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Keep your options open - Winter fishing

By Michael ParkerNZ Fishing World
Keep your options open - Winter fishing

Winter isn’t always considered the best time for fishing, but it is a long haul between autumn and spring and I spend as much time winter fishing as I do fishing at any other time of the year. It can require a different approach though and there are many more obstacles in the way.

An obvious obstacle is the weather of course but there are many other distractions keeping us away from a good fishing session including the perception that fish swim away to some mythical place out of reach of all fishermen.

While it’s true that many fish, especially snapper and kingfish, are more difficult to catch in certain areas at certain times of the year, there are plenty of other options out there. 

A big trevally surfaces with bait in mouth.

Weather woes

How do you deal with the weather? It’s one thing to set out to target other species but if it’s too rough then common sense should take control before you put yourself at risk. Having said that, I’ve fished in some extreme conditions at times, yet have been perfectly safe in doing so. 

Big swells and huge waves are pretty much impossible to compensate for so the options are to either stay home or find a sheltered spot. In an easterly wind the West Coast is usually accessible and likewise the East Coast is usually fine in even a brisk westerly.

Harbours provide great shelter too and it is worth exploring the leeward side of a harbour even in challenging conditions. With any likely looking fishing spot you really need to fish it at various tide times and seasons before you write it off.

Rivers are even less likely to be affected by the wind although rainfall can be a major hazard. If a river is angry looking and dirty then it’s not worth fishing and it’s a fair call to say that most reasonable people would agree it isn’t worth fishing in those conditions. 

That aside though, river mouths provide great fishing for many species including kahawai, flounder, kingfish, grey mullet, trevally and snapper. The Waikato River holds all those fish at times with koi carp in plague proportions from Hoods Landing to Hamilton and probably beyond. 

Koi are a lot of fun to bow hunt and can be seen in huge numbers in roadside drains that have access to all. I’ve not caught one on a rod and reel but it certainly can be done. Ask any English fisherman, I’m sure he’ll know how. They make a decent snapper bait at times too.

Targeting trevally

Trevally are a prime winter option. Try fishing reefy areas or over shellfish beds using light gear with small baits such as pilchard cubes. Sometimes I cut the cubes in half and just hook them once through on a fine wire circle hook. 

Light gear is best as trevally have the softest bite and fishing with light gear - especially if you’re using something like 6lb braid really helps to feel the bites. Take it easy on these hard-fighting fish though because the hooks pull easily from their mouths and always use a landing net. 

Keep it fun

Fishing has to be about fun and there is a lot of fun to be had catching less well-known species. Piper, jack mackerel and squid fall into that category and you will be surprised how abundant these fish are right in our busiest cities. 

Catching squid is a real art and they are best caught in winter, especially during the later months at night in areas with a lot of ambient light. Why these things wait until dark then swim towards the bright lights of the city is a mystery to me but they do. 

Auckland’s waterfront is a prime place to catch squid. There are special squid jigs available and they make all the difference. Any rocky outcrop or wharf is worth a shot in the evening, during the night or early morning. 

Jack macks can be fun to catch

It is very important if you do catch a squid to carefully but smoothly pull it out of the water and keep its head towards you. The next thing to do is to point it your mates because they squirt sticky black ink for metres. 

Piper are also a little fussy to catch. Use a fine berley, light gear and small hooks no bigger than a size 18. I use a small float with three droppers tied to a one-metre trace below it. Cut the bait into tiny slivers, cast it out and slowly retrieve. Big ones taste a little like flounder, smaller ones make excellent baits.

Jack mackerel are also great snapper baits, live or dead and are very easy to catch, especially at wharves at night in the summer. A little sabiki set slowly moved up and down will produce the goods especially if you’ve added a little bait to the hooks. When boat fishing, the same techniques work especially if you use a surface berley to bring them in. 

A lot of Pacific island people target these fish and they cut off the gut cavity and head and deep fry the rest of the fish, skin, bones and all, try it, they are very tasty indeed. If you have kids they will have a blast catching these fish.

Don’t panic, it’s parore!

Another fish that has people turning their noses up is parore. When I was a kid these things were the pinnacle of a young fisherman’s career. They are common around wharves and marinas. Big spring tides in the early morning have them feeding up on the banks around mangroves too. 

You can target them using small hooks and shellfish baits or bits of weed tied on to your hook. I would go for shellfish baits. I’ve been told that a handful of grass clippings make great burley for them but I am not so sure. Still there’s nothing to lose in trying. I haven’t targeted parore for years but when I did I was never impressed with their eating qualities. 

More recently we caught one as bycatch on an early morning mission and as it was our only fish we filleted it straight away and fried it up. It certainly was tasty and nothing like I remembered them to be. Filleting straight away and chilling those fillets down seems to be the key to enjoying these fish as food but being really hungry probably helped convince my taste buds they were good eating.

Grateful for gurnard

Gurnard are my favourite winter fish and they are abundant on the Manukau and Kaipara Harbours from May through to October. When you can’t pull a fish from Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf during the chilly months there are two magnificent harbours right on our biggest city’s doorstep with huge numbers of mud crawling gurnard creeping around just waiting to be caught. 

The harbours are very tidal and can change dramatically when the wind opposes the tide. The bigger the tidal flow and the stronger the wind blows, the more effect that has. My advice if you haven’t been on these harbours before is to study a chart first, then venture out at low tide so you can see how the banks are exposed. 

Keep an eye on the depth and have a look around. You don’t want to get stuck on a mud bank on an outgoing tide or you will be sitting in it for six hours at the very least. 

Small and flash

Gurnard are traditionally caught on flasher rigs and my advice is to use flashers with recurve hooks, small baits of mullet or skipjack or even softbaits with plenty of wriggly bits on them. 

Use berley hard on the bottom and fish close to the berley pot. Another trick is to use a long bait on the top hook that acts a bit like an attractor and another is to tie dropper rigs so the bottom hook is at the same height as the sinker. Shorten the trace to the sinker on flasher rigs the same way too.

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