At this time of year, the snapper are in "pre-spawning", meaning they can become quite fussy eaters and often despite the sounder showing a heap of fish on the screen they will not take a bite at anything. Heading out to try and catch a feed becomes a game of "how far put do I need to go?
A classic example was the other day when a couple of mates were heading out of the marina at the same time as I was, so naturally, we asked each other what the game plan was for the day. My gut feeling was to target in close due to a number of factors, whereas they planned to go out wide. Long story short, they came home after six hours on the water with two fish where I was back at the marina and cleaned up with my limit within three and a half hours.
Now I don't want to sound like a smartarse know it all (far from it), but how do you impart to others the gut feeling that gets the results on the day? As a lot of you will know, I am hopelessly dyslexic (takes me a couple of hours to bang this short article out on the confuser), yet I am in tune with mother nature, whereas others are not.
The reality is, there is nothing that matches experience and a bit of gut instinct when you're trying to put food on the table. For example, the other day the moon phase, weather and all those good things were lined up and pointing towards a great fishing day. I, however, picked up on a few extra factors that made me give this a second thought.
Reason One: Don't ask me why, as it is not entirely logical, but when I was heading out there was a harsh chill factor in the wind that didn't feel normal for a nice sunny winter day.
Reason Two: On my way out I keep a close eye on the Furuno TZ touch sounder chart plotter, having a fairly good idea of what fish I should be seeing and where for this time of the year and the state of the tide etc.
When you're scouting for somewhere to drop your line, the first thing to think about is the time of year, and the second is habitat. Right now, a lot of snapper are moving into the Gulf and holding out in 30-40 meters. You hear a lot of reports of every man and his dog slaying it on this and that and the other fancy glittery thing they dropped over the side to the bottom. The reality is, out wide in deep water, fish are affected and react in the same way as they do close in shallow water. Before heading out wide, scout out and fish your feet first.
Fortunately, the one thing about straylining into a reef or rocky headland is that you almost guarantee that no matter how many things are against you, there will always be a few resident fish lurking about in the kelp to put on the table. If you are going to take them home for dinner, you need to set a game plan, back yourself and stick to it.
If you're looking for a spot to target, try this one:
Lining up a wee corner of Rangitoto, there is a lava flow coming out from the shore, all of which is covered in a forest of kelp and weed. This creates a habitat and a food source, and that, in turn, equates to resident fish. Again there is a bit more to just dropping the pick and lobbing out baits towards the reef.
When I approach an area like this, I keep an eye on the sounder, looking for every tiny change in the bottom as well as small bits of broken foul. When you are scouting an area in shallow water, remember that the footprint of your sonar underwater is very small, so don't just head straight into your spot - try zigzagging a bit to scope out more of the area. By doing this, you can cover more ground and will get a better overall picture of where the fish are lying. This might sound counter intuitive if you are planning to target a reef coming out from the shore and not the area further out. But what fish marks you see out from the reef should give you a better idea of how to target it. When I am doing this, the more fish I see out from the reef, the better the reef will fish. If there are few fish out on the open sand, it will be hard going.
With three rods I set a pattern of baits across the front of the reef just at the edge of the kelp. For the first hour, nothing. Not even a tiny pick at the baits. It's times like these that you have to back yourself - when you're tempted to try another spot, remember "habitat is where it's at".
On this particular day, the fish were a bit 'bite-shy'. I found myself in a situation where all three rods bent over, and all three baits were dropped. Ten minutes later the same thing happens again. The solution to this problem was to re-bait, but this time with big baits, and to put the reels in free-spool to let them take the bait with no pressure on the line. If I'm fishing in free-spool, I let the fish run with the bait and then wait till they stop. When the weight comes on again, I strike hard to set the hook, as they are just mouthing the bait - if you strike when they are running, they will drop it.
As it so often happens when there is a chill factor in the wind you either catch one or two very big fish (more like busted off in my case) or just smallish pannies.
The colder the day, the less competitive and pickier the fish are - if they are dropping baits when they feel resistance, the answer is to go down in line weight, 6-8 kg has way less drag than 10 kg mono.
It is only by spending time on the water that you gain experience. Just remember, there are no bad days on the water, just some are better than others.