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How to succeed in new spots

By Shelley Bradish-CooneyNZ Fishing World
How to succeed in new spots

When you rock up to a new location to enjoy another day on the briny, you may feel completely out your comfort zone. Don’t worry though as there’s plenty you can do to stay ahead of the game and the fish.

Embrace technology

Fishfinders are more affordable than ever before. They enable you to look for reef structure that fish frequent, and also look for holes and channels.  

Position yourself on the sides of banks, and along channel edges, and anywhere with current.  With a good colour screen you can identify bait balls that often have big snapper on the periphery.  

With a bit of practice you will learn to spot the arches that represent large snapper, and the broad slashes that identify the faster moving kingfish.  There’s nothing more exciting than watching a fish below, presenting a bait then watching the fish move towards the it, anticipating the strike. 

If your finder has a GPS feature you can mark spots that you have found to be productive so you can return to them the next time you fish that location. 

Do your research

When planning to fish a new bit of coastline, check out the opportunities in advance by using a marine chart.  

These can be purchased at most marine outlets, and if you are a technology buff you can also find these online. 

Some people like to use GPS co-ordinates sourced from Spot X maps – these are a good way of helping you get started.  The downside is that by putting this information in the public domain, the fishing pressure increases, and it is likely that wise old snapper have found safer places to hang out. Once you know what to look for you can move on to look for terrain like reefs, gullies and drops that fish like to hang out in.  This can be satisfying, and there is also the benefit that if you have discovered it yourself, there is a greater likelihood that it might have a nice big moocher with your name on it. 

Fish your feet 

This is an oldie but a goodie. The fact is that often snapper will start in the shallows, progressing to deeper water when daylight approaches.  Foul ground, including shallow weedbeds are good places to look for snapper because food is often abundant.  

Snapper are known to be mainly bottom dwellers, but feeding or spawning schools may be present halfway up the water column, and in some cases be right on the surface.  It is good fun casting lures in to the rock wash along cliff faces and exposed rocks and it pays to have a range of tackle to cover a variety of options.  

Chasing big boys

  • Big snapper have a preferred habitat, and to find them you will usually need to look for the following:
  • Foul ground, dropping off to a depth of at least 15m
  • Areas with low fishing pressure
  • Kelp beds and reefs
  • Good current, and good water quality
  • Snapper are also very sensitive to light, and fishing is best at low light times (early dawn and dusk).  Make sure you have a good quality head lamp as much of your best fishing will start off or end up in darkness.
  • Another consideration with current is time and tide, the best feeding peak is the last couple of hours of the incoming tide.

Think like a fish

Snapper are omnivorous feeders, and will eat almost all kinds of marine animals including crustaceans, worms, gastropod and bivalve shellfish, as well as other small fish. 

Learn to look for current, as it will bring the food source to the fish.  Using this strategy was particularly successful one year in the Taranaki Classic Kayak competition.  The two guys I was fishing with decided to move in and fish the shallows, and I decided to drift across the mouth of a river, working on the theory that current and food from the river might be beneficial. The result for me was catching an 11kg kingfish whilst straylining with a pilchard, one of only two caught in the entire competition.

One of the keys to targeting the big fish is that they sometimes hang back, away from any shadows and noise and the key is to cast well down the berley trail.  Another technique that works well is chumming - where you cut small 1cm pieces of bait, dropping it into the water to create a food trail. 

Short strokes

Everyone has a story about the fish that got away.  Improve your success rate by understanding that big snapper can really run – sometimes up to 200m on 6kg gear over a shallow bottom.  When shallow water fishing, pressure the fish hard to ensure that you do not give any line that you do not have to.  A good technique is called short stroking where you make short, quick pumps of the rod and only a half turn of the reel to make sure the fish never gets its head down.  Keep the rod loaded on the down stroke.  Find a rod that gives you a sensitive tip, yet still gives you plenty of lifting power.

If the worst happens, and you lose the fish, ensure that you replace your trace before you attempt another drop.  Often snapper, and especially barracouta, can nick traces and replacing the trace ensures that the next hookup has a greater chance of success. Routinely run your fingernail along the trace to feel for any nicks.

Weather and safety

  • As with any fishing trip, it is important to check the weather conditions before heading out. Check online for the latest weather before heading out, and consider the impact of approaching weather systems.  
  • Smartphones have applications that you can add, with the ability to access the weather directly from your phone. 
  • Coastguard is a voluntary organisation, and an annual subscription only costs $85.  It costs an average of $280 per hour to operate a rescue vessel, and some of the things that you can do to minimize the risk of an event turning out badly include:
  • Wear a life jacket
  • Take a VHF for waterproof communication, and make sure you have a radio license
  • Check the forecast
  • Tell someone where you are going, and when you are expected home
  • Consider an EPIRB (they range in size from a small unit for an individual to a larger unit for a vessel) – make sure you get one with a GPS
  • Flares come in a range of sizes, and will help draw attention to your situation
  • Check the condition of your battery contacts and terminals regularly.  If you are planning a long day on the water, it’s a good idea to initially dim the screen on the finder to prolong the battery. This can also help with night vision.

All about results

If you find that you have rushed out and got the gear but are not having the success your mates are, perhaps you might like to think about going out with a professional skipper. They have years of experience on the water, and can often provide tips that will improve your technique, and introduce you to new tackle options.  It does pay to ask around and do your research, as a day on the water can involve an investment. 

Remember that you get what you pay for, and a higher charter rate will usually mean fewer people, a more comfortable vessel and a more experienced skipper.  Be prepared when fishing overseas, especially in the Pacific islands, that often the catch is sold at the end of the day. 

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