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Ten tips to have you putting more snapper in the bin

By Geoff ThomasNZ Fishing World
Ten tips to have you putting more snapper in the bin

One thing I love about fishing is the ever changing landscape we move in as we go about enjoying our favourite past-time.

For me it is mainly about snapper, with an occasional foray into trout waters as a diversion. And what is really important is quality fish and quality fishing. Whether sitting in the Motuihe Channel or under the mountain on Lake Tarawera, I love catching good fish.

In the harbour good fish means chunky snapper of 2kg or more. They don’t have to be huge, but when a 4kg fish appears as a bright gleam in the green water it really makes the day seem a lot brighter.
And on the lake a 2.5kg or 3kg trout is welcome provided it is a fat, solid masterpiece, bright as a newly minted coin with the promise of layers of fat along the belly flaps.

What changes in this landscape is the way we can always improve our game. Nobody knows it all, and when fishing with other people it is a smart fisherman who keeps his eyes open. I am forever learning, and the first thing I do when others are pulling in fish after fish is quietly watch and see how they rig their tackle, and how they apply the bait.

For sometimes – no, in fact often – a small twist will make the difference between catching a bunch of fish and fluking the odd one.

So here are some of the little twists that I have picked up over recent times. Some may be well known but some will not be, and they are offered in the hope that people will improve their success on the water and take home only what they need to eat or give away, as we all get a kick out of providing a fresh fish dinner for others not so fortunate as to be able to get out and catch their own.

Here we are talking purely snapper.

Tip #1 Work the tides and the moon

Snapper love current. No doubt a strong current undermines the edges of channels and drop-offs, uncovering the worms, crabs and shellfish that the fish prey on. So the snapper are more active, and when they are more active they are moving and in a feeding mode. This makes them more likely to encounter your bait, and more likely to eat it.

A long trace works well in the strong currents at the Graveyard on the Kaipara Harbour; often 10 metres of more of trace

Sounds simple and logical, but I am continually amazed at the number of people who don’t know what sort of tide and how much current they are going to find when they head out. It is not something they have given any thought to, but it is so easy to plan ahead.

You can check the upcoming tides in the daily newspaper, or on the internet (Check them out here http://www.nzfishingworld.co.nz/reports-weather/)

In Auckland the tides vary from 2.6 metres to 3.6 metres and I work on tides over 3.0 metres as a minimum, preferring to fish on tides of 3.3 or 3.4 metres. The same principle will apply in other waters.
For six months of the year the biggest tides of the month will occur around the full moon with the smallest tides on the new moon, and for the other six months it is the reverse.

While the moon phase is not as important as the tide flow, it does have an effect on fish (and birds and animals). The best fishing days are in the two weeks around the new moon, while the full moon usually sees poor fishing. It is as if somebody has turned off a switch – the fish go into sleep mode, and when you do catch one the gut is usually empty. They are not feeding.

When you get big tides and the new moon you have the best combination. Remember those memorable red-letter days when the fish went crazy on the bite? Chances are the moon and tides were all lined up but you weren’t aware of it. So it is easy to plan ahead.

Tip #2 Fish dawn and dusk

Fish and animals are more active at first light and last light in the evening. Snapper are also wary fish and will not come into the shallows in bright, sunny conditions. But they will in low light, and this is always the best time to fish.

When the turn of the tide, a big tide, and a good moon phase all coincide near dawn or dusk you have all your ducks in a row and should do very well. My preference is for low tide at dawn as the first couple of hours of the incoming work well, but that is not locked in stone.

In fact few fishing situations are. Just when you think you have it all worked out the fish pull the rug out from under your feet just to remind you who is in charge. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Generally, though, on any one day you will find that one tide will produce better than the other, so it is a good idea to fish part of the incoming then the outgoing, or vice versa – to cover your options

Tip #3 Match trace length to the current flow

Another rule of thumb when bottom dunking (as we call fishing the popular channels in 15-25 metres of water) is : The stronger the current the longer the trace.

I know some fishermen who always use a 10-metre trace for all of their snapper fishing. It obviously allows the bait more movement, and there is no doubt a moving bait is an advantage (see next tip).

But in slack water a long trace is a handicap, and we shorten the trace to about half a metre. An ex-commercial fisherman told me this, and it does really make a difference. So it is horses for courses.

The other important variable to fishing the channels in currents is to also vary the rig. We usually start out with a running rig on one rod and a ledger rig on another outfit. Often it doesn’t matter and it comes down to what you prefer, but sometimes one rig will outfish the other.

The advantage of a ledger rig is that the sinker is at the bottom and the baits are above it, so you feel the bites a lot better. This is a definite advantage for inexperienced  fishermen.

Tip #4 Try drifting

More and more snapper fishermen are coming to realise the advantages of drifting. For a start there is no anchor to put down and pull up. Most of us are naturally lazy and if we can avoid the anchor it is a good start. You will also probably catch more fish.

The reason is that there is no noise from the anchor chain. Just think about it from the fish’s point of view. Water conducts noise far more efficiently than air, and it also magnifies it. Snapper react to noise, which is why you often won’t catch anything until you have been sitting at anchor for a while.

The fish need time to return to the area, and of course a berley trail helps talk them into it. When drifting you also cover more ground so instead of waiting for fish to come to you, you are going to them. And if you suddenly come into a hot spot where it goes off you can always drop the anchor, or motor back up and repeat the drift.

The downside to drifting is you may be moving across the water too quickly, as on a windy day or in a strong current. When anchored you always want wind and current running together. Wind against current are ideal for drifting as they work against each other.

If drifting too fast you will have trouble keeping baits on the bottom, so you use a sea anchor or drogue to slow you down. The best conditions are when it is calm and you move slowly. Dawn is good for this.

The teardrop sinkers are used on the ledger rig and can be easily changed when attached to the loop on the bottom of the rig. Suicide or octopus hooks, centre, are used on a running rig while recurve hooks (red) are always put onto ledger rigs. They can be used on a long trace on a running rig also, but we do not use suicide hooks on the ledger rig as they do not self-hook as well.

The other problem is keeping baits on the hook, and keeping them on the sea bed. Use firm, tough baits like fresh mullet or squid instead of pilchards which come off easily. Nothing worse than sitting enjoying a balmy morning and a gentle drift with bare hooks.

Fresh bait like yellowtail, slimy mackerel or kahawai strips work well in this situation. But try different baits.

If having trouble keeping gear on the bottom use a ledger rig and increase the weight size. Another trick is to fish with the reel in free-spool and thumb the spool, letting a little line slip out from time to time. This takes a little more concentration, but often makes the difference.

Tip #5 Cut motor and anchor quietly

We have discussed the effect of underwater noise scaring the fish. If you are going to fish at anchor, you can minimise the noise by cutting the motor before you reach your chosen spot and gliding the last few metres.

Then lower the anchor gently, bit by bit, trying to reduce the rattle of the anchor chain. Some noise is inevitable, but you don’t have to let the whole lot go and have the chain fly out uncontrolled.

Tip #6 Ledger rig

This is one rig developed by successful charter fishermen in Auckland and is a variation on the ledger rig. Instead of having two loops with hooks above the sinker as in a normal rig or the pre-tied flasher rigs which come in a variety of brands, we make a couple of changes.

We use a soft flexible mono for the trace rather than the hard monos available, and game fishing line in 24kg is ideal. The reason is that this gives much more movement to the baits. In the upper loop we cut one strand of the loop close to the knot, in effect doubling its length and tie on the first hook.

We always use circle hooks on these rigs, usually size 6/0 in Auckland but this can vary to meet the situation. For example, West Coast fishermen prefer a ledger but with larger hooks of 7/0 or 8/0. The reason we reduce the loop to a single strand trace is to allow even more movement of the bait.

Then below that we make a small loop and attach the sinker. It should be far enough below the first hook so the hook can not fall down and tangle up on the sinker. The second hook is tied on the end, about 15-20cm below the sinker. So this way you have one bait which will be hard on the bottom below the sinker, and another one waving around in the current above it.

This Killer Rig works very well in most situations.

Tip #7 Clip on sinkers

I love this way of attaching your sinkers to a running rig so they can be easily changed, adding or reducing weight to match changes in the current.

The basic rule is to use only as much weight as you need to hit the bottom, for you will hook more fish with lighter weights. So if for example you start out at slack tide you can use one sinker, then add a second as the current increases and even a third if fishing a big tide.

The clip on sinker is smart and simple, with the clip swivel resting above the swivel connecting main line and trace.

We use pyramid sinkers which will sit on the bottom and not roll along like a ball sinker. A short piece of mono is threaded through the hole and tied off. Any knot will do as the hooked fish is not putting pressure on this point and if the knot slipped you would lose only the sinker.

A couple of Granny Knots, or Overhand Knots, are fine. A sliding swivel with a clip sits above the swivel connecting your trace (of any length) to your main line. Then you just clip your sliding swivel to the mono bridle on the sinker, which will slide down to sit above the other swivel.

Simple, and easy to change the size or number of weights without cutting and retying your line.

Tip #8 Look for bait schools

You will find that where you encounter jack mackerel (yellowtail) or slimy mackerel, you will usually find snapper. So look for schools of baitfish in midwater on your fishfinder and start fishing – either drifting through the areas or anchoring.

Also drop a light rod with a sabiki (string of tiny jig flies), adding small chunks of bait to each hook. You should have no trouble catching plenty of fresh mackerel which can be used as cut bait, or in the case of small yellowtails a whole fillet or whole fish. You will invariably catch your biggest snapper on the fresh bait.

Tip #9 Add ground bait to supplement the berley trail

The value of berley can not be over-stated. Charter party boat operators often will not bother with berley for several reasons – it adds a heavy line which raises the chances of lines tangling when a lot of people are fishing together. And the concentrated number of baits in the water acts as its own berley, particularly if using pilchards which will break up when fish attack the baits.

Slimy mackerel turn up in late spring as they come in to spawn, and with flesh rich in oil and blood make top snapper bait, particularly when fresh.

But for most fishermen berley is essential when anchored, and smart anglers will boost the effectiveness of the berley by adding pieces of groundbait. Berley is basically minced up fish and other material which disperses in a cloud and the scent is the biggest attraction.

Groundbait is small chunks of any fish, usually pilchards and you can use old pillies which have been refrozen and are too soft for using as bait. Just cut them up and throw handfuls out in a spread, covering both sides of the boat. Do this regularly and it will help bring the snapper on the bite.

Tip #10 Spooling up reels

When putting line on a new reel or replacing old line it is important to run it off the plastic spool onto the reel correctly. When using an overhead or freespool reel the line should come off the mono spool as it spins.

Put a pencil or screwdriver through the hole in the centre of the mono spool and have somebody hold it while you wind the line onto your reel, ensuring you put tension on as it goes on to the reel either from the person holding the spool tightly, or run the line through your left hand (for a right-hander) as it grasps the rod grip.

Hold a tea-towel or cloth so you can add tension without burning your hand. For a fixed spool or spin reel the mono spool should be lying on its side on the floor and the lines comes off in loops. This compensates for the rotation of the bail arm and prevents a twist being imparted to the line as it goes onto the reel.

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