It takes a bit to get veteran angler Mark Kitteridge piscatorially excited these days, but taking a refreshing look at targeting the anchovy workups has seen him chortling like a schoolboy!
I love what’s popularly called ‘anchovy season’. It starts when these tiny fish swarm into Auckland’s coastal waters, and because every predator enjoys eating them, some great fishing is on offer – everything from mackerel, trevally, and kahawai through to all sizes of snapper and kingfish. Every year it seems to last longer (this season I found them in their usual haunts from late December 2021, and history says they should go through to May 2022), but maybe that’s because I’m more attuned to what to look for now.
I also write about this phenomenon every few years, encouraging everyone to downsize soft-baits and ‘match the hatch’. However, in reality the relatively bulky 4” grub tails and jerk shads I’ve previously recommended are still a long way off imitating the tiny anchovies present, which made me wonder what might happen if this aspect was done even better. Then, in a twist of fate, I saw a Facebook post by keen young fisherman Brandon Breytenbach showing off a lovely snapper around 6kg he’d caught on a tiny 2.5” Z-Man ‘Slim SwimZ’. The rusty cogs in my brain slowly wheezed into life; this avenue looked like an entertaining road to jog down for a while – or at least do a brisk walk!
Anchovy carnage. Even more is probably going on under the surface!
The following weekend saw the birth of my own micro-baiting outfit. I could see the most vital component lay in selecting the right rod: a long, light, forgiving 3-4.5kg spinning rod capable of handling 1/20-1/4oz lures. Fortunately, I work for a company called Ocean Angler and we have a freshwater rod called ‘Tansui’. This rod has been designed by well-known freshwater guide Ben Booth to target trout and salmon using tiny soft-plastic lures in bigger waterways (the MacKenzie Country Canals in particular). However, these same attributes made it well suited for light-tackle saltwater duties, too (just a slightly longer butt section would make it perfect, I reckon).
I paired the Tansui with a well-used Daiwa Certate 2500 reel, but probably would have gone smaller if I’d owned one (it proved to be a delight anyway). After loading the 2500 with 5kg ‘sample braid’, I connected three metres of 4.5kg (10lb) fluoro leader with an FG Knot. On the other end I tied a Z-Man 3/8oz Finesse EyeZ jig-head (the Berkley Nitro Bream Pro Jig Heads would be suitable, too) with a Z-Man Slim SwimZ ‘Bad Shad’ attached. Damn, it looked so realistic!
However, although my initial inclination was to use the more naturalistic baitfish colours, I’m sure that micro-baits in highvis colours would probably be more effective at times, especially in murky conditions. Obviously there are other softbait brands (e.g., Gulp, Bait Junkie and Savage Gear) that offer reasonable microbait options too, so see what appeals. My next task was to enthuse regular fishing buddy John Eichelsheim into joining me on the mission – and that proved very easy to do!
The always opportunistic snapper is a prime candidate for micro-baiting tackle and techniques.
As North Shore ‘boys’, we usually stay local for this type of fishing; it’s rare not to find some anchovy activity off the northern side of Rangitoto or Motutapu Islands, the Noises, or further north around Army Bay, out from Whangaparaoa (along with multiple other hotspots we don’t know about!).
This day was no exception, with sporadic puddles of surface splashing indicating small kahawai feeding on the tiny silvery morsels. Experience has taught us that this is just the tip of the iceberg though, with all sorts of other unseen predators also being in attendance. Sure enough, we caught a bunch of reasonable snapper to a couple of kilos on our standard soft-bait gear by casting near the feeding kahawai, as well as around any feeding, fluttering, hovering sea birds. And, as a bonus, I was treated to the unforgettable sight of a lovely kingfish of 15 or 16kg doing an explosive somersault with my Maria Legato stickbait held firmly in its mouth – but not hooking up somehow!
Then the action suddenly slowed… and stopped. An hour and a half went by without a decent bite and boredom set in. The anchovy season can be like that: absolute chaos and carnage one moment, achingly dull the next. All around us small- to medium-sized craft drifted around listlessly or cruised off slowly in search of activity elsewhere. Interestingly though, the fish-finder suggested the anchovies and some predators were still there. Time to get the micro-baiting gear out...
Photo: William Lomas
It took a couple of casts to get the casting angle correct, as I needed to get the tiny 3/16oz lure to sink down and retain reasonably good contact throughout. That achieved, action was immediate: first, the line jerked almost imperceptibly as the soft-bait descended, then zipped tight to my rod. I probably didn’t need to strike, such was the ferocity of the bite, but I slowly lifted anyway and watched in satisfaction as the long rod bent in response – and bent and bent and bent! Then the line started leaving the small reel in purposeful bursts that had the Certate singing. The 10lb leader meant I didn’t have much firepower during the ensuing battle, but neither did I feel outgunned. Instead, I felt something else I hadn’t felt for ages: I was having fun!
When my opponent was eventually subdued, it turned out to be a fat pan-sized snapper around 34cm. I can understand your disappointment – hardly a specimen worth getting so excited about. But its size isn’t the point. Rather, the catch proved that the predators were down there and would eat something if it looked tasty enough. Similarly, the frenetic action that followed would hardly have been memorable if experienced on my usual soft-baiting ‘elephant guns’, but on our noodlelike rods, small squealing reels and light, fragile leaders – it was an absolute blast!
An highly effective micro-baits: the Z-Man Slim SwimZ ‘Calico Candy’
Most casts enticed bites that were converted into hook-ups, resulting in both of us locked in battle simultaneously on numerous occasions, all the while giggling and chortling like schoolboys (I suspect that was mostly me!). We could only speculate as to what our neighbours might be saying – some of whom no doubt recognised us – as we hooted and hollered before bringing a wide variety of small to modest-sized fish boat side, including a bunch of kahawai (one an impressive 2.7kg in weight!), trevally to about a kilo, several big yellowtail mackerel, a parore, and lots of snapper up to around two kilos.
Again, I realise none of these catches are fish to boast about, but the fact that we’d enjoyed such entertaining fishing while the bite was completely shut down for everyone else made them collectively special!
Since that first session we have done many more, also introducing several of our friends to this aspect of soft-baiting in the process, and it continues to be a real hit with everyone.
One of the most appealing elements of micro-baiting is that you never know what species and size of fish will be encountered next. In fact, Paul Senior hooked a really nice kingfish on his first proper micro-jigging session while broadcasting his experience live. Unfortunately, it was eventually lost near the boat around 30 minutes later while maximum pressure was being exerted and all the stretch was gone, prompting the tortured hook to finally bend out. I guess trout don’t fight that hard, so there are limits to these light freshwater hooks.
But, of course, like all the techniques and items of tackle in the world of fishing, everything will keep on evolving and improving. That’s a big part of the appeal … oh, and did I mention how much fun it is, too?!
June 2022 - Mark Kitteridge
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