I woke up a few minutes before my alarm was about to go off (25-03-2014; 0530), a sign of getting old and perhaps anticipation of productive fishing. It was of course still dark and it took about 30 minutes to get the morning chores done. Feeding the animals, digging a hole, packing my fishing gear and watering the gardens.
While riding down the drive way on the quad, struggling to hold the torch, the bucket and the gaff in one hand and steering with the other one, I appreciated that it was a warm morning and that it wasn’t raining.
It was still dark when I arrived at the bay I intended to fish. Walking to the headlands of it takes about 30 minutes, but the rocks were slippery, so I walked both slowly and carefully. It started raining.
We reached the only spot on this route where Rani, the dog, requires a lift. As usual, she made a heck of a deal about it, always worrying that I’ll drop her… Well, we managed, again. The shower retreated and there was enough natural light available now to see where I was going.
I rigged two rods, then deployed the burley. It was just after 0700 (low tide was about 0800), the sea was moderate, no real swell, but a lot of wash hitting the rocks, my shoes were already wet, but at least the winds were slight.
The (small) snapper were immediately and aggressively on the bite. It was quite difficult to see what was going on in the water at my feet, too much wash and too little light to use my polarized shades.
I hooked a kahawai, well, whatever took the pilchard did so at the surface and fought in a zig-zag motion. I briefly saw the kahawai, it was too big to be deployed as a live-bait and while I was wondering what to do, the hook pulled and the kahawai went on its way. Hmmm, not good.
I wasn’t too worried though, in spite of going through the bag of pilchards really quickly. Those small snapper attacked the baits aggressively and ripped it to pieces in no time. How was I going to catch a decent live bait or a decent fish for the table?; at this rate, I’d run out of bait in 30 or so minutes. What I needed was a kahawai, either small enough to be sent out again or to cut up and use for bait.
The next kahawai was even bigger but I landed this one, and then another. They were both in rock pools while I continued casting half-pilchards out. I landed two snapper just shy of 40 cm. Okay, I had enough for a feed and fresh bait.
At about dead low tide, the fishing was still great. There were plenty kahawai around. I pulled on the berley rope, releasing more solids out of the berley pot and threw cubed pieces of pilchards into the water right at my feet. This kept the kahawai busy, and allowed my hooked bait to sink further down, where the snapper were feeding.
So where is the big snapper?, I was thinking. The conditions were almost perfect:
Great spot, burleyed hard into the last hour of the outgoing tide, early in the morning, later on today, we were expecting rough seas and 35 knots of south westerlies and perhaps most importantly, I’m fishing off the rocks on Great Barrier Island.
I mean common, there was at least one big snapper in my vicinity, I was sure of it! I continued cubing the remainder of the pilchards; a technique to get the bigger fish, that are feeding in the background, right up close to the rocks.
I cast half a pilchard into that stream of burley and bait pieces and kabooom, it was taken almost instantly. There was a bit of a pull, I felt a good amount of weight, but no real fight. Hmmm, what was going on? I fought what must have been a snapper, feeling how it tried to turn its head repeatedly to dive down, turned the drag up a notch and when I was retrieving enough line, I decreased it again (I find decreasing drag can be as important as increasing it).
I saw the colours of a 10 pound plus snapper, perhaps a meter deep and four meters away. The fish had clearly given up, it was gut-hooked. I reeled it onto the foul on the rocks and a small wave brought it up enough, so I could grab it through the gill plate. Not a good thing to do if you intend to release a fish, but arguably the surest way to land a fish. The next step is to take the fish higher onto the rocks, high enough that should I drop it for whatever reason, it cannot bounce its way back into the water.
0830, mission accomplished. It was almost too easy really. I killed the snapper and sat down, enjoying. Enjoying the fish, the fact that I did everything right, from picking the day to actually getting myself out there. Enjoying the fact that I did not curse at the shower, the slippery rocks, getting up early and driving a quad partly three hands ….
I released two of the three kahawai that were in the rock pool and all other snapper. Called my mate: “… got a decent kahawai here for you.”
Hey, I forgot to mention that there were massive piper in the burley trail and that I saw one kingi (75 cm +). So yeah, there was plenty of potential action there.
Here is my recipe for Big Snapper Off The Rocks:
* Gear: 30 pound main line, at least 60 lbs leader, two hooked rig (snood and uni knot about 10 cm apart), tiny or no sinker at all, by tiny I mean a split shot. Saying that, sometimes I use a half to full ounce sinker so that the bait can sink quickly and actually reach the bottom. Therefore, decreasing the chance of it being taken by a kahawai or small snapper. Another way to avoid this, is to feed the kahawai with unhooked baits at your feet and while they are busy, cast out further.
* Spot: Somewhere where people (ideally yourself) have seen or landed big snapper. Current is good, deep water, too, but not essential. I’m not much of a surfcaster and tend to fish the ledges on the headlands of the bays. If you have to climb down to the ledge, take time to get an overview of the water from above. Locate the foul, structures, sand etc.
* Timing: Land based fishing is often about low tide, partly due to access, partly for safety reasons. Therefore, I don’t even care about bite-times anymore. Listen to forecast instead, strong current, big tides are good indicators. Right after, right before and even during strong seas, the snapper will be feeding aggressively up close. I particularly like the low tide at about dawn. Good time to catch a big snapper or kingfish, but also great because when you’re done fishing, it is still early in the morning and you can get other things done that day. Another hint. Get up early and find the time (even if only a couple of hours) to go fishing when conditions are great. A common mistake is to go fishing, and spend huge amounts of time baking on the rocks, when you actually have the time but conditions are not in your favour.
* Bait, Burley: If you can, take frozen pilchards and squid. The latter will last much longer on the hook. Try to catch a kahawai and use it as fresh, dead bite. Conditions permitting, catch piper for same reasons. Yes, burley, this brings the fish up close. Fishing doesn’t have to be a chance-game, when you have heaps of action up close, there will be bigger snapper in the background, get them closer by cutting bait intro strips and throwing them into the water.
* Fish two rods: Two rods with different hook sizes is really important. Have them right next to you, often you get snagged and lose the rig, then you see that perfect size kahawai in the burley trail and have no means to catch it. Two rods also means, you can cast a kahawai head out far and fish your feet with the other. Kingfish will come so close, almost touching the rocks.
* Where to cast: This is a difficult one. In general, people with the least amount of knowledge about fishing will catch the biggest fish. Why?, you ask. It’s not a female thing, I deduced over the years. It’s a matter of inexperienced anglers not being able to cast out far. Often the big fish are right at your feet, next to the burley pot, so do keep looking at the water. You’ll be surprised how often you see a kingi. You might think a particular spot is shit, because you haven’t caught anything there, but that doesn’t mean there were no big fish… Big and heavy baits, like a kahawai head, I like to cast out far and allow them to sink to the bottom. Put the rod in a rod-holder, if it doesn’t get hit, you’re probably already snagged, or it will be hit later. One thing to avoid is to cast all day into the same spot. I do see people not changing things up at all.
* Fighting a good fish: If you are losing more line than retrieving, increase the drag. Keep doing this until you feel that you are actually fighting the fish and it is not simply spooling you. Yes, something might break, but what is an alternative option? The further the fish gets away on you the greater the likelihood of losing it anyway. You want to turn the head of the fish, otherwise it will just dive further down and into the foul or around structures. However, be cautious about that heavy drag. Once the fish is tired, there is absolutely no reason to maintain such a drag, which means too much force on hook, line and knots, especially but if the fish is lightly hooked, you might rip the hook out. Therefore, decrease the drag when on the winning side of playing a fish.
* Landing fish: Have a net and/or gaff in reach. If you have to sort your stuff out while on a big fish, you just increase the likelihood of losing it. Stay calm when the fish has given up and close to the rocks. If it is gut-hooked, chances are high that the leader will break if you lift the fish by the leader. Grabbing a fish and holding onto it is not an easy task, you will drop the fish! Use the waves to bring it up high and when the gaff/net is not useful or handy, grab it under gill plates. Be especially mindful if gut-hooked, you might get hooked, too. Walk high onto the rocks with the fish! It is so easy to lose a fish, once it kicks its tail, once getting spiked or almost bitten. A solid fish, dropped from a meter onto sharp rocks, will hurt and slap frantically. This will lead to the fish bouncing back into the water or slip into a crevasse between rocks. In both cases you will lose the fish and it won’t survive. What a shame…
* Taking fish home: If you’ve planned all of the above, you should of course have a means to carry the fish out. If you only have a tiny back pack, no heavy duty plastic bag, no rope, how the hell are you going to catch your precious fish back? Keeping fish alive in rock pools is the way to go. Often you catch a big moocher on the last cast and you’d like to be able to release unwanted fish. In addition, they will keep in good condition.
* Lastly: For the love of God, especially when fishing with others, stop cursing and complaining all the time. Just shut up and concentrate on the fishing. Land Based Fishing can be challenging, step up to the challenge rather than complaining about it. Things can change in an instant…