Winter fishing is all about timing - just missing the tide by an hour can make a huge difference.
I knew there was a reason that I didn't want to own a Lamborghini - apart from not being able to afford one - as they make you late for fishing! The excuse given by my fishing companion was trying to find an undercover car park without damaging the skirts, which subsequently made him late. This put us back an hour from our planned departure. With a forecast of very fresh winds and lots of rain, it meant that by the time we got to the Rakino channel, we only had an hour of tide left.
Speaking with a few charter skippers, they all report there are still good numbers of snapper in the Rakino and Sergeants channels, which varies greatly from years past. When we arrived there were big numbers of birds about (but mainly sitting on the water), which is an indicator of action to come - or has happened already. However, there was still good sign of kahawai in the water column, as well as snapper on the bottom.
To get snapper to feed in this depth, they need plenty of current and due to being late, we only landed two by the time the tide fizzled out. We had no option but to head in close, as the wind was now up around thirty knots. Even on a 50 foot launch, to try and fish wind against tide out in the channels would have been just plain ugly. Anchoring close to shore in a bay we were able to get the stern facing a reef structure, albeit we were swinging around all over the place. In conditions like this, stray lining is the only option and is best done without using any sinkers, as they only get snagged. Long story short - despite very ugly conditions and getting away late - we managed a good feed. Given good conditions the results would have been better.
A couple of days later, the wind had dropped and the rain had gone, however the temperature had plunged to the point where I had ice on the deck. For the benefit of my fellow man, I shot out for a sneaky wee fish. On a frosty day with a bitterly cold wind from the south, you know that the fishing is going to be very challenging. You have to be even more crafty and sneaky than normal! It may sound silly, but I am convinced that fish feel the cold and - like us - can become lethargic. Subsequently, they don't move about and feed till stimulated.
South of the Coast Guard buoy on the western side of Rangitoto, the chart shows that there is a large area of low foul and with an outgoing tide and a southerly wind, I sneaked in close and anchored at a spot I have previously marked on the Furuno plotter. To be honest, without the slightest touch in the first half hour I was thinking about a move. All my instincts and local knowledge told me I was already in the right place though. A few tiny taps, then the line would straighten out, and the baits were dropped.
Admittedly, I knew that there were a few fish around,and I never judge small bites as being small fish, but even I was not convinced these fish would go legal. In conditions such as this, one thing that can make a huge difference is to go down in line weight, as there will be less line resistance in the water to spook the fish when they pick up a bait. This is the reason your honour, that you have 24 rods on the boat - purely so you can have a couple or so spooled up on six and eight kg line ready to go. With no sinker or trace, simply just 8 0/0 hook tied to the end of the line, the risk of bust offs is higher, but the hook up rate will outweigh it every time.
Being shallow, burly is a must, especially on hard days like this. Guess who forgot it however, so the only option was to finely chop up pilchards and squid and toss them as far back behind the boat as possible. With a bit of ground bait and lighter lines, the fish immediately began to pick up the bait and move away without getting spooked, giving me the chance to strike. From tiny picks and taps, to being hooked, these fish were far from undersized, with a couple of very solid fish being unstoppable in such shallow rocky water, on such light gear.
Within two hours of changing line weight, I had enough snapper for a feed, with a few to put in the smoker along with a couple of kahawai. As I have said so many times before - even a few hours out on the water is worth the effort. It is only from spending time on the water that you get the experience and local knowledge, to call on when the conditions are tough. You also get to see things that make you open your eyes and think outside the square.
The area I fished has some rocks at low tide that are only just exposed, along with large areas where the kelp is just on or slightly below the surface. Not many people would be aware that this is the natural habitat of snapper bait fish kahawai and mullet also. Right on low tide I hooked a kahawai, only to have it do a sudden swerve, which snapped the line. The trade-off for light line maybe? - or maybe not - as suddenly there was a hell of an explosion, with fish leaping clear of the water to escape some massive (and I mean massive) kingfish, as you would see at the Three Kings. The noise and sight of fish leaping clear of the water was a sight to behold.
Over my damn near sixty years of fishing, I have never seen mullet clear of the water, with king fish hammering them this close to the city; let alone seen any sized king fish around at this time of the year.
What it reminds us, is that if there is food - there are fish - and it always pays to put a live bait out.