Time for bait and berley
While I haven’t been on the water over the lockdown period, I hope to make up for lost time leading up to and before Queens Birthday weekend.
Around this time of year my focus changes. Snapper are still my main target species, but quite often I will change tactics to good old bait and berley and there will not be as much emphasis on the change of light, but rather getting the wind and tides right for the particular spots I like to fish.
The school fish, having recovered from spawning over autumn, tend to be a little deeper and less aggressive on the bite when offered jigs and soft-baits – my favourite way of targeting them. This is not to say you won’t still have a good session on lures, it just seems as the water cools they become a little more lethargic. To put it in human terms, you might be walking along the street with no intention of having a graze or a coffee, but you get a whiff of an aromatic brew emanating from the café door and it attracts you in – you just have to have one! Berley has the same effect as the coffee aroma, it pulls the fish in to where our baits will be!
For me, this is a good time to head out to the Hen and Chicks where there are some great weed lines o fish and prominent points with a good current flow to take your berley out over a wide area.
If prospecting new ground, look on your bathymetric chart and where you see the depth lines run close to each other, that is where there will be a drop-off or a weed bank, both likely snapper hangouts.
Anchor in front or parallel to these areas and let the berley run back into or alongside them, drawing the fish to your baits. There is always a good current flow around the Hen and Chicks, you just have to get the wind right to line everything up.
So what bait?
Bream Bay is blessed with a good supply of jack and slimy mackerel almost all year round, as well as koheru if you know where to look. Jack mackerel have to be one of the best snapper baits, fished either as livebaits, whole or as cut baits down a berley trail.
Snapper are scavengers and will scoff almost anything. Fresh bait is best – quite often you will get kahawai in the berley trail and while they are good eating in their own right, snapper find a slab of fresh, skinless kahawai difficult to resist.
As a fallback, NZ pilchards work well, as does squid. Over late summer and towards the end of the game season many anglers will make the effort to catch skipjack tuna and then free flow freeze them. These make cut and slab baits of the highest order and the heads are recognised as a big snapper bait fished whole with a double hook rig.
I am a big fan of salmon berley, set in a wobbly pot or similar dispenser at the right depth for maximum spread in the bait’s hit zone. A little substance can be added by chopping up old fish frames, or those bits of freezer burnt bait you have tucked away in the back of the freezer to create a chum trail.
Rather than tip a big heap over the side, slowly add the chunks to the trail intermittently. You can buy from the likes of Top Catch bags of pre-chopped pilchard chunks. These are pilchards that have obviously been in the freezer for a while and have dried out somewhat. Put them in a bucket of water first to enable them to rehydrate before tossing them in. This enables them to sink faster and are less likely to be gobbled up by the ever-present sooty shearwaters – mutton ducks!
As a berley backup I have used pig pellets in the past, mixed in a bucket with tuna oil and rolled oats. Once thoroughly mixed, they can be dispensed over the side using a ladle, or placed in an onion sack inside a weighted dispenser to create a slow release berley. An occasional yank on the dispenser rope will send a cloud of fine particles out to attract the target species.
To get your lightly weighted baits down past the birds, throw a distracting or decoy lump of bait scraps away from where you want to cast. When the birds follow the decoy, then is the time to either cast o quickly slip your bait into the trail.
Use the minimal amount of weight you need to sink your bait. Snapper will quite happily swim up the berley to take your bait mid-water.
Keep the bait moving by ‘walking the dog’, slowly retrieving line by thumbing the spool if you are using an overhead reel. Good luck out there.
- Grant Dixon