Planning a Fishing Trip

Sometimes you just get lucky and the fish virtually catch themselves; most of the time, however, planning is key to a great day’s fishing. Charter operator Captain Nik Key shares some of the things he looks for before and during a trip to give himself the best chance.


“What’s your plan?” is a question that I am asked frequently by my clients as we head away from the dock. I must admit that, for me at least, planning a successful fishing trip can be just as gratifying and exciting as actually catching the fish. As a guide and charter skipper, I have learnt many useful processes and tips and tricks over the years to better my chances of success. Diaries and historical information, useful apps, tides, bite times, weather, birds and bait and areas of interest (current lines etc.), lure selection, and drift strategies are all things I’ve used or studied, and all influence the success of a day out on the water.

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Diaries and historical information

I have always kept diaries and information about my fishing trips. Lately (well, for the past seven years), I have been able to do this with the Navionics and Google Photos apps.

As well as the great chart plotters I use on my various charter boats, I always make use of the Navionics app on my smartphone. In Navionics, I have marked all my spots and also kept all my tracks from my trips so I can go back to any time of the year in the past 7+ years and plan my trips based on this information (tracks and marks are dated so you can search them easily).

While on my charters, I also take photos of the happy clients holding their fish for sharing after the trip. I use Google Photos for storing my photos and have had the GPS (location) turned on for 7+ years. On Google Photos, I can look at the properties of a fish photo and a map of where it was caught comes up. By simply scrolling through my shots, I basically have GPS marks and tracks at my disposal. This is extremely useful information for planning a fishing trip. On Google Photos you can also see concentrations on the map (pink areas), so you know where you mostly fish at any given time of the year. You can see in the photos on the next page that the top of Coromandel area is one of my favourite areas to fish!

Nik uses Google Photos to track where and when he and his crew pulled in good fish.

Nik uses Google Photos to track where and when he and his crew pulled in good fish.

Tides and bite times

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When planning, the more things you line up, the better your chances are. Start with looking back to last year to see where you caught fish and the drifts you did (diary, boat chart plotter, Navionics and/or Google Photos). The next thing you should do is check the best tides and bite times. I prefer an outgoing tide in the Hauraki Gulf and especially up to low tide (when we often get our biggest fish). Of course, there is nothing wrong with the incoming tide but as a general rule, the outgoing seems to fish better most of the time.

My favourite app for the tides, moons, air pressure, bite times and heaps of other information is I have this close at hand on my phone with all my other apps.

Another good bite times indicator is on The Fishing Website.


The weather is also a key factor to a successful day out. There is the old saying in the Hauraki Gulf that “east is least”, “south close mouth”, and “west is best”. The weather also often limits the places you can go. If you have worked out your drift lines from your marks, tracks and tides, then you will need the wind to blow you the right way. You also need to consider whether it’s against the tide (wave height generally picks up with wind against the tide). It is easier to travel into the wind on the way out when you are fresh and then have it up the backside on the way home at the end of the day when you are tired.

For weather, I use Windy, Weather Watch and the Coastguard app, and cross-reference them for accurate information. Windy is a great short forecast weather app full of detailed information, including wind, swell strength and direction. Windy also has live cameras. Coastguard is a good real-time app as it has Nowcasting, so you can see exactly what is happening rather than just a forecast (you can also log your trips here for safety). Weather Watch is good as it offers long-range forecasts for long-range planning.

I always keep an eye on the weather pressure rises and drops for good bite times. A rising pressure can mean a very good bite which will slow as the conditions stabilise. A falling pressure can also be good at first but drops off quickly. You can see this on apps like is one of Nik's favourite sites to check before a day on the water. is one of Nik's favourite sites to check before a day on the water.


So, you have planned everything and now you need to put that plan into action and find some fish. Nowadays, you can see what is happening on social media and websites like The Fishing Website. You can also look at the charter operators’ social media pages who sometimes share their info or offer reports. I prefer to find my own action most of the time as workups can move miles and miles overnight so fresh info is best! I tend to head to areas that hold bait and birds, or areas with current running. When looking for bait and birds, I often head straight up the Motuihe Channel toward the top of Coromandel to around 40m – we call this the gannet line as they run from the Firth to Little Barrier and back. From there, I stop and get out the binoculars and look in all directions for birds. If I find them, great; if not, then I make a new plan (look for current lines and old marks). On the app Navionics, there are little wave icons that show up and sometimes they show the current speed. These areas are often the highways for travelling snapper.

Drift lines and lure selection

When I get to a workup with gannets diving or arrive at a place where I have good marks, then I will set up an initial drift to learn the area. I set the drogue (sea anchor) and then will drop down lures to see how we drift. I will also start a track on Navionics.

Once I understand the drift angle and speed, then I can do a real drift in the direction I want. With workups, this is vital to catching the fish eating all the berley in the exhaust (the area downstream from the action).

As we are catching fish along the drift line, I will drop pins on areas where we catch bigger or more fish. I will also decide on what size lures to use depending on how fast we are going and how deep it is. The faster you get to the bottom and having straight up and down lines will mean more and bigger fish. When the fishing slows, I will go back up my drift again (maybe to the pins) or move just to the side of it. On the trip pictured, we caught two fish over 20lb and I dropped a pin on both. The drifts pictured on the right were about 1nm so it was a pretty short, sweet spot! I have found this style of fishing to be very efficient and effective for me.

Navionics lets you search through your track records, making it a great place to check where you were successful at similar times in previous years.

Navionics lets you search through your track records, making it a great place to check where you were successful at similar times in previous years.

I hope my planning and execution techniques have been helpful and that you use them to better enjoy your fishing experience!

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

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