One of the most rewarding fishing styles for me is catching big snapper in front of crashing swell and white water.
When you hook up in this shallow water, they really charge off with everything they have got, and there’s not a lot of line dragging on them, so some of the scraps that develop will have your adrenaline pumping for quite some time.
Plus, there’s always the challenge of being busted off in the mix just to add that sense of tension during the fight, and reward if you are ultimately successful.
Our good friends the Aussies have always been several years ahead of us in fishing soft baits, and developing products and techniques.
We can certainly learn a lot from their experience and apply it to our own fishery, as their snapper species are virtually identical and smash soft baits in the wash with equal enthusiasm.
Modelling off the example set by my Australian friends, I’ve developed my own style and discovered a few key learnings to get the most out of this method of fishing.
It gives me great pleasure to share with you the techniques I have developed and the gear I use to ensure you get the most out of this extremely addictive fishing style that works really well in New Zealand inshore waters.
Here is what we will cover in this article, make sure you also watch the video above for a bit more detail and some action!
1. What is wash fishing?
2. Why catch and release is important
3. Where to find the fish
4. The best rod and reel setups
5. Braid and fluorocarbon recommendations
6. The best casting method for catching big snapper
7. The best lures to use
8. 10 Tips and techniques to help you
What is wash fishing?
Firstly: Well, what is wash?
Wash, occurs when the swell causes waves to crash and break over rock faces that may be rocks out at sea, or simply land based terrain.
Upon impacting the natural barrier to its tidal movement, the resulting force of water has to go somewhere, so it generally explodes into foam and splashes, or drapes the entire rock with a mini tidal wave force.
This force will usually dislodge all sorts of plant and animal life that clings on here to live, including crustaceans, small fish sheltering, shrimp, or even pieces of seaweed and dead fish scraps that have been washed ashore.
It’s a dinner bell to a lot of popular species such as snapper, kingfish, john dory, kahawai, trevally, and a surprising number of other fish, looking for the easy feed knocked off the rocks.
Wash fishing, therefore, comprises casting your favourite soft bait into the “wash” which is typically in front of a rock face with lots of foul and kelp on a coastline or an island (or behind a rock: See video for details) to imitate a poor old baitfish that has been washed out of its shelter ready to be eaten.
The basic technique
Fishing the wash means putting your craft, be it a kayak, inflatable, jet-ski such as I use, or smaller boat up pretty tight to shallow rocky areas, and certainly carries a risk. Be sure and follow the safety tips outlined further in this article.
It might not be the game for bigger boats, in most areas that have good wash, unless the skipper is confident and diligent at the wheel.
The technique is not far off normal soft baiting, you are essentially casting a very lightly weighted, soft bait body into the zone and maintaining a connection with it waiting for the strike.
Where there are some key differences:
Firstly: The rig is designed to sink as slowly as possible, so rather than using traditional jig heads, use a lightly weighted worm hook. You want the lure to tumble in the wash, not jet straight into the rocks.
Secondly: Worm hooks rigged ‘weedless’ means you can cast with confidence into weedy snag infested zones and have a much easier time retrieving a lure through a myriad of obstacles the fish are using for cover, that would otherwise instantly snag a traditional exposed jig hook.
Once you have located your likely looking wash area. Cruise up quietly, cast into the white water and get ready.
Use slow twitching retrieves back through the wash towards your craft and then, try try again. It involves a lot of casting and active fishing, but that’s half the fun. After a while, like trout fishing, you’ll develop an eye for where the fish are holding and how to get your lure best to them.
Catch and Release
It’s important to acknowledge that the fish you are likely to catch using this method, particularly snapper, are not the annual schooling fish, but are resident fish that live in the area year-round. They are therefore critical to the ecosystem of the reef and important to maintain balance, and of course, breed future generations.
I believe it’s really important to keep this balance as best possible, and I’m all for taking a feed home, but big snapper, or fish caught when I already have enough go back into the sea.
One of the many benefits of wash fishing the shallows is the ability to safely release snapper unharmed and ready to fight another day, as they have not been blown by barotrauma and will swim away happily having been hooked in the mouth.
Call me a big softie however I firmly believe the “Kelpie” fish are more beautiful and have more personality than a common old “schoolie” and should be released to continue breeding.
I like to always ensure enough time left in the schedule (either before you hit the wash or after) to nip out wider or stop along the way, and pick up a few of the numerous “schoolies” that frequent our beautiful coastline so you go home with something to eat. With soft baits this is usually very easy and there is then zero pressure to take a kelpie from their permanent home.
Here are 10 tips that will help you succeed and make the experience more enjoyable.
Tip No 1
Find likely areas on Google Earth first.
Google Earth shows the wash very easily and I love being able to scope out likely destinations first, prior to launching.
I find using this method gives you a firm plan when you set off from the ramp which for me always seems to work the best.
The second way is to drive and observe the whitewash from your vessel.
Tip No 2
Use weighted weedless jig heads
After losing way too much gear to snags in New Zealand (as I tried to master wash fishing) I thought I would give the Aussie style a try here. The results for me personally have been outstanding and more often than not I am just 15 minutes from the boat ramp.
I learned (stole) this from the Aussies fisherman in far North Queensland. These dudes fish the snags in the many estuaries and contributories for massive Barramundi and ferocious mangrove jacks. They are also very skilled at keeping out of the way of big crocs!
I can watch these guys casting all day, it’s mesmerising to say the least.
The jig heads I prefer (disclaimer: and sell) have a steel coil at the front that screws into the soft bait. The coil holds all brands of soft baits extremely well and won’t damage the lure if you want to remove it and change out colours. Simply unscrew the coil spring and you are good to go and so is the soft bait for next time. (Great for Gulp soft baits.)
You can find the products from Peeex Fishing HERE:
Tip No 3
This is very much a game of casting repeatedly and waiting to get a hook up on the drop. So casting is mission critical to success and the more you do the better aim and placement you will have. You don’t need to worry about getting snagged so just keep on casting. You dig?
Tip No 4
Catch them on the drop
Almost ALL of the big snapper I have caught have woofed the soft bait mid water or very soon after it hits and starts to float down so always be prepared for catching fish on the drop.
They hit very hard and take off like a freight train (usually straight towards you or at a diagonal). Your morning can go from 20 casts without a touch to being nailed by a steam roller in seconds. This is one of the reasons I love this style of fishing.
Tip No 5
Work the area
“Work the wall” as they say, in other words move along your spots and cast every few metres, ensuring you fish all the wall progressively.
This ensures you can move on knowing you have fished efficiently and if you have not hooked then either there were no fish there, or they were reading the newspaper and missed your well-presented lure.
Tip No 6
Don’t let the soft bait linger.
No matter what brand of soft plastic you are using, leaving it to linger in the rocks or kelp typically ends up with baits being eaten by leather jacket and ending up twisted and half eaten on the jig head.
Either way is not productive to catching those dream snapper so at the risk of repeating myself it's all about the casting so you know what to do. Rinse and Repeat!
Tip No 7
Change colours if you are not getting any action
If you are not getting any bites, hookups or any action then change colours. I usually go between a bright colour (my favourite being the Gulp Pink Shine in Crazy Legs) and a bait replica such as Sapphire Shine) New Penny is also a favourite.
Try grubs, paddle tails, jerk shads and so on and keep mixing it up.
Tip No 8
Have a driver if possible, the swells can sneak up on you so having a driver will keep you all safe. Take turns at fishing and everyone wins. Leave you motor running for a quick exit, the noise around the wash and all the commotion means engine noise is pretty irrelevant and does not seem to spook the fish.
Watch your sounder for unexpected rocks and check a navionics chart if unfamiliar with the area.
If on a jetski keep the motor running and be careful if you are attached to a tether. Turning away to grab a net or similar can pull the tether and cut the engine which can lead to you being up on the rocks. I take my tether off when wash fishing to avoid this.
Tip No 9
Sit on a drop off
This one was given to me by a Kayak fisherman. If there is a ledge in front of the rocks, sit behind the ledge so you are directly on top of the drop off and drop your lure straight down. He assured me he has hooked some monsters with this technique.
Tip No 10
You’re in a high risk zone for snags, even with weedless hooks.
Breaking off occasionally is a reality, so carry spare rigged rods or be prepared to pull away and re-rig with plenty of spare line and leader on board.
If you do manage to get snagged, more often than not you will not be snagged in the traditional sense ie the hook caught on something, but rather you could be jammed into between rocks or line wrapped, which means you can pull the lure out at a different angle sometimes if it is safe to do so.
The gear, lures and rigs
I use a 2500 reel with a smooth efficient drag system (My choice is the 2500 Daiwa Certate or the 2500 Daiwa Morethan) however whatever you have will be fine as long as your drag is smooth. If your drag is a bit lumpy then upgrade to carbontex drag washers and enjoy the difference.
Make sure you have plenty of flex in the tip for casting and a good strong butt section to put some hurt on the fish when required.
My rod is custom made and perfectly suited for the purpose. It is made by the master at Klabs (Kevin Boyles) who is not only a bloody good bloke but a skilled rod maker.
Use what you have now to start with and when the passion develops (which it will) go see Kevin!
Braid and Fluorocarbon
Use the best quality your budget allows. I recommend a 16-20lb braid and a 30lb fluorocarbon both of which you try to get as thin as your budget allows. I use Duel 30lb fluorocarbon which is super thin and very tough and Varivas 16lb braid which is also very thin.
The Jig Heads.
My preference is a weighted weedless jig head that uses a thin metal construction (Check out my website if you can’t find them in a shop)
I do not use thick heavy duty metal hooks as I don’t want the fish to have “bling” for the rest of its life if it gets the better of me.
I want the hook to rust out as quickly as possible and not inconvenience the fish.
The Heavy Duty thick stainless hooks I see in most retailers are a big no-no for me.
If I catch a large snapper and the jighead is damaged in the process, I just use another one.
It’s a few dollars and the aim is not to see how many fish you can catch on one jig head, but rather catch and release beautiful fish and do as little damage as possible.
The soft bait
Just use your favourite colour, size and lure brand to start with. If you are starting out and looking for advice on what to buy then get a bright colour and a bait styled colour.
Start with 5 “or 4” and have a range of colours on board so you can swap out when needed.
I have caught fish on all lure styles, i.e jerkshad, grub, paddle tail, bright colours and bait colours.
There are no insider secrets here and everybody has their favourite colour.
Where to find the fish.
The video embedded into this article covers this in detail, so be sure and check it out if you have made it this far and are interested!
There’s plenty of diagrams and live examples, however, in summary the fish are found just in front of the white water ie in the wash.
As you will see in the video the other area to find them is behind a large rock that has swell smashing up against it on one side and you and the fish are on the opposite side.
Both are shown in the video.
Fish congregate in these areas because,
A: They live here
B: The food they eat is usually floating around after being broken up or washed up in…you guessed it, The Wash!
I hope you got something out of this article and it has inspired you to give wash fishing a try.
Feel free to hit me up on Instagram @peeex_fishing if you have further questions.
Be safe out there when fishing close to rocks, watch out for the swells and take care.
Weighted weedless jig heads available on www.peeex.co.nz
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