MANUKAU REPORT: The art of catching piper
More snotty weather has almost silenced the fishing stories but I did hear of one kitefisher getting a couple of reasonable snapper and gurnard off the coast on Saturday.
I managed to get out for a fish on Saturday night on the harbour. My son and I went to a spot that has been known to hold kahawai but there were no takers. We did see a number of piper though. Having only a couple of jigheads and two 6/0 hooks we had little chance of catching them, so I took my son home as it was getting late and returned with some mushy pilchards, some bread and a small sabiki rig to tie onto my soft bait rod. Once I caught one it was sacrificed for bait as its flesh was firm and it would stay on the hook. After twenty or so I went home with enough for some breakfast and some great snapper and kingfish baits.
Catching piper can be tricky and frustrate many anglers. Burley is the key. Keep a small but steady stream going to keep them near the surface. I use very small hooks or a small sabiki rig. Trout hooks work well. I usually use a split shot on the bottom of the trace, or in this case a 6/0 hook for weight with a chunk of pilchard for burley hooked on to it. If I need to cast any distance I’ll also use a small float to detect the bites. If the fish are there but not biting a slow retrieve will get them going.
If I can I try to just lift the rod hopefully with the fish attached so I don’t have to wind it in but that only works if you can get really close to the water and off the back of a boat it is the ideal way to catch them.
I make the baits very small, about 10 to 20mm long and thin. Sometimes the fish will hang on to the baits if you lift them out of the water smoothly and fall off when on the land but it’s definitely better to hook them. Baits can be anything from small strips which are well suited to casting or dough or even bread moulded around the hook. Dough and bread doesn’t survive casting but in close they work very well. Some mix a bit of cotton wool in with the dough to keep it on the hook.
Once you’ve caught your piper you need to decide what to do with it. The best thing is to have a live bait rig ready to go. You can fish it on a single hook dropper with a sinker attached or under a small float or a balloon. Even a big live piper will get eaten by a kahawai, snapper or kingfish. Try to use a small hook and as light a trace as you dare just to keep the bait alive, a heavy hook and trace will be a burden. You can also use them as a cut bait of course and can be cast and retrieved like a popper for kingfish or kahawai. Sometimes even chopped into segments they will work ok as a bait.
Once you have that done you need to catch a few for your frying pan as they have beautiful delicate flesh. Piper need to be a reasonable size to be worth cooking and I just gut, clean, season, flour and fry in butter. Once they look crispy on the outside they’re ready to eat. The flesh should pull off the bones easily if you start on the sides and then you can lift out the backbone taking all the little bones with it. There are other ways of boning them but I find this easiest, not a great fish for kids though as they are a bit fussy to eat.
There are loads of piper in the harbour, try on slack tide around rocks, weeds or even in sandy beaches at night where they come right in shallow. When there’s nothing else happening you can still get out fishing!