How To Fish Workups

As a Hauraki Gulf charter captain, it’s Nick Jones’ business to know where the workups are. He shares a few of the signs he looks for when hunting down spring action...

For many anglers, there isn’t a much better way to shake off the cobwebs than fishing the spring workups as the days get longer and warmer. As a Hauraki Express skipper, I get the privilege of not only seeing this seasonal spectacle unfold first-hand but also gaining a half-decent understanding of where, when, and how to find the action.

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I must start with a big disclaimer – there’s some serious crystal-ball gazing involved trying to predict exactly where the workup action will be as we move through spring. Every year is quite different, with major influences seeming to be water temperature, wind direction and baitfish supply. However, we’ve noticed some general trends as shown below:

Late September – there is normally some decent anchovy workup action in the northern Firth of Thames, although the primary catch will be pannie snapper and kahawai. Following a line between Anita Bay and the Coromandel Islands is normally a good place to start.

Early October – the pilchard schools start moving into the Gulf, meaning better workups with kingfish and larger snapper in areas like east of Cape Rodney, top of the Coromandel and around the Pigeon Rocks at Great Barrier.

Late October – workups generally intensify and move within closer reach towards areas such as the middle of the Gulf south of Anchorite Rock, Omaha Bay, along the outside edge of the cable off Kawau Island, and north of Gannet Rock.

Early November – normally an excellent time to find action between Kawau and Tiritiri Matangi islands, with big moochers and marauding kings sometimes working the pilchards in surprisingly shallow areas close to southern Kawau and Motuora Island.

Late November – shooting fish in a barrel time with workups in Whangaparaoa Bay, close to Tiritiri, and around the Noises.

Early December – some seasons, the workups continue blazing away up to Christmas, but last year they petered out at the start of December due to northerly winds and high water temperatures leading to an early snapper spawn; so we started hitting the reefs for kingfish instead!

Although the general trend shown above is that of the action moving closer to the city as we move towards summer, it’s not always the case. For example, sometimes it seems the bait gets decimated in close quite quickly, and the workups shift out wider once again as the next wave of pilchards moves in.

Quintessential November workup scenes - how good!

Quintessential November workup scenes - how good!

A key indicator is normally where the winter workup action and fish are holding out-wide in the Gulf. For example, if there’s better winter action in the Colville Channel, this often leads to spring workups in the eastern side of the Gulf, whereas winter action in the Craddock Channel can equate to good spring fishing down the middle of the Gulf, and a firing winter Jellicoe Channel likely means more spring activity around Kawau and Tiritiri Matangi Islands. The problem this winter is that there have been sporadic workups in all these three channels so there’s no clear trend. The larger snapper and kings have been showing up in the deeper area between northern Little Barrier and Great Barrier over the past few months so I’d say the central areas of the Gulf around Anchorite Rock will be the scene of some decent pilchard workups in late October and early November this season. There’s also been an unusual amount of bait south of Kawau and south of Tiritiri this August, but most of these bait schools have been anchovies so I’d expect this area to fizzle out by the time of this article’s publication (but I could well be wrong so keep an eye on this!).

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A few moochers have already been chasing bait around Tiritiri Matangi and Kawau Islands, which bodes well for a good workup season.

A few moochers have already been chasing bait around Tiritiri Matangi and Kawau Islands, which bodes well for a good workup season.

Although the seasons can give you a general idea of what area might be working well, I like to treat each day as it comes. The two key tips are to make the most of recent intel and follow the signs.

In my opinion, the very best way to find action is knowing where it was happening the day before you’re heading out, so buttering up some good contacts with refreshments is always a grand idea. In terms of oceanic signs, the best to follow of course are our friends the gannets. Although you can’t butter up gannets, you can follow them to the workups – through spring that’s what they do day-in, day-out and the survival of their spring chicks depends on it. The Hauraki Gulf is encompassed by four gannet colonies – the Broken Islands on the inside of Great Barrier Island, Gannet Rock at the northeastern end of Waiheke Island, Gannet Island by the Happy Jacks in Coromandel, and Motuora Island in Whangaparaoa Bay. It can be helpful to start your day close to one of the colonies so you can see which way the birds are going. Generally, you will find most birds heading in a similar direction and they will lead you to action sooner or later. If the birds are high in the air and circling that means they’ve found some bait or some dolphins, whereas if they are flying low to the water in a straight line they are purposefully heading to the action. However, if they are flying in a sinuous path they may just be cruising and following them can be a case of the blind leading the blind!

Kingfish follow the spring workups into the Hauraki Gulf - multiple hook-ups are common if you encounter a school of kings feasting on pilchards.

Kingfish follow the spring workups into the Hauraki Gulf - multiple hook-ups are common if you encounter a school of kings feasting on pilchards.

Dolphins work in tandem with gannets and are a welcome sight. Similarly, Bryde’s whales, of which around 50 seasonally reside in the Hauraki Gulf, are a tell-tale sign that you’re in the right area. These whales feed on the baitfish too and are given away by their obvious spouts on the horizon. Shearwaters are another handy bird to look for out in the Hauraki Gulf – they tend to sit over areas of baitfish and are often associated with kahawai.

Binoculars are a very useful tool for finding distant workups, and stabilising models help even on relatively calm days. Once you’ve found some action and begun fishing don’t ignore your surroundings as the birds can fly out of sight towards better action very quickly. Importantly, you don’t need to be right next to a workup to have awesome fishing – the best snapper can often be found down current of action that has already fizzled out. As a rule of thumb, the more concentrated the collection of gannets sitting on the water, the more recently they’ve had a feed.

Time of day and tides are also important considerations. Hauraki gannets rarely work close to sunrise or sunset, and often slack tide coincides with a lull in the action. The Solunar Bite Time, which begins two hours before low tide for the Hauraki Gulf, is also something to keep in mind. If you can’t find any surface action or birds feeding, use your sounder. Slow-jigs usually catch fish when worked through areas of good baitfish sign or good snapper sign on the bottom. And if even that doesn’t work for you, maybe consider giving up and going for a raft-up at Motuihe! 

October 2021 - Nick Jones
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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