Big Snapper Off The Rocks III – Rockfishing in Johnson’s Bay

The Great Barrier Island Sports & Social Club was holding one of its annual fishing competitions this Friday and Saturday. I bought a ticket and entered the competition just like last year, planning to fish off the rocks and catching the big one. Last year I ended up landing three snapper at the light house in Tryphena (click to read the story), none of which were worthy of an official weigh in. I was expecting my top mate, The Hanimal, on the Island on Friday, after his flight was canceled on Thursday due to heavy fog in Auckland. Unfortunately, the same thing occurred on Friday and he couldn’t come over. I was gutted about that and cleaned and prepared my fishing gear instead. Once that was all done with, it was around noon, I decided to drive down to Oruawharo Bay and give it a go. This was the first day of the fishing comp. We were having big tides and there was a bit of a south-easterly swell present. I walked – with Rani and all the gear – around the point to my spot and decided to leave before even casting out one bait. Although the tide was almost completely out and although it didn’t really look that dangerous, I felt uncomfortable standing out there since some of the bigger rollers swamped the ledge every now and then. 

John Lennan, one of the most prolific and experienced fishermanmen (he is quite humorous too) on the Island, had told me that him and the crew were fishing at Johnson’s Bay (Cape Barrier). John won last year’s competition and landed the winning fish (he couldn’t recall the exact weight, but noted that it was bigger than 16 pound) in Johnson’s Bay. I was keen as to hook up with the boys and to hopefully learn a couple new tricks.

I got up on Saturday morning at 0400, a bit earlier than I wanted, and dozed off again for half an hour before Momo the cat came into the bed. He seemed pretty eager, watching the wall. 10 minutes later he leaped off the bed and found his way between the wall and I heard him catch something. Clearly, it was time for me to get up. I looked at Momo, he had a big rat in his mouth, and thought to myself: ‘Momo got a big one, let’s see if I can catch one, too.’Good on Momo the cat, he catches them all.

Rani and I arrived at the car park on the way to Cape Barrier at around 6-ish and walked down to Johnson’s Bay. It was obviously dark and the track was a bit muddy, but with a three-quarter moon above us, there was no need for a torch. It’s about a 10 minute walk from the car park to Johnson’s Bay. I noticed a big fire on the beach and walked towards it. Once I got closer, I recognized John – sitting by the fire and holding his surf-casting rod – and his mate Travis sleeping by the fire. There was a third person (Josh) about 20 meters further down the beach fishing. John and I started talking, they got into the Bay on Friday at 2 in the morning! They ‘camped’ out by the fire on the rocks. That’s serious, dedicated fishermen for you! We started talking fish and I started getting really comfortable next to that big bonfire. I thought to myself, once daylight breaks, I’ll start walking towards the southern point of the bay because that’s what I usually do. Go to a bay and walk to one of the points. But then again, the boys were fishing right in the bay and had landed a few fish between 8-13 pounds.

It was around 7 o’clock when I finally had a bait on. I had a bag of pilchards which were purchased the day before, so they were a bit soggy. Halfway through the first cast, the hooks ripped out of the bait and the pilchard landed only a shy 2-3 meters into the water. I looked around me, no one had seen it. Second cast, same thing happened again. I looked around me, this time everyone saw what happened. I didn’t hear anyone laugh, but surely, they must have been giggling…John is a real good fella and he immediately offered me one of his 14 foot surfcasters. ‘Ben, take one of the big rods, you can cast out further.’ My two-piece rod is 8.6 feet long; I’d really like a 10 foot rod, but honestly I’m not too keen on the big three-piece surfcasting rods.

‘Thanks John, I’ll give it another go with this one, for now anyway’, I replied. This time, instead of a saggy pilchard, I baited up with a nice, heavy bit of octopus, which my mate found last week and which I had salted down since. This piece of bait was firm, no chance of the hooks ripping out, and heavy, ideal combination for a strong cast. To my (big) surprise, the bait got taken a few moments later. A fish was pulling line out, I closed the drag half a notch, line was still being taken out and I kept the rod tip high and played the fish. A couple minutes later and I landed a nice snapper. I learned a few things today, one of which is that from now on, I will through a few pieces of baits without hooks into the water first and then flick a hooked bait in. My theory, this is after gutting the snapper and realizing it had two pilchards in its stomach, is that when there is a big moocher close by, it pays to get him all excited with a few bite-sized, un-hooked baits because he will feed more aggressively afterwards. I think this will increase your hookup rate. If the first bait you present is hooked, now this is your first bait of the day and you don’t necessarily expect to land a big fish with that, do you?, you run the risk that a bigger fish checks it out, perhaps even grabs it slowly, and you don’t get a successful hookup. You might end up spooking the fish away. However, feeding it with a few un-hooked baits will get the bigger fish really excited and it will feel safe and secure, and more importantly hungry for more.

First proper bait in the water and I end up landing a long and skinny snapper weighing at just over 4 kg (9 pound). I estimated it at less than 10 pound.

I squashed the soggy pilchards into little cubes and ‘ground-baited’ the water in front of me, and landed another snapper with the second cast. Wow, it was going really well, so I cast out another big piece of octopus and fished close in with my bait rod. Boom, boom and boom, there were small kahawai everywhere. Certainly, I can get used to fishing like this. Within 30 minutes I had 6-7 live kahawai in a bucket and two snapper.

Two solid snapper and lots of small kahawai within 30 minutes of fishing.

By the way, John and the boys were landing fish too. She was all on!, for about an hour and then she was all off. I tried pretty much everything. Ground baiting more, casting pilchards, butterflied kahawai, kahawai head with bloody guts, octopus. I had just one more take, but reacted too slow and didn’t get a hook up. We fished for another four hours, I cooked and ate a couple of kahawai on the fire, Travis cooked a fillet of snapper, we joked and talked fish, but the action was gone and nothing serious got caught. I thought about weighing my fish in officially at the club premises, but John had a snapper around 13 pound that he caught the night before and a few fish just under 9 pound, and I was also sure that others caught similar and bigger fish. So, instead of driving all the way down to the club, weighing and thus giving my fish away, spending some money on drinks, I decided to drive home, have a bath and cook a big feed. A bit boring and now that the day is over and I’m sitting here, I’d much rather be in the club talking to the like-minded ‘fishos’ and sharing a couple of beers. I don’t even know who won the competition. However, such is life when you have to watch and live by the old budget…

Back at the car park. Rabbit Island on a beautiful winter day.
The boys had a big fire going to keep them warm at night. Yes, they slept on the rocks.
My dinner. Smoked snapper head and wings.

3 thoughts on “Big Snapper Off The Rocks III – Rockfishing in Johnson’s Bay”

  1. Another post, another snapper! So what was the winning fish? And so calm again, you’re being spoilt with the fishing this Winter mate, that’s for sure. Paul xxxxx

    1. Heya Paul, winning fish was 9.5 kg, 2nd and third in the 7 kg region. Yeah, we had some really good, calm days. It has been a bit ugly, lots of rain. Quite muddy up here and yeah, wet. Yeah, fishing is good, gotta do it more often though… B

  2. Come on Behney! Not enough blogging going on here! And the daily pics died a death in May! Keep it up man, you have some fans missing your posts I reckon! Paul xxxxx

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