more consistent, and food can be found over reefs and foul ground.
By ‘deep water’, I mean anywhere from 40 to 100 metres – the depths that will often hold snapper in good numbers at this time of year and right through to December. These fish are often schooled up and hang well off the bottom. However, they can also be found foraging on the sea floor or picking off unsuspecting baitfish and squid. While these fish can be quite aggressive if potential food comes within range, they will not expend too much precious energy to chase it. Accordingly, the fishing can often be hit and miss when using traditional methods such as dropper rigs or lures as these offerings can drop through the strike-zone too quickly. Soft-baits will work in these situations but are also prone to moving through the strike-zone too fast. One technique that I find regularly tempts these finicky fish, however, is deepwater straylining.
Randomly dropping baits in deepwater will not bring much success, so the first key is to locate areas where the fish are holding. You may not see them on the sounder straight away, but areas where there is reef structure or even low-lying reef boulders and other rubble are the right kind of habitats. Snapper hold off the sides of significant drop offs, so this is where boat positioning and biat presentation becomes critical. When positioning the boat, you can drift freely, drift with a drogue or use an electric motor or anchor to hold on a spot. All of these methods have their pros and cons. The preference is a slow natural drift if the wind and current are not too strong, or to use an electric motor or drogue to control the drift speed. This way, you can cover more ground while still getting your baits in the strike-zone. If in a static situation (spot-locked or anchored), you may need to attract the fish to you with berley, and yawing can also make it difficult to sit in the right position. In saying that, if wind and current are in your favour and you have a good anchoring set up, staying in one spot can be the most productive technique if you’ve located the fish.
The sounder shows a typical area to look for when searching for snapper in deeper water.
Like lure fishing, deepwater straylining requires you to constantly work your rig, controlling the rate of fall and the depth you are fishing at. As such, it pays to have equipment that will make this process as easy as possible. Casting-type overhead reels and mid-size spin reels will work well, as will rods in the 1.8 to 2.5 metre range which suit 8-15kg line weights. Both braid and mono are quite good for this style of fishing. Braid is very sensitive and transmits the bites well. It also enables you to punch the hooks home when you hook up. On the other hand, mono has stretch. While this means it’s not as sensitive, it does allow the fish to pick up the bait and hook itself easily. Personally, I prefer mono on a very sensitive rod with a finer tip for bite detection.
Overhead reels make stripping line easy.
Bait choice also plays a big part in this style of fishing. Squid and pilchards do work well but can suffer from being pecked to pieces by less desirable species such as maomao, leather jackets and reef fish. Fresh fillets of kahawai, jack mackerel and whole bait fish (either dead or alive) work really well.
The way you rig a deepwater strayline is very important as if you don’t pay attention to this, you will end up with a lot of frustrating twists and tangles. Using an FG knot for braid, or a back to back uni knot for mono, I tie in two rod lengths of good 15-25kg trace. It pays to have a terminal rig with the sinker right on top of the bait. Whether you use one or two hooks is a matter of personal taste. A single circle hook in the 5/0 to 8/0 size-range works a treat. A handy tip is to put a soft lumo bead above the sinker and tie a stopper knot above it on your main line using a loose piece of mono and a uni knot. This prevents your sinker running up your line and creating tangles. Keep baits as streamlined as possible to prevent twist and to give a natural presentation. Always half-hitch baits to keep them securely on the hook.
The rig - basic but effective.
Once rigged, cast your bait out and start stripping line. The key considerations when stripping line are to keep up with the drift speed or sink-rate of the baited rig and to maintain light contact so you will feel any touches from interested fish. Bites can be anything from a few pecks to a smashing strike. Be prepared for a bite at any time. I have been fishing in 50 plus metres of water and got snapper bites no more than five metres below the surface. On this note, you need to select your sinker style and weight very carefully. Over weighted baits will not stay in the strike-zone very long, while under weighted baits may not get down at all. In most situations, ball or bean sinkers are good in weights from 25-50 grams. Remember, if you keep stripping line the weight will continue to sink. It is not uncommon to let out 50 or even 100 metres of line using this technique.
The bite and strike become one and the same when using circle hooks, which is the popular choice these days. With circle hooks, letting the line tighten up is usually enough to set the hook. Regardless of hook-type, never take the hook up process lightly. Fish size varies from schooling pannies to big moochers, and it can be really hard to tell what size fish you are dealing with until you get tight, so expect the unexpected.
Deepwater straylining is a great technique to use when the fishing is tough. With the right equipment and a little technique, it can make a slow winter’s day extremely productive.
October 2020 - Adam Clancey
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
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