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Kontiki fishing - Tips and tricks

December 19, 2019
Kontiki fishing - Tips and tricks

Retired Bay of Islands professional skipper, Graham Clifford, once caught gamefish weighing up to 1000 pounds. Fifty years later his greatest fishing pleasure is with beach longlining, where he is achieving enviable success. In the following notes he shares his how-to secrets…

It is my great good fortune to have fished for many years in the company of a tried and tested GFM (Guru Fishing Mate).

I owe him a debt of gratitude each time I stow my electric Kontiki away in my beach wagon, while my now set longline loads up with fish.

That he is a GFM is well known in local fishing circles, which is why another fisherman seeking answers visited him recently.

Explained this anxious fisho, “I have now lost six Kontikis, a total cost of nearly $10,000. Will you tell me how you work your retrieve system, while leaving the longline set?”

My GFM is always willing to share knowledge, if it is helpful and will be treated with respect. This is what he had to say…

How Kontikis are lost

Most beach longline fishos simply tie their line to the Kontiki and let it loose for the programmed duration. When the timer shuts off the electric motor, the Kontiki is left to bob about on the surface while the longline does its part of the deal, catching fish. This valuable flotsam is only retrieved when the line is hauled ashore and then only if nothing cuts the line while it is fishing.

Perhaps the caught fish will attract a shark. Perhaps, while demolishing one fish after another, the shark’s razor teeth will cut the backbone line. Three times I have lost traces and stoppers to sharks and, to be realistic, that is probably par for the course on some beaches. It can happen. It does happen. But if it happens while the Kontiki is drifting about at the end of the line, then that Kontiki will be cut loose.

Mine won’t though. Mine is in the back of my 4WD while my longline fishes on alone. And it can be left set for just as long as I choose. I have no hesitation in leaving it fishing for several hours when I am on an East coast beach. The rules for the West coast differ significantly - a longline on the West coast should be retrieved after only twenty to thirty minutes, as sharks are far more troublesome there.

A second retrieve line

So how do I get my expensive Kontiki ashore after separating it from the longline? The answer lies in a retrieve line; a second line on a second reel or powered winch.

I separate the two beach reels by thirty metres, applying a light drag to both. This drag ensures I don’t have dangerous overruns during the setting procedure. For the longline, I like to have the drag a bit firmer as I am often working alone.

The incoming force of the swell helps keep the autor's modified set-up in place on the back of the Kontiki.

The powerful Kontiki doesn’t even know there is a drag but the extra resistance is important because it keeps the longline attached to a short spike bolted to the underside, towards the rear. A 40-mm steel ring tied to the end of the longline slips over the spike while the drag of the line being hauled to seaward keeps it firmly in place. A 12-ounce lead weight (or the short length of chain I favour), which anchors the seaward end of the fishing line, adds to the drag effect, pulling at the rear of the Kontiki  and keeping everything in place.

When the tow ends after the designated time, the propellor stops turning and immediately the Kontiki is pulled backwards by the contracting stretch of the nylon line. It is when this is happening that the steel ring drops off the spike deploying the fishing line to the bottom, and hopefully the fish. Now all that is needed is to haul the Kontiki ashore and ten minutes or so later it is safe and sound on the beach.

Getting a set away?

Having set up the longline, the retrieve lines and tied the retrieve line securely to the Kontiki, I lay out ten or more size 20 longline hooks with traces on the sand, alongside the longline (my GFM favours size 18s).

They are spaced 150-mm apart. These are baited and each baited hook is then covered with a shallow spadeful of sand. Covering takes only seconds but is an essential seagull deterrent. It must be done properly because I will be away from the baits while I carry the Kontiki into the surf.  

With the baits are covered and the mystified seagulls are standing about watching and wondering, I walk out into the water carrying the Kontiki with its steel ring attached to the towing spike and both reels unwinding as I go.

Assuming everything is working as planned soon the line is heading seaward at a smart clip. Meanwhile, I have returned to the traces and baits and have are clipping them to the hook section of the line as it passes through my hands.  Soon the last breaker is breeched and the rest is plain sailing for the ten-minute tow, which is the duration I favour most.

Go smaller with bait My GFM has strong views about baits and bait sizes, which I am happy to share. In fishing each to their own is a fair catch cry but for those who follow my suggestions there will be substantial cost savings on bait and a likely increase in catch rates.

I fillet a scaled fresh mullet and cut from it up into 45 or 50 baits. These are approximately 25-mm long and 17-mm wide; smallish is the word.

Pass the hook through the individual baits only once, presenting a single bite for an average snapper. The only variation occurs when I salt spare baits before placing them on ice for the next evening’s set. Snapper seem to be very fond of both the fresh mullet and the salted version and good catches attest to the success of these baits.

Kahawai as bait also catches well and squid works okay and is good backstop if mullet cannot be sourced. Salted tuatuas (two to a hook) will also catch good snapper.

Other considerations If I were to go against my fishing instincts and do a daytime set on a bright day, I would certainly make a tow of fifteen or twenty minutes duration, seeking deeper water, but, as we all know if it’s a good day for a picnic, it is no good for fishing. I mostly set on the change of light at day’s end.

The rewards of beach longlining are good catches of fish, usually well over the minimum size limit, but never more than the lawful limit for the area chosen to fish in.

Shorter traces and smaller baits appear to key to Graham's consistent success at the beach.

It is essential to keep at least five hundred metres from another longline fisherman or seven hundred meters from someone who is kite fishing - a tangle with their line will surely spoil a day at the beach. However, just about anywhere on a surf beach will do, it does not seem to matter where the line is set, provided the wind is offshore and the surf low. Likewise, at the aforementioned time of day, a ten-minute tow by the Kontiki seems to catch as many fish as a twenty-minute tow, and of course, it takes less effort to retrieve the line and the fish.

I always take pleasure in releasing any by-catch fish for which I have no use. I believe it is morally wrong to kill any fish, which is not going to be used for dinner - I especially go to considerable lengths to release stingrays. I say, respect the sea, and the sea will respect you.

Naturally, I am always ready for a freak accident, such as a stingray’s poisonous barb in a hand or foot. If this happens, pour heated water over the wound and the excruciating pain will go away. Apparently the hot water neutralises the pain causing toxins.

Good for the soul

Spending time at a beach when the wind is offshore, the weather mild and settled and the surf low, makes longlining a pleasant pastime and is a delightful way to catch fish for friends and family.
The smell of wet sand, the rhythmic sound of the surf, the call of passing oystercatchers, all combine to make the experience something special.

The beach Kontiki could be the ultimate lifestyler's approach to catching dinner.

Yes, you have some expensive gear to finance up front but compare your investment with the cost of a small runabout, two outboard motors and a trailer, lifejackets, VHF radio, trailer WOFs and yearly registration fees plus the mechanical servicing of the motors. Your longlining gear suddenly seems very cost effective. When the first snapper begins to slide over the sand towards you, even more so.

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