Jason Neute’s mate Darren used to live on the Kaipara, where he loved fishing for snapper with live baits. When Darren moved to his new home in the Bay of Islands, Jason was lucky enough to spend the day out with him...
This technique was not totally new to me – I have successfully fished with live baits for big snapper at Motuora, catching double-figure specimens– but it’s not something I do often. On the Kaipara, it proved to be a wonderful way to catch BIG fish!
However, Darren now has a new backyard in the Far North – Kerikeri inlet – enabling him to deploy similar tactics with similar success in the nearby waters.
Then, in early January, he invited me up to target some big reds with him. As it was only going to be a one-day mission, we decided to make a solid effort.
I left work at lunchtime on Friday, but didn’t make it up there until 6.00pm, as it was New Year’s weekend. However, we still managed an early-evening session using normal baits, since we didn’t have time to stop and catch livies. Fortunately, the fishing was hot and we both got some solid fish – not the big ones Darren had been catching on live baits, but still great fish.
The next morning, before first light, saw our plan being put into action – and it started well, with sufficient jack macks for our needs caught within 10 minutes of stopping. This enabled us to reach Spot X just as the sun was rising over Cape Brett – but a few boats were already about.
After dropping the anchor, we set the berley, rigged up, and then lobbed in our first live-baits with high expectations.
As it turned out, Darren’s first fish wasn’t a big one, but at least we were on the board. Then, as the morning progressed, we continued to hook snapper on virtually every bait. These were good solid fish, but still not the ones we had been expecting. On the plus side, it was still early.
Eventually the inevitable happened, with the berley trail and our quivering live-baits proving too much for the bigger fish to resist. We knew when our livies were about to be eaten, as our rod tips vibrated harder whenever a big red was hassling our macks. We started boating some nice reds.
Hooking another live mack, I dropped it over the side and held the line as the fish slowly pulled it off the spool. (I like to keep in contact with the live-bait by having my finger lightly on the spool lip, releasing line as the livie pulls. This tells me when the bait hits the bottom or is being harassed by a big red on the way down.)
Next thing I knew, my livie was absolutely smashed by a solid red – but I was too eager and struck too soon. Totally gutted!
Unfortunately, this happened time and time again – we were just too wound up, not allowing the fish sufficient opportunity to run.
Finally, in frustration, when the next livie was taken, instead of counting to four, then striking, Darren allowed the fish to run a full 10 seconds before firmly lifting his rod. This resulted in his rod buckling over and his little Penn reel singing as line was ripped from the spool. It turned out to be a lovely, solid fish – exactly what we were after.
This saw both of us allowing the fish to run 10-15 seconds from then on, resulting in in an increased hook-up rate and our expectations of battling big reds to be met. The day turned out to be a magic one!
Unlike when fishing with dead and cut baits, using livies definitely helps to keep the snapper mortality rate down. Our livies weren’t picked at and swallowed down (as often happens with bait), with 90% of the big fish we caught being lip-hooked and no undersized fish being caught.
Consequently, although lots of solid fish were brought boatside, most were released to fight another day, with just a few guthooked snapper being kept for a feed.
Then, once the livies ran out, we started using frozen and freshly-dead baits instead for about an hour. We still caught some solid fish, but they were not the big boys our livies had been attracting. Just backs up what we already knew, I guess: you can’t beat a live bait…
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