Finding & fishing the work-ups

Finding & fishing the work-ups

Upon approaching 50, Nik Key, a self-confessed ‘obsessed’ fisherman, decided he needed a career change – something he was passionate about. Two years ago he became a skipper and a guide, focussing on lure fishing with light gear in the Hauraki Gulf. This issue he shares some of his passion for fishing work-ups…

My office is one of the most amazing places in the world: the Hauraki Gulf, with its smattering of beautiful, diverse islands. Every time I’m out there I feel at home and am in awe of its raw beauty and abundant bounty.

I lease several boats (28-60ft) for my business, offering fishing and sightseeing to local and international clients, but also work as a skipper for a successful Auckland charter fishing business run by Kevin Colwell.

Prior Fishing Schedule

Last year the spring work-ups were quite extraordinary; I have never seen so much baitfish or feeding intensity, with the action sometimes continuing for hours on end.

The first ones popped up over the Whangaparaoa Bay, Tiritiri Matangi and Motuora area, but these early ones did not seem to last long or hold many snapper. During October through to mid-November, the area working best for us turned out to be Coromandel, from the Cow and Calf all the way up to Port Jackson (the Fantail Bay area in particular). We sometimes moved away from the work-ups to cover areas of intense baitfish sign we’d found 2-3nm away, targeting the larger 70cm-plus snapper.

Then, from mid-November until mid-December, the work-ups moved in closer to the area just north of Gannet Rock (Waiheke Island) and up to 4-5nm northeast of the Ahaahas.

A big problem last spring was the El Niño weather pattern, with the associated heavy winds sometimes stopping us from getting out (lots of 25- to 30-knot sou’westers). We used two drogues (sea anchors) on those windy days and found that the heavier jigs of 140-200g worked best for the larger snapper; we even caught snapper on 300 and 400g kingfish jigs!

The reason for their effectiveness is twofold. Number one, a jig performs better when fished close to the vertical plane. In windy conditions the heavier jigs get down to the strike area more quickly and stay there longer. Number two is that the bigger jigs deter the smaller fish from biting.

What lies ahead?

This year is already shaping up to be a good one – we have already enjoyed some outstanding spring-like work-up fishing in August.

Developments in the ocean/atmosphere system are pointing to a possible transition to La Niña in the next three months. Hopefully this will mean less wind this spring and summer, enabling more time on the water in better drifting conditions!

Finding work-ups is sometimes really hard and frustrating, but with a bit of knowledge and a few tips I can make it easier for you.

First off, get yourself a pair of binoculars. I think that the 7 X 50 binoculars are the most versatile for finding birds from a boat. They are not too powerful, so when the boat moves you can still focus on a subject.

I usually head out to the middle ground in about 40 metres and then start searching for work-up signs – try about 4-5nm northeast of the Ahaaha Rocks first up. Scan around with the binoculars for birds tracking low to the water and moving fast, rather than birds that are up high. These low-tracking birds know something is happening and are heading for it, so follow them (the ones up high are usually searching for the baitfish or waiting above the school for it to be pushed to the surface by predators). Tell everyone on board to keep an eye out as well, because some people have amazing eyes for finding work-ups when no one else can see them.

Sometimes even small flickers, like stars in the distance, will represent a work-up; if this happens, get others to look through the binoculars to back it up. Also look for large splashes or groups of splashes on the surface, as this can signify excited dolphins that have found baitfish and are rounding them up. However, if just moving along lazily, you can follow them all day and not find a work-up.

Also look for lots of white specks on the water that come and go as the swells move up and down (better on a calm day with no white caps). This generally signifies a raft of gannets sitting on the water waiting for the dinner gong to go (they tend to stay near the baitfish).

Hopefully, these simple tips will help you find the work-ups. However, when this has been successfully achieved, it pays to follow the simple ‘rules’ below if you’d like to maximise the opportunity – and allow others to do the same:

  • When you see a work-up starting, wait for it to build and get underway properly before approaching it (this can be hard if there are lots of other people out there chasing them).
  • Never race right into the middle of a work-up, as this nearly always shuts the action down immediately. Not only will your chances of catching a fish be ruined, so will everyone else’s. Instead, remain at a distance, then follow the next rule.
  • Look for the drift and current, and work out which direction the action’s ‘natural berley’ is likely to be flowing (called ‘the exhaust’). This can sometimes be 20-30 metres or more away from the activity’s centre – you’ll find the bulk of the snapper feeding here, so position the boat to drift down the side of the work-up where the tide is distributing the food.
  • Use a drogue to slow the drift if necessary, and cast ahead of the drift direction so your lure can be yo-yoed in a vertical manner for longer (a line angle exceeding 45-degrees prevents the lures from working as effectively). If the drift is successful, don’t race off to the next work-up; instead, try your drift line again and maybe drift a little further along, as the current keeps the activity 
  • debris moving. I have successfully fished the same drift over and over again for an hour after the work-up finished.
  • If you see a large concentration of birds sitting on the water, try drifting downcurrent from them, as there may have been a massive work-up that’s just recently gone down (I have had some great fishing doing this). Also, birds don’t like to expend energy, so will often sit on the baitfish and wait for it to be worked to the surface by predators such as kahawai, kingfish, dolphins, whales and sharks.
  • Check your charts to make sure you’re 
  • not fishing in the cable zones, as this is where the work-ups often occur and it’s very tempting to fish there. Keep in mind that if you get caught (I saw a lot of people being apprehended last year), you may get a large fine!

Good luck – tight lines and I hope to see you out there! 

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

October 2016 - By Nik Key
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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