Inner Gulf Fishing Reports - December 16th, 2021

  • Auckland/Hauraki Gulf

Time to think outside the square

After such a crappy year of lockdowns uncertainty, the Xmas break is time to sit back with a line in the water and recharge your batteries.

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Personally, this is the time of the year when I like to think outside the square. It is not all about catching fish, it is more about being able have the time to just watch the depth sounder while working contour lines and current lines to see and understand more about fish movements. Even after sixty years of fishing the Hauraki Gulf there is still a lot to learn and often it’s just a matter of sitting back, relaxing and looking for Mother Nature’s signposts.

As the snapper spawn they tend to move into the shallower inner gulf inside the Tamaki Strait, even up past the harbour bridge where the bottom is sand and mud the home of millions of crabs, shellfish and worms, food needed to rebuild their condition and body fat in preparation for the next winter.

Much of the inner gulf is just flat featureless bottom, so snapper tend to be spread out rather than in schools grazing as they feel the urge. When looking for snapper I look for a current line then slowly zig zag across it looking for sign. This way I get a bigger picture of where the fish are and knowing the direction and strength of the current allows you to anchor the boat ahead of the fish so the burley trail will spread across the bottom, drawing the fish back to your baits. Feeding on crabs and worms to start with, the bites will be small and soft as they will just pick up the bait and just mouth it. It is often only when the burly trail really kicks in drawing a number of fish close to the boat, do they become aggressive and competitive in taking a bait. Have patience and don’t be fooled by small bite thinking they are small fish

Fishing directly off the back of the boat with a ledger or running rig limits your chances of catching fish. Stray lining is by far the most effective method, a 7/0 hook with a small ¼ oz sinker is all that’s needed and can be cast a long way from the boat back into the burley trail. One of the advantages of fishing on the sand is there is little to get snagged on. I always set a pattern of baits at different distances and angles from the boat in both shallow and deep water as it is part of the learning curve. By casting a bait out either side of the boat the bait will be moved across the bottom by the current till it is directly astern so will have covered a lot more area than if just cast off the stern. Often, I find by doing this there will be a strike zone whereas the other baits are untouched. What this tells me is the current on the bottom[ which can be different to that on the surface]  is being taken more out to one side of the boat than the other. Shallow water fishing as described can be done on any part of the coast with good results, recently I have been busted off, almost spooled and released snapper in excess of 20 pound in water as shallow as three metres. While I am waiting for the fish to come on the bite, I target fresh bait. Butterflied jack macks or small kahawai not only will be taken by big snapper I hook more kingfish on dead baits on the sand, not surprising even though you may not see kingfish if the bait fish are there, they will not be far away.

Watching the sounder, no matter how clever you think you are there is no definitive way you tell what type of fish the marks are showing, especially over reef structure. Trevally, maomao and parore all show up as marks. To save yourself time and grief of losing baits to small unwanted species a quick drop and drift over the structure with a baited sabiki will soon tell you what’s down there.

When I head off on the boat for a week, I don’t take bait as fridge and freezer space is at a premium and it is way more important to keep fluid intake at the right temperature, so catching bait for the day is critical. No matter if I am anchored in a bay or in the deep, I always drop a baited sabiki rig down BUT once it hits the bottom, I wind it up at least a meter to prevent small snapper getting hooked.

With fresh bait it gives you a number of options, firstly jack mackerel butterflied or filleted as snapper bait is great, but you can also  but you can also deploy one as a livebait under a balloon or as I do, as a running rig set close to the stern of the boat. The reason for keeping it close to the boat is that’s where the bait fish congregate in the burly trail , john dory, kingfish and big snapper are no slugs and will come in from behind and scoff them, so a live bait close to the burly pot has a greater chance of being nailed.

What spins my wheels these days is seeing families out fishing. Kids learn more life skills on a boat than doing anything else so to ensure we give them the best chance of enjoying the great outdoors as I have, is to only take what you can eat fresh today as tomorrow you can head out again. The more time you spend on the water the more you learn and as the great man himself said “ every day fishing is another day credited to you allotted time” - get out there enjoy, play nicely and stay safe as no fish is worth risking a life for.

- Bruce Duncan

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