With the incessant promotion of artificial lures of every possible shape and action, one could easily develop an inferiority complex for continuing to fish with bait.
What keeps me from defecting to the ‘dark side’ is the realisation that every one of these artificials pretends to be something fish want to eat. Most lures attract fish by simulating a prey animal in distress, which is the universal attack signal for aquatic, terrestrial and aerial predators the world over. On the other hand, bait is a free lunch served on a platter.
Determining which one is better has been the subject of endless debate and resulted in many fishers being divided into two almost irreconcilable camps. Fortunately, I have not signed up to either side, so have managed to keep enough of an open mind to experiment. I figured that since neither method can claim 100% success, why not combine both on my next kayak fishing trip to the Coromandel?
Over the years, I have used soft-baits of various makes with varying success, but leading to the conviction that scent is a major contributor to a soft-bait’s attractiveness.
At the Papa Aroha fishing camp where we usually stay, some of the regulars have taken to sweetening their soft-baits with a small piece of squid – with remarkable success. So I did likewise, quickly concluding that the scent of this natural bait produced many more bites than did a plain lure. Once the squid had been bitten off, the now unscented lure became quite unattractive.
However, successful as this addition was, I was not overly happy with blocking the gape of the jig hook with bait, as this clearly reduced its hooking ability.
While thinking through the issue of a new hybrid rig, I identified the principle role of the individual components, with the jig-head serving as my sinker, while the dancing soft-bait provided the visual attractant. I decided the business end should be a baited 3/0 circle hook on its own dropper attached to the leader a foot or so above the jig head. To stop the bait from wrapping around the leader, I used a three-way rolling swivel.
While both parts of my hybrid rig could catch fish individually, I hoped they would complement each other as a rig system. As the saying goes: ‘The whole can be greater than the sum of the individual parts.’
Prior to the Coromandel trip, I made a few of the afore-mentioned swivels by squashing the top eye of a small barrel swivel with pliers just enough so it slipped over the eye of another swivel. I then opened the squashed eye to its original shape by placing the swivel on a soft wooden base and lightly punching the eye with a nail.
For soft-baits I chose pink, scented Z-Man grub tails, largely for their legendary durability. When test-casting the rig off the New Plymouth Harbour jetty, I was pleased to see that the 10cm dropper on its DIY swivel did not wrap around the trace and the baited hook always came back on a straight lead like an obedient puppy.
For me there is nothing more exciting than being in the grip of a new idea, the potency of which I could not wait to test on Coromandel snapper.
Finally, the day arrived, and after an arduous trip across the island, we settled into our usual cabin at Papa Aroha. The general consensus among the regulars was that the fishing was hard and this was blamed on a long-liner that had worked the area only a week before. Not really what I wanted to hear.
Thanks to daylight saving, there was enough afternoon left to get onto the water. So I bought a kilo of squid at the camp store, gave them my trip report, and slid the kayak into the wave-less briny. My aim was to catch a couple of decent pannies for dinner while giving my new rig its first test swim.
Surprisingly, I could still cast the double rig a long way from the low kayak position, and after a few casts found the right angle to work the soft-bait back to the ‘yak. On my second retrieve, I got the first hit from an undersized snapper, which was hooked on the circle hook. Two casts later, my rod buckled over just as I was about to lift the lure off the bottom. This fish made the dinner grade, so was slipped into the bin.
The next few casts produced more hits from small pannies, with one of them qualifying as my second keeper. All fell to the baited circle hook. Best of all, I had no tangles and no problems working and fishing the hybrid rig just as I would have done with a single softie.
Next morning, we got up early to catch what was left of the incoming tide for the longish paddle to Goat Island. When we got there an hour later, the tidal stream had stopped. I peppered the channel between Goat and Whale for a while, but with no current the snapper had gone completely doggo.
My wife, who does not fish, had parked up on a shelly beach and was enjoying a cuppa from the Thermos. Since I could see no sense in flogging a dead horse, I joined her, while keeping a wary eye for the first sign of current movement in the channel. Sure enough, as the sea began exiting the Firth, the waves in the channel became more and more pronounced – it was time to rejoin the party.
Out of nowhere two boats appeared and began drifting with the current. I knew the area well and set up my first drift over an underwater ridge that connected the two islands. From there the channel deepened gradually, providing the ideal setting for snapper to intercept current-born food.
On my first drop I hooked up a line ripper, but lost it on a snag. More fish followed before I struck another goodie. This time I got it to the surface and unceremoniously secured it with the gaff. I did not have any scales, but the guys on a nearby boat weighed it at just over 5kg.
When the depth got too much for my 5/8-ounce jig-head, I paddled upstream for another drift. That day I landed three fish in the 5kg range and a lot of smaller ones, with all but two taken on the circle hook. The couple hooked on the Z-Man were from doubles, when one fish was already hooked on the circle. To be more precise, 18 out of 20 fish hooked that day come up on the baited circle hook. That ratio was pretty much repeated for the rest of the week, with more than 100 fish landed for a total outlay of two kilos of squid and two softie tails.
The circle hook proved an ideal hooker, as the normal resistance of a tensioned softie retrieve was all it needed to roll and set. The aggressive snapper practically hooked themselves.
I make no bones about the fact I mainly fish for food, and this rig did a brilliant job to produce the goods in the snapper mecca of the Coromandel. However, what pleases me most is that this hybrid rig is the product of unencumbered thinking, a combination that provides the best of both worlds.
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