Mas­ter the ba­sics

Catch­ing fish is not too dif­fi­cult if you get the fun­da­men­tals right.

Boating NZ - - The Catch - with JOHN EICHELSHEIM

Un­der­stand­ing of the habits of the fish you want to catch will greatly im­prove your fish­ing suc­cess. Many fish species pop­u­lar with recre­ational an­glers, like snap­per, ex­hibit a sea­sonal shift in lo­cal abun­dance: in more southerly parts of their range, snap­per dis­ap­pear com­pletely for sev­eral months in win­ter, while fur­ther north they gen­er­ally be­come less avail­able to an­glers as a pro­por­tion of the stock moves into deeper water.

Sea­sonal move­ments in­clude coastal mi­gra­tions, mi­gra­tions to and from deep water, and pelagic ocean wan­der­ers ar­riv­ing and depart­ing with ocean cur­rents. The sea is a very dy­namic place.

THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME

By con­cen­trat­ing your fish­ing ef­forts on pe­ri­ods of lo­cal fish abun­dance, you can ex­pect more con­sis­tent suc­cess. There’s lit­tle point fish­ing for yel­lowfin tuna or mahimahi in July, for in­stance.

Location is im­por­tant, too, and choos­ing where to fish is of­ten in­formed by the time of year. Some lo­ca­tions ex­pe­ri­ence sea­sonal ‘runs’ of fish at roughly the same time every year; tim­ing an­gling ef­forts with an in­flux of fish can re­sult in great fish­ing.

A good ex­am­ple is the spring snap­per run into the Hau­raki Gulf, Bay of Is­lands and other large shel­tered bays around north­ern New Zealand. For a few weeks, usu­ally be­tween late Septem­ber and early De­cem­ber, the fish­ing can be spectacular. They move around a lot, but favour the same gen­eral ar­eas every year. It’s sim­ply a mat­ter of get­ting the tim­ing right and, of course, lo­cat­ing the snap­per schools.

Even when the fish are not biting for what­ever rea­son – weather, moon phase, salin­ity or other causes known only to fish, you might still suc­ceed by stick­ing with the ba­sics and do­ing them well.

Sometimes you’ll ex­pe­ri­ence poor fish­ing be­cause you’ve missed the win­dow of op­por­tu­nity for a spe­cific location and fish are sim­ply not present in num­bers. But even then, good fish­ing prac­tice can of­ten re­sult in suc­cess: there may not be many fish to tempt, but if you fish in­tel­li­gently, you can sometimes catch them even when num­bers are low or few fish are keen to bite. CHANGE OF LIGHT One of the most con­sis­tent ways to im­prove fish­ing suc­cess at any time of year is to fish over the change of light. This is par­tic­u­larly true in shal­low water close to shore where low light con­di­tions con­sis­tently pro­duce bet­ter fish­ing. Over­cast con­di­tions can pro­duce good fish­ing all day long.

BAIT PRE­SEN­TA­TION

I’m of­ten amazed by what some an­glers ex­pect fish to eat. The rod and reel in your hands hardly mat­ter be­cause fish can’t see them, but they can cer­tainly see your ter­mi­nal tackle. Poor­lyp­re­sented baits or lures, thick traces and over-size hooks (and sinkers) only alert fish to the fact that some­thing isn’t right. If they are the least bit sus­pi­cious or wary, they will give such pre­sen­ta­tions a wide berth.

Old, spoiled or be­low par bait is a hand­i­cap. Fresh bait is al­ways bet­ter, but it still needs to be pre­sented in a way fish find at­trac­tive. Baits should be stream­lined and not too bulky or bunched on the hook.

While big baits are fine in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, fished on com­men­su­rately large hooks, al­ways try and match the bait size to the hook size. Small hooks and big baits or con­versely large hooks and small baits is not a recipe for suc­cess.

When stray-lin­ing, make an ef­fort to dis­guise/hide the hook(s) in­side the bait as much as pos­si­ble while still leav­ing the point and barb ex­posed to en­sure a clean hook-up.

If ledger fish­ing, avoid thread­ing/sewing cut baits onto the hook. Push­ing the hook point through the thick end of the bait once will let the bait waft about en­tic­ingly. Don’t use baits that are too big, ei­ther, be­cause ledger fish­ing works best with rel­a­tively small baits.

Change baits reg­u­larly. Nat­u­ral baits quickly lose their at­trac­tive­ness as oils and scent leach out into the water. Small fish, ‘pick­ers’, crabs, sea lice and other crea­tures of the seafloor can also re­duce even large baits in short order, so change old baits for fresh ones every 20 minutes or so.

LURE PRE­SEN­TA­TION

Pre­sen­ta­tion is dou­bly im­por­tant when you are fish­ing with lures, in­clud­ing soft baits, since scent plays a lesser role. Make sure the lure’s ac­tion isn’t af­fected by other com­po­nents of your tackle set-up: overly thick trace, a heavy main line or an over­sized snap-swivel; a hook or jig-head that’s too large, or per­haps too much or too lit­tle weight for the con­di­tions.

With soft plas­tics, make sure the plas­tic bait is threaded onto a jig head of ap­pro­pri­ate size and weight and done so cor­rectly. The bait should lie straight on the jig head; any twists or kinks will ren­der it less at­trac­tive to fish.

FISH WITH SUIT­ABLE TACKLE

Use tackle that’s suit­able for the fish you are try­ing to catch. There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to fish­ing gear. If you in­sist on us­ing thick, heavy line and a rod and reel that could eas­ily boat a big ha­puku or a king­fish to fish for snap­per, you shouldn’t be sur­prised if re­sults are poor.

Heavy line pre­vents sub­tle bait and lure pre­sen­ta­tions, has greater water re­sis­tance and so re­quires more weight to sink in the water, and it’s eas­ier for fish see and avoid. For its strength, braided PE line is much thin­ner than monofil­a­ment line, but the same still holds true: there’s lit­tle to be gained by us­ing 50-pound braid when 15lb braid will do the job, pre­sent­ing lures and baits much more nat­u­rally.

USE SHARP HOOKS

In a sim­i­lar vein, make sure your hooks are sharp. Most hooks sold across the counter these days are chem­i­cally sharp­ened and shouldn’t need tick­ling up with a stone or file, but not all hooks are equally fit for pur­pose.

Many of the cheaper hooks I have used ei­ther break eas­ily or suf­fer fail­ures: points roll over or break, hooks bend or straighten and most com­monly hook eyes are so poorly formed they dam­age the line or al­low it to slip out al­to­gether. Some cheap hooks are made of such soft steel it’s pos­si­ble to bend them straight with your fin­gers.

Hooks are one of the cheap­est tackle items you can buy, but it’s the hook that catches the fish, so it’s worth­while in­vest­ing in good-qual­ity prod­uct. You can’t re­ally go wrong with any of the es­tab­lished brands, but avoid dodgy on­line bar­gains and Trade Me spe­cials.

And while on the sub­ject of qual­ity, or lack thereof, be wary of su­per-cheap lures, es­pe­cially their hard­ware. It pays to re­place hooks and/or split rings that are ob­vi­ously too light or clearly of in­fe­rior qual­ity; it may even be nec­es­sary to do so with ex­pen­sive, high-qual­ity lures de­signed for less de­mand­ing fish­ing con­di­tions. BNZ

BE­LOW Brett Pat­ter­son used a sub­tle pre­sen­ta­tion to fool this big snap­per in shal­low water.

RIGHT Peter El­liott with a typ­i­cal in­ner Hau­raki Gulf king­fish. King­fish like this one are much more abun­dant dur­ing sum­mer and there­fore eas­ier to catch.

ABOVE LEFT A whole pilchard bait with the hooks well con­cealed but the points and barbs ex­posed for a clean hook-up. ABOVE Use small, com­pact baits on ledger rigs, in­clud­ing flash­ers. OP­PO­SITE Berley brings fish on the bite. Try chunk­ing with fish pieces.

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