Bruce Duncan - Hauraki Gulf Fishing Report - 09/03/23

Is it time for winter tactics now? 

Finally, with the change of season, the wild weather seems to be abating; I am picking that we will get some stunning weather windows in the coming months. 

What is really weird about the changes this summer is the way and manner the snapper have been feeding: rather than gorging themselves to regain body mass and build up body fat to get them over the winter months, they are just picking and mouthing baits like it is the dead of winter. 

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Time to think outside the square and change tactics. With the water now pretty much clear of debris and silt, I have checked out several spots, and every one of them showed fish sign – but not to the level I would have expected at this time of year.  

Targeting a couple of areas of foul on the northern side of Rangitoto, I caught plenty of just-on or below-legal snapper, with only one big fella blowing me into the weeds. 

Heading out onto the worm beds after various reports, I found a few very small workups but no snapper below. The sign that was there was very spread out, so it’s little wonder people are struggling.  

Anchoring on just a few small bits of sign, I went into winter mode – with burley close to the bottom and a handful of chopped-up bait tossed in every 10-15 minutes. Casting lightly weighted small pilchard baits well astern, I let them slowly sink so the sinker would stay on top of the bait. Every bait got chewed, with just the heads remaining on the hook. This is not to say they are small fish, it is just how they were feeding. The answer was fresh bait. I dropped a Black Magic sabiki rig down to within a metre of the bottom (this minimises the chance of catching tiny snapper). I soon had a string of jack macs in the live bait tank. The smaller ones were butterflied, the larger ones chopped into two baits. Once the fresh baits hit bottom, it resulted in the same old pick-picks, but by giving them a bit of slack line, they moved off, resulting in several solid hook-ups with snapper in the 34-40cm range.  

Winter tactics are all about setting a game plan to fish the one spot as burley and ground bait in time spreads over a large area, slowly drawing fish close to the boat. Often more baitfish and the occasional kingfish will show up. 

With kahawai and jack macs for fresh bait, I tried close in on a bit of foul again with the same result: small bites, give them slack line, then strike, resulting in several reasonable fish in the bin.

Up at Omaha, the erosion of the beach has dragged lots of clumps of roots and debris out into 9-12 metres, but straylining in 14 metres, the fishing is just like winter – often changing from day to day. 

One ‘day one’, it was hard to catch a pannie for dinner as every fish – bar three – went 45-65cm, with the other three snapper from 18-20+ pounds released. On the second day at the same spot, the snapper ranged from 30-34cm. Time to think outside the square. 

On the edge of a contour line at the southern end of the bay, just a few marks were showing – not what I would typically bother targeting. But armed with fresh bait, I dropped the anchor at 23 metres. Ground bait and burley spreads over a wider area in deeper water, so casting a pattern of lightly-weighted yellow eye mullet (sprats) baits, it was time to sit back, have a soft drink and wait.  

As we move into the cooler months, a change of tactics will be needed to pull fish like this. 

Thinking outside the square, I trailed one rod with no sinker or trace, simply a hook on the end of the line. Just the weight of the hook and bait would, in time, take it to the bottom and well away from the boat into the burley trail. Long story short: the unweighted ’floater’ rig outfished the other two rods three-to-one, but the key was fresh bait that would take the chopping and chewing without falling off the hook. 

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The upshot is that we now appear to be in a very early start to winter fishing. Summer tactics using lures and softbaits, along with traditional bait fishing methods, are just not getting the results. Think outside the box. Have the patience to fish just the one spot and bring dinner in to you.

Captain Swish
Bruce Duncan

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