Lazy king-fishing

Late summer is a great time for kingfish, a species that seems to be making a comeback in my local waters. Kingfish are also being caught much farther south than was the case 20 years ago, making this wonderful sport fish available to more New Zealanders than before.

While it’s not uncommon to hook the odd kingfish by accident while fishing for other species, I’ve always maintained that catching them consistently demands commitment: you have to tailor your fishing plan, fishing tackle and fishing location around kingfish, usually to the exclusion of other species.

Most fishers aren’t prepared to make that commitment, because, let’s face it, there’s usually a fair bit of effort involved: boat trips to offshore islands and reefs, cross-country road trips and marathon walks to remote rocky coasts with long hours spent searching for fish and waiting for bites.

Kingfish are usually taken on live bait or lures rather than dead or cut bait, but fishing live bait involves a lot of preparation and specialised equipment, as well as time to catch the bait, while lure fishing needs to be well targeted to be successful.

Even the techniques used to catch kingfish can be demanding physically: mechanical jigging in deep water is hard work, as is repeatedly casting large top water lures on heavy tackle, while fishing from the rocks usually requires stamina, strength and agility.

And that’s before you hook a fish: kingfish are among the toughest fighters with fins, asking questions of the fittest of anglers, especially when hooked on heavy tackle. Any kingfish is a blast to catch, but the power a big one exhibits on the line is truly awe-inspiring.

So, kingfish are never easy. But they are easier to catch using some methods than they are using others. Lately we’ve been enjoying regular success targeting schooling kingfish associated with the usual summer-autumn anchovy run in the Hauraki Gulf.

We’re fishing close to home, only minutes from Takapuna, using birds to pinpoint anchovy workups. Flitting, diving terns identify the active fronts where predators are feeding, but it’s the fluttering shearwaters that reveal where the main body of bait is located. Even the gulls get in on the act when predatory fish push hapless anchovies to the surface.

Most of the visible surface activity is caused by kahawai, but it is seldom the only species associated with anchovies. Snapper also get in on the act, as do jack mackerel, trevally, skipjack, john dory and others. One large bay we regularly fish holds lots of bait, often split into many schools of varying size. Some of the bait balls are massive, while others are quite small, but they all attract the attention of predators, which trap the bait in this area, pushing it up against the shoreline in flurries of feeding activity.

While fishing soft baits for snapper among isolated workups spread over a wide area, we noticed a few larger splashes. At one point we clearly saw a yellow tail break the surface. A few exploratory casts with a stick bait confirmed there were indeed kingfish about, but we didn’t get a hookup, and subsequent casts didn’t raise any more fish.

With such a big area of bait activity, we decided to go looking, trolling a couple of stick baits behind the boat to cover some water. One lure was an 85cm floating stick bait and the other was a smaller 65cm sinking bait. By keeping the speed to perhaps three knots, we could work both lures using stabs of the rods while we worked our way around the bay.

We’ve tried this sort of thing before, trolling a Rapala or two, or sometimes a Rapala and a surface lure. The Rapala usually got bit first, at which point the surface lure would often also get hit.

If we were fishing two sub-surface lures, casting a topwater as soon as one of the other lures went off regularly resulted in strikes, sometimes more than one. It was a good way to locate hungry kingfish and then target them without all the repetitive casting of topwater fishing.

We hadn’t trolled for long before there was a swirl under the stick bait on the surface, followed shortly afterwards by a solid hook-up on the sub-surface stick bait, resulting in a modest 700cm fish, which was subsequently released. Encouraged, we set up again and soon hooked another fish on the topwater, which was much larger, but skinny. It probably weighed 15kg but should have been 18kg.

A third fish fell to the same technique a bit later in the morning and we also had bites from two more that failed to hook up before the action died away as the tide slowed.

This was lazy fishing, but effective, and I was able to repeat it a couple of weeks later, even though there was far less visible evidence of kingfish and fewer workups this time. The smaller stick bait was subjected to repeated attacks by kahawai, which were bigger than they had been during the previous session, but the larger surface-running stick bait eventually snagged a nice 90cm kingfish.

Kingfish around the bait schools are suckers for stick baits.

Fishing this way had allowed me to introduce a visiting friend from Germany to catching kingfish without having to master the finer skills jigging or casting topwater baits involve.

The fishing we enjoyed took me back many years to when we sometimes trolled homemade poppers around exposed reefs and over known kingfish hotspots. The poppers would often raise and hook kingfish. Anyone not hooked up would then cast lures or baits in the general direction of the strike. This ploy was often successful, since hooking one kingfish seems to fire up the rest of the school, making them easier to catch.

We used to do a similar thing with dead piper, which we trolled nose-first past marker poles and over reefs and pinnacles. It was less strenuous than casting and the piper stayed intact for longer. Trolling Rapalas was also effective, but less exciting visually.

Trolling for kingfish has fallen out of favour somewhat, but the lazy king-fishing method we have been enjoying recently combines trolling with casting, so you can feel virtuous about any bonus fish you hook on a cast surface lure. How you feel about fish hooked on trolled lures is up to you, but they fight just as hard and the strike, on surface baits at least, is just as spectacular.

In my local waters it’s probably not a year-round technique, but it should prove effective and entertaining for as long as the anchovy (and pilchard) schools hang around, which might be as late as May.


No ice, no fish

 

It seems odd to be reminiscing about spring now that summer in all its glory is here. But snapper fishing in spring can be spectacular and I’m missing it!

 


On one morning last spring I enjoyed perhaps the most productive snapper session I’ve experienced in years.
The venue was my usual for mid-November: the general area between Whangaparaoa Bay and Kawau Island in the Hauraki Gulf, just north of Auckland. It’s a big patch of ocean, but I choose the specific location according to the season, recent fishing reports, the weather and sea conditions on the day.
Fishing from an open 4.5m boat, I seldom venture too far offshore unless conditions are perfect, so I look forward to the few weeks when snapper gather here en masse prior to spawning. It’s easily accessible to small boats and produces some of the best snapper fishing of the year.
The appeal at this time of the year is not so much the sheer number of snapper available, but the possibility of tangling with a few big ones. Migrating snapper descend on this rich feeding area in a full range of adult sizes, from just under legal size to over 10kg in weight.
For most of the year I seldom hook big snapper in local waters – plenty of 1-2kg schoolies during summer and the odd bigger fish from inshore in the colder months, but during October and November I usually snag a few beauties while fishing this area.

 



On the morning in question, my very first cast with a Z-Man soft plastic resulted in a nice 2kg fish, which I thought might join the family for dinner. However, when I opened the ice box,
I realised I had forgotten to buy ice when I refuelled the boat.
I must have been too distracted by the long wait for coffee!
With a warm day in the offing, I certainly wouldn’t be keeping that fish, but I figured I could possibly get away with keeping a fish or two late in the session. I could always stop for ice on the drive home.
Over the next couple of hours, the wind and tide worked nicely together to carry the boat on long drifts parallel to the coastline in about 20m of water. I caught snapper on most casts, but I was only 30 minutes into the session when I hooked a much bigger fish.
Big snapper often strike at soft plastics quite gently, picking up the lure as it falls or simply stopping it in its tracks during the retrieve. Fish that lift off the bottom to bite soft baits as they drop tend to be larger than those caught retrieving or dragging said bait. I get a shot of adrenalin every time a fish takes my soft bait mid-water, because there’s a good chance it’s a decent one.
A big snapper may not reveal its true size straight away. A bite on the drop sometimes only registers through the line as a slight ‘tick’ or tap, often not even that, only a feeling that something is not quite right. Keeping a close eye on the line as the lure sinks is vital because sometimes the slightest movement in the braid is the only bite indication you’ll get.
That’s what happened this time. My Z-Man was sinking through the water on a moderately tight line. I had already closed the bail to take up any bowed line when the braid suddenly stopped pulling under the surface. Knowing my plastic couldn’t be anywhere near the bottom, I took a couple of quick turns on the reel handle and lifted the rod.
I was rewarded with weight on the line, but I could feel that I didn’t have a direct connection with the fish: it had picked up my bait in midwater and swum away with it, causing a big belly in the line. A few more frantic turns of the reel and then another lift of the rod to properly set the hook resulted in a solid connection, a deep bend in the rod and an impression of considerable weight.


The degree to which snapper fight varies. The big ones can be a little disappointing, especially when they’re taken in deep-ish water over a clear bottom. Some of the hardest battles I’ve experienced were not from really big fish, but from well-conditioned 7-8kg snapper, some of which I initially mistook for kingfish.
However, any snapper over a few kilos is a handful when hooked on soft bait gear in shallow water over foul ground. Snapper always try to get to cover when hooked, but larger specimens rely more on their bulk and an intimate knowledge of the local terrain than on speed, often burying themselves deep in the reef and making their escape by breaking the line.
How each snapper fights depends on a lot of factors: size, water depth, bottom type and especially body condition. Fat pre-spawn fish are tough, while post-spawn fish, not surprisingly, put up much less of a struggle. This fish was somewhere in between: not spawned out, but not in top condition either. I could feel plenty of weight, but not that much power.
As often happens, it took a few seconds for the big snapper to realise it was in trouble. At first it dashed about a bit, making it hard for me to maintain tension on the line, before taking a decent run against a hard-set drag. Several short but powerful diving bursts followed, interspersed with periods of dogged resistance as the fish lay on its side shaking its head – a typical snapper fight. And then it was all over.
All at once the fish glided up from the depths to lie flopping on the surface, almost too big for my net: it took two hands on the net hoop to lift it aboard.


This fish was certainly big, but not in the best condition. An old specimen with a large head, it measured 87cm to the fork of the tail, the longest snapper I’ve caught in some time, if not the heaviest. Keen to get the fish back into the water, I didn’t weigh it, but guessed 10kg at least. In good condition it would have been considerably more.
After that successful release, I caught quite a few more normal-sized fish, none of which was kept since I had no ice, but the pace of the fishing slowed with a tide change and I decided to relocate a short distance away.
By the time I had had set up the boat for a drift over the new area, the tide started to run again. First cast resulted in another pick-up on the drop, followed by a very long, powerful run that had me starting the engine to follow the fish so as not to dump too much line into the water. Kingfish?
Well… this fish had me fooled for a bit, but after a while it settled down and I could feel those typical big snapper thumps through the line. Fairly soon it came to the boat as well, a very fat, shiny, 74cm specimen in prime condition. After a quick snap, it too went back into the water to do its thing for the species.
The very next cast resulted in yet another horse snapper, smaller than the last at 70cm, but also a hard-pulling, shiny male, which like the others was released to fight another day.
At this point, with tired arms and the morning drawing to a close, I was thinking about heading home. But I’d promised myself two quick ‘eating size’ fish before calling it quits. However, an hour later I hadn’t had another bite, so with a tide-dependent boat ramp to contend with, I reluctantly called it quits.
I wasn’t too upset about missing out on a feed though – I’d had an absolute boomer of a morning’s fishing, which I’ll look back on for some time, and all those big fish (and the smaller ones) were still swimming around ready for next time. Bring on spring 2020!

 


Invasive species

Invasive species, both terrestrial and marine, are a fact of life in this interconnected modern world, writes John Eichelsheim.

The New Zealand archipelago is among the most isolated places on earth, which is why these islands are home to so many unique animals and plants. But it is nevertheless inextricably linked to the rest of the planet via travel and trade.

In fact, New Zealand is a hotbed for deliberate and accidental animal and plant introductions.

New Zealand’s Polynesian and European settlers each brought with them the animals and plants they were familiar with and later introductions were made to support farming, horticulture and forestry. Such deliberate introductions continue, along with accidental introductions when organisms slip through New Zealand’s biosecurity net.

Some animals, like trout and salmon, numerous species of gamebirds, rabbits, chamois, tahr and deer were released into the wild to support recreational hunting and fishing, with sometimes devastating effects on native ecosystems. Other introductions, like dozens of species of insects (think wasps) and other invertebrates, were either misguided or accidental.

Many familiar and exotic plants were imported as ornamentals and a huge variety of animals entered and continue to enter New Zealand for the pet trade. Inevitably some introduced species establish feral populations and become pests, out-competing, out-breeding and preying upon native animals and plants. Ironically, the newcomers are often better adapted to New Zealand’s much modified post-settlement environment than indigenous species.

MARINE INVADERS

Marine invasions are less obvious than terrestrial ones and for the most part less intentional, though there are exceptions. Pacific chinook salmon, for instance, were successfully introduced in the early 20th century (earlier attempts to establish marine stocks of Atlantic salmon failed, though a few land-locked populations survive), the species becoming a part of New Zealand’s coastal biosphere wherever conditions are suitable.

Some invasions are natural: species swimming into our waters or being carried here by ocean currents. As conditions around New Zealand become more hospitable to sub-tropical animals and plants with global warming, such self-introductions will become more common. While these species are technically invaders, they are not classified as invasive because they are reaching our waters without human help, but their establishment usually comes at the expense of native species.

Marine invaders can compete with or prey on indigenous species, modify natural habitats, affect marine industries and alter ecosystem processes. I was surprised to learn that in 2015, 315 non-indigenous marine species were identified in New Zealand waters, 186 of them having become established. A 1997 study reported 66 from the Waitemata Harbour alone.

Perhaps more disturbing, new species are arriving at an accelerating rate. The cumulative total of species identified rose by 10% between 2009 and 2015, with 33 new species reported, 15 of them maintaining self-sustaining populations.

Most marine invaders arrive by piggybacking on human activities, hitching a ride on the hulls of ships or in ballast water, often as juveniles or larvae. While many have little impact on the local environment or fail to survive, some quickly establish themselves and a few become serious pests.

Some marine invaders are now so common, we don’t consider them exotic. Pacific oysters (Crassostrea gigas) for instance, the mainstay of the rock oyster industry in New Zealand, is an invasive species. First noted in the early 1970s, Pacific oysters may well have arrived with the Auckland Harbour Bridge’s ‘Nippon Clips-ons,’ which were towed here from Japan in 1968.

Pacific oysters spread rapidly, out-competing native rock oysters (Saccostrea glomerata – the New Zealand or Auckland rock oyster, the same species as the iconic Sydney rock oyster), completely displacing them from many coastal areas around northern New Zealand. The same has happened in Australia.

In both countries, their spread was accelerated by the oyster farming industry, which was quick to adopt Pacific oysters because they grew bigger and faster than the native species. In New Zealand native rock oysters are becoming rare in large parts of their former range.

More recent invertebrate arrivals include the Japanese mantis shrimp, which appears to be well established in the Kaipara and Hokianga Harbours (and anecdotally the Manukau Harbour and east coast as well) and the Australian greasyback or green shell prawn, first reported from the Waitemata Harbour in 2009 and now well established there and further north.

Other species include the Asian paddle crab, Asian date mussel, two species of tunicate worm, and the Mediterranean fanworm. All of these have potentially adverse effects on native flora and fauna or marine infrastructure and most have expanded their range since 2009.

High-risk species not yet found in New Zealand, but some of which have already invaded Australia, include the fragile clam, European shore crab, Chinese mitten crab and Northern Pacific seastar.

Invasive animals are one thing, but invasive marine plants are an equally serious threat. One of the most widespread is undaria (Undaria pinnafatida, Japanese kelp or wakame), a seaweed native to Japan and used in miso soup is now growing from one end of New Zealand to the other.

Undaria forms dense forests, completely smothering native vegetation and blocking out the light. It has the potential to displace native seaweeds and invertebrates, clog water pipes and foul aquaculture equipment, but it is also edible, making it the focus of several food-related Kiwi businesses.

Preventing invasive species arriving in New Zealand is always going to be difficult given the growth in international maritime trade, so it’s likely the rate of introductions will continue to increase. Caught early enough, the spread of invasive species can sometimes be controlled and on rare occasions invaders can even be eliminated, but for those species already established the goal is to limit their spread.

As boaties, we can do our part to prevent invasive marine organisms spreading by regularly cleaning boat hulls – ideally fouling growth should be kept to no more than a light slime layer – and applying antifouling paint thoroughly and often.

Before using any marine equipment (e.g. ropes, lines and pots) in a new area, clean and dry it thoroughly and remember to inspect areas on your boat that retain water for signs of marine life. Check also for aquatic weeds tangled around anchors, trailers and other equipment.

Since invasive marine organisms are spread by vessels travelling from one port to another, it is important skippers ensure their hull is clean and free of fouling before travelling to a new area. For some regions, Northland for example, the regulations around marine biosecurity are strict.

VISITING NORTHLAND WATERS THIS SUMMER?

Vessels travelling to Northland waters or moving between areas in the region may have no more than ‘light fouling’ totalling less than 5% of the hull. These rules are enforced.

Boat owners travelling to and within Northland waters are encouraged to fill out a voluntary anti-foul declaration form. Within Northland, boat owners are required to provide photographic proof, emailed to marinebiosecurity@nrc.govt.nz to prove their boat’s hull is clean before leaving an area.


HAURAKI GULF FISHING HOT SPOTS

HAURAKI GULF FISHING HOT SPOTS

By Bruce Duncan

Published by David Bateman, 208pp

RRP $39.99

There probably isn’t a man alive today who knows the fishing secrets of the inner Hauraki Gulf as well as Bruce Duncan, aka ‘Captain Swish.’

A stray-lining pioneer, Bruce has fished the waters surrounding his Auckland home for more than 50 years. He knows every nook and cranny of the coastline intimately.

Always generous with his knowledge and humorous to boot, Bruce is famous in fishing circles for his talks and presentations, newspaper and magazine articles, video appearances and radio shows. That he’s willing to share his secrets in a new book should come as no surprise – Hauraki Gulf Fishing Hotspots is just the latest in a series of Hauraki Gulf fishing guides Bruce has written over the years – but it is the most comprehensive yet.

Similar in many respects to Fishing the Hauraki Gulf, a book Duncan co-wrote with friend and former Boating NZ editor Mike Rose in the early noughties, Hauraki Gulf Fishing Hotspots goes into even more detail about the best spots to fish.

Whereas Fishing the Hauraki Gulf used a combination of aerial photographs, GPS co-ordinates and detailed descriptions for each location, his latest effort goes further with precise chart positions and full-colour screen shots taken from his Furuno TZ Touch sounder, showing exactly what the bottom contours look like.

And there’s more. Bruce covers off everything you need to know to be a successful inshore Hauraki Gulf fisher: rods and reels, rigs, baits, hooks, sinkers, trace, as well as when to fish, how to use the tides, read the weather and water, hook and play fish, release fish, fillet them and a whole lot more.

Presented in Bruce’s approachable, breezy style, this lavishly illustrated book is a gold mine for Auckland fishers. A shame so many of my own favourite spots feature in it! Reviwed by John Eichelsheim.


SUPPORT FOR WHITEBAIT CHANGES

Forest & Bird is heartened that 90% of respondents to a Department of Conservation survey support changes to whitebaiting regulations.

“This level of public support bodes well for finding solutions that will help ensure our unique and threatened native fish have a future,” says Annabeth Cohen, Forest & Bird’s freshwater advocate.

DOC’s public survey was supported by feedback at public meetings, the Whitebait Working Group and consultation with Māori. The findings will become a discussion document for public consultation later in the year.

“The future management of our native fish species is such an important issue, and it’s great all New Zealanders will have an opportunity to have their say,” says Cohen. “We know our whitebait species face many threats, including habitat loss, pollution, climate change and physical barriers to their migration. Fishing is yet another pressure, and it’s one we can easily do something about.”

Forest & Bird has participated in the Whitebait Working Group alongside scientists, commercial and recreational fishers, and other stakeholders. “As part of the working group, we’ve advocated for a moratorium on commercial whitebait fishing to be included as an option for the public to consider,” says Cohen. “But we’re open to considering any solution that improves the status quo, which is a largely unregulated industry dealing in threatened native fish.”

She hopes new regulations will be in place by the time the 2020 season opens.

Whitebait comprises five different species of migratory galaxiid fish: Giant kōkopu, banded kōkopu, shortjaw kōkopu, kōaro, and īnanga. Four out of five of these species are in serious trouble.


Winter’s sneaking up

The wheeling terns and flocks of shearwaters that have been such a feature of inshore fishing in the Waitemata Harbour for months were nowhere to be seen – and this just two days after coming across dozens of work-ups beside Rangitoto Island while on a boat test. I’m not sure if we’ve seen the last of the anchovies for the year, but their absence that day was a reminder winter is on its way.

As we transition into winter, the big bait schools of autumn will gradually disperse and most of the school snapper will move out into deeper areas. The harbours and channels that fished so well in February, March and April will be much less forthcoming and the species mix will change. Kingfish will become rare and snapper less abundant.

On the other hand, kahawai can be taken year-round, though I’ve noticed winter fish in the Gulf tend to be smaller, and trevally become relatively common. Out over the sand and in the bays, gurnard start to feature in catches from May onwards. Nor do snapper disappear completely. On the contrary, they spread out, with many fish settling down along rocky shorelines and on rocky reefs both shallow and deep.

WHERE ARE THE BIRDS?

From late summer and into autumn, I’d come to rely on working birds to put me onto fish, usually a mix of big kahawai, kingfish and snapper in the general vicinity. This time, however, I had to fall back on local knowledge and judicious use of my fish finder. Compared to previous recent trips, I had to work hard for my fish.

Thankfully, I was able to locate patches of bait here and there, so there were obviously still some anchovies about, but I didn’t come across any large schools in the areas that had been thick with them just a week ago. The total absence of birds was very strange, but they obviously knew something I didn’t.

Nevertheless, where I found scattered bait, I also found good numbers of snapper. I also found a few of the ‘horse’ kahawai that had been rounding up the bait for months – the only bustup of the day happened right next to the boat when kahawai briefly boiled on the surface before disappearing again. I caught a couple one after the other by casting around the general area, but they never showed at the surface again and there were no terns anywhere.

Close by I found good snapper signs showing on the sounder, spread out over a wide area. In among the snapper I was catching regularly, I was surprised to boat a couple of good-sized trevallies, one on a soft plastic and the other on a micro-jig. Trevally will become a more frequent catch as winter sets in, and since it is my favourite eating fish, I always look forward to bagging a few. On this occasion I kept one for a fish curry and let the other one go.

WINTER TREVALLY

Trevally are not as abundant as they once were. They’re certainly not about in the numbers I remember from the late 1970s-early 1980s, either inshore or out around offshore islands where you used to see massive shoals of them feeding on the surface. And where surface feeding trevally can still be found, the schools are much smaller.

Like so many of our inshore fish populations, trevally has suffered from over-fishing. For many years surface schools were targeted by commercial purse-seiners and trevally continue to be caught in bottom trawls. Commercial pressure has eased somewhat, largely because stock levels dropped below where it was economic to fish, but as a relatively slow-growing and long-lived species, trevally numbers have been slow to recover. To catch large fish today is rare, except in a few relatively remote and unfished areas.

That said, I have noticed the size of the trevally I’m catching in the Hauraki Gulf is trending upwards. The fish I got the other day are good examples. At around 1.5kg each, they were hardly monsters, but trevally of that size and larger are no longer uncommon. Go back a few years and most of the trevally I caught barely weighed a kilo.

There seems to be more of them too, which augurs well for this winter, when trevally should feature more regularly in my catches. Summer or winter, trevally are enthusiastic lure takers, especially the larger examples. They like soft plastics, with my best success coming to smaller four-inch baits. Small jigs work well too, but kabura-style sliders rarely catch trevally.

Most of the trevally I catch are caught by accident while fishing for snapper, but you can always tell when you’ve hooked one by the way it fights. A fast tail beat transmitting up the line is a dead giveaway.

Trevally are tough customers for their size – stronger than snapper and on par with kahawai, though less spectacular fighters. Resistance is always dogged with the fish boring deep and swimming in tight circles. Really big trevallies are a handful on any tackle, but especially lightweight soft bait gear. In New Zealand I’ve caught them to over 6kg and seen much bigger fish, but I once caught a 15kg example at Norfolk Island.

There is some debate whether the ‘silver trevally’ of Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands is the same species as the silver trevally of New Zealand and southern Australia, but they look identical and fight just as hard. A 15kg silver trevally pulls like a train so I was very lucky to boat it.

OPTIONS FOR THE COOLER MONTHS

Winter snapper fishing over foul ground, around offshore islands and along the rocky coastline of the mainland can be very good in winter, with always the chance of a really big fish or two. I catch most of my big snapper in winter, usually by casting soft plastics into the ‘wash’ or prospecting areas of foul bottom.

If it’s trevally you want, they can be targeted too. Trevally enter harbours in the cooler months, as well as frequenting inshore reefs. As already noted, they take lures readily enough, but you can also fish for them around structure using bait.

We used to fish for trevally inside the Waitemata Harbour by anchoring close to wharves, jetties, bridges, breakwaters and reefs, drifting unweighted baits down a berley trail towards the structure. The pole breakwater at Okahu Bay and the old Compass Dolphin, long since collapsed into the bay, were favourite trevally spots. Small pieces of pilchard worked okay, but shellfish baits were better.

To consistently get bites, light line was essential, along with small-ish hooks and little or no weight. The idea is to drift the baits back as naturally as possible, since trevally can be finicky biters. A bit like kingfish, trevally often orientate around structure and if you catch one, it’s likely there’s more around.

Extracting them from structure can be quite a challenge because trevally fight dirty! But heavy tackle is not the answer: it’s harder to get bites using heavy line and trevally have soft mouths, so too much pressure simply pulls the hooks. Light trace and a supple rod, combined with a measure of skill and some luck, is the right formula for success.

So while inclement weather may hold you back this winter, a lack of fishing opportunities should not.


Join the tag team

Once the exclusive preserve of those targetting larger gamefish, tagging is now being extended to New Zealand’s inshore species and everyday recreational anglers are being asked to help.

Kiwi fishing personalities and multiple IGFA world record holders, husband and wife team Scott and Sue Tindale, are behind a new fish tagging programme that is gaining momentum around New Zealand. They have the support of a range of organisations, sponsors and volunteers without whom the programme would not be possible.

The Tindales have a long history of fish tagging, having assisted in numerous research projects by leading fisheries scientists like Dr Clinton Duffy and others.

Tagging as a tool to track seasonal movements, preferred habitat and growth rates of marine species has been used successfully in over 100 countries around the world. Game-fishers in New Zealand are already familiar with tagging marlin, kingfish, tuna and sharks, but an angler-driven tagging programme for common inshore fish species is new.

Apart from a long-running, highly-successful tagging programme for kingfish, the fish tagging studies conducted in New Zealand on inshore species such as snapper until now have all been at the behest of the commercial fishing industry. They have also been short term.

Now, through the Tindale Marine Research Charitable Trust, Scott and Sue are driving a citizen science fish tagging initiative that seeks to gather knowledge about the distribution, growth rates and migratory habits of New Zealand’s common inshore fish species. The hope is that tagged fish will be recaptured, re-measured and have their details recorded for a second time at a later date.

The recapture information can then be used to establish how far the fish has travelled since it was first tagged, how much it has grown (or not) and whether its overall condition has changed. It may also provide insights into the effects of water depth on the survival of tagged fish.

Going public
The Trust launched its citizen science tagging initiative last year after a successful pilot study targeting snapper, trevally, kahawai, gurnard and tarakihi. The pilot allowed the Tindales to fine-tune their tagging methodology and refine their data recording, while the successful recapture of fish from the study was the validation they needed.

The next step was to extend the scale of the tagging programme by recruiting ordinary recreational anglers to the cause. The Tindales are confident the data collected by this field research will be useful for scientists, students and educational institutes studying New Zealand’s marine species.

Successful launch
The programme kicked off at the beginning of last summer in an expanded form that includes all common inshore fish species. The results so far have been very encouraging, with numerous fish recaptures across a range of species.

Most of the tag returns have been for snapper, but other species are also turning up. The range of inshore species being tagged is also expanding – 23 so far – as more anglers around the country join the programme. Autumn tag returns have yet to be posted online, but they will be available on the website soon.

Fish are tagged with a small, non-invasive, serial-numbered metal or plastic dart, which is inserted into the flesh of the shoulder near the dorsal fin. The fish is then photographed and measured. The relevant details – length, GPS location where caught, water depth, angler details and tag number – are then recorded, before the fish is carefully released back into the water to carry on its normal life. Comments such as sea surface temperature or fish condition can also be added.

Tagging should be carried out quickly and methodically, keeping handling and the time a fish spends out of the water to a minimum, to reduce stress to the fish as much as possible.

Join the tag team
Over time, the Tindale Marine Research Charitable Trust hopes to build a dedicated team of trained, experienced anglers keen to tag fish. It is seeking more citizen scientists interested in learning where the fish they catch go and how big they grow. Tindale Marine Research Charitable Trust will supply a tagging kit comprising 10 numbered tags, a tag applicator, a measuring mat, catch recording sheets and tagging instructions neatly packaged in a zipped carry bag.

Tagging kits cost $39.50, or individual items can be purchased separately – see the website for details and order forms. Donations received go towards supplying replacement tags and keeping overall costs down. The trust has full donee status, so donations are tax deductible.

Look out for tagged fish
As with all research projects, it is imperative to collect accurate information. Fish recaptures must be reported. If you catch a tagged fish, please record and forward the following capture details to Tindale Marine Research: date; tag number; species; recapture location (GPS coordinates if possible); fork length and your details. See address details below. It is your choice if you wish to keep your catch or re-release it for another chance.

The Trust would also like any comments anglers wish to add and a photo or two if possible, for promotional use. Fish tag recovery forms are also available to download online and recapture certificates are issued to both anglers documenting the catch details.

The members of the trust have included a few handy resources on the website for citizen scientists. There has already been plenty of interest in this research programme and the Tindales hope the number of New Zealanders getting involved will continue to grow. With more participants they can gather more data to better understand the dynamics of our inshore fisheries.

Regular tagging and return updates will be posted on the Tindale Marine Research Charitable Trust Facebook page and on the website’s science section.


The right hook

Hooks come in many shapes and sizes, often designed for specific fishing tasks, but not all hooks are created equal: differences in quality can be marked, depending on the material and the manufacturing process used and, along with size and gauge (thickness), hook shapes vary considerably as well.

Many factors contribute to hook design, including corrosionresistance, weight, strength, hooking efficiency, and whether the hook is being used for specific bait types, lure types, or for different styles of flies.

Hook sizes range from 32 (the smallest) to 20/0 (the largest), but sizes vary between manufacturers. A 2/0 Mustad hook may be larger or smaller than a 2/0 Daiichi, but sizing is consistent within each maker’s range.

TYPES OF STEEL

Most fish hooks are made from steel wire alloyed with vanadium and containing varying amounts of carbon. Hooks are usually forged and/or tempered to give the desired strength and stiffness. Stainless steel is also used.

Steel quality and carbon content impacts greatly on tensile strength, point sharpness and resistance to corrosion. Get the tempering process wrong or use the wrong (cheaper) grade of steel in the first place, and hooks can bend or break under pressure.

Many hooks are coated to resist corrosion and most fish hooks sold over the counter these days are chemically-sharpened, so they come out of the pack with needle-sharp points. Except for some larger patterns, which are not chemically-sharpened, there’s generally no need to file the points.

Hook coatings range from cosmetic paint to chemically bonded or electro-plated coatings such as tin, manganese, nickel, bronze and chromium. Specific coatings, including Teflon, are sometimes used to make hooks more ‘slippery,’ so they penetrate more easily. Some high-hardness coating types, like nickel, also better protect the hook point from abrasion damage.

Some cheaper hooks, even heavy gauge examples, easily bend straight while others are too brittle and snap under load. Hook points either roll over or quickly lose their sharpness and corrosion-resistance may be extremely poor. Saving a few dollars on fish hooks is false economy if those hooks let you down when it matters most.

HOOK SHAPE

Hook shapes vary considerably depending on what the hook is intended for. For single hooks, the most notable distinction is between so-called ‘circle’ hooks – recurved hooks with points that turn in close to the hook shank – and ‘J’ hooks, which as the name suggests look like the letter ‘j’ in profile. The recurved circle-style hook is an ancient design that was used all over the Pacific basin; J-hooks are based on a traditional European design, though some examples of very early hooks from Eurasia are also of the recurved variety.

Circle hooks were used all over Polynesia, including New Zealand, going back to prehistoric times. They are a ‘self-setting’ design: as the fish moves off with the bait and tension comes on the line, circle hooks rotate to lodge the hook point in the corner of a fish’s mouth.

Circle hooks are seldom swallowed and damage to the fish’s mouth is usually minimal, so they are perfect whenever fish need to be released after capture and work equally well with live and dead bait. The type was universally adopted by Japanese commercial longline fishers years ago and has recently grown more popular with recreational anglers. In New Zealand such hooks were referred to and sold as ‘Japanese longline hooks’ until quite recently.

J-hooks of various types remain the most popular hook type for recreational fishers, whether bait fishing or lure fishing – circle hooks do not work well with lures or flies. J-hooks came in a variety of styles, including the popular ‘Octopus’ or ‘beak’ style, a short-shanked hook that’s become the norm for snapper fishers all over the country, and longer-shanked styles popular with blue cod fishers and others.

Although fish regularly hook themselves on j-hooks, particularly when a bait has been swallowed, it is generally accepted that the angler needs to ‘set’ the hook – pull forcefully on the line to drive the hook into the fish’s jaw (called striking). When lure fishing, especially when trolling, the forward motion of the lure is often enough to set the hook into a fish’s jaw.

J-hooks also form the basis of treble and double hooks, which are simply two or three j-hooks joined to one another shank to shank. These hooks, often in multiples of two, three or more, are most often used to dress lures.

The main disadvantage of j-hooks is their tendency to lodge deep inside a fish, rendering successful post-capture release untenable. While there are always exceptions, deep-hooking isn’t usually an issue for lure fishers, since lures are seldom swallowed.

Deep-hooking can be avoided by being hands-on anglers who pay attention to our gear. Unattended tackle results in many more deep-hooked fish than gear that’s held in the hand. Learning when to strike – not too early and not too late – takes practice, but good technique results in fish that are hooked cleanly in the mouth.

Selecting a hook of appropriate size also makes a difference: hooks that are too small are more easily swallowed, while hooks that are too large, if they hook fish at all, can inflict unnecessary damage.

WIRE GAUGE

Wire gauge determines hook thickness and for the most part strength. In general, a heavier-gauge hook is stronger than a fine-gauge hook of the same size, though hook quality plays a large part – some fine-gauge hooks are stronger than much thicker ones of lesser quality.

Fine-gauge hooks are useful where lightness is important (fly fishing) or where the hook needs to be as inconspicuous as possible. A fine-gauge hook is also easier to set, which makes them mandatory for light-tackle fishing. However, light hooks generally distort and break more easily than heavy-gauge hooks, making them unsuitable for heavy tackle applications and highdrag settings.

For the average angler fishing 6/0 hooks for snapper, most of the hooks available from reputable suppliers are plenty strong enough to handle the largest snapper they are likely to encounter, unless they routinely fish heavy line and extreme drag settings.

Soft-baiters need to pay more attention to hook sizes, especially if like me they prefer smaller 3/0-sized jig heads. Many smaller jig heads are moulded on fine wire hooks, which are simply too light for the drag settings we commonly use. They will bend out on a good fish, or else end up twisted and bent by the powerful jaws of a decent snapper.

Look out for jig heads with good quality, heavy-duty hooks. There are plenty of good options available down to ¼-ounce, though finding jig heads lighter than that with decent hooks is more difficult.

OFFSET HOOKS

Point offset refers to the way a hook point is offset from the shank to the left (kirbed), or the right (reversed). Offsetting the point improves the hook-up ratio for both circle and j-hooks, but offset hooks shouldn’t be used with lures since they can cause the lure to spin.

Most j-hooks used for bait fishing are offset, as are some circle types. However, offset circle hooks are far more likely to deeply hook a fish than conventional circle hooks. For that reason, I seldom use them. Provided you remember to tighten the line smoothly rather than striking, the hook-up rate with straight circle hooks is good and the fish will almost always be mouth-hooked.

BARBS

Barbs are meant to prevent the hook dislodging from a fish’s jaw. Once the hook is set past the barb, in theory it can’t be dislodged, though in practice it happens all the time. The larger the barb the greater the insurance against lost fish, but the hook is also harder to set. Many of today’s popular hooks have small barbs, so they’re easier to set. For light-tackle fishing, a small barb is essential, otherwise it can be all but impossible to drive the hook home.

With the swing to generally higher-quality, lighter gauge hooks in recent years, barbs have tended to become smaller as well. Many anglers, especially catch-and-release fishers, reduce or remove the barbs altogether, either filing them off or squeezing them down with a pair of pliers. Removing the barb is a sensible idea if you fish lures with treble hooks – it is all too easy to bury a hook in your hand when trying to handle and unhook a thrashing fish.

Removing the barb makes releasing fish easy and the hook does far less damage to the fish. The only downside is that the hook is more likely to fall out if you allow any slack line, but keeping a tight line is one of the most basic angling skills. Provided you keep tight, you won’t lose too many fish, barb or no barb.


Seen the light

I’ve always been an advocate of using light tackle. Maybe it’s my background in fly-fishing and an early interest in club and IGFA light tackle records. In my early enthusiasm for light tackle fishing, I attempted to catch powerful fish like kahawai and kingfish using 1kg and 2kg monofilament nylon. I enjoyed some success with these spiderweb lines, but kingfish of any size eluded me.

A friend and mentor at the time was American ex-pat angler Mark Feldman, who in the early 1980s accumulated a slew of light and ultra-light tackle records on kingfish and sharks using line classes down to 1kg. Mark was a consummate angler with the patience of a saint. Some of his ultra-light tackle captures took four or five hours, during which the slightest lapse in concentration could result in a broken line.

I fished with Mark a few times and acted as his boatman during several record attempts. I soon learned that I lacked his patience and attention-to-detail and so never enjoyed the level of success he did, but I became a competent light tackle fisher and managed some good catches on 2 and 4kg line. Indeed, 4kg subsequently became my standard line class for school snapper and kahawai.

Light tackle fishers quickly learn how much pressure they can apply before some item of tackle fails, which is relevant no matter what gear you use. ‘Light tackle’ is a relative term, after all – 37kg line is ‘light’ if the fish you are targeting weighs hundreds of kilos and it’s quite possible to break ‘heavy’ tackle (also a relative term) if you over-tax it.

Knowing how much pressure to apply comes down to an intangible: feel. There are some useful rules of thumb around how much drag you can safely apply, but skilled anglers seem to know instinctively how hard they can pull on a fish. The most successful anglers, whether they use light or heavy tackle, fish their tackle to its limits.

I’ve been fortunate enough to fish with some amazingly skilled anglers. What they all have in common is supreme confidence in their gear – rods, reels, lines, drag performance, knot integrity – along with an uncanny ability to judge just how far to push things when hooked up to a big fish. Combine good gear with finely-honed angling skills and you will see some remarkable fish captures.

But the big downside of light tackle fishing is lost fish. A snapped line means a fish left carrying a hook, which it may or may not be able to shed over time. It is even worse when a fish is left trailing a length of line and sometimes a sinker as well. If you fish lures, as I do, a bust-off means a lure left hanging in a fish’s face, where it will remain until it can be shed – or the fish dies of starvation because the lure interferes with its ability to feed.

Divers regularly report seeing kingfish with lures in their faces; I have seen caught dozens of kingfish trailing traces from their mouths and a few even carrying 400g jigs. Many of those fish would have died. I’d rather not contribute to such suffering and waste.

Consequently, I’m much less interested in light tackle fishing for its own sake these days, just as I have lost interest in fishing for records. I still fish for sport (recreation), but I like to put a feed on the table as well and any fish I release I want to release voluntarily, not because it broke the line.

I still get a kick out of catching big fish, but it’s often the way I catch them that gives me the most satisfaction. I prefer using lures over bait and I like to catch fish using techniques that demand a degree of skill. Even a modest-sized fish taken on a new lure or using a new technique is worth celebrating.

Light tackle has a place if it allows me to hook fish I otherwise couldn’t, but for the most part I now fish with gear that is unlikely to fail, even when I make a mistake.

Part of this transformation is due to my adoption of GSP braided line. It allows me to fish with ‘light’ tackle – lightweight graphite rods, small reels and fine-diameter line – but that packs the punch of 10kg-class gear or heavier.

Modern fishing tackle is light in the hand, but with the incredible strength-to-diameter ratio of GSP lines, reels capable of stratospheric drag pressures, and super-powerful graphite composite rods, it has little resemblance to the bulky gear I used 20 years ago. And while my soft plastics outfits don’t look very different to the light/ultra-light spin gear I used when seeking light tackle records, they are a world away in terms of power and sophistication – and much lighter in the hand too.

So, I’ve seen the light and put the ultra-light tackle away, preferring to fish braided lines with breaking strains that easily handle the fish I hook most of the time. There are always surprises, of course, but that’s where skills honed over years of light tackle fishing come into play. If I do hook an unexpectedly large fish, I can always fall back on them.


Spring at last!

So, while it might be spring-like on land, winter maintains its grip on the ocean for longer: water temperatures remain stubbornly low right through September and well into October. Why is this important? Because water temperature influences the life cycle and behavior of every marine creature.
For anglers, one of the most important of fish behaviours is spawning. Different species spawn at different times, in different places, at various water depths and in quite different ways.
Many marine fishes form large spawning aggregations of hundreds, thousands or even millions of individuals, laying and fertilising masses of eggs in open water so they drift away with the currents. Other fish gather over sea mounts and other submarine structures where their eggs can settle after fertilisation.

Spawning aggregations bring large numbers of fish together in relatively confined areas, which makes them easier to catch, something fishers have always exploited.
Some of the world’s best-known commercial fisheries are built around catching spawning fish. These include the North Atlantic herring fishery, the bluefin tuna fishery of the Mediterranean, New Zealand’s offshore orange roughy and hoki fisheries, and to a lesser extent, inshore fisheries for snapper, kahawai, trevally, mackerel, pilchard and others.
So, while fish that gather in large numbers in known areas at predictable times can be a boon to fishers, their spawning behaviour places them at great risk of over-harvesting, which can result in a fishery collapsing.
Well documented fishery collapses include Peru’s anchoveta fishery, the North Atlantic Grand Banks cod fishery, the North Sea’s cod and herring fisheries and many, many others. New Zealand is not immune to these events: think orange roughy, mullet in the Hauraki Gulf and snapper in Golden Bay, to name just three.
Most fishery collapses result from long-term overfishing of spawning stocks using industrial-scale fishing methods, but recreational fishing can have a serious effect too if it’s concentrated enough.
Spawning fish are important for recreational as well as commercial fishers. Rec fishers exploit many spawning fish stocks, either directly by fishing for them during the breeding season, or indirectly by chasing predatory species that feed on schools of spawning bait fish.
Let’s take New Zealand’s most popular recreational fish species, snapper, as an example. In spring and early summer snapper gather in large schools that may mill around for days or weeks while waiting for optimum spawning conditions. These fish are in prime condition and usually bite readily enough. Finding such schools can be like hitting the fishing jackpot.
Spawning affects the distribution and feeding habits of most of our popular fish species. Immediately before spawning begins is when fish are in peak condition, but most marine species either reduce feeding effort while spawning or go on intense feeding sprees between spawning episodes.
For snapper, spawning is energy-sapping work that causes them to lose condition/body weight and once spawning begins in earnest, they tend to become distracted. Spawning aggregations may be easy enough to find, but the snapper in them may be too busy with each other to notice baits or lures.

Fortunately, snapper spawn repeatedly and individual fish take time out to re-charge their batteries, feeding hard for a few hours, days or even weeks before returning to the fray. Those fish are easy to catch, though their body condition can range from very good to very poor, depending on what stage of the spawning process they have reached.
Snapper are serial spawners, meaning they breed many times in a season if environmental conditions are right. Fish with ripe milt or eggs can be taken from October-November through until late summer, depending on where you are in New Zealand. The breeding season starts earlier and lasts longer in the north of the country and more juvenile snapper survive in those years when the sea is warm.
Post-spawn fish are hungry and often easy to catch, but their condition tends to be poor: large-headed, skinny fish with little fat. We come across snapper like this right through summer, kingfish in November and December and kahawai in autumn.
On the plus side, such fish are often ravenous, readily taking bait or lures. Post-spawn kingfish can be suicidal, attacking
surface lures and jigs with gusto, but they are generally poor table fare and are better released to grow fat. So too spawned-out autumn kahawai, whose flesh is often watery and quite unpalatable.
Snapper quality during spring/summer is more variable because individual fish can be at different stages in the spawning cycle, from finished and already packing on condition, to not yet started and still in top nick. Of course, there are plenty of fish part-way through or just finished spawning whose condition and table appeal will be poor.

In the Hauraki Gulf, commercial snapper fishing takes a back seat to recreational fishing in terms of the numbers of fish caught. Inside the trawl line there’s very little commercial fishing for snapper, but this is offset by increasing pressure from recreational fishers. Rec fishing boats tend to be bigger, faster and better equipped with electronics than they used to be, allowing anglers to target fish anywhere in the Gulf.
From late October through until December, there is considerable recreational effort expended on catching spawning
snapper around northern New Zealand. Recreational fishing pressure undoubtedly affects snapper stock levels, especially stocks of the more mobile, ‘schoolie’ fish that are a feature of the Hauraki Gulf.
Bright silver-gold schoolies tend to make up the bulk of fish in the Gulf’s larger spawning aggregations in the middle of the Gulf; smaller spawning aggregations made up largely of ‘resident’ fish can be found closer inshore.
We need to exercise restraint in our catches if we don’t want to kill the golden goose. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the excitement when fish are present in large numbers and biting readily.
And it’s not just about snapper. The spawning cycle can also determine the availability to recreational anglers of other fish species. For instance, some species migrate away from shore or into deep water to reproduce, making them unavailable to recreational fishers for as long as it takes for them to do their business.
Kingfish are a good example, all but disappearing from inshore areas for a few weeks in spring as water temperatures approach 17 degrees. Hungry post-spawn kingfish return in early summer.
A few years ago, I had the embarrassing experience of filming a TV segment about catching urban parore, an undervalued and fun fish readily available to shore-based anglers all around northern New Zealand. What I hadn’t taken into account was that parore leave our harbours and estuaries to spawn in early summer. This was news to me at the time, but the upshot was that none of my usual parore honey-holes produced a single fish. The shoot was a total bust!
So, for recreational fishers, understanding the spawn cycle of different fish species can be very important, ‘cos there’s no point chasing fish that have left town!


Tailor your snapper attack

Being aware of the nature of the sea floor terrain – and adjusting your technique accordingly – can have a dramatic impact on your snapper-landing success, writes John Eichelsheim.

Shallow coastal margins are where I do most of my fishing, drifting lightly-weighted baits down a berley trail (stray-lining) or, more often, fishing soft plastics and other artificial baits/lures.
But New Zealand’s favourite fish is a versatile and opportunistic species. Snapper has been called ‘old garbage guts’ because it eats almost any sort of animal matter, dead or alive. Snapper have been taken on all manner of baits, including chicken, raw and cooked meat, luncheon sausage, crab sticks, hot dogs, bread – even potatoes. They eat fish and shellfish of every kind. And despite the common belief that they won’t eat their own kind, I’ve seen plenty of snapper caught on baits cut from the carcasses of their red brethren.

Snapper utilise a whole range of habitats, from rocky coastlines to sandy beaches; shallow estuaries and harbours to shell banks and mud and sand bottoms. They naturally eat a wide variety of food, and while some restrict themselves to small, localised areas of reef, others school up and range widely over a diverse range of seafloor types in search of food.
In many parts of the country fishing for snapper takes place over soft sediment – sand or mud bottoms without reef or structure of any kind. We might think of sand or mud bottoms as marine deserts unable to support an abundance of life – and in highly-modified areas where the sedimentation rate is high, such as inside many harbours and estuaries, that may be true – but most soft bottom habitats are far from barren.
Sand and mud can support thriving communities of marine plants and animals, among them roving schools of snapper. Snapper prey on invertebrates, crustaceans and small fishes living on or near the bottom, or they may follow schools of bait fish such as mackerel, pilchards and anchovies, preying on them anywhere from the sea floor to the surface.
Such fish-eating behaviour is common in the Hauraki Gulf where pilchard, mackerel and anchovy work-ups involving several species of predatory fish, birds and marine mammals are a feature of the middle gulf. Similar work-up activity occurs in many other large bays around the country.
In the gulf, work-ups can be encountered every month of the year, but beginning in autumn, they gradually become more common, reaching a crescendo in spring.
Fishing work-ups effectively is harder than it looks. Many people simply drive their boats into the work-up and drop their lures and baits. Sure, the action can be full-on, with suicidal snapper and other fish eating anything you toss in the water, but it tends to be short-lived. Work-ups usually erupt and subside fairly quickly and the act of driving into one often shuts it down and the fishing with it.
The best fishing is often not in the heart of the work-up where the birds are diving and bait is thrashing on the surface.
Learning where snapper feed in relation to work-up activity – usually in what’s called ‘the exhaust’ where dead and dying bait fish filter down through the water column, often well down-tide of the work-up – will result in consistently good fishing. Certain elements of Auckland’s charter fleet have this style of fishing down pat.
In the Gulf and elsewhere, schooling snapper sometimes concentrate on food items living on or in the bottom sediments: small crustaceans, worms, juvenile flatfish, small bottom living fish and molluscs.

Shellfish beds, where they can be identified, are often excellent places to fish for snapper. So are the so-called ‘worm beds’, popular destinations for Hauraki Gulf fishers whose anchored and drifing boats can sometimes be seen, spread out in large numbers over extensive areas rich in invertebrate food.
Some worm beds are vast, extending for hundreds of hectares and their location and extent can change from season to season. Most anglers know them only as a general area but you can usually catch fish provided you are in the zone.
Fishing for snapper over a sedimentary bottom is different to fishing for them over a hard bottom. It is often practised from a drifting boat, but not always – sometimes anchoring and setting a berley trail works as well or better. Indeed, many of Auckland’s charter boats use berley even when drift fishing, claiming it extends the length of time fish will bite when the drifting boat encounters a school of snapper.
Fishing with jigs, including inchiku and kabura-style slow jigs, micro and slow-fall jigs, soft plastics and other lures is almost always conducted from a drifting boat, but bait fishing can be effective from an anchored boat, as well as one that’s drifting.
As with any sort of drift-fishing, a sea anchor, ‘chute or drogue is a useful tool, slowing the boat’s progress in windy conditions so lures and baits can be fished more effectively. An electric trolling motor can serve the same purpose, with the advantage of also being able to control not only the rate of drift, but also the direction. An electric motor also allows you to hold the boat stationary over fish sign identified on the fish finder, which can greatly improve your catch rate.
Bait fishers targeting snapper over sedimentary bottoms, whether fishing on the drift or from an anchored boat, tend to favour ledger rigs – a sinker on the bottom with one or more droppers. Commercially made flasher rigs are a popular choice.
Suitable hook sizes are 5/0 to 7/0 and baits should be compact and streamlined so they don’t choke the hooks. Choose sinkers heavy enough to ensure good contact with the bottom, especially when drift fishing: four ounces is a good starting point, but you may need heavier depending on water depth and how fast the boat is drifting.

Stray-lining can also work well over sand and mud, especially if the water is not too deep, but unlike fishing areas of rough ground, where using oversize or messy baits can attract large snapper, over sand such baits mostly catch undesirables like stingrays and sharks.
If fishing at anchor, berley can help draw school fish to you and hold them in the area once they’ve found you. Berley deployed at the surface often doesn’t sink deeply enough, quickly enough to intercept roving snapper until it is a long way from the boat, far from your bait. This is not the case with berley deployed near the bottom, which is more likely to draw fish close.
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Winter on hold

According to the calendar summer is well and truly over, but in fishing terms it’s still hanging in there, reckons John Eichelsheim.

After a spring and summer of incredibly warm sea surface temperatures, there’s a good chance late summer/autumn fishing patterns will extend into June or even July this year. Game fishing, which has been very good so far, is certainly showing no sign of tapering off.
As I write in early April, coastal water temperatures around New Zealand are still two to five degrees warmer than historical averages (air temperatures remain above average too). And since water takes much longer to cool than air, it could be a while before the onset of typical winter fishing.

This seems to be the case in my local fishery, where marauding kingfish continue to patrol the Hauraki Gulf’s harbours, estuaries and inshore reefs as though it were midsummer, and school snapper are still spread far and wide.

TOO WARM FOR ANCHOVIES?

Locally, the normal autumn pattern is for snapper, kingfish, kahawai – and to a lesser extent, predators like jack mackerel, trevally and john dory – to shadow the anchovy schools that come inshore at this time.
There’s not much known about anchovy migrations, but it’s thought they move inshore in response to changes in water temperature which affect plankton abundance and may trigger spawning.
Scientists think anchovies need water temperatures of between 15 and 20°C to successfully spawn; in Australia anchovies spawn in the open water of sheltered bays, inlets and estuaries, so they probably do the same here.
Whatever the reason for their inshore migrations, anchovies present a seasonal bonanza for fish and fishers alike, providing anglers with spectacular multi-species fishing that’s easily accessible.
So far, the inshore anchovy run hasn’t really got going – at least not where I fish. Skipjack tuna are feasting on anchovy schools in open water, but anchovy work-ups closer to shore have been sporadic at best.
The intense predatory fish and bird activity associated with schooling anchovies in Hauraki Gulf normally peaks in March-April, but with the water temperature hovering around 22°Celsius, I’m not convinced the ‘run’ has properly started yet.
Different regions of New Zealand experience anchovy migrations at different times of year. As noted above, in the Hauraki Gulf it’s usually between late February and early April, which fits with the region’s usual water temperature profile, but in the Bay of Islands and the Far North, it’s later – May or June, with sporadic runs possible all winter long.
So, given that local waters are still well over 20°C, it’s not surprising the anchovy run has been disappointing so far. The good news is that the best may still be to come: it wouldn’t surprise me if the Gulf’s anchovy run peaked in April-May this year, or if I’m still chasing anchovy workups in June or July!

WATCH FOR BIRDS

Though the run has been patchy, when you can find anchovy schools the fishing is good. And, if my hunch is right, it will only get better as the water cools.
The easiest way to find anchovy action is to look for birds. Diving terns is a sure indication of predators below – usually kahawai, but sometimes kingfish and snapper – pushing anchovies up to the surface.

Fluttering shearwaters indicate lots of bait in the vicinity, so when you come across them you know you are ‘in the zone’. Penguins are another indicator of bait fish close by and shags can be useful as well.
Sometimes you can see anchovy schools plankton-feeding on the surface with no birds or other fish in attendance. There are probably predator fish nearby, but if nothing is molesting the bait, it can be a waiting game until nature throws the switch and a feeding frenzy begins.

SMORGASBORD

The beauty of fishing around anchovy schools is the variety of predators they attract. Kahawai are usually the most obvious, pushing the bait to the surface and slashing through it, but all kinds of fish get in on the action.
This is especially true if the carnage has been going on for some time, or the bait has been concentrated in a restricted area – predators often trap anchovy schools against the shorelines of bays and coves where they are more easily picked off in the shallow water.
As well as kahawai, expect to encounter snapper, kingfish, john dory and trevally around anchovy schools. You might also hook blue cod, jack mackerel and gurnard. Depending on the location, skipjack tuna might also figure in the mix.

If the bait has been pushed up against a rocky shoreline, a variety of reef species like pig fish, scarlet and sandagers wrasses – even spotties and parore – can also be taken.

THINK SMALL
It’s lure-fishing heaven during the anchovy run, though you should adapt your approach to ‘match the hatch’ by presenting lures that approximate the size and shape of the anchovies the predators are eating.
Anchovies range in size from very small to around 10 or 12cm, so small lures are the order of the day. These include soft plastics, especially small ones, micro-jigs, small sinking stick baits and saltwater flies in silver/blue/green ‘baitfish’ colours.
Fly-fishing during the anchovy run is the ultimate buzz, offering consistently good catches of kahawai, snapper, trevally and kingfish.

And while individual anchovies are small, taken together they present a lot of food, so they attract large numbers of predatory fish in a range of sizes. You never quite know what you’ll hook.
It’s unusual to encounter large kingfish feeding on anchovies, though they may prey on the kahawai and mackerel that are, so it doesn’t hurt to throw a few large topwater lures around. Generally though, kingfish tend to be under the 750mm legal size limit, unless you are lucky enough to come across mixed schools of anchovies and pilchards, which can mean larger kingfish and larger snapper too.

GETTING PAST THE KAHAWAI

Kahawai are great fun to catch and pretty good eating when treated right, but fishing around the anchovy schools, it can sometimes be difficult to catch anything else.
If it’s snapper you are after, the best strategy is to fish around the fringes of the action rather than casting to the splashing kahawai and diving birds at the heart of it. You’ll still hook plenty of kahawai out on the edges, but you have a much better shot at snapper and other species.
Kingfish tend to be an incidental catch, but you can specifically target them with small stick baits, metal jigs/micro-jigs and larger soft plastics. Like everything else during the anchovy run, kingfish tend to be keyed in on small baits, but sometimes throwing a larger or different lure can trigger a kingfish bite when a small lure only catches kahawai and snapper.