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