The late-arriving winter has finally brought about changes in air and water temperature. However, to this point it seems the unusually warm conditions experienced have overridden the normal urge for many fish to migrate further afield and/or into deeper water to better withstand the colder weather. Instead, many species have opted to stay around, especially where the Hauraki Gulf is concerned. Having said that, anglers will still need to adapt somewhat to the cooler temperatures, adverse weather systems, and the changed behaviour of many fish being targeted if they are to be consistently successful.
The weather can really affect things, creating positive or negative fishing scenarios. Cold, windy weather can deter anglers from getting out or keep fish mouths shut, while pressure changes can be the catalyst that triggers fish into feeding.
Once bad weather arrives, fish move out away from the coast’s shallow waters to areas offering more consistent, calmer conditions. Heavy rainfall also drives fish away from the shore because the salt water becomes diluted with fresh and many fish don’t cope well with that. Once everything settles down again, they usually return to take advantage of the debris washing around, which usually contains food opportunities. However, no single fishing tactic can deal with this situation; often trying a combination of options will be key.
With the cold water slowing many fishes’ metabolism, it pays to consider the options carefully. Snapper tend to feed less often and are more selective or picky, only snacking on small food offerings. Other fish species can behave in a similar way; finding what’s right can be tricky, so again, it pays to use a variety of methods.
As a lure angler, my preference is to use imitations of natural prey. Soft-baits are perfect for the job, offering a variety of patterns from baitfish replicas to crayfish and worms or small eels. During the colder months, sizes around three or four inches (7.6 to 10cm) are excellent because they offer the fish a compact snack. Grub-tail patterns are especially effective as they offer plenty of movement, the swimming action also producing vibrations.
Other shapes with long waving tails – such as the new Gulp Jigging Shrimps and Savage Eels – can be useful, too. The latter lures offer a great option after a storm with plenty of rain produced, because small eels can be washed downstream into the ocean.
Soft-bait patterns that imitate crabs or juvenile crayfish can also be a game changer during slow fishing, especially when will often be feeding on crabs, so it makes sense.
Keep in mind that small soft-plastics should be matched with a suitable hook size for best results. The most important aspect in this case is the hook shank’s length, as this determines where the hook exits the soft-bait.
If planning to cast around the shallows, stock the tackle box with ultralight jig-heads weighing between one-sixth and one-quarter of an ounce, as these will give soft-baits a really slow sink rate (more on this in Part 3), allowing the fish more time to see and react to them.
Elevator-type rigs – a separate weighted head connected to a hook – can also be utilised. These are perfect for the grub- and long-tail type baits. Lower such rigs straight down below the kayak, then drag them along the soft substrates.
Micro-jigs have really made an impact on many of our fish species during the last couple of years, and are especially well suited for winter fishing. Once again, smaller versions are the best option – weights from 10 to 60g will do the damage during winter.
When choosing the best jigs for the area you are fishing, select shapes and colours that match local baitfish species. The smaller, lighter jigs are excellent for casting around; if they also offer a shape that provides a slow, fluttery action, they will be perfect for shallow water use. The slightly larger sizes are better suited to greater depths, ensuring they reach the sea floor, especially if current is present.
Micro-jigs can be excellent when targeting individual fish, as well as trevally schools feeding on small fish. Even species such as tarakihi, which move in closer, will show interest in small micro-jigs during the winter.
The use of scent additives is worth considering when using soft-plastics and micro-jigs during cold water conditions. Products such as Secret Sauce work well and provide an effective way to turn your lure into something that smells good as well as looks attractive.
Using traditional dead baits during winter can also be an excellent choice, especially in conjunction with a good berley trail. The scent from the berley can encourage fish in the area to start feeding, and with sharks largely absent in the cold, wintry water, berley is much safer to use from a kayak.
Pilchards are a good bait choice and can be used in many ways, whether rigged whole and cast up into the shallows, or cut to size to suit the species being targeted. Because of their oil content, pilchards give off plenty of scent, but can be difficult to keep on the hook when cut small; using bait elastic makes baits harder to remove.
Other oily baits, such as skipjack tuna and freshly caught jack mackerel, are great options too, as are small whole squid. These are ideal for snapper, while the larger models suit species such as hapuku. When selecting squid that’s been frozen, check the colour. Squid should be mostly white, perhaps with hints of light brown, not pinky-purple, which indicates they have either been frozen after being dead for too long or previously defrosted.
Live-bait fishing is the flip side to dead-bait fishing and can be the key to success when targeting predatory fish such as yellowtail kingfish, especially close to shore – and they can get big snapper pretty excited, too. However, the hardest aspect with using live baits from a kayak is keeping them alive. Obviously a dedicated bait tank is best, but a small cage dropped over the side can also be useful.
Many different fish species can be used as bait for kingfish, but the main ones are kahawai and mackerel. Kahawai make good baits when used live under a balloon because they are robust and will outlast the smaller mackerel in this situation. However, mackerel are well suited to being dropped down to fish in deeper water (i.e. 10 to 50 metres or deeper) and are also great for targeting john dory.
The ability to catch live bait is also important and requires suitable bait-fishing tackle. Small jigs, soft-plastics/soft-baits and any other small baitfish replicas are perfect for kahawai, while sabiki rigs are great for mackerel.
This article is reproduced with permission of