We all love spring and the arrival of those hungry pre-spawning snapper. The significant amounts of bait that were out wide over winter begin to move closer, and the mammals and gannets do their thing rounding it up into tight balls and consuming it. There is nothing quite like fishing these seemingly endless workups filled with hungry, competitive snapper, kahawai and kingfish. This is when lure fishing is at its best!
But here is another scenario that I am sure you have witnessed. You plan your trip with great anticipation, after watching countless posts on social media showing workups and big snapper being caught. You return the next day with high hopes to make the most of this ‘sure thing’ bonanza, but you get out there, and all is quiet! Where have all the diving birds and mammals and bait gone?
What to do? They can’t be too far away, can they? So, you go hunting and race all over the Gulf in the hope of spotting birds and mammals feeding. After a while (and lots of fuel burnt) you realise nothing is happening and think of areas where you have caught fish before. You try these areas as well, and they are not working either, even though you can see sign on the sounder… If you are a pure-lure fisherman, you may revert to bait in a desperate attempt to get the fish to bite!
Soon the end of the day is approaching, and you are still struggling to get some fish in the bin. With no fish coming home, what will the wife say about the money spent on the boat, fishing gear and gas? Hadn’t you told her it was a sure thing?
Let’s reverse up a bit and see what we could have done differently under these difficult conditions.
You get to the area that was working the day before. The snapper were feeding up here big time yesterday, so they should be close by. Although full, they will still feed at some time during the day. Be aware of bite times, as sometimes they have a short bite and you need to be on the spot with lines in the water when it occurs.
Take a closer look around the area with the binoculars - not only at the sky, but on the water. Are there groups of gannets sitting together on the water? These birds are amazing creatures and will often sit on the bait waiting for it to be driven to the surface. They are very efficient and don't waste precious energy flying around all day looking (like you could be in the boat)
Fish close to the raft-ups without disturbing the birds and see if there are biting fish around them (I have had amazing fishing doing this as the birds sit on the bait and the snapper are close by).
If the fish are not biting, then it may be a waiting game, but rest assured that you are most likely in the right area. You need to wait for the dinner gong to go off (i.e. mammals to turn up and round up the bait for the gannets to feed on).
When you’re prospecting an area near rafted gannets, try changing your tackle (colours and weights). I know everyone swears that orange is the best colour but on some days it will go untouched while a yellow or pink works a treat. It is also worth trying different combinations of heads and skirts, perhaps combinations you would not usually try. I will try different weights too, as this will change the way the lure moves – maybe you will luck upon a movement that entices a bite (sometimes the heavier lures will do this).
If there is no bait and no birds in an area, then I will look in areas where the fish graze on the bottom (feeding on crustaceans, worms etc.), often along the contour lines on your chart. I have found many areas like this over the years especially over the top of Coromandel and Fantail Bay, where the snapper are head down hard on the sand.
Often you will not see much on the sounder but give it 15-20 minutes before moving on. Usually, when fishing six lines with hard lures (120-200g), we will catch one and then 10 minutes later a couple of others will hook up and so on until everyone is hooking up as we drift along.
When fishing in these areas, the snapper are often spread out, grazing on crustaceans – we know this because these snapper often spit up crabs etc. into the boat. These grazing fish are usually the bigger ones, ranging from 55-85cm. Even when we are enjoying four to six-way hook-ups, the sounder will still show very little sign. I have had boats that, upon seeing us drifting along in the middle of nowhere, come on over, check their sounders (showing nothing), give it five to 10 minutes and then take off. All the while we are catching fish. Patience is a great asset. It really pays off in those areas that don’t show sign!
Another method that I have seen work when the sign is there but the fishing is hard but is to put a tentacle of squid on the lure. As a purist, I prefer to be either bait fishing or lure fishing, but I must say this trick helps when there is no bite.
I have noticed the fish are generally smaller and that when the fishing gets better, the purists on the lures with no squid get the bigger snapper. Also, the use of a fish attractant or pheromone sprayed on the lure can up your chances of getting those stubborn fish to bite when the fishing is tough.
If all else fails you can always find a nice sheltered bay and go for a swim, soak up the sun and take in nature while cooking some sausages on the BBQ. Then when the change of light comes, you can make a last-ditch effort to get a feed. This is generally the best time as the fish become active before the sun sets. Sunset sessions and can often change your status from zero to hero!
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