Blue Water
Blue Water

35 Tips to improve your fishing

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Michael 'Smudge' Parker
10 July 2015

I believe fishing is a process of continuous learning and improvement. Many things I do now would have been considered unnecessary and inefficient when I started out.

On the other hand, many things I used to strongly believe in are now regarded as pointless.

The following is a list of simple tips I strongly believe contribute to more consistent results and a better fishing experience in general. I hope you enjoy the article and use the tips as you see fit.


1. Take lots of ice

I very seldom go fishing without ice. It improves the condition of the fish markedly, the flesh will be firm and it will taste its best. Bacteria won’t get a chance to spoil your dinner either.

2. Learn to tie knots

There was a time when I lost fish to poor knots. I struggle to learn new knots but I practice them over and over until I can tie them well. I suggest you learn a uniknot, a figure eight dropper loop and a clinch knot to start with.

3. Use the right gear

Make sure your tackle is up to the job. While light tackle is fun to use, make sure you have a better average chance of landing your catch.

4. Know your enemy

Understand a little about your quarry before you decide on a fishing spot. While, casting a line into the middle of nowhere in the hope of catching something can work, it usually doesn’t. Research the appropriate techniques and tackle to catch the fish you’re seeking.

5. Understand the conditions

Whether you fish from the beach, the rocks or a boat, the conditions on the day will impact hugely on your ability to catch fish, as well as your safety.

Catching it

6. Use the right hooks

For snapper 6/0 hooks should really be considered a minimum size. Small hooks will straighten on heavy drag settings and likewise, big hooks can be hard to set on very light line. If the point and barb aren’t clear of the bait you’re limiting your ability to sink the hook into the fish. Sharp hooks make a world of difference too.

7. Stay in touch with the bait

A line left lying in a heap on the bottom is asking for trouble. That trouble can come in the form of gut-hooked fish, tangled gear and snags.

8. Use a net to land your fish

I can’t remember how many good fish I’ve had fall off while trying to haul them on board. Strangely, it’s usually the big ones that get away. Once the fish is on the surface and is ready to net, ask the angler to step back and scoop the fish up head first.

9. Keep your rod bent

When you’ve managed to hook up, you’re inviting the fish to swim away if you let the pressure off. Kahawai in particular are often lost at the boat because the angler lets the rod straighten out and the fish shakes its head, throwing the hook from its mouth.

10. Easy does it

Usually it pays to take things smooth and easy, particularly on a big fish. After all, the fun is in the fight so enjoy your time spent hooked up. There are some exceptions, such as fishing around heavy, shallow foul ground.

11. Location, location, location

You won’t catch fish that aren’t there. In some places you don’t need to be in an exact spot as fish may be constantly passing through. Channels are often like that. Other times you may need to be exactly on the spot. This is usually the case when fishing around structure. For instance a reef may hold a pile of fish on the down current side but 10m up current you may struggle to catch anything.

When you have caught it

12. Use a towel to cover the fish

It’s better for the fish should you decide to release it. It also makes the fish much easier to handle. Tip the fish upside down, tuck it under your arm, and use some long nose pliers to quickly remove the hook. There you go, four tips for the price of one.

13. Iki the catch

If you’re going to keep it, kill the fish as soon as you can. You’re less likely to get hooked or spiked and it is more humane for the fish. It evens improve the catch’s eating quality. Put the fish in a chilly bin with the ice as already mentioned.

Preparing it

14. Keep your fish on ice for several hours before filleting

This allows the flesh to set and makes filleting much easier. Sometimes I’ll leave them in the ice slurry overnight.

15. Own a very sharp knife

I use a long bladed knife to reduce the risk of spiking my hands on sharp spines. The sharper the better and wipe the blade down after every few cuts - without slicing your fingers off of course.

16. Put the fish under water to scale it

Fish don’t have to be filleted, there are other ways of preparing it. They don’t need to be skinned either. Scaling a fish in a bin full of water will keep the mess under control.

17. When fresh is best

I prefer snapper after it’s spent a night in the ice. Other fish is undoubtedly better when fresh. Kahawai, flounder and trevally fit that bill.

Cooking the catch

18. Leave the skin on

It keeps it moist. However, fish with dark red meat close to the skin are an exception. Get rid of that stuff.

19. Most fish can be eaten raw

While raw fish isn’t for everyone, it is one of the great gourmet pleasures for the converted. Wasabi and soya sauce are a very tasty combo and well-prepared sashimi is a real treat.

Eat the bait

20. Mullet and trevally

These are two of the best fish for smoking, yet many people refuse to eat them simply because they are used as bait. Trevally is very tasty when fried fresh and makes terrific sashimi.

21. Jack mackerel

These guys are really nice deep-fried. Mackerel cooked this way is very popular with Polynesian people, who often catch them at night under lights from wharves and jetties. Jack mackerel is fantastic as sashimi too.

22. Piper

While they do need to be a reasonable size for a tasty meal, they are loads of fun to catch. They have many small bones but I clean them and stick the beak through the fish, down towards the tail so they form a donut. Fry them and it’s easy to peel out the bones.

23. Yellow-eye mullet

Yellow-eye mullet are good as rollmops or even cooked. I don’t know that for sure because rollmops look disgusting and I’ve never tried them. Someone told me they were nice and I believed them so it must be true. Let me know how you get on.

Open your mind

24. Many other fish and sea creatures are great eating

Octopus, squid, even kahawai, which most people will tell you is only good for cat food, are all worth the effort. The trick is to find tried and tested recipes for these species before experimenting too much yourself.

25. Fish with as many people, as often as you can

Fishing with others is a great learning experience. Everybody does something differently. Some things will work and some won’t, either way you will learn. I’ve been lucky to fish alongside some real experts and no matter how hard I try to do exactly what they do, I still can’t keep up - but I’ll keep trying.

26. Experiment with techniques

If you only fish baits, buy yourself a good softbait set or something made for lure fishing. Strong, light gear is a whole lot of fun and besides, lures are much less damaging to our fish stocks. Consider for a moment how often you go fishing. The bait you took may have weighed more than the fish caught. Lures are often a cheaper option too. While it can take some time to learn new techniques, lures can be at least as effective as baits.

After fishing

27. Clean your boat at sea

Sounds simple but a quick clean up before heading home is a very good plan. While you’re at it, remove your hooks and sinkers and secure any loose line. Unbait any hooks that still have bait attached. It’s a scientific fact that the most difficult task in the world is removing an angry cat from 10 metres of fishing line.

28. Don’t leave loose line trailing in the breeze

I left home one day after putting 300 metres of new 6kg monofilament on my fishing reel. When I arrived at the boat ramp there was only five or six wraps of mono left on the reel. The rest was wrapped around the axle hub of my trailer.

29. Keep two scrubbing brushes on board

I do this in the vain hope that one day someone will see the spare one sitting there while I’m cleaning up and join in. Actually my regular fishing buddies are pretty good at helping out, that’s why they are my regular fishing buddies.

30. Wash your gear

After every trip you need to clean your gear. A soft brush and a spray of fresh water will do the trick. Do all drags up first and loosen again when you’ve finished. A light spray of CRC or similar prior to loosening the drag is a great idea too. Once you gear is stored in a nice dry place open up your tackle box. Make sure everything is dry and leave it open for a few days.

31. Clean your towels in bleach

I keep several towels on my boat for handling fish and cleaning hands. Left untreated these towels smell very bad the next day. The only way I know to stop that issue is to rinse them off in soapy water, wring them out and leave them to soak overnight in a bucket of water and bleach. Hang them to dry in the sun and they will be ready to use another day.


32. Don’t leave rods in the rocket launcher when towing

I did this once. Does anyone want a snapper rod that’s only been used once? It’s less than a metre long. It is also an extremely dangerous practice.

33. Develop a set routine for launching and retrieving

I’ve seen the bow of a boat punch out the rear window of a four-wheel-drive. I’ve seen an outboard motor skeg ground away because the motor wasn’t tilted before towing.

I’ve seen boats racing onto the beach before they sink because the bungs weren’t put in.

I’ve seen a brand new boat slide down a boat ramp all on its own and I’ve seen a boat sitting in the middle of a main road. All because the owners didn’t have a routine for launching and retrieving their boat.

34.Learn how to use your electronics

I’ve been on a few boats where we’ve seen something and I’ve suggested we mark the spot only for mark to go unrecorded and lost because the owner doesn’t know how. Your electronics are a great asset but only if you use them.

35. Don’t be a boat ramp hog

Set your boat up in the preparation area so others can still launch and retrieve their boat. There are more boats using our ramps every year and not many new ramps being built so be considerate to your fellow fishers.

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