‘10% of the fisherman catch 90% of the fish’ is the saying and I say this couldn’t be more true especially in the winter time. Winter fishing in and around Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, is when the ’10 percenters’ tend to concentrate more on bait and berley fishing. Whilst some still chase birds around Horn Rock and other faraway places, the switched-on angler knows that resident fish still stick around in the shallows of the Waitemata so the good ol’ ‘fish your feet first’ method should be applied. Winter fish are far more lethargic than the summer ‘schoolies’ you may be used to e.g. if a lure swims past a snapper in summer, they can be all over it in a flash but because they are not feeding as hard in winter, energy conservation is their more natural instinct, and the lure this time is much less attractive.
Straylining is the art of presenting baits as naturally as possible in shallow water. This style of fishing allows fish to pick up your bait without sensing your line, giving them time to eat the bait before you tighten up on them and hook into an exciting shallow water fight. The below snapper were all caught straylining in shallow water…
Below are some vital points to consider when venturing out at this time of year for a winter straylining session from your boat, but some of these tactics can be applied to land based fishing too…
Using wind and tide to find your fishing spot…
‘Find the current, find the fish’ they say, but it’s not always that simple. If you have wind pushing you at odd angles or even completely opposite to tide movement, your berley trail will not be effective nor’ will the natural drift of your bait. The ’10 percenter’ knows where to go to have wind and tide working in their favour. They study weather patterns before choosing their spot and pick a place where both are working together close to structure and current. Changing spot when the tide changes or if the wind takes a swing is required with this method so take this into account when you plan your day.
Use a site like www.swellmap.co.nz to study the weather before planning your fishing trip.
Avoid noise when fishing in the shallows…
Some of the best places to strayline are in very shallow water and therefore the fish are very close to you and your boat, so this is where your “stealth mode” should kick in. Radios should be off, dual screen sounders should be set to chart only, and the dropping of sinkers, beer bottles or other items should be eliminated. Snapper in the shallows are easily spooked. Even deploying the anchor can see them shy off for an hour or so at times, so try to pitch it into the water without the chain rubbing against the boat. Get the berley in the water ASAP so once you’ve settled into your spot you can attract fish back that were quickly scared away.
Fishing in crowded areas…
In the wintertime, crowds become less of an issue which is an advantage, but there will still be those stunning days when everyone decides to get out on the water. Boat traffic is something to consider when choosing your fishing spot. We all have the horror stories of boats coming too close. A good idea is to try position yourself where that scenario can be eliminated. For example, headlands, rocky outcrops and drop offs can often be found a stone’s throw from the Auckland mainland or inner islands. Resident fish love these spots and most boat traffic tends to go wider than them so you should be able to fish unimpeded.
Berley + chum = the recipe for success in the shallows…
Your first job once anchored at your spot is to deploy berley. Store bought ‘bombs’ are very useful. Depending on length of time you intend to be out will be the deciding factor on how big a bomb(s) you will need. Winter water temperatures in Auckland are around 12 degrees so the berley will dispense a lot slower than in summer. Make sure to shake the berley bag consistently to keep the flow going.
Now, the average fisherman deploys the berley bomb in a bag and thinks that’s all that is needed. But, these bombs disperse scent really only. The ‘10 percenter’ will start selectively ‘chumming’, basically feeding the fish with small fish scraps. This can be anything. Kina you’ve just dived for, an old Kahawai you’ve pulled out of the chest freezer, other old bait, other newly bought bait etc. These scraps depending on depth, current flow and sink rates can be result in a successful or even personal best day’s fishing. If done correctly, you will land the biggest fish in that area as it will be gorging itself on these morsels and be so involved in feeding that when your hooked bait comes along, it won’t think twice…CHOMP! One has to take into consideration how much chum you have and how big the bits are you are tossing out though as you don’t want to feed the fish too much that they’re no longer hungry. A handful of chum every 5 minutes should suffice.
Presenting your baits as naturally as you can…
Once you have set the berley and started the chum trail, it’s time to get fishing. We’re straylining today. That is, presenting the bait to the fish with the least amount of sinker weight as possible. If you have a lot of current, or birds feeding on the surface or kahawai gobbling up baits in the top-mid water section, then it will be hard to get your weightless bait down to the bottom where the snapper are lurking. In this case you will need to add a small sinker to get the bait down fast enough so the snapper can get it. Start with a ¼ oz and work your way up until you find the optimal weight.
A very important step is when setting your hooks into your bait. Make sure the bait, hooks and mainline are as streamline as possible. This will result in a more natural looking bait and a higher hook up rate.
Bait selection for straylining…
Pilchards – bait comes in all shapes and sizes. If you’re buying it, pilchards are often the go-to. There’s several different kinds of pilchard and the size does vary but basically consider the fact that at times you will want to get two baits out of one pilchard when cut in half so make sure they are long enough to do this with. In winter, the fish often prefer smaller baits. Whole pilchards are more of a summer thing when fish tend to feed more aggressively. If on the day the fish are feeding hard (perhaps that chum is working a treat), then sure…upsize to a whole one to try and attract the bigger fish. Some people like to pull the head off a pilchard and throw it out into the chum trail, leaving a ¾ pilchard to be rigged up – this is great option if you have enough pilchards to use one per cast.
Freshly caught baits – preferred by the 10% brigade. As the saying goes, “fresh is best”. If you’re lucky enough, your berley has attracted some bait fish and/or kahawai. Snapper love eating both so catching them to use as bait is a no brainer for the smart angler. You can use your pilchard on a sabiki rig or cast a small spinning lure and you will most likely be able to catch some fresh bait. Now all you’ve got to do is use it and you’ll be in business.
For the kahawai, remove the bones and scales and even the skin as the meat is solid enough when fresh. Cut the fillets into strips and bait them up. If the fish are feeding really hard then you can use half a whole kahawai and you will catch the biggest fish…but don’t waste your time on this approach unless the fish are feeding hard! Some people who fish multiple rods will cast a big wishful bait out the back and leave it alone while they fish smaller baits on their go-to rod in close, this way they can continue catching fish and still have a chance at the bigger one being taken by a huge snapper.
New Zealand’s ultimate snapper bait – ask your mates, or dump the question in a Facebook fishing group and you’ll have a heated debate on your hands for sure but there would be common favouritism between fresh Jack Mackerel, Piper and Squid. If you can get any of them then use them as most 10% anglers will tell you their biggest snapper has been caught on one of these fresh baits. Alive or dead these are snapper ‘candy’ if you like. Most 20lb fish caught by bait anglers would be caught on these types of fresh baits. I can’t personally remember the last time I bought store bought bait as I’m a keen squid angler. So a squid fishing session before a day out snapper fishing is part of my regular schedule.
Tackle choice for straylining…
It can be a good idea to prepare your rigs in advance when heading out straylining, as when you’re at home in front of the TV you’ll have more time to take knot tying seriously. When it comes to rig tying, I personally prefer a two hooked strayline rig with both hooks snelled in a fixed position. The fixed position is preferred by many as a sliding keeper hook can slide too much and slowly your pilchard or other bait will disintegrate faster, two fixed hooks will prevent this happening.
Hooks – When it comes to hook choice I can’t go past the Black Magic recurve range. The KL style or the newer KLT have by far the best hook up rate I have ever experienced, so I confidently fish these from now on. An added bonus is that most fish are hooked in the corner of the mouth. I use a 6/0 or bigger to ensure less small fish are caught but whichever size you choose, make sure the point sits outside of the bait being used. The point needs to penetrate the hardest bits of a snappers jaw so allowing exposure of that point gives you the best chance of achieving this. They only shy away if the hook is freely swinging somehow above the bait so make sure it’s not too exposed when baiting up.
Just because I like recurve hooks does not mean everyone does. Suicide hooks like the Black Magic KS, DX Point and C Point range are preferred by anglers who like to let the fish have extra time to swallow the bait, so they can strike and set the hook. Sometimes this results in a gut hook up which decreases the chances of the fish surviving if releases, so keep this in mind if you’re only catching smaller fish. If you’re in big snapper zone then suicide hooks can be a fun and thrilling way to hook up!
Leader – Leader choice comes down to the fishing location and the conditions on the day. But generally if you’re fishing in rough terrain then go for higher abrasion resistance such as Black Magic Tough Trace or Tough Fluorocarbon. If you’re confident that you won’t be rubbing up against rocks then try the Supple Trace and have the advantage of simple knot tying and more natural flow in the water, being less stiff. Water clarity can also affect your choice. If the water is ultra-clear then stick with the Tough Fluorocarbon and if it’s murky then try the Pink Shock Leader, as it has low visibility in murky conditions.
Pre-tied strayline rigs – If you’re not a fan of tying your own rigs, or you purely like the convenience of using something pre-tied, then try the Black Magic strayline rigs. There is a KL recurve option and a C Point suicide option. Both have 3 rigs, all tied with two fixed hooks on quality Black Magic Tough Trace and a high strength lumo bead for added attraction.
Braid or monofilament for straylining?
The best bait fisherman I know all use mono for their straylining. Braid is preferred by lure anglers especially as they rely on a no stretch system to set little hooks into a fish’s mouth. When targeting snapper in shallow areas, depending on variables such as size of fish present and obstacles such as rocky structures, a good starting line for your reel would be 10kg mono. As you improve your angling technique, you will find advantages in bait presentation and ‘feel’ if you drop lower to 8kg or 6kg. Going lower than this and you are starting to join what we know as the ‘cotton club’. The cotton club is the name given to a small group of anglers who prefer fishing extra light for varying reasons…chasing records in some instances or preferring extended ‘fights’ with fish. At these light weights the fish has the ability to win its freedom more but take into mind that if a fish breaks you off then these fish will often have line trailing from them, meters of line…Therefore it’s best to not go lower than 6kg unless you know what you’re doing. Black Magic IGFA is my snapper line of choice and thanks to my failing eyesight, I use the ‘Hi Viz’ option which is very handy.
How long to give a fishing spot?
With winter fishing, experienced anglers know to give their spots at least a couple of hours but mostly a full tide run is preferred. Sometimes the fish just don’t play ball for a while but they generally do at some stage in the tide. If however the fishing is red hot, then don’t be greedy…once you’ve got enough from these shallow areas, stop fishing. Over fishing a good spot will only mean it will be less likely to provide again, so go home early and spend time getting the boat all cleaned up and prepared for next time or enjoy a beer or two while you fillet your catch.
The beauty about Auckland fishing is that there is an abundance of areas to try when it comes to the shallow water approach. We are blessed to have a Harbour with Islands all through it. Tiri, Rangi, Browns, Motohuie, Waiheke and surrounds out to the Noisies and Ahahas. They all have suitable areas to effectively strayline at this time of the year. We may be the bane of jokes for our bad traffic but after travelling the top half of the country for the last 20 years selling fishing tackle and fishing everywhere I go, I can honestly say that for ‘feet first fishing’ you can’t go past what Auckland has to offer and if you know what you’re doing, it’s arguably no worse off than it ever was.