Yet again the weather has been all over the place, making a fishing fix in any one particular spot a pain. Twice I have been out in the last week and by the time I got to the planned target spot, the wind had swung to such a degree that it was a total re-think as to where I could get the boat to lay right.
It may sound a bit over the top, but to have the boat laying to the wind and the tide so that I can fish directly out from the stern, is particularly important in the winter months. This is because you need to be able to see and feel what's going on.
Over winter, the snapper that are in and around the local reefs and rocky shorelines of the many islands in the Hauraki Gulf are largely living a solitary life. They will only feed as and when they feel, and even then it is not in the same manner as in summer when they are competing for food with all the other school fish. These are resident snapper that have chosen to stay in close, so they are well spread out and not competing for food when feeding in the kelp, or just out on the sand close by. This is why you need to have as many factors in your favour to effectively target them. The more you can see the way the line is moving - and feel the way the fish pick up a bait, mouth it or drop it - the more you learn. Every day is different, but with time on the water you get to know what works and what doesn't.
In windy conditions, I set the anchor then come up on the chain as much as I dare, without risking it pulling and dragging. This reduces the amount that the boat will swing around, thereby allowing me to focus on the lines out the back. Having cast a bait - or in my case several, as I just cannot fish with only one line - I then keep the rod tip down low to the water. I keep moving it with the tip pointing in the same direction as the line. Often, I need a couple of winds to take in the slack, but this then allows me to see any line movement and to feel the manner in which the fish are feeding. Burly and ground bait are essential as it stimulates the fish. When they pick up a piece of ground bait, they start to feed more aggressively.
All that said and done, you still need to get out and give it a go. Despite the unpredictable weather, no two days are the same. You can even get a few surprises when you think you have seen it all after sixty years of fishing the Hauraki Gulf. On both occasions I shot out, the plan turned to custard, so I was forced to target a couple of spots that I would normally have avoided.
I cannot stress how important a good sounder is, such as my Furuno TZ touch. It has a patented feature call AccuFish, which gives you the actual size of those fish that go directly through the middle of the transducer. It comes into its own in the winter months, when I am targeting snapper in kelp rocks and reef structure, as it tells me the size of the fish so I am able to minimise the amount of small fish being caught.
Now with wind against tide, I consider the shape of the land, which will give a back eddy effect and hopefully push the stern to where I want it to go. If you take a close run down either side of an island, such as Rangitoto - you will see there are many indentations, coves and the like - along the shoreline. It is this type of territory that will give you the best opportunity to get a few fish in these conditions.
On both occasions that I went out, the first likely spot showed very small fish. When moving slightly further out from the shoreline, however, to where there were a number of isolated rocks and low foul - the Furuno sounder showed a number of bigger snapper from 42-65 cm hard in the kelp. The burly and ground bait took nearly an hour to have any real effect and with the boat laid and swinging on the anchor you really had to be totally focused on the line, the bite and when you could strike the fish.
When I say focused - I mean focused - as it is not just a matter of tossing out a bait, it is noting where the bait landed, along with the direction of the current and the depth of the water. Each time the boat swings so too does the tip of your rod, try and keep it in the same direction as the line. Tiny taps and bites do not mean tiny fish. Several snapper I released around the 6 kg mark were just mouthing the baits. Without being focused and keeping in touch with the bait, I would never have hooked those fish. The two guys fishing with me that day called me lucky, yet both dropped a number of fish, as they were simply not as focused on what was going on.
All this sounds a bit over the top, but I can assure you it all works. Being in a calm bit of water close to shore beats the hell out of going out wide into 30 odd metres of water, to lay side onto the wind and tide rolling our guts out. Next time you are out, take a look close in along the shoreline of the coast or islands around you and watch the sounder for bits of foul. Consider tide and wind direction as you need to be able to lay to the target zone and in time, build up a data base of "go to spots" for those hard days.