There is a lot to be said for training up your mates in advance of an epic fishing adventure.
I recently received a plea for help in the form a text message from a friend’s husband, which read,
“Hello, Your mate just had the biggest tantrum on the boat. It might have been because I lost her kingfish over the side. I may need some Sinden fish handling tips to help save my marriage”. What he forgot to mention was that the kingi would have pushed the 30-kilo mark and would have been her new personal best.
Rigging up gear, applying bait and hooking a fish are only part of the story. No successful fishing tale is complete until the job is done at the boat. As with most accidents, sh/* happens quickly and you often only have a few moments to grab that fish and get it in the boat. And the bigger the fish, the shorter the window of opportunity to secure a result.
What happened in Geoff and Candice’s case is a classic of example of what not to do when a big angry kingi sees the boat and goes mental. Geoff grabbed the leader and wrapped it untidily around his hand several times. As fish thrashed around the leader started cutting into him so he let go and gave the fish enough slack in the line to throw the hook and escape. The result, for Geoff is an unhappy wife and a tale he won’t be able to live down for quite some time.
The 90/10 rule
Broadly speaking, fishos come in two categories. There’s the hardcore types who fish at least once a week and spend most of their time researching fishing whenever they’re not on the water. Then there’s the other 90% who love to go fishing but don’t have the opportunity or time to invest in it.
When I take people out on the boat that fit into the 90% category I make sure to share as much basic fishing knowledge as I can, which inevitably makes the day better for everyone onboard. I always start with the following tips:
Three basic pilchard rigs: These three rigs are my go-to snapper setups when fishing with bait. They are simple, effective and easy to remember.
The Ledger rig. This rig gives you two chances as well as the possibility of a double hook up. When applying the hook through the head of the bait I like to go up through the mouth and have the hook poking out the hard part of the head between the eyes. When hooking the flesh part of a pilchard make sure to get as much meat as possible or go around the backbone, so the pilchard doesn’t fall off the hook, while still exposing the barb.
Half Pilchard rig. The single hook, half pilchard rig is used in common straylining circumstances. I like to hook mine up so that the barb is still exposed near a nice piece of flesh or gut cavity. A couple of half hitches are useful. One around the hook to pull the shank down and help expose the barb, the other around the tail to help secure the bait.
Whole Pilchard rig. A whole pilchard can be used to entice a bigger fish or bigger bite. It is best done with two hooks; one in the gut cavity and one in the tail. A half hitch around the shank of the back hook and around the tail, with a sinker in between tidies this offering nicely. Sometimes I snap the head off the pilchard to release all the tasty juices the bait has to offer.
Boating a fish
The best practice in my opinion is for the angler to wind the line up to the leader, walking backwards to enable a mate to grab the leader and help bring the fish in to the boat. Keep the line tight and try to be quick getting it to the side of the boat.
If the fish can be landed with a net then this should always be the first option. If the fish requires a gaff, here’s a few things to bear in mind -
When working the leader, start with your palms facing up and your thumbs pointing out. Wrap it around the palm of your hand in between your fingers and thumb in a way that the leader doesn’t cross or touch itself. Never take more than two wraps.
If the fish runs you will be able to drop the leader safely. The angler should be winding in the excess line while ensuring slack line is maintained between the rod tip and the boatman’s hands.
If the fish is being sent back into the ocean, avoid handling it via the gills. If the gills are damaged in any way the fish has a far lower chance of survival.
When keeping a snapper, best practice is to iki it by following the preoperculum, which is the minor gill plate, up above the eye. Use an iki stick or sharp knife to force an incision down into the brain from that point. You will know that you have hit the spot when the fish’s tail rolls up and the eyes flutter and it stops moving.
Iki’ing the fish makes for better quality eating as the stress has been minimized. Keeping the fish in salt ice will also help to preserve the meat and will make the job of filleting easier.
Gurnard and blue cod are different when it comes to their fate under the knife. They have a v shape on top of their head and if you angle a knife straight down in the middle of the v it will kill them instantly.
Not relevant to the story but isn’t this a superb jig-caught blue cod?
Kingfish have a hard head, which makes them more difficult to iki. Usual practice is to dispatch a kingy with a good whack in between the eyes on the top of the head.
Lemon sharks (also known as spotty dogs) are very common especially through the summer months while spawning. You usually catch them in the shallows, as they tend to eat crabs and crustaceans. They are a bi-catch of the general snapper fishery, particularly on the west coast. They are also great eating.
Handling a lemon shark requires a good grip behind the eyes and behind the tail. Their skin is similar to sand paper and can chafe up your arm if you are not careful. To iki them, place a knife just behind the eye line and back towards to the gills.
If you are taking them home to eat, trunk them (chop off the head and tail and remove the entrails). Also remove the magnesium line from the underside of their backbone or top of their gut cavity and place them in a salt-ice slurry to get the temperature of the flesh right down. If this is not done correctly the flesh of the fish will turn green and will be inedible.
Apart from these handy tips for our mates in the ninety percentile the other thing that I like to note is to have fun. Fishing is always an adventure and seldom one that can be 100% prepared for.