Deep in the strike zone

By Jeff StrangNZ Fishing World
Deep in the strike zone

Finding deep-water targets is the first challenge but then bridging the great chasm of water between you and the bottom is the next, here's how.

Those of us who can remember the dark ages probably still have moth-eaten diaries with pencil-scrawled landmarks and notes. Once you had deciphered your notes and you had finally found “the general vicinity of the rock”, an innocent victim would be chosen to heave an ungodly lump of lead over the side tied to several hundred metres of bungee-like monofilament.  

After a predetermined period the bicep-testing task of retrieving a protesting length of rubber band and its attached mooring block would begin. Only the most experienced anglers would know with any degree of certainly if their punt was fruitful before it got to the surface and those old salts were never silly enough to go first.

Tech to the rescue

The advent of chart-plotters radically changed the deep-water fishing landscape but that’s a story for another time.

The revolution of superline was apparent from the first day we wet a spool of it. I forget whether it was Dyneema or Spectra based, but instantly our bait rigs were plunging through the water column at twice the speed of the equivalent monofilament setup. More importantly, the gear was hitting the bottom on target. 

These two zest jigs are favourites of the author.

These two zest jigs are favourites of the author.

Coping with shock

Such was the sensitivity of the product that experienced anglers could feel their live-baits twitching nervously when the puka came on the prowl. 

A few good ole boys that liked to fish with the drag lever pushed to “sunset” soon discovered 130-pound superline has the potential to do unnatural things to an unprepared angler’s vertebrae.It was quickly apparent a shock leader was needed to manage the ferocity of the bites as well as to ensure the bait has time to be swallowed before the weight comes on.

These days I like to fish a four to five metre shock leader (monofilament or fluorocarbon) anytime natural bait is used. With artificials I think two metres is ample – just enough to prevent line damage.

Fishing in an egg cup

The important thing to consider when fishing very deep water is accuracy to, and time in, the strike zone. 

Three important pieces of information come into play:

1.   The speed and direction of the current

2.   The speed and direction of the wind relative to the current

3.   The time it takes for a set to get to the bottom

Numbers one and two are important because they control the vessel’s drift. Unless profoundly confident of success I always make a preliminary drift with a single set of gear in the water before filling all my angler’s arms with lactic acid for no result.


Before even contemplating a set it is useful to spend a good deal of time mapping the fishing zone, marking the areas that look active and productive on the chart-plotter. Quality electronics are a must and a few modern tools such as scroll-back are gold.

With the chart-plotter’s track switched on, start a set: timing the descent of the gear to the bottom with a stopwatch. A good rough guide is to allow for a sink rate of two meters per second but timing this first shot provides better accuracy for the rest of the session. As soon as the gear hits the water I also like to drop a mark on the plotter, adding another mark as soon as it hits the bottom. I will explain why in a minute.

A skilled boat driver can greatly increase the productive phase (time in the strike zone) of any set by manoeuvring the vessel to keep the line as vertical a possible. This is most easily achieved by reversing up the natural lay of the line, usually directly into the wind.

Now, having mapped the area and completed a set you will be armed to the teeth with the data needed to catch a pile of fish.

You will have:

1.   A map of the structure showing the spots most likely                              
to be productive

2.   A track showing the direction of the drift which can be used to align an optimised shot

3.   A couple of marks indicating the distance travelled while the gear was descending, as well as a time it took to get to the bottom – this is used to optimise the start point of a drift.

So there you have it. Deep water fishing 101. The same method can been applied to multiple species – hapuka, bass, tarakihi, kingfish, blue cod, trumpeter, snapper and more – it all comes back to maximising time in the strike zone.

Catch the latest news

Packed full of the latest fishing news and tips on the best spots. Fresh to your inbox every week.

Sign up with email