This winter is very similar to those some ten odd years back, which is a good thing as it has been a while since I can recall such excellent and consistent fishing in the inner gulf. In saying that, it is still is a case of knowing where to target on any given day.
Winter is what helps you to learn and hone your fishing skills more than any other time, which often results in you nailing a feed if fish on those tough days when all others fail. Having spent some sixty years lurking around the Hauraki Gulf, I have become very aware of what conditions will have an effect on the fish on any given day. When looking to go for a fish, I simply think of the wind and tide's strength and direction, what the isobar reading is and what my gut is telling me. I've become so attuned to basing my fishing days from this that I don't even bother to take note of when the bite time is. It is knowing things like this that can really make the difference between catching a feed on those tough days and getting skunked.
I have been out four times in the last two weeks, mostly to put my knowledge and skills to the test and to see what more there is to learn.
On the first time out there was a very small tide, bugger all wind and air temperature that was very nippy between the loose change and the family jewels. Out of the marina and passing North Head, my gut was telling me to turn right, but my brain said left for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the previous week I had done well around the Boulder Bay area at the back of Rangitoto and given the worst case scenario, I can always pull a few fish out of the kelp. The second reason because it was a Saturday, and the amount of wash and wake from various ferries and other boats would roll us about, and I am too old and grumpy to put up with that.
As we turned left and headed to our grounds, all looked good, with the Furuno sounder showing a good number of snapper in the kelp from 35-64 cm. As I scoped out the area, I found a series of rocks and foul in 12 meters -further out from shore than I would typically be. Despite the fact we used a heap of burley and ground bait, the fishing was incredibly slow. Even with no weight at all, you would only detect the smallest of bites. When you lifted the rod tip slightly, you could feel the weight of a good fish, yet the moment you struck it, they just let it go. Weird as it was, the tide turned some two hours before it should of so it was time to relocate. Again, good fish were showing, but as at our previous spot, I experienced the same thing: when a fish picked up a bait if they felt any resistance they just dropped it. Long story short, with only four snapper and one john dory we went home with our tails between our legs.
Later during the week, there were a few more days with zero to five knots of wind, but with a slightly bigger tide and higher air temperature. This time I headed out and turned right. I anchored within casting distance of the kelp and, sure enough, the first two baits nailed two nice snapper. Having got a feed, it was now time to mosey on out for a drift fish into some more open water.
I found myself over a mostly, flat and featureless sandy bottom, with a single small rock coming up up two meters. The sounder, again, showed a few nice fish lurking at the base of the rock, with the odd fish on the sand close by. With the rock marked on the chart plotter, I then worked out the drift angle with the tide, and as it was only some 12 meters, I cast out two un-weighted baits and allowed them to slowly sink to the bottom, well behind the boat. This is also the time of year when I toss out a 'lazy line' - this is effectively a stray line rig with no trace and just a small ¼ oz sinker sitting on top of the hook. Rigged with a new range of circle hooks from Black Magic, I cut out the belly flap of a kahawai and then lobbed it well away from the boat. The beauty of a lazy line is that it is simply left in the rod holder to do its thing. Being rigged with a circle hook means the fish easily hook themselves, making it the ultimate lazy man's rig. What I find interesting with the lazy line is that you can watch the rod tip and see the smaller fish ripping at the bait, but when a bigger fish wants to have a go, it goes quiet before the fish hits the bait aggressively and hooks up. The interesting thing is that when I hook up to a fish of equal size on the stray line rig, the bite is entirely different. I have learnt a couple of things from this: firstly, I have discovered that when fishing a large bait, it may be the noise and action of smaller fish attacking which draws in the bigger fish, who then take a decent whack at it. The second is that with pilchards and squid, they tend to bite more tentatively, meaning you have to know when to strike and set the hook.
What I have also found is that I tend to catch more and bigger fish when drift fishing, when I have a lazy line out. This makes sense as when the fish are well spread out on the sand the commotion of small fish ripping at a big bait is the only thing that would pull the bigger fish back towards the boat.
Now, believe me, the third time I went out was purely for the benefit of my fellow man, just to see what the difference would be doing the same thing in the same spot but with a lot more wind creating a slightly faster drift rate with a more erratic course due to the tidal effect. This was going to test my drifting skills as I tried to get the boat to drift past the rock. The first two shots resulted in a couple of fish that failed to hook up. The trail on the Furuno allowed me to monitor and reflect on our drifts - information I could then use to figure out where to start the next drift to get as close as possible to the rock. Having done this, I nailed a couple of nice fish and headed home.
What all this says, is that it is only time spent on the water that will give you the knowledge and experience to know where is best to go any particular day. It is only the fact that I have a 'Diploma in Delinquency and Irresponsibility' that I have spent most of my life on the water and that I manage to put a few fish in the fridge. As an old mate of mine would say "don't talk about it, just do it " - even if you can only sneak out for a few hours its all part of the learning curve.