Beating the winter blues
“When is the best time to go fishing?” is the question I am always asked. My answer is the same every time: “Whenever you can get out, even if it’s only for an hour or two.”
Last week, there was an ugly moon phase plus a small tide so I went down to the boat just to give it a clean. Yeah right!
After I finished cleaning the boat, it was right on slack water and not a breath of wind, as is often the case just before a blow hits the coast, so it was out for a quick fish.
Over the years, I have found when nothing is stacked in your favour you have to call on all your experience and make your own luck. When you are waiting for the tide to kick, the first thing needed to change your luck is to catch some fresh bait.
When you’re at anchor catching bait, you may as well toss a couple of snapper baits out. Half a pilchard will do the job. Cast it out without a sinker and let it slowly float down, offering no resistance when picked up by a fish. Casting away from the boat and out to one side allows the bait to sink to the bottom before the current drags it across the bottom, meaning you can cover a lot of ground. With very little current, a floating bait (no sinker) is 100 percent more effective than one with a sinker. My first bait on this day got a snapper, albeit only 35cm, but then not one bait (I fish up to four rods) got sniffed at for the next hour.
With a dozen jack macs in the livebait tank, it was time to move into the shallows. I anchored in less than three metres with the stern of the boat facing the rocky shore. This is where spending time building up local knowledge by sneaking in close around the rocks and shorelines at low tide pays off big time. At low tide you can see where there are submerged outcrops of kelp covered rocks and where you can anchor safely.
Now is the time when it pays to set a game plan to target the one spot and stick to it for the full run of the tide to maximise your chances. This spot I chose was Flax Point on the southwestern shore of Rangitoto (Area 1, Spot 11 in my book), but as you will see, it is very shallow and there’s only room for one or two boats to fish. Plenty of berley and chopped up ground bait pay off big time in close in these harsh conditions as the fish are not motivated to eat. Even when they’re enticed by the smell of the berley, they’ll only pick up a bait without moving and chew it. The tiny taps and slight line movement this causes fools people into thinking they are just very small fish.
I cast a pattern of pilchard baits to enable me to cover a wider area. The reason I start off with soft pilchards is they are oily and fall apart, so they draw more fish out from the kelp and rocks, creating competition and more aggressive bites. In very shallow water, again with the small tide and bad moon phase, patience is imperative and focused watching for the tiniest sign of line movement is the key to hooking fish. After I’d caught a couple of 35-42 cm snapper, it was time to cast out a couple fresh jack mac baits – one butterflied, the other a whole fillet cut down to the skin and folded back to expose both fleshy sides (see page 22 in the book).
These big heavier baits require no sinker and the trick is not to close off the bait arm. The bigger fish will just chew on the baits and only slowly move off. Should they feel any resistance, they drop the bait, so let them move off slowly and only strike when the line starts to straighten out. Strike hard and hold the rod tip high to set the hook, then play the fish till well clear of the rocks with the rod high as this lifts the head of the fish so it can’t take you into the foul.
The number and size of the snapper that reside in the shallows over winter never ceases to amaze me. Who needs a limit bag when you have three snapper around the six-kilo mark for the smoker and a couple of smaller fish for the frying pan?
No matter how cold it is, it’s only by getting out and spending time on the water that you’ll gain the necessary experience to consistently catch fish. At the risk of sounding like a smart arse, my book Hauraki Gulf Fishing Hot Spots covers all the bases from rigging baits to fishing 150 spots in the inner gulf. My aim is to share the knowledge I have built up over a lifetime of fishing and help others get out and enjoy this fabulous playground.