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How to fish the channels

By Paul WalkerNZ Fishing World
How to fish the channels

Channels offer so many opportunities and there are so many different ways to fish them. If you get bored with channel fishing then you’re not using all of the possibilities available to you.

Channels offer so many opportunities and there are so many different ways to fish them. If you get bored with channel fishing then you’re not using all of the possibilities available to you.

The bathometric layout of channels falls into three categories, the flats above the channel, the drop-off into the deeper water and channel itself, which in major centres will no doubt be a main shipping route, so may well prohibit fishing at anchor but drift fishing could be acceptable.

Channel options

There are plenty channels to choose from in the northern waters around Kawau Island plus the Rosario channels.

Then there’s Blanche between Motuketekete and Moturekareka Islands although this channel is quite small. Between these islands and the mainland lies the main inner channel, check marine chart 5227.

South of Kawau comes the Whangaparaoa passage commonly known as the Tiri channel then moving southeast there is a channel between the Noises and Rakino Island. The main Rakino Channel lies to the south of the island between itself and Motutapu Island.

Entering Auckland Harbour, the two main heavy commercial traffic channels come into play - the Rangitoto and the Motuihe - because these two traffic lanes are so busy with container ships, liners, ferries and all manner of other commercial and pleasurecraft. You really will have to obey all the relevant shipping rules and have your wits about you so as not to get run over.

However even around these busy lanes there is still good fishing to be had and some great snapper are pulled from these waters over summer.

Moving east of these two, we have Sergeants Channel and even further east there is the large Waiheke Channel dividing Waiheke Island from Ponui, Rotoroa and Pakatoa islands, with both the Ruthe Passage and the Sandspit Passage separating this group of islands. Check marine chart 5324 for a closer look.

Last but not least is the Auckland Harbour itself and a channel of sorts runs from north head past the CBD, wharves and navel base then under the Harbour Bridge past the Chelsea sugar works and Kauri Point and on up into the western Upper Harbour. Don’t forget all the creeks and estuaries in these areas as they can hold good numbers of fish in summer.

Spawning snapper

There is no shortage of good fishing channels in the Auckland area and after the snapper have spawned in the more open areas just north of Auckland, they seem to pour into the inner Auckland channels and take up residence from January through to March. That’s just fine by us as it makes the fishing very accessible for small boat anglers who haven’t been able to access the spawning snapper out wide in the deeper water.

Channel tactics

Channels have from day to day so many variables that you really should sit down and make a plan before you head off.

First the tide will be a huge factor in where you fish as it will both increase and decrease in flow throughout the month. It may well be too difficult to fish the centre of a channel in a high tidal flow but as the flow decreases later in the month this same spot may be quite fishable.

In high tidal flows look to fish up on the flats, closer to shore where the tide won’t be as strong but you have another problem here.

Shallow water and bright sun usually don’t make for good fishing restrict fishing to early morning and or late afternoon to evenings to give yourself the best chance or if the day is overcast then this will help and as is the nature of most channel water, it’s stirred up and murky. This all helps to block out the sunlight which fish seem to avoid.

Best channel methods

Bait is probably the most common form used in channel fishing. With the running rig, a heavy pyramid 6oz to 10oz sinker is placed on top of the swivel.Don’t use ball or egg sinkers as they roll too much in the current. Then use a trace of two to six metres, tied to the swivel.

The length of trace is up to you but longer traces tend to sway about in the current and snapper are attracted by smell and movement. I know of one guy who uses this system but has five or six hooks tied down the length of the six-metre trace, a little like a small longline, and has great success with this system as he has six times the chance of hooking up.

Next comes the dropper or fixed rig and store-bought snapper flasher rigs are ideal for this and can be fished in several ways. The standard is to attach a channel sinker or a clip-on teardrop sinker in again 6oz to 10oz, or more if needed, to the base of this rig and fish it with the sinker just touching the bottom.

As an adjustment to this, clip the heavy sinker to the top swivel and a lighter sinker, say 3or 4oz, to the bottom. This rig will then lay along the seabed and will be picked up by snapper feeding along the bottom. We use the rig fishing for gurnard in the Kaipara Harbour and it works very well.

Walking the dog

At anchor one of my favourite methods is a thing called walking the dog using an overhead reel setup and a strayline rig with a ball or egg sinker of 2oz to 4oz sitting on top of the hooks.

Leave the reel out of gear and your thumb on the spool and slowly feed line out letting the bait bounce and roll along the bottom. You can let out 50m or more and somewhere along its travels this bait is going to get spotted and nailed by a snapper because they just can’t resist a moving bait.

If you don’t get hit on the way out then engage the reel and very slowly retrieve the line, somewhere either going out or coming back it’s going to get nailed.

Catching the drift

With the advent of softbaiting and the various forms of jigging with metal lures, drifting has been the natural way to fish as you cover more ground and a moving boat helps with the movement of the lure. Channels provide their own power source with tidal flow, no need for breeze here.

Lift your anchor and you’re off so channels are a lure fisher’s dream, using either tide. Once fish have been marked with the sounder and a drift line established with a couple of trial runs watching out for anchored boats and the correct jighead weight chosen for the conditions, then it’s fill the bin time!

If you find you’re moving too fast putting a drogue out isn’t going to help as both boat and drogue will travel at the same speed because you’re being driven by water not wind. So your only option is to move out of the current a little up on to the banks where the lures will work much better so plan where not to be on high current days to let your lures do their job.

If you still prefer to fish with bait there is no reason not to drift if you want to using a strayline rig with a 4oz to 8oz sinker sitting on top of the hooks should hold you on the bottom.

Be wary of wind against tide

At some stage a wind will blow directly up or down a channel so that means you’re going to get wind against tide. With a low tidal flow and light wind there’s no problem but a high tidal flow and strong wind means big problems in channels.

Waves tend to stand up and get very nasty in these conditions and in a small boat it can get bloody dangerous very quickly so make sure to check these two variables aren’t going to get together on the day you’re going out. The Motuihe Channel is very bad for this so be careful and come home safely.

Is west best?

The Kaipara and Manukau harbours have some of the best channel fishing in the Auckland region as both are made up of dozens of main channels, side channels, creeks and large flats.

So when it comes to channel fishing the best may be in the west, just be careful of the dropping tide as over the years many have been stranded in shallow or no water and have to wait hours to get off again.

Replace your baits

Due to the strong current in channels, all the juices tend to get washed out of baits fairly quickly so you will need to replace baits on a regular basis, more so than fishing in calmer areas. Bait that is a bit tougher, like mullet, squid or kahawai, may be a better choice than the softer baits like pillies or bonito although bait cotton will help here.

Salted bait, which is much tougher but still holds good scent, is also a good option.

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