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Hauraki workup fishing - how, why, where and what not to do

25 May 2018
Hauraki workup fishing - how, why, where and what not to do

Winter workup season has begun, and that means some of the best fishing of the year is happening out in the gulf right now. It’s the time of year that big schools of pilchards start moving in from the north, so the flotilla of boats chasing workups will be heading to the incoming channels around Little Barrier Island, around Horn and Anchorite rocks and eventually deeper into the upper Firth of Thames.

A typical Hauraki Gulf workup caught snapper

In order to stay abreast of where the action has been happening, reports such as our own Hauraki fishing report -

will provide you with a good starting point.


In a big ocean, most of the fish are right here, aggressively biting, and loving your lures.

You won’t get better fishing anywhere else.

For those new to workup fishing, it’s a blast.  Predatory fish and mammals are carving into panicking schools of baitfish as birds attack them from above.  The resulting fallout is a massive natural berley trail that will excite huge numbers of snapper and kingfish into a feeding festival.


Fish are where you find them, as the old saying goes.  However, the workup patterns are a slow and steady moving mass that generally don’t travel too far day to day.  That is why local charters such as Wave Dancer, Hauraki Express etc, having been out the day before, seem to uncannily know just where the action is likely to be and commonly provide their clients with a fish bonanza.

Start by planning to head to the area that action has been reported in, and keep an open eye and an open mind on the way.  The signs are all there if you think about what you are looking for.

For a start, workups are not usually an early morning wake up call.  They will often start around 10.30 to 11.00am, which often coincides with a nice sea breeze giving the searching gannets a helping hand.

Here's the early season area that workups usually appear


These guys are your eye in the sky and the number 1 indicator of where you should be heading.  If you are motoring along and gannets are steadily passing you in the same direction, keep going.  Gannet behaviour is not always easy to read, as they seem to be sporadically milling about, but following their general direction is a good practice.

When there is a big group of gannets just sitting around waiting, what do you think they are waiting for?  It always pays to cruise slowly and quietly around them, ideally down current, and keep an eye on the sounder for schools of baitfish down too deep for the gannets to reach.

Binoculars on board are a good accessory to spot the tell-tale white flashes on the horizon as sunlight catches the gannets swirling above feeding fish.  

When there are few birds aimlessly circling, they are simply watching for fish, and if there is no other action in sight, you could do worse than just to wait with them and randomly fish the bottom as you drift.

When a group of birds are bee-lining that usually means business.  Gannets won’t work hard and flap wings with authority, expending all that energy, unless there is something in it for them, so backing their noses and giving chase will often pay off.

Markus Church with a pannie typical of the workup outskirts


These apex food chain crew are your best buddies.  If they are feeding, you are fishing.

Dolphin behaviour is often the same as the gannets, aimlessly cruising in search of food, and not necessarily kicking up much activity.

Again, dolphins charging along often clear of the water on a mission, means they are on the hunt and could be worth pursuing.

Any serious feeding activity will soon be accompanied by birds and that’s a dinner bell.

Whales will often make their presence known if you keep your ears open.  The characteristic pshhhh of a whale spout can be heard for miles on a calm day, and that is another sign to look for that can lead you to the oasis of fish in a giant desert of sea.

Slow pitch jig gear is so good in workup situations.  This outfit from Jigstar and Zest


Sometimes it’s just glorious carnage as dolphins, whales, gannets and just about everything else that moves charge, dive, scream and burst around in a manic, concentrated frenzy.

This can be focused to a tight spot on one ‘meatball’ of baitfish, or spread over kilometres of action where there seems to be gannets as far as the eye can see.

This is the nirvana of workup situations, the heart is pounding, rods are flailing about as you scrabble for the right gear, so what to do next?

Back up, it’s more like what not to do first.

Workups mean you get to return a few usually


Charge into the middle of the workup or even approach at high speed.  This will often put the fish down or cause them to move away after everyone has just set up a nice drift pattern around the workup.  You will be very unpopular if there are other boats present.

If you have the workup exclusively, don’t ruin it for yourself!

Set up directly down drift of another boat that is there first.  You are going to drift.  Look for a clear LINE rather than a clear SPOT.

Motor around unnecessarily between boats, pick your line and ease in.

Don’t’ panic.  It’s exciting but the action will wait for you to clear the decks, tie your knots correctly, and prepare the ice bin for incoming fish.


Take a breath and survey the situation.  Is the workup spread out and moving?  If so perhaps set up quietly ahead of where it is moving.

Are you the first boat there?  Is the workup concentrated in a small ball?  If so cruise up QUIETLY and try to get right on the outside of the meatball.  In some cases, if you are lucky, the baitfish will even head under your boat to shelter whilst gannets rain in just about hitting you in the process.  There are often very big, dominant fish right around the bait ball.

Ascertain whether the workup is massively spread out or popping up all over the place as boats charge after each new hotspot.  In the gulf on a weekend you may be bumper to bumper.  Company is part of the deal.  If this is the case, you are sometimes better to sit and wait.  Like little kids playing football most boats charge off like a swarm of bees after the ‘ball’.  It often pays to wait back, and either fish the remains of the workup or wait for another mass to appear right where you are situated.

Think about what you want to keep.  In a workup you will limit on snapper sometimes in minutes.  Keep count and be prepared to release fish if they are too big or small.

Inchiku jigs.  Made for workups


This is the domain of lures, where fish will smash just about any popular pattern you throw at them.  In particular, kabura, Inchiku, and slow pitch jigs are deadly effective.  For a full detailed article on what gear to use go here:

Anchors are not really needed as the workup fishing is best when mobile and whilst remaining nimble enough to move around.  A good sea anchor or drogue is vital though.  You’ll need it to slow your drift down to stay in the zone and allow lures to drop directly downwards.

Another thing that it pays to think about is current.  This will not always be going in the same direction the prevailing wind is drifting you.  Think about what is happening down below.  Scraps from the workup are drifting down current and by the time they get close to the bottom can be a good distance from the workup.   At this point massive feeding activity can be going on miles away from the last surface frenzy.  Patient anglers can still clean up in peace and quiet as the rest of Auckland is tearing off after the obvious action.

Is the tide incoming or outgoing?  If incoming, and therefore heading towards the direction of land, follow downstream slowly with your sounder on and you may pick up some very good sign.

Another natural indication to look for is a subtle oil slick (from the carved up pilchards) or sparkling scales in the water.  This is a clear indicator of drift direction and likely to point at feeding fish.  

Fishing workups with barbless hooks is a great idea, especially on slow pitch jigs.  They make it easy to be selective about what you keep, and they are great in a very active fishing situation where the bite is super-hot.

Another tactic that can pay off well is to slow everything down a bit when it comes to working your jigs.  The fish are already fired up, not feeding tentatively, and something that they have to work too hard to catch is often ignored in favour of easier pickings.

If you’re working a slow pitch jig, or Inchiku, don’t be afraid to pause the movement and just let the thing hang there for a few seconds.  This is when you will get your hits.

It’s shaping up to be a great season.  If you have not got specialist gear already, think about investing in a dedicated slow pitch outfit and get ready for workup-mania.

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