Little battlers: success in small boats

By Forsyth ThompsonNZ Fishing World
Little battlers: success in small boats

Too many fishers think that you need a big boat to go out and catch big fish. But, as NZ Fishing World’s Forsyth Thompson proves time and again, your little tinny can be a fish-slaying weapon.

Small boats can open up a wealth of fishing opportunities, whether as transport to get to and from remote rock spots or as easy-to-launch fishing platforms in their own right.

One thing’s for sure, you don’t need a big boat to catch great fish or just get a good feed locally.

Work-up fishing is some of the most exciting fishing you can hope to do.

I start getting into this around late October when we typically find the birds, whales and dolphins anywhere from the back of Kawau all the way through to the Happy Jacks around the 35-40m line.

As the season wears on, I tend to not go so far, with great work-up fishing from Army Bay north all the way through the islands up to Kawau and also south of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula.

Nearer to home, the back of Waiheke and the Noises is another favourite of mine for finding work-ups and in good years you don’t even need to go more than a few hundred meters off the East Coast Bays.

In a big boat work-up fishing is exciting enough, but when you’re in a 3.5m tinny and there are gannets raining down around you and dolphins and whales right alongside, its something else!

You’re also less likely to push the work-up down, unlike many bigger boats I see come charging straight into a work-up and ruining it for everyone.

Finding work-ups in a small boat is a little trickier because you don’t have any elevation from the water, but using a combination of the VHF, a bit of local knowledge, binos, looking for birds and of course looking for congregations of other boats, you’ll soon find the action. 

Signs are good

When you’re going out work-up fishing, you’re really out there looking for signs of activity.

If you see gannets moving on past where you are, you might want to go have a look and see where they’re heading.

Another tip is to make sure you keep a good ear on the VHF for weather forecast changes.

It’s very easy to find yourself a good distance out from shelter and you don’t want to get caught in 15-20 knots of unexpected weather.

Take more gas than you think you’re likely to need. You don’t want to be seeing birds working further out and be worrying about whether you’ve got enough gas.

Hitting the fish

If you’re on the fish, the action is going to be frantic and full on – fishing lures such as slowjigs, which get straight down, gives you a big advantage, as is having lures which don’t need replacing.

More often than not you’re going to get hit on the drop but don’t worry if not, just let the lure hit the bottom then take a few winds back up slowly, letting the skirt do its work, before dropping back down.

You’re going to be using small hooks and light braid, so don’t go cranking the drag up.

The lighter the gear and the lighter the drag, the more enjoyment you’re going to get from your fishing.

A 3kg fish can be enormous fun on the right gear, and with all the commotion going on around you it definitely gets the adrenaline going.

If you do hook a king under the work-up on light gear (this will happen to you at some point) then don’t get tempted to go winding the drag up and going hard on it. You’ve got tiny hooks and light trace.

I’ve taken nearly 30 minutes on a king less than a metre long on this gear and it is truly sensational fun, especially as it drags the little boat around with it.

The right gear

In terms of hardware, find a nice light rod that folds away nicely under load.

In a really small boat the logistics are a bit different, especially when it comes to netting fish.

I also highly recommend using Genie Clips so you can swap weights/colours if need be, and you should be fishing nice and light.

But there’s no sense going fishing with just one setup, and some days the work-ups are too far out or just not where we are, and we’ll set up for some softbaiting and drift fishing with the sounder on instead.

Softbaiting has really changed small boat fishing for me dramatically. You can travel super light, you don’t need a lot of gear, and you get to cover a lot of ground.

To make life a bit easier I run a sounder off a waterproof battery case with a homemade transducer mount so I can remove it when we’re back on LBG duty.

The simplest GPS solution for me has been the use of Navionics on a smartphone, allowing me to mark schools of fish and drift tracks with no fuss at all.

Combined with a small drogue, we regularly outfish a lot of bigger, flasher boats and on a fish per metre basis I’d put the little Stabicraft up against just about any boat out there.

As with almost all snapper fishing around the Hauraki, once the tide starts to run, the fishing heats up.

Going soft

In terms of gear it depends a little more on where we’re softbaiting. Out on the sand I like to fish as light as possible for two main reasons: The first is that the lighter the braid, the easier it is to get to the bottom.

When drift fishing like this, the snapper are very often feeding heads down right on the bottom rather than in a work-up situation where they’re feeding on the scraps and/or the baitfish themselves.

Being able to get your lure to the bottom and work it effectively there is absolutely paramount.

The second reason is fun: the lighter the tackle the more fun the fish are! On other occasions we’ll cast softbaits into more foul country, closer in to the rocks and the wash, and for this I’ll use slightly heavier gear – 4kg braid and 15lb fluoro doesn’t give you much to work with if a fish goes to ground in foul country.

Lots of options

When drift fishing, the options are endless for the small boat guys.

Launching out of Army Bay, Hatfields or indeed up to Martins Bay or Sandspit, I fish both ends of Kawau and then down around Motuketekete, Moturekareka and Motuora islands.

Nearer to home most of my softbaiting is done launching out of Takapuna and you really don’t need to travel far at all to get into some great fishing.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that we’ve caught a binful of great fish while watching boats charging off past us heading for the horizon.

Rangitoto Lighthouse, the bank back inside it and from the foul ground marker to #1 buoy and A Buoy has been a great area for me just drift fishing and working the softbaits as I go.

Similarly, I’ll regularly head to north of the Gap (between Rangitoto and Motutapu) and Administration Bay and then down Rakino Channel to Awash Rock.

All of these areas hold fish right through the season and are all well worth a trip.

Many times I’ll fish these areas and see a bunch of boats all doing the anchor/berley/flasher rig thing, pulling up a lot of tiny fish.

Then we drift on through, pick up some much better fish and carry on our way.

A 7kg-plus fish was taken just like this at Rangitoto lighthouse recently where there were a lot of boats bait fishing on the anchor and struggling.

When kingfish turn up

There’s plenty of fishing to be done for kingies in the Inner Gulf and whilst we don’t get a lot of big fish in the summer, there are absolutely plenty around if you know where to look.

Many local boat owners say they’ve never caught a kingy in years of trying but I’d be willing to bet they’ve driven up and down the Rangitoto Channel many times, and every single summer there are kings hanging around there all season.

All the channel marker buoys will hold kings at different times and days and you can have some fantastic fun with them.

Summer spots

Other spots worth trying are the East Coast Bays and those who fish through Motuihe and Sergeant Channel will know that great fishing can be had at these spots in summer.

There’s some great fishing through there in the summer and you’d be crazy not to have a look.

Part of the beauty of fishing is getting away from the noise of the city for me, and whilst there is plenty of good fishing right by the harbour bridge, it just isn’t my kind of thing.

We’re unbelievably lucky with the amazing fishing we have right on the doorstep of our biggest city and you absolutely do not need a big boat to really get the best out of it.

Being able to get a great feed of fish for family and friends without using more than $10 of gas is a true privilege and one which I can’t imagine ever tiring of.

Small boat arsenal

  • Sounder
  • Binoculars
  • GPS (Phone is fine)
  • Drogue using shock cord not rope
  • Gear: Don’t take too much; a cluttered boat is a recipe for broken gear
  • Net: Super light trace isn’t great to use to lift fish into the boat
  • Safety gear as recommended by Coastguard
  • Working out work-ups
  • When work-up fishing, never drive straight into the action itself. It won’t get you better/more fish and it will ruin the fishing for you and anyone else there.

Back to bait

When I’ve got kids - or indeed adults - learning to fish, I’ll often go back to the good old bait and berley combination sitting in the current.

Often we’ll pick up the odd fish here and there with nothing particularly on the sounder so don’t panic if you’re not seeing big patches of fish.

Eventually you’re definitely going to see plenty of good sign on the sounder so make sure you’re keeping an eye on it and marking really good patches of fish.

Similarly you’ll see plenty of bait schools on the sounder that are definitely worth another look in case they’re getting stalked by some good reds.

Choosing softbaits

Z-man softbaits have a great action and if you’re worried about the scent issue, the secret sauces available are a good option.

I’ll also take a good selection of different colours and sizes with me and if one isn’t working, I recommend switching colours regularly until you find one that’s working for you.

We’ve had plenty of days when one or two colours or patterns significantly outfish everything else and if the fish want a specific colour, you want to make sure you have it.

That doesn’t mean taking 30 or 40 packs of course, but a good range of different colour types.

The same goes for jigheads. If you’re in just a few metres of water and the drift isn’t too quick, you’ll want to be using a much lighter jighead than if you’re in deeper water, drifting faster, or struggling with bigger currents.

As a rule of thumb, if I’m not able to keep in touch with the bottom easily enough then I’ll go up slightly in weight.

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