For many anglers the complexities of consistent and productive fishing are a mystery.
For most, the problem is that they struggle to align the important variables – wind, tide, depth, time of day and such - and as a consequence it is Lady Luck who decides the dinner menu rather than the angler’s skill.
Many who do discover a fruitful method tend to stick to it, repeating the process like Ground Hog Day - same bait, same tackle, same spot, same lucky undies, right down to the pattern and size of hooks and even the sinker.
After a few years these anglers, who will have enjoyed a little success, want a bit more fun so they change it up, trying lighter gear and/or a different method.
Often this works out, resulting in more or bigger fish, and the learning bug takes hold. From here some anglers progress to bigger fish of the same species or move on to light game such as kingfish or even marlin and tuna.
The thirst for knowledge
All the better anglers I know have an insatiable curiosity, soaking up information like a sponge. They are willing to try new things - baits, hooks, lighter tackle, braid instead of mono, more adventurous spots, shiny lures instead of bait – and will usually persist until they master these new methods.
In 2007 these anglers were the early adopters of softbait fishing in New Zealand. They embraced braided line, graphite rods, tiny spinning reels, fluorocarbon leader and Gulp softbaits.
They said to themselves, here is a new method which I want to learn about and master. The bravest boldly ventured out without bait. Imagine that?
Some had enough success to persist and learn more but most didn’t ; they still have a softbait set but have never really mastered the technique. Everyone loved the lighter tackle, persuading a fish to the boat rather than just winching the meat in.
What'cha gonna catch with that?
As a softbait aficionado I still occasionally have my sanity questioned. Once, while boarding the Kawhia charter boat Foreplay, armed only with a trout rod and a little satchel, which contained ten packets of softbaits, fluorocarbon and jigheads, several burly Waikato dairy farmers asked, "what the hell I planned to catch with that set up?"
“Snapper”, I managed to squeak out. Thankfully I did catch snapper and gurnard, as they did. And I didn’t tangle anyone up with my sinful braid.
Shimano's current lure range continues to evolve with the times.
The moo-loo men were using Shimano TLD 25s with 24kg rods, 15kg line and 14oz sinkers, which would hardly bend or give line with even a 15lb snapper on the end.
Thanks to the low resistance braid line on my reel I would get to the bottom, 42 metres below, with only a ¾oz jighead at the same time as my heavily weighted, ledger rig swinging compatriots. In total, the 12 of us kept 30 snapper, four of them accounted for by yours truly, along with plenty of gurnard and kahawai.
Learning to imitate life
15 years earlier my rig of choice was a Black Magic ledger rig with KS3/0 hooks. Fishing the Coromandel coastline, it delivered as many the 27 to 33cm as we needed.
I wanted to catch bigger fish so switched to straylining with Black Magic KS 4/0 hooks on a Shimano 6500 Baitrunner reel spooled with 15kg monofilament and 60lb trace.
I enjoyed some success, probably because a whole pilchard drifting towards the bottom looked more natural to a larger snapper than a chuck of bait suspended 30cm off the bottom.
For the last six years I have run Ask the experts seminars at the Hutchwilco Boat Show, delivering a few talks daily about various aspects of fishing.
I have refined my talks over the years and the anecdote I tell these days about bait presentation always gets a good reaction, so I will retell it here. My apologies if you have heard it before:
Imagine an adult is walking down the street and comes across an ice-cream suspended a metre above the pavement with no visible means of support. The adult is unlikely to touch it, they would look around for a camera crew, or magician, or even call the police, but they would not grab it.
A child would say, “Yummy, an ice-cream” and grab it every time. It’s just a life experience thing and explains why small snapper plague you. The older, bigger snapper know that a chunk of pilchard does not sit suspended 30cm off the bottom.
Now if an adult walking down the same street saw a $20 note in the gutter they would pick it up without hesitation. That’s presentation!
And that’s how a whole pilchard looks to a big snapper. It drifts down with the tide in a natural manner. Big snapper have seen it before and it looks natural to them. A softbait looks similar and when worked well, can twitch and look injured, turning them on even more.
The right tackle makes the difference
Looking back, the old Baitrunner tackle was like a telephone pole with a butter churn attached, and it weighed a tonne. Eventually I downsized to a 5-10kg Okuma graphite rod, with a 4500-sized Baitrunner-style spinning reel spooled with 4kg IGFA line, and started to land bigger snapper.
Then softbaits arrived making even this tackle look heavy. I started using a 2500-sized spinning reel loaded with 4kg braid, on a 7-foot graphite rod. As mentioned above the softbaits looked just like an injured pilchard.
And it was the injured part that really turned snapper on. Originally we thought snapper were just scavengers, eating food that couldn’t get away - mussels and other shellfish, slow crabs, dead pilchards and the likes. It turns out big snapper are predators eliminating any small, injured fish.
There were many doubters but probably half the anglers north of Taranaki bought softbait sets and eventually caught fish on them. The other half were not convinced and remain unconvinced to this day.
Three years of metal domination
The fascination for me is that we can deceive fish into thinking a lure is something good to eat. After softbaiting became widely accepted a whole new world of hunting with lures opened up.
First on the scene was a Madai slow jig, followed quickly by the famous Shimano Lucanus. This lure was purchased by the thousands and went on many boat trips before being used. Matt Watson demonstrated how the Lucanus should be used and sales went through the roof.
If the summer of 2012/13 was all about Lucanus, then the next summer was time of the inchiku jig.
Most recently the 2014/2015 season has seen the Kabura explosion with micro-jigs close on their heels. Even with the rise of the lure revolution the bait-is-best brigade still hold strong. Although I can understand their thinking in the right fishing circumstances it’s the inflexibility of the stance I struggle with.
If you don’t want to change because you are catching all the big fish you want, well good on you. All I would suggest is that there’s a time and place for every fishing method. On your next visit to the tackle store at least have a chat to someone about dipping your toe into lure fishing.
With the right gear and the best advice you might be surprised how much you enjoy yourself, and catch a few nice fish on the way.