FIND THOSE FISH (PART 1): Current favourites

Oceanic currents, temperature breaks, structure and concentrations of baitfish are key factors when searching for pelagic gamefish.

Predominantly featureless and extending to the horizon, the sea can be a daunting proposition for anglers trying to find fish.

When one factors in an incredibly varied underwater environment and a myriad of different types of fish, each with its own unique characteristics and requirements, solving the puzzle becomes more complicated still.

However, if we isolate the main elements that draw and hold different fish (many of which overlap or are interrelated), identifying likely fishing spots becomes a lot easier.

These elements include: current; water temperature; seasonal migration [of fish]; shelter – from predators or to ambush prey from – food availability; and the need to procreate.

We will start this series by discussing the role of currents and how they affect seasonal fishing in New Zealand, beginning with our world-famous game-fish fishery.

Change direction regularly when trolling a spread of lures.

CURRENTS AND GAME FISH

Oceanic currents are moving bodies of water largely driven by global wind systems fuelled by the sun’s energy. Ocean currents are influenced by wind direction, Coriolis forces caused by the Earth’s rotation, and landforms that interact with them.

Acting like giant conveyor belts, currents transport pelagic predators and their prey to different parts of the globe. Different currents are populated by different animal and plant communities, generally determined by a current’s origin and subsequent journey.

As you might expect, in our hemisphere, currents arriving from the tropics are much warmer than those originating in more southerly climes. The sea life carried along by the former, including the game fish we want to catch, tends to reflect this.

THE GAMEFISH CALENDAR

For Kiwi fishers, the game season usually kicks off in mid-tolate December, starting with the arrival of smaller ‘baitfish’ species like saury, flying fish and skipjack tuna. These are accompanied by the first wave of predators that feed on them – bigeye tuna, several shark species and shortbill spearfish.

A few weeks later, the more tropical predators start arriving, including mahimahi, yellowfin tuna and striped, black and blue marlin.

Fortunately for us, when the water cools again and the more tropical currents retreat in May or June, we find ourselves with new opportunities as different oceanic currents push in.

For example, in winter and spring we have excellent bluefin tuna, albacore tuna and broadbill swordfish fisheries to take advantage of, resulting in exciting sportfishing options virtually all year round.

SST CHARTS

Recent years have provided us with the technology to locate and track the warmest current areas before heading out fishing, saving time and fuel. Sea Surface Temperature (SST) charts are collated using satellite data. The charts reveal water temperature at the ocean’s surface and provide information on current direction and speed.

Having pored over SST charts (ideally over several days), most game fishers will also wish to identify the greatest concentrations of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a green substance found in the leaves of plant and also in phytoplankton, the microscopic building blocks of the marine food chain.

Phytoplankton is eaten by zooplankton, krill and tiny fish, which in turn are eaten by bigger fish, and so on. Find the chlorophyll and chances are you’ll find bigger predators nearby. (FishTrack.com provides all this information and more.)

Always keep an eye out for current lines, temperature breaks, FADs, birds and bait.

FISHING THE TEMPERATURE BREAKS

After arriving in such areas, more experienced skippers will try to find exactly where cooler water meets warmer water, which is more easily said than done, especially on a rough day. Sometimes temperatures will vary by just fractions of a degree, but in other instances they may vary by several degrees. The colour of the water on either side can be very different, too.

Where warm water meets cooler water is called a temperature break and on a calm day they often show up as long stretches of calmer, oily water, frequently attended by feeding birds and signs of baitfish. They are a potential fishing goldmine.

That is because different fish species often find the temperature on one side of the break or the other more comfortable, especially smaller fish with less bulk to protect them from thermal shock. For them, the temperature break acts as a natural barrier, forcing them to swim along the edges.

Predators understand this and patrol these areas too, their greater bulk providing better protection from temperature variations, allowing them to move easily between warmer and cooler water in their search for food.

Game fishers can find success by adopting a similar movement strategy. Indeed, while the water on one side of the temperature break may look more attractive to us – bright, clear and azure in colour as opposed to a creamier green, say – the strikes often come out of the green zone.

Multiple hook-ups are not uncommon around gamefish hotspots like temperature breaks and underwater structures

However, it’s not necessary to zigzag across the two bodies of water continuously; by all means troll in one direction for hundreds of metres before changing course – and keep the turns modest, so the lures don’t cross over and tangle.

The direction changes are important, though. Not only do they allow you to explore both sides of the temperature break, they also make the lures on one side of the pattern speed up while those on the other side slow down. The sudden variation in lure action might trigger any uncommitted gamefish following the lures to strike.

CURRENT AND STRUCTURE

It is also worth checking out any significant underwater structures in the area, even if they are located in very deep water. Ridges and seamounts serve to push cooler, nutrientrich water upwards, providing fodder for the whole food chain, including large game fish at the top.

The biggest structures also reduce water depth, resulting in stronger currents flowing over them. Large, powerful predators use this to their advantage when pursuing smaller prey.

The Wanganella Banks, Ranfurly Banks, King Bank and Middlesex Bank are excellent examples of structures that provide amazing fishing.

Always investigate feeding seabirds, but don't ignore birds sitting on the water either.

LOVELY MEATBALLS!

You will often find meatballs in the scenarios described above – schools of baitfish coralled into a condensed mass by predators, including tuna and marlin, and dolphins and sharks, too.

They are very exciting to witness. If the predators are yellowfin, you can expect explosive white water activity and will sometimes see big tuna jumping well clear of the water in pursuit of their prey; marlin generally feed more precisely, occasionally showing slashing bills, fins and upper bodies.

It therefore pays to keep an eye out for concentrations of seabirds, either milling around and obviously feeding, or big rafts of them sitting on the surface, perhaps surrounded by a large patch of apparently oily water. You can actually smell where significant feeding activity has taken place if the wind is from the right direction!

It’s always worth investigating concentrations of seabirds. While fishing around actively feeding birds would seem more likely to bring success, fishing around rafting birds often proves worthwhile too, especially where there’s evidence of very recent feeding activity – an oily patch and/or a ‘snowfall’ of glittering scales in the water. Deploying a live mackerel or koheru can work wonders!

NOT JUST A FAD

Very occasionally, if you keep a sharp eye out or maybe get a bit lucky, you’ll come across floating or semi-submerged FADs (Fish Attraction Devices). These can be natural or manmade. Natural can include logs, dead whales or large rafts of floating kelp, while manmade FADs we’ve seen include fridges, navigation devices, broken-off fishing buoys – even a whole shipping container!

These items offer various small open ocean fishes varying degrees of precious shelter. Perhaps it’s similar to them as it is for us seeing a tree in the middle of a featureless desert. With all those small baitfish, squid and other tiny creatures seeking refuge under them, FADs are an irresistible attraction to larger oceanic predators.

Interestingly, the object does not have to be especially large (a single plastic safety helmet provided us with phenomenal fishing for mahimahi and yellowfin on one occasion), but older ‘floaters’ covered in weed and barnacles tend to be more productive than objects newly adrift.

So, always investigate floating objects in the open ocean during the warmer months, and ensure someone’s up on the bow or on the flybridge wearing polarised glasses to spot any fish holding deeper down.

TO SUMMARISE

• Consult SST charts for the warmest water and best concentrations of chlorophyll

• Keep an eye out for temperature breaks, incorporate occasional zigzags in your trolling, and cover both the warmer and cooler sides of the break

• Troll over and around any significant underwater structure, even if it’s 300 metres down

• Watch for birds indicating possible ‘meatball’ action, as well as any floating objects. BNZ


More fish in the sea

Why aren’t we doing more to breed and release native fish? A simple question with complicated answers. Alex Stone looks at some of the issues surrounding marine species re-introductions.

Hapuku were once commonly taken recreationally and commercially in the Hauraki Gulf.

Our daughter Zoë is a field research ecologist. She’s currently doing post-doctoral work, monitoring the fortunes of native birds reintroduced to mainland islands.

New Zealand ecologists are considered world-leaders in this type of terrestrial re-introductions. So why can’t we do something similar to help restore our inshore marine habitat? In the Hauraki Gulf, for instance, and other coastal habitats, once keystone species are fast disappearing. Like hapuka and kōura crayfish.

For the last 30 years the total commercial fishing allowable catch for hapuka, unchanged since the early 1990s, has not been caught. Whether this is a result of fishers priority-targeting other species, hapuka proving too elusive to catch, or because hapuka populations have crashed is unknown, says Professor of Marine Science at the University of Auckland, Andrew Jeffs, but the last is the most likely – “We still have no real data on hapuka population dynamics.”

Hapuka were once a dominant inshore reef predator in the Hauraki Gulf. But they are now locally-extinct in the inner Hauraki Gulf, and don’t appear to be returning – even in protected circumstances. In 40 years of diving at Cape RodneyOkakari Point Marine Reserve (Goat Island) near Leigh, Andrew has never seen one.

So why don’t we work to re-locate them to reserve areas?

“The answer is simple,” Nick Shears, another UoA marine science researcher, responds: “It’s because we eat them!” But then he quickly gets serious – “There’s also way more to it than that.”

There are initiatives afoot to breed native fresh- and saltwater species, based mostly on their potential for aquaculture. We’re doing it because we want to keep on eating them!

Things are a little different with shellfish. As Andrew says, “Groups like Revive Our Gulf, The Nature Conservancy and iwi are restoring shellfish because they want the restoration of ecosystem services and the mauri they represent. They are like the early planting NGOs – like Native Forest Action Council – who sold the idea of replanting native forests widely in the community so that it is now seen as the norm.”

So how can aquaculture initiatives help conservation of endangered marine and freshwater species? What are the risks and possible pitfalls? How could this become a good news story?

It’s emblematic perhaps of New Zealand’s freshwater species conservation that the only fish officially protected is already extinct: the upokororo grayling. Last seen in the late 1920s, the species went into terminal decline after the introduction of trout in the 1870s.

And kōkopu, whose juveniles make up four-fifths of the whitebait run, and that other at-risk native species, tuna longfin eels, are harvested commercially and marketed as Kiwi delicacies. We wouldn’t think of shooting and selling whio/blue duck, say, but it’s okay to exploit these other freshwater-habitat native species!

When I wondered aloud to fish scientists why reintroductions are so much an accepted and regular part of terrestrial conservation, but unheard-of in water, Bruce Hartill of NIWA set me straight: “The terrestrial situation is far, far easier than the marine environment when it comes to conservation. Terrestrial animals mostly raise their offspring, but fish mostly broadcast their eggs, so there is very limited connection between adults and offspring. The ‘parents’ are just adults sharing gametes [eggs and sperm] in a body of water.

A small hapuku caught recently near Rakino Island.

“So it’s a completely different situation, with almost no parallels. Enhancement of sessile [organisms fixed in place] shellfish is much easier, though.”

NIWA has an experimental hatchery in Bream Bay, Northland, breeding kingfish and hapuka for aquaculture. But to release them into reserves? “They may not stay,” says Andrew Jeffs. “We know so little about them. There is no academic literature on this subject.”

But in the 50 years that the Goat Island Marine Reserve has been operating, no hapuka have been released there.

And the issue is wider than what a single experiment like that could reveal.

Andrew Jeffs again: “Hapuka are another example of the unfortunate fisheries management regime that is operated in New Zealand. We should just stop fishing them and let the populations recover – they are a key predatory species in coastal areas that we have fished out and are continuing to do so.

A nest of packhorse crayfish at Waiheke Island.

“It is different where we have destroyed populations and they are not recovering on their own, then there is an argument for restoration intervention – such as in the case of green-lipped mussels.”

Postive initiatives include projects to restore green-lipped mussel beds in the Firth of Thames area, supported by the University of Auckland, and the NGOs Revive Our Gulf and The Nature Conservancy. Andrew says the mussel beds become critically-important habitat for juvenile fish, especially bottom-feeding species.

This re-stocking is to help the Hauraki Gulf recover from the massive harvesting of mussels, beginning in the early 1900s.

While there have been scattered episodes of fish reintroductions in New Zealand, Andrew says there is currently “no systematic, scientific data-driven programme” to do this more widely.

However, it costs far more to artificially grow fish and then release them than it does to simply allow their natural populations to recover. For instance, only modest costs are associated with signage and buoys at marine reserves. But still, there’s the problem of hapuka not returning to Goat Island.

Whitebait is made up of the young of five native migratory galaxiid species returning from the sea.

NIWA scientist Richard O’Driscoll: “I would have reservations/doubts that this [reintroduction] would be successful for hapuka. The question you would need to ask is what is causing the ‘extinction’ of hapuka inshore. Your assumption is that this is due to lack of juveniles ‘recruiting’ into these areas. To be successful, re-introduced juveniles would then need to: remain in the area of re-introduction; survive until they grow through to maturity and reproduce, so their progeny return to the inshore area.

“Given the likelihood of fish movement, and dispersal of eggs, larvae and juveniles [juvenile hapuka are pelagic], I doubt that these criteria would be met.

“I’d suggest that best method to re-establish hapuka inshore would be for there to be a large increase in abundance of existing ‘wild’ natural populations. This would require management intervention [such as reduction in recreational and commercial fishing effort].”

NIWA’s Bruce Hartill: “The main prerequisite for rebuilding inshore hapuku/bass populations would be to constrain commercial and recreational catches to a level that would allow fish to form a critical spawning density. But what, exactly, is that level? Right now, we simply don’t know.”

Farmed kingfish held in tanks in Northland.

From Darren Parsons, another NIWA scientist: “The advantages that terrestrial restoration has is that the area being restored won’t also be open to the trees being harvested immediately after planting, and the trees that are planted are capable of reproducing, leading to self-seeding in the localised area after planting. Both of these things are less likely for marine restoration, for different reasons.”

He goes on to volunteer “three critical issues in this debate”: EXPLOITATION: Hapuku do pop up in inshore areas as it is. But, they are pretty vulnerable to capture and fishing is fairly pervasive, so I would guess that individuals that do pop up at the end of their depth range (inshore waters) would likely get removed relatively quickly.

RECRUITMENT: The life cycle of marine species often involves a highly dispersive initial phase, so restoring a population at a specific location may not contribute to recruitment at that same location. It depends on currents and could be dependent on specific habitat relationships that support different life stages [juvenile nursery habitats]. So unfortunately, it’s [generally] more complex than for trees on land.

REBUILDING a fish population to a higher biomass overall is likely to generate more offspring and more of those new offspring are likely to settle on the fringe of their distribution. That, combined with some level of marine protection, may allow those new recruits to remain in those areas.

Paul Dekker inspects tanks of giant kōkopu

Last word in this hapuka go-round is from Andrew Forsythe, the Aquaculture manager at NIWA:

“Our objective is to develop these species for commercial farming in New Zealand. We are not engaged in any attempts to augment wild stocks through the release of captive bred fish.”

But still, why hasn’t anyone just tried placing hapuka in the water at Goat Island?

There is an initiative underway to look at returning kōura to the northern shore of Waiheke Island. This is building on research initially commissioned by the Friends of the Hauraki Gulf, as part of its campaign to establish a new marine reserve there.

In 2013, the University of Auckland Underwater Club surveyed 18 sites of what looked like perfect habitat. They found no kōura. In June 2021, the club started replicating this search – and widening it to more sites, co-ordinated by Craig Thorburn, a life-long diver, and now designer of aquariums for a worldwide clientele.

A large adult kōkopu.

Craig sees this as an “incredible opportunity” to make a controlled study of the effects of the rāhui placed around Waiheke by Ngāti Paoa in 2021. This rāhui, he says, makes Waiheke now effectively “the biggest cray reserve in New Zealand.” But he quickly adds, “It [the rāhui] needs to be for much longer than two years” – especially since larvae spend possibly two years offshore.

Echoing the other scientists’ comments about hapuka, Craig says, “Recruitment is the critical issue. And that may not happen successfully if the cray population remains below a critical mass. If spawning biomass is gone, it [the recovery of the population] needs more than just time.”

Trouble is, we don’t know what that critical mass is. In Craig’s view, this project is a “head start, to learn more about their life-cycle.”

He does point to various successful re-introductions of crayfish in South Australia, where “some quite good home territories for crayfish have been established in dedicated sanctuaries.”

In their initial dives, the divers under Craig’s instructions found tiny numbers of kōura. Intriguingly, there are more of the packhorse species.

And true to his irrepressible form, Craig really does have the last word on marine species re-introductions: “The best thing to do is start.” BNZ


Wrigglier rubber

My advancing years and a long-time passion for soft-plastic fishing probably qualify me as a ‘veteran’, but the challenge of bringing soft-baits to life continues to intrigue me. Mastering the subtleties is a never-ending process, but I have learned quite a bit along the way.

INHERENT OR IMPARTED ACTION?

One only has to walk into a decent fishing shop to see a huge array of soft-plastics of every colour, shape and size. But in terms of their ability to produce lifelike movements there are really just two categories Kiwi saltwater anglers need consider: those with inherent/inbuilt actions (i.e. shaped to produce movement as the lure moves through the water) and those where the angler manipulates the lure to impart the desired motions.

The paddle-tail and curly/grub-tail families are the most popular with inbuilt actions, while the most commonly used soft plastic, the ‘jerk’ bait, is the star in the imparted action camp.

Your choice – a selection of jerk shads, paddler and curly-tail soft-baits

PADDLE-TAILED SOFT-BAITS

There are some definite advantages in using paddle-tails. For a start, the quicker the water flows over them, the faster the paddle tail wriggles from side to side, and the more water disturbance it creates. Most predators have lateral lines capable of picking up vibrations, which helps them to locate prey (including lures) and home in for a closer inspection. This sense is especially important when their vision is impaired, perhaps by poor water clarity (turbidity) or low light.

The jig-head weight used with a paddle-tail plays an important role in the speed and intensity of tail movements. Use a jig that’s too light and a slow tail roll is as much as you’ll get, whereas heavier jig weights produce a veritable blur of tail motion.

The soft bait material should be considered too: some products are definitely more supple than others, requiring less weight to produce a decent tail thrash. When jig-heads of ½-oz and heavier are used with 4- or 5-inch (10-13cm) soft-baits, using supple baits is an advantage.

They also provide benefits at the other end of the weight spectrum: we’ve had snapper and kingfish intercept large Z-Man SwimmerZ attached to 6-oz and 8-oz Berkley Elevators or Ocean Angler Cyclops streaking their way towards the bottom in 40 to 55m of water!

The paddle-tail lure’s natural action means it suits lift-anddrop or yo-yo type motions, which often work best in deeper water (i.e. around 30-60m, where the boat overhead is less likely to disturb the fish).

I usually incorporate a reasonably languid mechanical-jigging action (one turn of the reel handle while simultaneously lifting and dropping the rod) when working the lure up off the bottom towards the surface. This can be anything from a two- or threemetre ascent through to retrieving the soft plastic through a quarter or third of the water column, before dropping back to the seafloor again.

Paddle-tails are also useful for targeting surface-feeding predators. Heavier jig-heads allow longer casts and quickly sink the lure to the desired depth before you begin the retrieve, the paddle tail thrashing all the while.

Similarly, paddle-tails suit low speed trolling duties, but keep the rod tip down and ‘pulse’ it so the lure’s progress through the water is more erratic. The extra swimming interest results in more strikes.

Hooked up! Light ¼-3/8oz jig heads armed with jerk shad or curly-tail soft-baits are perfect for very shallow conditions. PHOTO: NZ Fishing News

CURLY-/GRUB-TAILED SOFT-BAITS

As this tail type is typically half the lure’s overall length and very thin, it provides plenty of action from very little movement or current flow. That means grubs are an excellent option for anglers wanting maximum lure movement, whether on the lure’s descent or while dragging and/or jiggling it along the seafloor.

Curly-tails work with any jig-head weight, but ⅜- or ½-oz jigheads are best when snapper are feeding aggressively in 6-20m of water since bites often come as the lure is dropping.

When fishing on the bottom, up the weight as necessary to compensate for extra depth, current and drift speed (⅝-1oz is typical in 20-50m of water). Drag the lure along the seafloor using small rod twitches and the occasional jiggle to entice fish into biting.

Both these techniques work very well around musseldredging operations, with 4-inch (10cm) grubs in brown or orange especially popular.

Again, a soft-bait’s composition can make a difference, not only to its tail mobility, but also its durability, since those made from less robust material are quickly destroyed.

JERK SHAD SOFT-BAITS

Jerk-shad baits with their long, slim forms might not look that interesting, but manipulate them effectively and you’ll get plenty of bites. While most have little or no action built in, some of the latest are supple enough to produce some tail-waggling action when rigged correctly.

At this point, might I suggest avoiding jig-heads armed with overly long-shanked hooks? To me it makes little sense to insert a rigid metal rod into something that’s flexible by nature and designed to allow plenty of movement. Larger snapper have mouths big enough to engulf much of the lure and tend to bite lures in the mid-body to head region anyway, not the tail.

That’s why I enjoy using 7-inch (18cm) jerk-shads, since their extra length results in a seductive tail weave on descent and retrieval. Some soft-bait brands are buoyant enough to lift their tails when they reach the bottom. Wafting around enticingly, 7-inch models are like a signpost calling predators over to investigate.

For me, imparting extra movement starts during the descent, especially in water over 15m deep. I point the rod downwards along the line floating on the water’s surface. Whenever it looks too bowed, or I’m unsure of the lure’s location – or I suspect I might be getting a bite – I wind in some line to make contact with the lure again. If the line comes up tight, it’s a biting fish – time to firmly set the hook!

The editor with a lovely fish caught on a big grub tail in very shallow water!

In addition to hooking fish that might otherwise go undetected, winding in line maintains good contact and imparts a bit of extra movement to the lure during the descent, resulting in more bites.

Upon reaching the bottom, try to imitate the motions of a badly injured or dying baitfish. This is where the soft plastic jerkbait’s comparatively stick-like form comes in handy. First work it upwards in jiggling ‘spasms’, before letting it waft back down in free-fall with minimal body movement. It is behaving just like a wounded bait fish.

When fishing this way, keep an eye on the rod tip to ensure you’re not over-working the soft-bait – you want realistic movements that don’t rip the lure away from hungry fish, especially in murky water. That’s is easy to do with longer softbait rods.

The next phase is to drag it behind the boat for a while. Sometimes snapper like the jerk-bait wafting and darting while sinking through the water; at other times they are stimulated by subtle jiggles and jerks. But when neither of those tactics are working, dragging the jerk-shad behind the drifting boat sometimes does the trick.

Leave the lure to largely do its own thing, helped along by the odd rod twitch and jiggle, and drop the lure back or wind it in a bit occasionally. Any variation in the trundling lure’s progress over the seafloor can result in crunching bites, so be prepared. BNZ

CLIP VERSUS LOOP KNOT?

Soft-baits move best when they’re not knotted tightly to the trace with a Uni or Clinch knot.

A Lefty’s Loop or Rapala Loop knot will help achieve good lure movement, as will a Mustad Fastach or Genii Clip. While neither loop knots nor clips are perfect – Loop knots wear out over time and clips can fail – overall they help the lure attract more bites. Clips also allow quick, easy jig head changes without shortening the leader each time.


The power of movement

The keenest anglers often spend an inordinate amount of time catching live bait before heading out on a serious mission. That’s because they know predatory fish find something that’s wriggling and appears injured very hard to resist.

However, as a now reasonably dedicated lure fisherman, I can’t help smiling to myself and feeling a little superior when my friends and I charge past guys milling around inshore trying to catch live bait, all the while cursing those uncooperative mackerel. It feels as if I’m cheating!

But, for lure fishers knowing just how to bring different lures to life is key to fishing success – and it’s quite an ask when you consider how many different lures and lure fishing techniques there are these days.

So here’s how to get the best from the more popular lure types, to ensure you present the most wriggly, erratic moving and injured looking offerings possible!

Slow jigs encompass a wide variety of lure types and colours, but they each rely on the subtle movements of their various appendages to attract bites. A pair of small, sticky-sharp assist hooks do the catching.

METAL JIGS

While there are thousands of different metal lures, the most important fall into either the ‘flutter’ or ‘knife’ families, with many more in various forms fitting somewhere in between.

FLUTTER JIGS

Flutter jigs have broader, flatter sides that make them weave when lifted or retrieved and flutter and flash erratically when dropped. The speed at which they’re drawn through the water, their descent angle and how far they drop determine how effectively these jigs work.

Yo-yoing basics: If planning to ‘yo-yo’ your lure near the bottom, lift and drop the lure repeatedly next to the boat where you can see it to determine which movements – speed, lift and drop amplitude – work best. The longer the drop distance, the more chance the lure has to flutter like an injured fish. However, some of the lighter, broader jigs move so erratically they are hard for predators to catch, especially in low light or turbid water conditions. It pays to experiment with yo-yo movements as fish temperament and preferences can change dramatically day to day.

The angle of the lure’s lift and drop is very important, too. When the lure is worked in a (reasonably) vertical plane, the slack line provided by the dropped rod allows the lure maximum freedom, so it can behave as it’s designed to do: falling erratically and flashing nicely.

However, pull and drop that same lure from a 40-degree angle and you’ll have a very different result, since the lure is now being pulled along by the drifting boat, keeping the line relatively taut through the rod drop and compromising that allimportant freefall and flutter.

On the move: If the lure is cast and retrieved (or trolled), try first dragging it from the rod tip through the water next to the boat to see how it behaves at different speeds. You want it weaving seductively, not waggling sluggishly or, at the other end of the spectrum, spinning like a propeller!

Pete Francis with a snapper taken on a Lucanus slow jig.

KNIFE JIGS

Long and streamlined, these lures are often (but not always) used to target kingfish, their slim form ensuring they drop easily through the water to quickly reach bottom – or wherever activity is showing on the fish-finder.

Their speedy descent means they are only rarely taken on the way down (but it does happen, sometimes by exceptional specimens!). Instead, knife jigs rely on a retrieve technique called mechanical jigging.

This involves reasonably fast, repeated lift-and-drop rod motions accompanied by simultaneous single rotations of the reel’s handle. This keeps the lure in a state of constant rise-andfall motion, but cleverly allows it to stay in the prime bite zone – usually the water column’s lower third or half – for longer.

An alternative knife-jig technique, called speed jigging, races these streamlined jigs up through the water, with just the occasional stab of the rod to add some erratic motion to the lure.

A heavy metal flutter jig took this snapper from under a workup. Photo: Josh Darby.

SLOW JIGS

Slow-jigs epitomise movement, albeit in a very leisurely way!

The slow-jig family comprises three main types: inchiku, madai and tai rubber (more commonly known as kaburas or sliders). Inchiku-type lures tend to be long and slim with an assist-rigged plastic octopus/squid dangling somewhere mid-body. Tai rubbers are chunkier with the ‘head’ designed to separate from its rubber tendril-adorned assist rig during its descent. Madai lures are similar in form to tai rubbers but their tentacled assist rigs are fixed to the lure.

Although the slow-jig’s lure body can entice bites, especially with inchikus, it is usually the dangly bits that draw the bites, especially when they’re brought to life by the appropriate rodand-reel movements.

Interestingly, this is one of the few times in the world of fishing techniques when slightly too much weight is much better than too little, especially when fishing in depths over 30m. For slow-jigs to work well they must get down to the bottom quickly and then stay there - where most snapper tend to be!

Next, the assist-rigged ‘goodies’ are brought to life, in one of two ways...

Most slow-jiggers steadily wind up for around 3-6m, with the flow of water imparting life to the tendrils, making them wriggle enticingly.

Light-tipped rods smooth out the lure’s action and provide some insurance against small assist hooks ripping out or bending under pressure. Photo: NZ Fishing News.

Or do what I do: a very slow mechanical-jigging action (one turn of the reel handle for every gentle lift and drop of the rod) for around the same distance off the bottom. These rise-and-fall movements get the lures’ assist rig undulating seductively and prove hard for fish to resist.

In both cases, resist the urge to strike at every nibble, as this generally results in lost tendrils. Instead, either wind slightly faster or lift the rod a bit to add speed, forcing the chasing predator into making up its mind.

Either it will grab harder and hook up, or it will bail out. If it’s the latter, no worries, as it (or one of its mates) will most likely have another go.

Before we move on, a recommendation: it really pays to have an extremely soft-tipped rod when using slow jigs. Their bendiness smoothes further the movements you make making the languid movements of the tendrils/tentacles especially enticing.

Finally, an overall recommendation: don’t overdo the strength of your trace: the thinner the trace diameter, the better your lures’ natural action. Go too thick and the lure becomes less attractive.

However, you don’t want to constantly break off either, so be sensible. Try: 20-40lb fluorocarbon for jigging lures of 30-140g; 20-25lb for soft-baiting; and 80-120lb for kingfish knife jigs weighing 200-400g. BNZ


KNOW YOUR BAITS PART 1 - You got to move it, move it!

Dead baits might not be quite as effective as live baits, but there are ways to impart an illusion of life to them that fish find hard to resist.

There’s no doubt about it, a small, obviously injured fish moving erratically and flashing crazily is hard to beat as bait. To a hungry predator it presses all the right buttons.

But live baits can be difficult to catch or in short supply, so you’d better have alternative tactics up your sleeve.

How about bringing dead baits ‘back to life’?

Imparting movement to your baits is often the key to attracting bites. That’s why it pays to hold your rod and ‘work’ dead baits rather than leaving the rod in the rod holder.

‘Working’ the bait can mean actively taking up slack line to maintain contact as the bait trundles back towards you in the current, or perhaps lifting and dropping the bait regularly to reposition it – a worthwhile ploy when fishing amongst weeds and rocks. Moving the bait not only attracts attention, your offering might also end up better positioned.

SQUID BAITS

We will start with reanimating squid, as these cephalopods have plenty of natural wriggle, especially their tentacles. Indeed, take away the tentacles and the boxy squid body gets only a fraction of the bites.

Keep tentacles top of mind when cutting whole squid into smaller baits. For example, try pinning a tentacle clump on a single circle hook (diag 1), or if the tentacles are big, cut off one or two and hook them through the thick end. These baits can be used on ledger rigs or free-sliding sinker/stray-line rigs. Any movement imparted by either the angler or the current gets the tentacles undulating in a lifelike way.

Indeed, it’s possible to create an almost soft-bait-like presentation by placing a small, free-sliding ball or bean sinker directly on top of a single hook trailing a large squid or octopus tentacle. Cast it out, allow it to sink to the bottom, and then slowly jiggle it back to the boat or shore.

But what happens once all the tentacles are used up, leaving just a pile of bodies? No worries, just get a sharp knife and cut thin ‘tentacles’ into the squid mantles (diagrams 2a and 2b). In addition to creating a more attractive-looking bait with added wiggle, the knife exposes more squid flesh and releases extra scent. Change baits regularly as squid scent and flavour washes out relatively quickly.

WHOLE BAITFISH

Or you can use whole, dead baitfish such as mackerel, pilchard or piper. But to get these baits moving attractively requires good rigging. While whole fish baits offer more anchorage points for your hooks when rigged tail-first – useful for thawed, relatively soft baits – rigging baits head-first gives them a more natural presentation (diagram 3).

When rigging squid baits, it pays to incorporate the tentacles as they are by far the most attractive parts.

They move better, too, and natural streamlining means they don’t hold up in the current like tail-first baits. Headfirst baits snag less often in reefy areas and their more natural-looking presentation makes hooking a kingfish on the retrieve more likely – to deliberately target kingfish, try winding in the bait in a slower, more erratic manner.

A casting/free-spool reel outfit works better for this fishing style. Although mastering free-spool casting takes practice, the ability to leave the reel in free-spool while fishing offers a huge advantage.

By flicking the reel’s spool with a finger, you can impart jiggling movements to the bait while slowly retrieving it at the same time. Or lift the rod and then release line from the spool so the bait wafts back towards the sea floor in an enticing manner. To predators it looks just like a fish in its death throes.

Better still, when a snapper, kingfish or kahawai bites, it can run off with the bait with minimal resistance from the line – until, that is, you deem the time is right to engage the reel and strike!

Limbering up the bait can help, too, especially if it’s movement that is making fish commit to biting. Gently bend the bait back and forth to make it supple – that way it will have more action as it is moved. (Note: Don’t try this with pilchards as they don’t take the rough handling.)

It is very important to hook dead baits through the head centrally or they will spiral unattractively.

Kingfish are a prime target for this dead-bait fishing technique. It’s possible to target them using piper, mullet and mackerel – or kahawai, trevally and skipjack tuna. These firm baits (except for skipjack) are more effective if limbered up before rigging (diag 4).

But no matter how flexible, whole fish baits should be hooked through the middle of the head to ensure they move naturally – a baitfish descending through the water in a slow spiral doesn’t wag the tails of many predators.

So, take care when pushing a hook vertically through the top of the bait’s skull and out its chin, or horizontally across its bony ‘nose’. If the hook placement is off-centre, the bait will not move well.

To target kingfish with your well-rigged, limbered-up baits, try drifting over areas in 20-100 metres of water known or likely to hold kingfish.

Whether fishing for kingfish or snapper, the basic technique is the same. Drop your dead offering to the bottom, wind up three to five metres, flick the reel into free-spool and use light finger pressure to control the spool (with a spinning reel, open the bail arm and hold the line gently between your fingers).

Lifting and dropping a dead skipjack tuna saw the writer catch (and release) this chunky kingfish.

No bites? Slowly lift and drop the rod, or wind in a bit of line. Be prepared to release line, too, if you feel hard thumps or any extra pressure.

Unless they are especially hungry, kingfish (and snapper) typically grab and drop the bait a time or two before making up their minds to eat it (or not). If the initial grab isn’t followed by a stronger bite/run, lift the rod to give the bait some ‘life’– or try a short retrieve… or maybe drop the bait back a bit. Any of these tactics can encourage kingfish (and snapper) to eat a dead bait.

BUTTERFLIES & FLAPPERS

Still not having any joy? Try butterflying your snapper baits or turn your kingfish baits into ‘flappers’.

Both these baits are treated in a similar fashion, with both sides of the body filleted from the tail, leaving the flesh attached at the head end. Just how far up you go up the body is a personal choice.

Most anglers then remove the backbone and tail, leaving a head trailing a couple of scent-laden and very mobile fillets (diagram 5). They work really well! BNZ


Let’s stray-line!

Strayline fishing is perhaps the most effective bait fishing technique, especially for snapper. It’s essentially a simple fishing style, but taking the right approach is essential for consistent success.

Assembling the right tackle, using it correctly and employing a careful, thoughtful approach to your fishing should bring success. Last month we discussed the stray-line rig and some of the preparations required before starting a stray-lined baits fishing session.

These include:

• Using an outfit that casts well (7–8-foot/2.13–2.44m rods with reels filled with 6-10kg nylon)

• Making up at least half a dozen two-hook rigs in advance

• Anchoring the boat so it’s 30-50m up-current from where you are targeting fish

• Deploying frozen berley suspended one or two metres off the bottom in a weighted berley dispenser to create a berley trail

• Rigging baits so they are reasonably well-secured to the hooks without choking them.

With all that done, you are ready to make the first cast.

THE CAST AND BEYOND

The ability to cast around 20-30m can pay dividends, as the better fish tend to hang further back behind the boat, especially in shallower water (i.e. less than 20m). Position yourself in the cockpit to allow plenty of casting room and be mindful of rods in the overhead rod rack which might obstruct the cast!

Once the bait splashes down, rather than allow the current to pull the line off the reel, steadily feed line off the reel by hand so the bait descends more naturally. This also lets the current carry the bait further from the boat so you’re more likely to reach those warier fish holding further back.

If instead of drifting away from the boat the bait drifts back towards you and under the boat, you are in a ‘wind against the tide’ situation – not ideal when stray-lining. If that happens, shift to a more wind protected area or seek out somewhere that has ‘wind with the tide’ conditions. Islands are a good bet, suitable conditions can usually be found somewhere around their shores.

Watch the line as you feed it out, staying alert for any slight hesitation or decrease in the descent rate. This indicates the bait has reached the bottom — or it has attracted a bite on the way down.

When you feel the bait touch down, wait a few seconds in case it’s a bite (see below on hooking the fish) before engaging the reel and winding up any slack line to get tight to the bait. Now open the bail-arm/disengage the gears and let some line out again to reposition the bait on the bottom – it will have lifted off in the current when you tightened up on the line.

A nice stray-lined bait victim – in this case a double- recurve hook rig was used.

Let the bait sit for a while once more, in case its initial descent attracted attention, as it often does, along with any subsequent position adjustments.

Release a little more line to maintain contact with the bottom if the current is pulling, or retrieve a bit if the line goes slack. Wait after each adjustment, as you’ll often get bites soon after repositioning the bait. Repeat as necessary, but don’t be too quick to wind in or release line.

These bait re-positionings create movements that attract snapper for a closer look, maintain contact with the bait and potentially place the bait in a better position than it was in before.

If line is released but you struggle to ‘feel’ touch-down or you can’t see the line slacken, you might be feeding a ‘sail’ of bowed line into the current. Or maybe your sinker is too light and your bait is being swept away. It could be a bit of both.

Wind in to find out. If the line increasingly angles towards you as you retrieve, before the weight comes on signalling you are now tight to the bait which is now starting to lift off the bottom, you’ve had a line ‘sail’.

Alternatively, if the shallow line angle remains the same or angles towards the surface whilst retrieving, there wasn’t enough weight on the rig to get down. Add a bit more. (The cleverly designed JARA sinkers make this a relatively simple exercise.)

Don’t let too much line out/fish too far behind the boat because it becomes difficult to maintain contact with the baited rig and setting the hook becomes increasingly problematic, too. You can feed out 10-20m of line as you reposition your bait repeatedly, but no more. It’s then time to wind in and start again.

It pays to anchor up in positions that allow anglers to take advantage of structure that interrupts swells and/or currents.

Upon feeling a bite, swing the rod and reel out in front of you along the angle of the line. Wait for the fish to run some line off the spool for at least two to three seconds.

Now wind the handle to engage a Baitrunner reel, flick the bail over on a conventional spinning reel or engage the gears on an overhead reel before steadily lifting the rod. Your circle hook will usually slip into place in the hinge of a fish’s jaw.

If your quarry appears reluctant to commit to a bite, tease it by slowly drawing the bait away — but only for a few inches. You’ll often be rewarded with a more committed bite and a steady stream of line leaving the spool.

If you find that fish keep dropping the bait before you can strike, it could be because your Baitrunner’s pre-set tension is too heavy, making them wary. Ease it off a bit. Or it could just be that the fish are too small!

If using a standard spinning reel, keeping good contact is a little harder, but I personally prefer their simpler operation.

I open the bail arm and gently hold the line between the reel and the stripper guide. If the tension increases, I simply allow some line to slip through my fingers. If the line slackens, I re-engage the bail and wind in a bit, before opening it again and holding the line. Bites see the line pulled out of my fingers and then freely off the spool, so the fish feel no pressure at all, unlike with a Baitrunner, which must have some pre-set spool tension to prevent a backlash.

Releasing line from the spool of an overhead reel is controlled by feathering the spool with your thumb to avoid over-runs or apply too much pressure, putting fish off the bite. It gets easier with practice.

Use the rod to lead fish into the net head-first – fish have no reverse gear!

THE BATTLE

Whatever the reel type used, it’s main drag should have been pre-set to around a third of the line’s breaking strain. So if line is being pulled off the reel, don’t panic or crank the drag knob for more pressure because it’s doing what it should – releasing line when the pressure becomes too great!

If the fish is too big and heavy to shift, or the line is still unloading from the spool, stop winding the reel handle, which with spinning reels only creates line twist. Instead, keep the rod tip raised and under pressure, and as soon as the spool stops rotating or the pressure eases, smoothly lower the rod tip and wind in any available line. Then steadily lift the rod again and repeat as the fight allows.

While it is important to keep the rod raised so pressure is maintained throughout the fight, don’t ‘point load’ the rod by lifting it so high the rod becomes too severely bent, risking a break. This commonly happens with big fish alongside the boat, and anglers are struggling to position them for a net or gaff shot.

LANDING YOUR FISH

Don’t panic, even if you are feeling that way on the inside! Yelling and swearing just gets everyone nervous and more likely to make mistakes.

Once your fish is on or near the surface, concentrate on leading it head-first into the waiting net. The netter needs to wait patiently until the fish comes into range before scooping the net downwards in front of the incoming fish in a smooth motion. Fish don’t have reverse gear, so provided the net’s big enough they can’t help going in! BNZ


The stray-line rig

Perhaps the simplest and probably the most effective rig for catching snapper, the stray-line rig benefits from a few subtleties.

Last month we looked at how to use the ledger/ dropper rig, which is very easy to use and works well in water over 25-30m deep.

However, a stray-line rig (more accurately described as a lightly-weighted rig) tends to be a much better option in shallow water, especially water too shallow to use ledger-type rigs effectively. But you do need to know how to cast.

Please note that free-spool/overhead reels can be lethal weapons for this style of fishing in experienced hands, but we will stick with the spinning-type outfits recommended in this series’ first installment for now.

Although spinning reels are relatively easy to cast, a few basic rules must be followed. They are as follows:

CASTING A STRAY-LINE RIG ON A SPINNING ROD

PIC 1: Spread your feet apart for balance and extra casting power. If right-handed, point your left foot in the direction you wish to cast, with your right positioned at a 70-90° angle in relation to it. Have sufficient room behind you so the rod tip and attached baited rig can be lowered – close to the water’s surface is ideal, as the bigger the arc of the casting quadrant, the greater the casting power potential. The length of line hanging from the rod tip is important for good casting distance: around 30–70cm is good.
PIC 1A: Position your right hand so some fingers are either side of the reel stem and your index finger is located directly below the lip of the spool. Open the reel’s bail-arm with your left hand, trapping the line as you do so to keep the tension on, then place it halfway along the tip of your right hand’s raised index finger (which must remain raised throughout the cast). Now grip the rod butt with your left hand.
PIC 2
PIC 3
PICS 1-4: Check behind you before swinging the rod over your right shoulder and then describing an arc with the rod tip, up and over, accelerating as you go. Your left hand should slide across to your left side in the process, with the right hand index finger releasing the line soon after the rod passes the vertical position (pic 3).
PIC 5: As you get more familiar with casting, work on stopping the line leaving the spool just before the terminal tackle splashes down. This tightens the line after the cast, so it’s not left blowing around in the wind like a long, thin sail. You will need feed out line after the cast to ensure the bait sinks naturally, so don’t close the bail-arm. N.B. It takes a bit of practice to make consistently good casts!

WHERE AND WHEN TO FISH
Look for structure: anything that breaks up or changes the current could hold fish, particularly if a potential source of food is also present.

A fish-finder will help you identify reefs, pinnacles, dropoffs, rises and guts. Fish numbers tend to be greater on the structure’s exposed side facing the current.

When fishing channels or significant drop-offs/rises, it can be surprisingly difficult to identify snapper on the sounder if they’re feeding hard on the bottom in the silt and mud. So don’t be put off if you can’t see any if you know fish are regularly caught in the area.

The best fishing usually occurs while the tide is running, especially around the change of light morning and evening.

BOAT POSITIONING
Boats create a big, scary shadow and many unusual noises, so any larger, more cautious snapper tend to keep their distance. So factor in enough distance between where you anchor and the area you want to cast to. A bit of distance between bait and boat often means more and bigger fish.

A bit of distance between you and your prey will help with your berleying, too. I suggest using a Wobble Pot. This weighted device, filled with a frozen block of fishy off-cuts, is best tied off amidships and set a metre or two up from the seafloor. As the berley block thaws, a steady trail of tidbits draws hungry snapper away from the structure to your bait.

THE TACKLE
Six to 10kg nylon is recommended for most stray-lining duties. Thinner lines cut through the water better so less weight is needed to sink the baited rig. Yes, braid cuts through the water even better, but the line’s minimal stretch means fish can more easily detect your presence through the line and they often reject the bait after an experimental nip.

RIGGING UP
A natural-looking presentation is important, so take a minimalist approach to the rig. Around 50cm of trace is long enough to ‘sew’ the hook through the bait two or three times, wrap two or three half-hitches around it at the sinker end, but still leave several centimetres of trace exposed between the rigged bait and the thinner main line. The heavier trace protects against bite-offs.

A small swivel will connect the trace and mainline nicely (the more complicated but stronger leader-to-mainline connections can be learned later).

Using two recurve hooks – a 5/0 and a 6/0 – covers long, slim baits much better. It’s worth learning the snood knot to fix the top hook firmly in place; a sliding hook doesn’t hook up as well.

Knot the hooks quite closely together minimise slack nylon between them when the bait is rigged.

Reasonably small sinkers (i.e. ¼-1oz) are best, placed on the trace directly above the top hook. This packages everything into one bundle, making it easier for the angler to stay in contact with the bait.

Use just enough lead to combat the current and sink your bait to the bottom; try a 1/2oz ball sinker to start with and go heavier if required. Two or three small ball-type sinkers are better than one big one, because big sinkers partially block the topmost hook, reducing hook-ups. Removable sinkers, such as Jara, can make changing weights much quicker and easier.

Look at the bait-rigging diagrams and note the two or three half-hitches placed around the tapered end of the strip bait and around the tails of whole or half baitfish. The half-hitches absorb the force of the casting and make it harder for fish to bite/rip the bait off the hook/s. BNZ


Deadly dropper rigs

Novice anglers who read last month’s Boating NZ may now be the proud owners of a new spinning outfit and destined (hopefully) for ‘bait-fishing greatness’.

The simplest way to get a return on this investment is to use a ledger or dropper rig. This consists of a streamlined sinker tied to one end of the leader, a swivel on the other end, with two single hooks on branching droppers between them (see diagram 1).

This rig is generally lowered straight down and is better used in water 20m deep or deeper – fish generally dislike having a boat casting a shadow over them and making strange noises, both more noticeable in shallow water. However, murky water and/or a decent current flow can disguise the presence of the boat so that ledger fishing in shallower conditions still works well.

Fishers who plan to use dropper rigs will likely have a few pre-made - it’s possible to tie them up them at home or buy them ready-made from a fishing tackle store. Ideally, novice fishers should make their own, as learning the basic knots is an essential part of the fishing journey.

Two knots are used to make ledger rigs: the dropper knot and the uni knot (see diagram processes 2 and 3). The uni knot is especially important as it can connect a wide variety of tackle to monofilament or fluorocarbon line of any breaking strain.

 

 

Step 1. Form an overhand loop then rotate the tag-end around the loop, as illustrated. (Note: The dropper should not be too long, but make the loop a bit bigger than you think it needs to be – around the diameter of a saucer should do the job.)

Step 2. i) The loop will feed through the twists more easily if the middle twist is kept open with your other hand’s thumb and index finger. ii) Pinch the loop between your thumb and index finger to make it slimmer, then feed through the middle of the twists.

Step 3. i) Hold the tip of the loop in your mouth before pulling the standing line on either side of the loop so the twists start to snug up. ii) Release the loop from your mouth and continue pulling on both ends of the standing until the twists become tight.

Step 4. The finished dropper loop.

DIY DROPPER RIGS

TRACE LINE
I recommend using nylon rather than fluorocarbon to tie this rig, as it’s easier to tie knots in.

The trace line used needs to be thicker than the main line so it can resist fish teeth and abrasion from unforgiving ground.

Unfortunately, badly-tied dropper knots cut into themselves, drastically reducing the breaking strain (up to 50% for dropper knots/loops) of the trace line, made worse by the tightened knots’ tendency to steadily lose strength over time. Consequently, 24-27kg (50-60lb) trace is commonly used, and the strongest rigs are tied the night before.

If fishing in high current areas, where heavy weights and tackle are required and perhaps rays and sharks are regularly encountered, ledger rigs may even need to be made from 37- 45kg (80-100lb) trace.

Deep water ledger rigs for hapuku and bass are tied from even heavier trace.

THE SINKER
When snapper fishing we generally use the lightest sinker necessary to get our baits down, but ledger rigs are an exception. In this style of fishing some extra weight can be beneficial, as it helps to set the hook – especially a circle hook – into a fish’s mouth (more on this soon). A 6-8oz sinker does nicely in water over 30m deep.

The sinker’s shape is important, too. Long, streamlined models sink quickly and are less likely to snag up.

The sinker should be no closer than 30cm from the dropper loop above it or snagging the bottom hook can be a problem. But don’t make this part of the trace too long either, as most snapper tend to hold near the seabed, out of the worst of the tidal flow.

THE SWIVEL
The swivel needs to be strong enough with wire attachment loops thicker than the nylon trace, otherwise the nylon cuts into itself.

Dropper loop knots
Tie the trace’s branching dropper loops so they stick out at right angles from the backbone and are far enough apart the hooks cannot catch up with one another. Droppers should be tied short enough so they don’t flail or twist around the backbone when the rig is lowered or retrieved.

Hooks
I recommend using recurved or circle hooks, especially if using nylon monofilament line in deep water and/or in areas with lots of current. Nylon is very stretchy, making bites hard to detect. Since recurved hooks only require a little tension on the line to slide into the hinge of a fish’s jaw, anglers often hook up without even feeling the bite. However, should bites be felt, a slow, steady lift is all that’s required. A hard, fast strike, on the other hand, can easily bounce a circle hook right out of the fish’s mouth!

The ideal hook size is hotly debated, but I find a 5/0 circle hook will accommodate a bait that’s big enough to entice and catch a pretty decent snapper, but the hook is small enough to catch lesser but still legal fish.

Recurved hooks must be attached correctly to the dropper loop to realise their full potential. Thread the dropper loop through the front of the hook’s eye (i.e. on the point and barb side) before looping it over the hook’s point and bend. That way the hook’s incurving form is exaggerated still further when the loop is pulled up tight. Looking at it, you might wonder how fish will find the hook’s point, but catch fish it does!

Rig accessories
Tests have shown that fish detect fluorescence and luminescence more keenly than humans. So luminous materials – usually in the form of plastic or rubber beads – help the rig stand out when fishing in deep or murky water and during the hours of darkness.

Thanks, but no thanks!
Having said all the above, there are some excellent premade dropper rigs on offer in tackle shops. Black Magic and Gamakatsu are good examples. On the flip side, beware of very cheap rigs – these could fail when you least want them to.

BAITING UP

Dropper rigs work best with small/slim/short baits hooked through just once. Examples include multiples of shellfish, halfpilchards, squid-tentacle clumps, and strips of squid or fish.

The following baits are commonly used:

The head half of a pilchard (cut at an angle so the bait seems longer and is easier to swallow): push the hook through the bony section in front of the eyes, or up between the gills and out through the skull.

Strip baits (tough and/or oily baits such as skipjack tuna, mullet and kahawai are best): cut them into slender, tapered strips and place the hook just once through the fatter end.

Squid-tentacle head clump (medium-sized ones are usually best): push the hook down through the head clump once so the hook point exits among the tentacles. Divide big clumps lengthwise into two baits.

Whatever you use, hook the bait just once to avoid choking the hook’s gape, which makes hook-ups difficult.

FISHING THE RIG

Simply drop the ledger rig to the bottom, engage the reel and with the sinker still on the bottom, wind in any slack line.

When a fish bites, slowly lift the rod. If itcontinues to bend, keep the pressure on and start winding, perhaps also lifting firmly, to make sure the hook is well-seated. Too easy! BNZ

1. The basic two-dropper ledger rig – simple and highly effective
2.
Squid tentacle clump on a circle-hooked ledger rig.
3.
Strip baits for ledger rigs.


Let's get started!

Fishing success – or lack of it – is greatly influenced by an angler’s skill level and choice of fishing gear. Taking time to learn the basics can make all the difference.

You have to start somewhere! Not everyone knows enough to grab their fishing gear and head out fishing confident of success.

So, for readers new to fishing and wanting to understand the basics, or those of you still struggling to put some of the bigger pieces of the fishing jigsaw together, these articles are for you.

First, you need to decide whether you want to follow the bait or lure fishing route – each has its pros and cons.


Spinning outfits are easier to cast.

 

FISHING WITH BAIT

There are some understandable attractions to using bait. The simple concept of pinning something tasty on a hook to catch dinner goes back hundreds of years and is deeply ingrained. Also, the idea of kicking back in the sun while waiting for a bite, the rod in the holder and a frosty beverage in hand has considerable appeal.

To get the best from bait, you need the right equipment. This generally means a rod of around 7-8ft (2.1-2.4m) in length with the ability to handle 8-15kg line, matched to a reel loaded with around 300m of suitable line.

I can just picture a bunch of you rolling your eyes and thinking: “No bloody way! That’ll never fit in the boat locker!” Fortunately, there are plenty of rods that break down into two pieces for storage.


Heavy-duty outfits can tackle big fish.

The reason for recommending a decent rod length comes down to casting distance. Longer rods cast further, which is nearly always an advantage, because the boat’s shadow and any unusual noises the boat makes can scare nearby fish away – especially when the water is relatively shallow (i.e. less than 20 metres or so). If you can’t present your bait well away from the boat you’re at a great disadvantage, since you won’t reach those warier, often larger fish holding at a distance.

Also, the strikes or hook-sets you make in response to bites are more effective because the extra rod length picks up more of the line’s slack and stretch resulting in more direct contact with the hook for a better hook-set in the fish’s mouth.

Intending anglers should consider starting off with a spinning style outfit, as they offer many significant advantages over freespool/overhead reel combinations - initially, anyway.

Free-spool reels mount on top of the rod. Photos: NZ Fishing News

First and foremost, spinning gear is easier to operate. Simply open the reel’s bail-arm and the line is freed so you cast out a bait or drop it straight onto the water. A firm turn the reel’s handle automatically flips the bail-arm back into place, trapping the line ready for the retrieve. Start winding and the line is automatically laid evenly on the spool.

Rods meant for spinning reels are identified by their guides: if the guide nearest the reel is reasonably large and the guides steadily decrease in size towards the much smaller tip guide, the rod is designed for a spinning reel. This large ‘stripping’ guide captures the line spiralling off the reel during the cast, with the smaller guides acting like a funnel to control the line. The sequentially smaller guides minimise line friction by preventing the line slapping against the rod as it unloads from the reel. Spinning reels hang down under the rod.

If the rod has more guides and of decreasing but more uniform size along the rod’s length it is intended for a freespool or overhead reel. Freespool reels are positioned on top of the rod so they can be more easily accessed and controlled.


Bait-runner style reels offer significant advantages to anglers of every skill level. Photo: Alex Simpson.

I personally prefer free-spool outfits for fishing baits as their design allows me to stay in much better touch with my lightly weighted stray-lined baits, but they are more complicated to operate – we’ll discuss this in more detail later.

So what spinning reels suit newbie bait fishers best? Well, it’s hard to beat ‘bait-runner’-style spinning reels, as they have revolutionised bait fishing.

Equipped with two separate drag systems, the first one controls the amount of ‘bite and run’ tension on the line. Adjusted with a dial at the base of the reel, it exerts just enough pressure to control the line when a fish moves off with the bait without alerting it to potential danger.

The second drag-pressure system is on top of the spool. It is the main ‘strike then fight’ drag most people are familiar with – your reel’s emergency-release system to avoid line breakage. Drag pressure should be set by rotating the drag knob one way or the other before fishing commences. It should not be adjusted after a fish is hooked, no matter how much line is spooling off the reel. Releasing line under pressure is what a reel drag does to prevent the line breaking!

Baitrunners are great, but the more basic style of spinning reel will work well for you too, especially if you mostly use weighted ledger rigs. And lightly weighted strayline baits can still be fished effectively if you’re prepared to take a more active role fishing them.

To ensure the spinning rod and reel are compatible, look at their recommended ratings and capabilities. You will usually find this information on the rod just above the fore-grip – it will tell you the ideal line breaking strain range and the maximum sinker/lure weight.


Although a great option for beginners, more skilled anglers can get excellent results from spinning reels, too. This fish is a nice mahimahi. Photo: NZ Fishing News.

The reel will have the line capacity specifications written on the spool. These usually cover the maximum capacity for nylon and braid lines in metres/yards as well as by line diameter. The reel should hold at least 200m of the chosen line class (but 300m is better). A reel capable of holding 300m of 10kg breaking strain is a good start.

What constitutes a full spool of line? Spinning reels are considered fully loaded when the line is within 2-3mm of the spool’s lip. Loading the spool any more risks big clumps of line flying off all at once; insufficient line on the reel results in extra friction as the line drags up and over the spool lip, reducing casting distance.

Some people will debate my suggestion to use nylon for bait fishing rather than braid. It’s true that braid, being thin with minimal stretch, has some significant advantages.

With braid you can use smaller, more compact reels and any bites are transmitted more efficiently through the line to the angler, provided the line is taut.

However, these same qualities often allow fish to feel the angler at the other end of the line and realise something’s not right, resulting in just a tentative bite and then nothing. I’ve also had sessions where the braid outfit didn’t get a single bite – not even a little nip followed by rejection. Don’t ask me why.

Nylon, on the other hand, is much thicker in diameter for the same breaking strain and relatively elastic. It therefore doesn’t cut through the water as well, which makes feeling bites harder, especially in deep water. But on the plus side, it’s much cheaper, its stretch acts like a shock absorber when fish suddenly rush away, and nylon tends to help mask the angler’s presence at the other end on the line.

In my next installment we will discuss some useful basic baitfishing rigs and knots. BNZ


Better put a bib on!

Trolling bibbed minnows is arguably the easiest way to catch kingfish – if you know the basics!

These essential elements include: using suitable tackle, identifying productive trolling areas, and knowing how to set up and get the best from your trolled minnow/s.

SUITABLE TROLLING TACKLE

Gear can be of modest size but must be robust enough to handle 24kg or even 37kg breaking strain line, as plenty of pressure may be required to avoid breaking the line if a hooked fish finds nearby structure. When kingfish break off, there are no winners. You lose an expensive lure, a tasty dish and/ or bragging rights after a tough fight, while the kingfish ends up with a lure in its face, perhaps also trailing line, affecting its long term ability to feed and survive.


Rapala CD18s are hard to beat. This Rapala accounted for a lovely Wellington kingfish. (Photo: NZ Fishing News)

THE ROD

A relatively short (6’/1.83m or less), powerful rod does the job,
providing maximum stopping power and leverage.

Important features include:

• A longish fore-grip to allow an effective, stiff-armed fishfighting stance for greater leverage with less effort.

• A sturdy butt section well-protected by EVA grip material. The butt comes under a lot of pressure when a kingfish hooks up – unprotected butts in metal rod holders can snap.

• A gimbal nock to keep the rod locked in position in the boat’s rod holder, as well as in the rod bucket when fighting a hooked fish.


The bigger the minnow’s bib and the shallower its angle, the deeper it will swim

THE REEL

Reels can be spinning or free-spool types, able to handle 24–37kg lines, either GSP braid or nylon monofilament.

Free-spool reels can be star-drag or lever-drag models, but lever-drags allow you to set the drag for the strike and then precisely adjust the drag pressure on the fly while fighting the fish. Altering the drag pressure on a star-drag during the fight is largely a matter of guesswork.

Other prime considerations include:

• Capacity for at least 300m of 24–37kg line. Line can be braid or nylon, but braid cuts through the water better, allowing the trolled lure to get down deeper and making it less likely to ‘flip out’ while trolling.

• When trolling minnow-type lures, reel drags should be set to exert no more than 8–12kg of drag pressure over the rod; any more than this can bend the hooks out.

• Harness lugs allow the use of a harness, making fighting big fish easier and the fishing experience more comfortable.


Reasonably short, powerful 24kg rods are suited to trolling large bibbed minnows. (Photo: NZ Fishing News)

TRACE

Trace choice is important.

A thick trace is more affected by water pressure/friction than a thinner one, decreasing the depth of water the lure can reach. It also inhibits the lure’s natural action and makes the trace easier to see. However, go too light with the trace and you’ll experience too many break-offs. I suggest 27kg trace for small to medium-sized minnows and 37–45kg for the larger ones.

A long leader provides greater abrasion protection should the leader rub on rocks or structure. Connecting the trace to the main line via a robust swivel and a couple of uni-knots is fine, but a PR, FG or Albright knot that passes easily through the rod guides is better. If you still want a swivel, rig it just a metre or so from the lure, so you can wind down close to the lure and control the fish at the boat with the rod. No need to grab the leader.

Tie on the minnow with a uni-knot or a Rapala loop knot, or use crimps, rather than attaching it with a snap-clip. A bulky clip interferes with water flow onto the lure, adversely affecting its action. That said, the compact but strong Mustad Fastach clip works well.


Two options for attaching bibbed minnows.

BIBBED MINNOWS

The best kingfish trolling lures dive down and ‘wobble’ or ‘wiggle’ rather than spin.

Popular colour combinations include fluoro orange-and-gold; blue-and-silver; pink-and-white; green-and-yellow (especially fluorescent versions); and white with a red head. Which colours the fish prefer can change from day to day and hour to hour, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

The size, shape and angle of the lure’s bib determines the depth it runs and the speed at which the lure can be trolled. The bib also plays a big part in creating the overall movement or ‘action’. Basically, the bigger the bib and the shallower (more obtuse) its angle, the deeper the lure is designed to swim, but also the slower the trolling speed it will handle.

Choose a reputable brand of lure armed with high quality single or treble hooks. Treble hooks with their multiple points are potentially dangerous to fish and anglers alike, so using lures designed for single hooks may be to your mutual advantage.

Some lures armed with trebles can successfully be changed over to single hooks, but this sometimes adversely affects the lure’s swimming action and trolling behaviour.


The Mustad Fastach clip is a good option when attaching a bibbed minnow to the line. Most other clips are too bulky, disturbing water flow over the lure’s bib and affecting the minnow’s swimming action.

TROLLING TACTICS

Simply trolling in open water between destinations tends to be a recipe for failure. Kingfish generally inhabit areas of reef and foul bottom, swept by current with baitfish present and a bit of white-water action for cover. For best results, push in as close as is safely possible to rocky coastlines, islands and reefs and also concentrate on trolling the edges of feeding baitfish schools.

Don’t drive the boat through schools of mackerel, trevally and kahawai feeding on krill or small baitfish on the surface, as this will only put the schools down. Instead, keep your distance, skirting around the working fish before straightening up so as to drag the lures past the edge of the work up. Any kingfish shadowing the school will be quick to snap up one of these percieved ‘stragglers’.

The propeller’s turbulence can upset your lure’s natural action, so when setting the lure, carefully lower it into the water to one side of the boat and then release line until the lure’s at least 10m back. Gradually slow the line release before engaging the reel, as a sudden stop can make the lure fly out the water. Set two lures at staggered distances behind the boat – perhaps one around 20–30m and another at 40–50m. Keep in mind that the more line you have out, the more likely a hooked kingfish will find its way to the bottom where it can break you off.

Consider mixing up your trolling spread with lures that swim at different depths – maybe add stick-baits or poppers. These can be spectacularly effective, especially if the angler holds the rod to one side away from the boat and pumps it to make the surface lures bubble and splash.

Always stow a large, soft-rubber mesh landing net on board, along with a decent gaff. The net is used for smaller kings while the gaff is for larger specimens. You can carefully lip-hook kingfish beside the boat and still successfully release them. Otherwise, if you intend to keep a fish, aim for the shoulder near the head so as not to damage good fillet meat. A set of long-nosed pliers safely removes hooks from thrashing fish.

Finally, a plea. Kingfish are big animals that provide plenty of fresh meat. They are delicious eaten fresh, as sashimi or grilled on the barbie, but the meat doesn’t freeze well. So consider sharing one fish among your boat party – certainly no more than two! BNZ


Slip into a slider!

They may look more like Christmas Tree decorations than fishing lures, but kabura or slider jigs do the business on snapper – and a whole range of other species.

Think about it: no more buying smelly, expensive bait and berley before each fishing trip, and no more bulky chilly bins to store it all. Instead, picture a small tackle box containing a handful of lures and diminutive, lightweight, fun-to-use tackle generally providing far more fish at the end of the session!

Yes, if you can fish a ledger or flasher rig with a heavy weight attached – a Black Magic type Snapper Snatcher, for example – you can catch fish on a tai rubber slow-jig-type lure, better known locally as a kabura or slider.

Mind you, I wouldn’t blame anyone seeing a kabura for the first time having doubts about its potential. With a globular, free-sliding head atop a clump of spindly, multicoloured tendrils, a kabura looks so unlikely! But boy, do they work well!


It is not necessary to find work-ups to catch fish on kabura-style lures, but they can definitely reduce the waiting time between hook-ups.

HOW DO SLIDERS WORK?

While the bulbous head tends to dominate the lure’s appearance, especially in the heavier weights, it’s actually the long, slim tentacles that play the biggest role in the slider’s effectiveness. The tentacles’ undulating magic often proves impossible for fish to resist and their nemesis is nestled among the tendrils – an assist rig armed with two small but very strong hooks.

The lure’s other key secret is the way it behaves in the water. When falling towards the bottom, water drag initially causes the tentacles to separate from the weighted head, which descends faster. The tentacles are prevented from sliding too far up the line by the trace-to-mainline joining knot.

This behaviour sees the weighted head hitting the seafloor first, leaving the long tendrils still waving and fluttering seductively well up off the bottom, where they look vulnerable to any predator. The short time period between the heavy head touching down and the two components of the lure coming back together is when bites tend to occur – anglers who click their reels into gear when they feel the slider’s head reach the bottom often find themselves holding a bucking rod with a reel unloading line!

SUITABLE TACKLE

The rod: Any light rod rated for 4-8kg line with a whippy, forgiving action is a good candidate (lightweight soft-bait rods will do the job), but, shorter specialised slow-jig rods make the most of the technique’s potential and provide the best success.

That is because specialised slow-jig rods exert more precise control – longer rods tend to move sliders too far, too fast – and their ultra-light tip section is designed to slow the lure’s movements to create a more seductive action. The same light tip helps to absorb any sudden head shakes and bursts of power from hooked fish, so the small hooks are less likely to rip or bend out.

The reel: Reels can be overhead (i.e. a baitcasters or small freespool reels) or spinning models holding around 250-300m of 10kg braid. It’s unlikely you’ll ever break or lose that much line to a snapper, but wear and tear tends to shorten the mainline over time and it’s comforting to have a bit of insurance when you hook a decent kingfish.

While many keen slow-jiggers opt for compact, open-topped free-spool reels which allow very precise line/lure control, I prefer spinning reels. Their generally faster retrieve speed means less time wasted winding up between drops and more time spent fishing effectively during the course of a session, especially in water over 40m deep.

Mainline: This should be braid, around 20-30lb breaking strain, typically labelled as 15-20lb (7-10kg) – braid is notorious for over-testing. Braid is thin so it cuts through the water which means lures remain near the bottom for longer. Braid’s lack of stretch transmits any fish contacts – nibbles, bumps and bangs – to the angler more effectively.

Trace material: The deeper the water and the stronger the current and/or wind, the heavier the kabura and the stronger the fluorocarbon trace should be. The leader needs to resist any chafing when the line is under tension with the heavy slider flicking around as a snapper shakes its head – see the lure to trace weight table. Around two metres of trace does the job nicely.

The lure: When fishing sliders ‘as light as possible’ is not recommended! Instead, choose a lure weight that gets down and stays there.

If undecided, always choose the heavier option, especially since a lure bumping along the bottom creating vibrations and kicking up silt and sand, will draw hungry fish in for a closer look. Hopefully that interest will result in a bite!

To give you some idea, fishing charter operators using sliders on a near-daily basis tend to start with 140g lures when fishing in 35-50m of water, but change up to 180g if the wind and/or current picks up.

Look for lures from reputable brands incorporating bright colours – fluoro orange and pink are well-proven and luminous paint is known to attract fish.


A chunky snapper on a brightly-coloured slider from deep water

GET THE BEST FROM YOUR KABURA

As soon as the lure touches the bottom, engage the reel and – if you are not already hooked up – slowly wind up a few turns of the handle, retrieving three to six metres of line.

Or you can try ‘mechanical jigging’: lifting and dropping the rod while simultaneously making one full rotation of the reel’s handle. This slow-motion lift-and-drop action keeps the lure in the strike zone for longer.

Whichever retrieve method you choose, resist striking when you feel a fish biting. Instead, wind the reel or lift the rod a bit faster – this will often make the fish bite harder and hook itself.

If you get no interest within the first several metres of the retrieve, drop the lure back to the seafloor, repeat and repeat again! When the line angle reaches around 35-40o, it’s time to wind in and start the whole process again.

NB: Lobbing lures up ahead of the boat gets them to the seafloor quicker and they stay there for longer before lifting off the bottom as the boat drifts over and past them.

Using specialist tackle like this whippy rod with its parabolic action allows an angler to make the most of a kabura’s fish-catching ability.

TIPS AND CONSIDERATIONS

• It is best to drift-fish when using kabura-type lures. If necessary, deploy a drogue to slow the drift speed enough to allow your offering to reach the bottom and stay there, trundling along at a fish-catching rate.

• Fishing rough ground results in lost tackle, so stick to reasonably clean areas. Look for promising fish marks on the fish-finder near the bottom in 20-100m of water (30-50m is usually best) and seek out work-up activity, as workups really attract fish and get them biting.

• The better fishing grounds hold food snapper like to eat – shellfish, crabs and sea worms – with the best areas also exhibiting significant depth changes or nearby structure that interrupts the tidal flow. Bathymetric charts can assist in locating suitable areas.

• When the water is less than 20m deep look for current and preferably water that’s a little murky, to help disguise your boat’s presence.

• Snapper can be all but ‘invisible’ on sonar when feeding hard against the seafloor, so give an area that’s been consistent in the past at least 10-15 minutes before abandoning it.

• If a steady stream of seabirds flies past going in the same direction, it’s usually worth following them, even if its for several kilometres. Persistence is the key here!

• Feeding activity can be signalled by wheeling, diving birds, fast-moving dolphins, and/or the presence of whales. A good pair of binoculars can alert you to these opportunities.

• Rafts of birds sitting on the water are always worth checking out, especially if they’re gannets. Often they are resting after recent feeding activity and the snapper/kings/john dory etc are still under the birds, deeper down out of sight.

• Congregations of boats are a giveaway: if you see two or more boats in close proximity ‘in the middle of nowhere’, it can be worth checking out to see if they’ve located a workup and/or feeding fish.

• If the fishing is particularly tough, pin a strip of squid tentacle to the assist-rig’s leading hook. The natural scent combines with the lure’s appearance, weight and movement to deadly effect. Keep baits small because snapper will swallow bigger baits, hooks and all, making unhooking difficult and release impossible.

So next time you’re planning a trip out fishing and want a refreshing and exciting change, grab a bunch of sliders, buy, beg or borrow a light, whippy outfit and prepare to turn your fishing world upside down! BNZ


No limits to greed

Pink maomao. Chances are many Kiwis don’t even know what pink maomao are, but if you have dived/fished the waters of northern New Zealand, you have almost certainly come across this attractive, brightly coloured reef fish.

A species of sea bass, pink maomao are a deepwater species rarely being seen above 20 metres and found around northern offshore islands like the Alderman group in the northern Bay of Plenty. They are often deep below those vivid blue surface-feeding schools of the similarly named but unrelated blue maomao. Or at least they did.

Recent reports by Tairua residents and others in seaside towns on the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula, backed by disturbing images of fish-bins full of pink maomao, have exposed what appears to be a well-organised ring of ‘recreational’ fishers targeting pink maomao and possibly other reef species as well.

It appears fleets of 5-6m trailer boats, crewed by five or six anglers armed with rods and reels (including electric reels) and strings of small hooks, have been setting out from Tairua, Pauanui, Whitianga, Whangamata and other coastal towns to fish Coromandel’s offshore reefs and islands, apparently targeting pink maomao.

This phenomenon has been going on for at least six months, mostly mid-week. Documentary film maker, recreational fisher, diver and environmentalist Mike Bhana helped bring this behaviour to the public’s attention after watching 12 boat loads of fishermen returning from nearby coastal fisheries with what he says was 1,500-2,500 pink maomao.

“One of these boats had six bin-loads” he told the NZ Herald. A bin on another boat Bhana was able to open and photograph contained an estimated 300 fish.


Some boats had multiple fish bins onboard. Photo: Mike Bhana

“We had reports of the boats rafted up on these offshore pinnacles fishing pink maomao all day and this has been going on for weeks, months. Every calm day they have been fishing these same reefs. Small pinnacles like these are incredibly vulnerable to overfishing especially if the target is reef species. This is our community – we can’t have this happening. We look after this fishery and have people coming in and raping it,” he said.

His frustration is shared by the rest of the community: “There’s got to be an urgent change to legislation. Otherwise, we’re wholesale slaughtering it.”

A flurry of social media posts generated a Facebook furore and mainstream media soon picked up the story.

Locals dub one group “The Tight Five”. The same five trailer boats, each with five or six crew, plus a skipper, were observed leaving a Coromandel harbour four days in a row during a recent stretch of fine weather. Tairua residents believe the group took thousands of fish every day. Trailer and vehicle registrations have been recorded.

Tairua local and long-time honorary fishery officer Brian Hart told media that on June 17 and 18 fisheries officers and police checked three boats with a combined total of 13 people onboard. They had 1,200 fish between them!

Hart believes it is possible these fish are being offloaded to an illegal market.

“This sort of behaviour shows these people are morally bankrupt and have no respect for our ocean,” he said.

And they can take as many fish as they like because, unlike snapper, trevally or kingfish, there is no specific limit for maomao, nor is pink maomao covered by the combined daily limit of 20 finfish per angler protecting many other species. It’s open season. In fact, only 25 fish species enjoy some measure of protection from recreational anglers. The rest are not even on the list.


Pink maomao is an attractive, slow- growing reef species that’s seldom targeted by recreational anglers. Photo: Wild Film Ltd.

Unsurprisingly, Tairua locals are incensed. Tempers flared. The local iwi, Ngati Hei, declared a rāhui on taking pink maomao in its rohe, between Whangapoua and Whangamata, a move strongly supported by the local community. However, observing a rāhui (or not) is voluntary, so whether it will discourage this sort of unethical and short-sighted behaviour remains to be seen, though I suspect the prospect of further confrontations with angry locals may well be disincentive enough.

“We’re calling on the conscience of New Zealanders to abide by it. It’s for their own good – actually it’s for their grandchildren’s own good that we are vigilant,” said Ngāti Hei kaumātua Joe Davis. The rāhui would stay in place “till the legislators sit up and take notice.”

In recent weeks access to the wharf at Tairua was blocked, boats were turned away and threats were made. But with emotions running high, Bhana is concerned residents will take matters into their own hands.

“People are really angry and the worry is somebody does something stupid and a local ends up in trouble and these guys carry on what they’re doing.”

Bhana wonders if at least some of the visiting recreational trailer boats are carrying paying anglers. If so, perhaps the catch is going home with the customers, but such charters are illegal, since the vessels are not in survey and skippers are unlicenced.

Another possibility is that fish are being caught to sell, which is also illegal. When confronted by angry residents one skipper reportedly admitted to selling maomao to “pay for his new Evinrude [outboard]”. There’s certainly a ready market today for ‘red’ fish that didn’t exist 20 or 30 years ago, but it’s against the law to sell recreationally caught fish of any sort.

Andrew McNabb is among the Tairua locals who witnessed the group launching from the town’s two wharves over the past several months. Last summer he worked for NIWA surveying catches brought into Pauanui and said some fishers were bringing in species not usually targeted by recreational fishers, including banded perch, golden snapper, pigfish and big granddaddy groper.

In the wake of what’s happening in the eastern Coromandel there is some hope this pink maomao furore will be a catalyst for change. Recreational fishing advocacy group Legasea, supported by the NZ Sport Fishing Council, has held talks with Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) staff seeking legislation to protect pink maomao and other reef species, while communities have suggested changes to fishing rules.

MPI director of compliance services, Gary Orr, acknowledged staff had seen video footage of pink maomao being landed at Tairua Harbour and fielded calls from people in the community concerned about the amount of pink maomao being fished in the area.

“If MPI finds evidence that any of this fish is being sold, we would take appropriate compliance action. We encourage anyone who has been approached to buy pink maomao or any recreationally caught fish to contact our 0800 4 POACHER hotline.

“We are looking into this in relation to the issues raised recently and considering if the current settings remain appropriate or if more controls are needed,” said Orr.

Mike Bhana’s change.org petition, seeking urgent Government legislation to protect pink maomao and other reef fish, had received more than 8,000 signatures at the time of writing and Fisheries Minister David Parker has sought official advice on how to update the rules around recreational bag limits for pink maomao.

In my opinion changes to the rules can’t come quickly enough, but the attitudes towards the fishery need to change as well. This sort of exploitation has to stop. The responsibility for sustainable management of our marine resources lies with all New Zealanders, regardless of birth country, upbringing or cultural affiliation. The ocean’s bounty is a gift to enjoy, but it is not a free for all.

Sadly, exploiting loopholes in the rules is not illegal, just short-sighted, unethical and deeply selfish. Shame on you! Recreational fishing for commercial gain on the other hand, whether running illegal charters or selling fish on the black market, is breaking the law. Let’s hope the law isn’t an ass and comes down hard on any guilty parties. BNZ

Above photo: Bhana opened the lid on on this fish bin at Tairua, which was filled with an estimated 300 pink maomao and a few other reef fish. Photo: Mike Bhana