Fishing new areas for the first time or looking again at a seldom-fished ledge to fish it better calls into play our powers of observation.
We are trying to determine if there is a key to where the fish will be concentrated or if they are not present, where would they pass through?
Reading rocky formations and trying to determine the best spot to cast a line has similar principles to how fishers read the beach. Surfcasters learn how to identify formations in sandy beaches that influence where fish will concentrate or pass by in their search for food or cover.
Waves and currents sweep across the sand and carve channels and holes that in turn reveal food sources such as worms, shellfish and crustaceans. Channels also provide pathways of cover that fish are more likely to utilise as they move around the shallow sandy environment to provide a degree of cover.
Your powers of observation are one of your most valuable tools. This solid snapper was caught, not at the point on the ledge, but in the kelp bed adjacent to it.
An incoming wave cruising towards the beach that has broached but then dies out before broaching again is a key sign there is deeper water in the area where it dissipated.
You may not have a high enough vantage point to see the colour change in the water but being able to read these tell-tale signs and translate how they affect the fish is a key skill to identify the best fishing spots.
Going through a rocky patch
Similar principles govern rocky habitats. The waves and currents don’t move rocks as they do sand to reveal lots of fish fodder, except during storms when heavy wave action can stir up smaller creatures and make them vulnerable.
Waves and current against rocks will affect the fish’s environment and play a part in where and how they feed. The key is learning to identify these influences in fish habitat and be able to locate places that are more likely to hold fish and those that are less likely.
The tricky part with rock fishing is that what you see above the surface isn’t necessarily replicated or mirrored beneath the water, and unless you have clear conditions with a high vantage point, it can be difficult to determine those key features of cover, current and food that attract and hold fish.
The long flat sandstone ledges on Auckland’s east coast often have food sources such as oysters and mussel beds that are prime spots for snapper.
Finding the food
Rocks provide a stable platform on which flora and fauna can secure their homes, creating an ecosystem that provides a source of food to smaller and then larger fish. Where there is highly uneven underwater terrain with large rocks, caves, nooks and crannies more cover is provided from swell that can disturb these small ecosystems.
Crayfish love caves and boulder fields that have lots of spaces to hide in, kina love the small round holes in sandstone that give them protection and mussels are another food source that aren’t too difficult to locate at low tide in rocky crevices. Oysters often live on the ends of the long flat sandstone platforms on the east coast of Auckland.
Locating these food sources and targeting them can be the piece of the puzzle that unlocks your ledge. One spring day on one of the Hauraki Gulf islands the fishing was slow and while I was landing a few goldfish-sized snapper it was mussel bait that secured the best eating fish that day.
Get to the point
Fishers are usually drawn to fishing a point. Most rock fishers realise that a point sticking out into the sea will have more current than a rock inside a bay.
Current is important because it brings small organisms (plankton) into reach of ecosystems that feed on them and help to start the food chain. A stronger current will potentially bring more food past at a faster rate than a slow one and therefore hold more opportunities.
Target ledges with deep drop offs.
Fish swimming through a bay will eventually have to pass so points sticking far out into the ocean are naturally good places to start targeting.
Points are also the sorts of places kingfish are more likely to swim past although they will also naturally cruise shallow bays looking for piper and small fish.
I have been wading the water at Waiwera and Mission Bay (less than half a metre deep) and seen sizeable kingfish curiously cruising for a feed (no fishing rod in hand at the time unfortunately).
If you are starting to fish a new place, looking for a point is the best port of call but there are caveats to fishing points.
Some places that have an adjoining gut of deep water, deep hole or concentration of kelp will trump a point as the best place to fish. This was brought home to me one day fishing a rocky point south of Martin’s Bay.
Fishing the point brought a little bit of action but further south just around the corner was a deep kelpy gut that produced more consistent action including several bust-offs from larger fish. Some points will then also have an eddy on one side as the current comes in from the opposite direction.
Hooper’s Point at Spirits Bay comes to mind here; the current on the front side of Hooper’s being swift and carrying more kahawai than the eddy side.
My best kingfish came from Hooper’s Point with an early morning arrival and spin on the front side of the ledge producing five live kahawai carefully placed in the rock pool for use later in the day.
What if you can’t find a ledge with any significant current? Looking for guts in the ledge you are fishing from are places worth placing a berley bag as swell washing in and out will push your berley further out and broadcast the dinner gong to fish in the area.
Snapper are attracted to kelp beds that provide cover and a source of food. Reading the rocks to find these habitats will increase your chances of catching fish.
Guts under the water are also the sorts of places you want to cast a bait for snapper as deeper water entices fish to move closer and natural current is created.
Any structure like semi-submerged rocks, kelp beds and deep holes are the places you should be casting. I used to cast into the open areas for fear of snags but it didn’t take me long to realise that the fish were beside the structure, not out in the open.
Takatu Point is another place that has lots of prime snapper habitat with boulder fields, large submerged rocks, kelp beds and deep water close by. It receives a fair amount of pressure but can turn on the fishing on its day. Hiking out to the front and once at the bottom turning to the right-hand side near the low end of the tide will give you a number of rocky options to fish.
Stopping at the top and reading the water first will give you an idea of where to cast.