The writer, Jeremy Troup, with a nice Hauraki Gulf snapper taken on the Snapper Snack ‘Super Lumo 5/0’.
With Spring in full swing, fishing techniques do not differ too much from winter fishing, but locating the fish and finding hungrier ones is easier. Winter sees Snapper activity slow thanks to their metabolism, meaning they are less active and only expelling energy when they really need to. As the waters warm, their energy levels increase. Suddenly the lure fisherman is noticing more bites and the bait and berley guys are getting their limits faster.
Snapper migration in New Zealand
In New Zealand, the two main migration patterns for snapper are around the top of Coromandel and down through the north of Great Barrier. The snapper head into the Waitemata to get their rocks off, feed and generally mill about for a few months before buggering off again toward the end of summer as the water starts cooling again. On the way in, depending on availability, small/huge workups can appear thanks to pilchard schools appearing mid/topwater. Intel these days is everywhere. All one needs to do is peer at their phone prior to heading out and somewhere in social media world someone will be waxing lyrical of the best fishing they’ve ever had somewhere between Tiri and Great Barrier yesterday…hey, at least it’s a guide.
To chase birds or not to chase birds? That is the question.
On any given weekend in spring when the weather is nice, numerous boats all peddle down, hurtling out towards the Barrier all with dreams of catching the whopper ‘under the birds’. Some do, many don’t, because guess what… the workups move around much faster than an outboard can. Some people believe they can ‘read the birds’. To them I say good luck, Sherlock… you’ve managed to do what millions of people have been unable to do for centuries, I hope that petrol burn goes well for you.
The thinking angler who is looking for those wide empty spaces will head out and using the intel at his/her fingertips, will find a likely looking area and maybe do a quick drift with heavier lures or baited flasher rigs to get a read on what’s down there. The Snapper Snack from Black Magic is best used for this method also, utilising the ‘crazy legs’ of many lures but designed to be fished with bait, you’ll have the best of both worlds.
The Black Magic Snapper Snacks are simply outstanding. Read more about them here.
While drifting…if hookups are instantaneous, great. If however, only the odd one comes up, but you have wind and tide working in unison, then anchor up and deploy a berley. Basically, bring the fish from the area to you and fish with bait. This is a sure fire way to catch fish, but if you still wish to explore the open seas and fish your lures under the birds, you can keep scanning the horizon for the high flying gannets, and chew through your gas – I hope you enjoy your day of boating while I enjoy my day of fishing ;P.
“To start off, set the burley pot quite close to the surface so you can see how well it is dispersing, and how fast the current is moving. If the burley is just racing across the surface you can drop it down deeper. Depending on how deep the water is you may have it 2-3 metres from the bottom.” Image source: http://fishingadvisor.co.nz/learnfishing/je12-how-to-set-up-a-burley-trail/
Respect your resource
Whichever method you choose, bait or lures… the likelihood of catching out deep in the spring, is higher than during winter. An important factor to consider therefore is care of the resource. Pulling snapper 40m upwards is not normal for them and they suffer trauma in the process, so thought is required here. Little lures sadly catch plenty of little fish. If one considers that an angler can throw back easily 20 undersized fish in a few hours of lure fishing, and science tells us that at least half of them will struggle to live through the trauma, add to that the poor handling that a lot of fish receive on any given weekend, that’s a lot of dead fish. Think twice before investing in Micro Jigs and other smallish lures when you know you are going to be fishing deep. Use bigger hooks, baits and lures and keep all legal takers until you have enough to please all. Any fish you are throwing back, handle them with care… wet hands people, wet hands.
The Black Magic Snatcher rigs with KL hooks, sized 5/0+ are a great rig to use when trying to avoid smaller fish. Over 90% of fish are lip hooked, making for easy release and higher mortality rates.
Shallow water fishing tactics
Shallow water is my preferred location for spring fishing – under 10 meters. The excitement of fighting a fish in the shallows is much more appealing to me than dragging a fish up from the depths, plus there’s no need to worry about harming released fish from deep water trauma. The key to success, is finding a spot that is not overfished, has wind and tide working in unison, then anchoring up and committing to it. Deploy your berley and dice up small pieces of bait, throwing them down the berley trail in steady intervals.
Then rig up a strayline rig (a.k.a. floatline rig in Australia), and present your bait nicely. Black Magic has a range of strayline rigs available for anglers who prefer a rigged and ready option that they can rely on. Cast this down the berley trail with minimal sinker weight (none if you can get away with it), you want to use just enough weight to get your bait to the bottom and nothing more.
Turn it up a notch and target kingies!
Spring also sees small Kahawai often feeding hard on the surface, sometimes in quite small schools marked with a handful of birds flying above them. These fish are often perfect size for deploying as live-baits for kingfish under balloons. Mostly, kingfish in our channels fall in the ‘under 15kg’ bracket. This in it itself provides a world-class fight in many cases within 10 mins from the ramp. Whilst spring is perhaps considered early for Auckland kings …they are there. Drifting these live springer Kahawai back in current towards structure, with surface berley deployed can be spectacular. When it all goes to plan, the Kahawai will immediately come to the surface as the kings turn up. The resulting ‘take’ often resulting in a mass of foaming white-water as the kings compete for the smaller morsel on offer.
The shellfish which grow on marker buoy’s attract a lot of bait fish, which in turn attract kingies, so they are a great place to swim a livebait or cast a popper or stickbait.
Having more than one live-bait out under a balloon can really get the adrenalin going, especially when the king(s) goes from one bait to the next deciding on which one they like the look of better. In other instances, the action is slower, so try different tactics. Hurling poppers while waiting for live-baits to get eaten is a great way to attract attention. Keep an eye out for the Ocean Born ‘Flying Series’ of poppers and pencills, by Patrick Sebiles new company ‘A Band of Anglers’. These things are oozing innovation and will no doubt catch many kings this season. Another tip, keep an empty cup onboard and fill it and throw out cups of water into your fishing area, this noise imitates feeding baitfish and has been known to be a useful trick.
The Ocean Born ‘Flying Series’ of poppers and pencils are on the market now!
Remember other species you can target
Other species also ‘wake up’ in the spring but as most anglers are targeting snapper, it is this species, in particular, we’ve looked at. I will admit though, I was bitten by the Squid fishing bug some years ago. The inshore broadfin squid in spring are less in numbers compared to winter but are BIG so I won’t be putting my squid gear away anytime soon…
All in all, the water is warming and the fishing is getting better, so get out there and get amongst it. A day on the water will beat a day on the sofa any day of the week. Enjoy!