Going off to where you normally caught fish in summer is just not going to produce the goods as I saw in the weekend. After watching and talking to a few boats that were well out from the Rangitoto shore, all they had to report was that the fishing was dead slow and the few fish they caught were well undersize.
“Habitat is where it’s at.” Sure there will be the odd fish out in the various channels but to be able to consistently catch a few for a feed you have to target them in their own back yard. I know I have said this on numerous occasions but the fishing this winter is the best it’s been for years. Not only with the number of fish but also the size, but again far different to summer - it’s not just a matter of tossing over a bait and waiting for a bite. The winter snapper are lurking close in and around rocky shorelines and shallow reefs, feeding only when they feel the need as they are mainly living off their body fat reserves. The way they take a bait in winter is not the way most would think. Simply they pick up a limpet crab or snail and crush it sucking out the goodness and spitting out the rest. It is the small taps on the line and the fact that the bait comes back crushed with only the hard bits hanging on the hook that suggests they think its a small fish.
The first stop on Saturday was right on the end of the outgoing tide with very little current, two small half cut pilchard baits were tossed out towards some low foul. One with a small ¼ oz sinker, the other with no weight at all. Long story short we nailed four nice fat winter snapper, around the 2- 2 ½ kilo mark, all of which were caught on the floaters (the line without any sinker). To hook these fish you had to watch your line for the slightest of movement and strike just when the weight came on the rod tip. Timing the strike is critical as there is no room for getting the strike wrong. Just as the tide stopped running, the wind turned the boat slightly so we now had to cast sideways to the wind. The swing of the boat also made it very hard to stay in touch with the bait. Even though we still lost baits and there were good fish on the foul, there was no point staying if we could not totally focus on the baits. Therefore we bailed in on the Rangitoto shore where the wind and tide were all going in the same direction. Now with the current running directly out from the stern towards a bit of low foul around 100 meters behind the boat, I dropped the wobbly pot of salmon burly just about a meter below the boat. This meant the current would take it a long way astern into and across the foul, whereas if I had dropped it until it was just off the bottom, the burly trail would not have gone so far.
The oil slick from the burly rises to the surface which then gives you a clearer idea of the actual current line and you can see if it is being deflected off any other under water structure. Again, smaller cut baits will always out fish whole baits in winter as the fish just pick up and mouth the bait. What I find as a top bait in winter is ballyhoo, just like a big piper but thicker and more solid in the body. They are easy to rig and hang on the hook giving you a better strike and hook up rate. Just for the hell of it I fished two rods one with ballyhoo the other with squid, all be it both baits were getting destroyed. The ballyhoo had a far higher hook up rate and with bigger snapper than the squid. Long story short, there was no shortage of fish and within a few hours it was back to the ramp to have a cleansing ale.
Time and time again those that know how to use bait, burly and ground bait and are prepared to spend a few extra dollars on good bait tell me that they are having no trouble catching fish. The only annoyance being it doesn’t take them very long to get a limit, and its way too soon to go back home as they will only get told to do lawns and other little jobs they have been promising to do for the last two years!
This is the best time of the year to get out and set a game plan to fish the one spot over the whole tide run. Look for a bit of low foul or shore line with the wind and tide holding the boat to it, drop down some good oily salmon burly and toss out very lightly weighted half baits. Keep the rod tip down pointing in the same direction as the line so you can see any line movement when a fish picks up the bait, have the line over your finger to feel the small bite and strike when the weight comes up on the rod tip. Don’t forget even though its winter to ice the fish and only take what you need for a feed. Otherwise, if there is fish in the fridge, you may have to do some chores around the house rather than whipping out for a sneaky wee fish!