You have met them all: likeable types who tell you they are going to the beach and might try to catch a fish while they are there; learned types who spend all their time procrastinating about their upcoming fishing trip, tackle and baits; and those people who, for all their talk, never actually get out fishing in practice.
Then there are the types who are new to the sport and as keen as mustard but with no direction and no idea of the ‘where, when and how.’
Finally there are the experienced, calculating, fishers who always have a plan. They know where the fish should be at any time, they know what baits or lures to be using for species present, and they are always confident they will catch something.
Even when they don’t catch anything, they are not fazed and simply adjust their plans for the next trip. They exude confidence – there is no worrying about weather, tides, time, tackle or anything else that could distract them from the job at hand. Tackle will have been prepared before to the trip and will, of course, be 100% reliable.
That is the key: being tuned in to the job of catching fish to the exclusion of all else.
To be successful, one’s mind needs to be working overtime. You need to be constantly watching for signs that could indicate fish. In a boat that might include looking out for diving or circling seabirds, or fish breaking on the surface. It could equally be reading the depth sounder to spot fish that you would never otherwise see. You should at least be able to recognise structure or the bottom types that will hold fish, which may not even show on the sounder.
There are also other signs that you should look for, such as subtle differences in water colour or surface disturbances where upwellings of current bring food from the bottom to the surface. These can be easy to spot where light, rippling water is stacked up against calmer water. Baitfish may be present, schooling vertically along the edges of the upwelling. Any predators in the area will be visiting such spots, so you should too.
Likewise, current lines, which look similar, are fish magnets in offshore waters. Look for lines of darker water. Up close you may see there are many items caught up in such current lines: seaweed, logs and discarded rubbish offer shelter to small baitfish, in turn attracting bigger fish.
The thinking angler will troll around such places, drift with live bait or even drift and cast lures around any of the flotsam in the current lines.
Never stop looking. Fish sign may be as obvious as a school breaking the surface or as subtle as the tip of a tail in a swell, but reading the signs will give better results.
While you are fishing isn’t the time to worry about the state of your line, the sharpness of your hooks, whether or not you are using the right lures, or anything else. These items should have been dealt with already, and everything you need should be close at hand. It can be as simple as taking a few extra rod and reel outfits along to cover possible fishing scenarios.
You need to be positive. A classic example of a positive approach was a day’s fishing on Lady Lola in the Bay of Islands many years ago. We were one of many game fishing boats out. Early in the day we had already tagged and released a large marlin for my wife, Sue, and now we were looking for more action. Bruce Smith called up on the radio: “There are some mahimahi over here hanging around a log. We are heading north and I thought you might be interested.”
We ran out and found the log 10 minutes later. Bruce had trolled around it and had the mahimahi interested, but they wouldn’t take his marlin lures. I had insisted that we catch a tank full of live baits – jack mackerel and small kahawai – before we left the shelter of the islands. That made us the last boat out to the grounds off Cape Brett, but we were about to be rewarded for our time and trouble spent catching bait.
On arriving at the log we put out a couple of live mackerel. Mine was taken straight away, but it wasn’t a mahimahi that took the bait, it was a mini kingfish. As we closed on the log we could see hundreds of kingfish trying to hide under it; the mahimahi stayed further out and circled us.
My next bait accounted for a 6kg mahimahi and Sue soon caught a similar-sized fish. If we hadn’t been ready with live baits and the six-kilo gear to fish them on, we might not have caught any.
It proved that you need to be positive and prepared. I missed a New Zealand Record on six-kilo line by a whisker that day. I was thrilled, though, as these were the first mahimahi we had caught in New Zealand waters. Even in the tropics they are a welcome catch, so these were extra-special to us.
I get criticised for some of the preparation I put into my fishing trips. Even a weekend day-trip will have me watching the weather and preparing gear for a week. I get paid off when something out of the ordinary happens and I am prepared for it when others aren’t.
A recent surfcasting trip to Mahia Peninsula is a good example. Our trip brief was to catch snapper and gurnard during a local club field weekend. The reality was that there were no snapper or gurnard on our chosen beach – Mahanga on the northern side of the peninsula – and we needed another plan. The fishing during the day was poor and the tides didn’t allow us to get off the beach in our 4x4 until midnight.
The crayfish bait I had packed ‘just in case’ saved the trip. We used the valuable cray bait as soon as it became dark and right away we had action. We caught several large lemon fish (spotted dogfish) that would not have been interested in our snapper baits. The bait also caught us a nice fat trevally. We had fish to weigh in after all.
What I am saying is that all the pre-trip preparation will be paid for with better results. It makes sense to ensure your reel and line is in top condition for every outing, but do we always give them the care they deserve to be trusted to do the job?
It’s easy to pack gear away after a trip and expect it to be ready for action next time you head out. One day, though, it will let you down. There is enough to worry about during a fishing day without being concerned about tackle which should have been organised and checked before the event.
One chap I took overseas, fishing for giant trevally, had been given some new braid line to try out. He loaded his reel but didn’t try the line before the trip. He didn’t know that some braids are better than others for casting with spin reels, and didn’t ask either. As it turned out, it ruined half his day when he learned that soft trolling braid is a recipe for disaster when used for casting from a spin reel. The line constantly wrapped around the rod while casting and twisted up on the retrieve.
Luckily he had a spare reel with him and was able to at least catch one GT! I bet he now uses one of the stiffer braids (designed for spin casting) on his spinning gear, because he would not want to repeat that event.
New gear can be a bit like that at times. You might have a new rod or reel and just think that they are going to be ‘OK on the day’. That’s not always the case, and with reels in particular, you may have to adjust or modify the drag to suit the line weight you are using. In an extreme situation the reel may not fit on your rod’s reel seat – make sure you try it first.
Have you ever had a major tangle during a fishing day? On a day you only packed one reel because you were not staying long? We all have. Did you have spare line ready to replace what you lost to the tangle? As the line level drops on the reel so does your casting distance. How simple is it to add a spool of spare line to your gear?
Remember the ‘Ps’ when heading out next – Preparation, Presentation, Perseverance and Patience – and you can’t go wrong.
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