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The great debate - part 2

By Jeff StrangNZ Fishing World
The great debate - part 2

An open-minded approach to one of modern fishing’s hottest topics.

Do you know why fishing clubs are so noisy? It's all the arguing.  

Fishermen are highly engaged and passionate people, which is partly what makes working in the industry so rewarding. Yet the loyalty that binds together this many-flavoured bag of allsorts is often the spice that tears it apart. 

For me, every fishing day and situation is taken in its own context and I try to find the solution that is most likely to achieve the desired result. I don't always get it right but I do usually learn something with each new experience.  

Brakes on or off?

In very general terms I prefer to fish natural bait when fishing on the anchor, and lures when underway or on the drift. The circumstances that determine the anchor's deployment or otherwise, are usually related to the weather but sometimes I'll stick the pick down just because it's relaxing. The following four scenarios are my best attempt at summarising situations most of us will face during a fishing season:

Drift fishing works but requires a sea anchor in any breeze

Wintery wind

Late winter and early spring are often windy with few work-up opportunities and it can take time to bring the fish on the bite. It's the perfect situation for a well-planned straylining session.

The challenge lies in locating fish in a spot that can be successfully targeted, usually in relation to some structure. It is worth planning likely spots in advance with a view to being there at a time the wind  and tide are closely aligned. With these two important influences favourable, the chances of productive fishing are greatly enhanced. 

The trick to a long session is establishing a solid berley trail and giving it plenty of time to work its magic; pulling fish from the wider area into a concentration near the boat. As the tidal flow changes intensity it is important to keep adjusting the sinker size so the bait enters the strike-zone correctly and as naturally as possible. 

Don't be put off if the current is too strong for straylining. Many great sessions have been enjoyed fishing hard on the bottom when nothing else is working.

Ledger rigs work well in tougher conditions

Ledger rigs should not be underestimated

Harbour currents

The same anchoring principle applies when fishing in strong harbour currents, particularly if the fish are holding in fairly isolated patches. 

While many harbours fish well with heavily weighted soft-plastics - the Kaipara is an excellent example - many don't have the volumes of water to hold large areas of fish, instead presenting small schools that can be targeted from an anchored boat fishing a berley trail.

Such shallow water offers all sorts of interesting possibilities, particularly for those who like to try their luck on ultra-light line or salt-water fly.

Two types of stray line rig

Two types of strayline rig. The author seldom fishes with a swivel in place.

Work-ups and deeper water

Few scenarios are more productive than work-up fishing, particularly in the Hauraki Gulf. Anchoring is not an option and is counter-productive as you often need to remain mobile to stay in touch with fast moving activity. 

Both softbaits and slow-jig style lures are a fantastic choice for this style of fishing. Snapper under work-ups gobble most lures aggressively if presented correctly, on braid-spooled reels with sensitive rods.

It's a clean, cost effective style of fishing likely to fill the bin quickly. Even on a quieter day where the birds are more spread out, drifting slowly with a sea anchor deployed, slow jig, soft-bait and conventional jig users often out fish their bait fishing counterparts at least two to one. 

Work-up fishing will fill the bin faster than most methods

Work-up fishing is the quickest of bin fillers when it is on.

Wash fishing

Correctly utilised soft-baits are hugely productive in a wide range of scenarios but they really come into their own when fishing in wash conditions on rocky and kelpy coastlines. 

A high degree of skill is needed to cast accurately and retrieve at a rate and style most likely to produce results. Even so, once mastered it is highly addictive with ferocious bites from snapper responding in a predatory manner to a soft bait darting through the wash. 

I have enjoyed great success fishing from a super stealthy kayak but don't discount a boat - particularly a centre console - as a platform.

Wash fishing takes skill but can be rewarding

Look for clear ground between foul when wash fishing.

Great bait and lure options

Pilchards

The pilchard is highly versatile and can be used whole or as a cut bait. It is worth being fairly selective when buying pilchards. Look for a matching size to suit your preferred hook gape. 

Best for: Straylining and general purpose fishing. Good for those tough winter days, fishing a berley trail or anytime at anchor.

Favourite rigs: Whole pilchard fished with two hooks, a running sinker on the trace. Start with a two-ounce weight aiming to fish very close to the bottom and adjust accordingly. Try cutting the head off the pilchard if bites are hard to come by. 

Top tip: Keep pilchards frozen until you need them. I like to defrost four or five at a time to the point where the hook goes through with a fair application of pressure. Soft pilchards quickly fall victim to the peckers.

Cut pilchard

Cut pilchards are still the go-to bait for most fishos.

Fresh skipjack tuna

Forget what you think you know about mushing store-bought bonito. Yes, it is good bait but is a world away from fresh caught, snap-frozen skipjack. Lightly defrosted and cut up immediately it's bright red, firm and juicy. Snapper love this stuff if you can get it.

Best for: General bottom fishing for all species. It does need to be cut up thoughtfully for straylining, as it tends to spin up the line in the current. (See favourite rig).

Favourite rigs: Straylined belly strip. It takes a bit of surgical skill but is worth the effect. Wrap the whole strip around the hooks so the presented bait is surrounded by skin. Secure with some bait thread, cast out and wait for a screamer.

Top tip: When catching live skipjack, ice down in a slurry immediately before freezing. This gets the temperature down fast and maintains the flesh quality.

Fresh skipjack

Freshly caught or snap frozen skipjack is like blue cheese and honey for snapper.

Skipjack belly flap bait

A skipjack belly strip will beat the peckers 9 times out of 10.

Squid

Sometimes squid works when nothing else will. Freshly caught or frozen it is usually worth having squid in your bait bin.

Best for: Cut baits targeting small mouth table fish like tarakihi.

Favourite rigs: Ledger rig fishing in deep water with small circle-style hooks.

Top tip: If straylining a whole squid use two hooks fixed in position rather than sliding to hold the squid shape and presentation.

Prawn jigs are great for catching fresh squid

Catching fresh squid with a prawn lure is worth the effort if they are around.

Jack and Slimy Mackerel

If you are serious about making the most of any unexpected opportunity always have at least a couple of live mackerel in the tank. Mackerel give you a chance in any game, even that stripey tailing past out the back.

Best for: Catching trophy fish.

Favourite rigs: Butterflied slimy mackerel (with the backbone cut out). If you don’t catch a fish on this rig there wasn’t one there to catch.

Top tip: The fresher the better. Drop the butterflied bait in still wriggling and wait for the bite. It is also worth trying Jack macks live. I find this works best on a well-weighted ledger rig. 

Fresh Jack macks are trophy snapper gold

Fresh mackeral should be kept live until use whenever possible.

Soft-baits

Much like mackerel I never fish without them. Many days they will out fish everything and they are champions in the wash.

Best for: Wash fishing, drifting over worm beds and foul, work-ups.

Favourite rig: Lately I’ve been fishing smaller Gulp and Trigger X minnows around the rocks. It’s highly involved fishing with aggressive bites.

Top tip: Always fish with a braid product and a lighter fluorocarbon trace. Learn to tie the Lefty’s Loop knot. It will improve your catch rate.

Slow jigs, Kabura, Butterfly jigs 

Best for: Deeper water, particularly under work-ups. Also highly effective in most drifting situations

Favourite rigs: Most are excellent but recently I’ve had lots of success with Catch Kabura and Shimano Butterfly jigs

Top tip: Sometimes expensive, it is worth it and should always be in your tackle bag. Just choose your timing wisely. Save the best stuff for when the bite gets a bit slower. 

Shimano butterfly jigs catch big ones

Shimano's butterfly jig is a proven trophy catcher.

Catch Fishing's productive Kabura

Catch's Kabura is deadly in work-ups.

Lefty's loop - great for soft baits

Lefty's loop is ideal for softbait jigs.

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