Cap’t Swish shows you how to explore all your summer options
All too often we head out on the water overly focussed on an instant outcome; time is always short after all. But come the holidays, we can kick back and enjoy the whole day with no pressure to be back at any particular time. It’s times like these I like to try new things out, such as catching my bait, live baiting for kingfish or John dory, or gathering a feed of pipis.
Having spent many Xmas holidays at Whananaki on the east Northland coast, I found over the years catching your own bait is a better option than using frozen. ‘Fresh is always best’, plus it’s a great way of keeping yourself and the kids entertained. Wherever I go for a holiday I make a point to take a walk along the beach at low tide in ankle deep water, to see if there are pipis, cockles or even tuatuas below the sand - not only the natural food of snapper but also great eating and the key ingredient for my secret berley.
With a supply of fresh sprats and piper and shellfish, I chop up a pile of bait fish into small pieces while steaming the pipis - half to eat and half for bait. The ones I will use for
ground bait I leave in the shell putting them into the bucket with the ground bait to suck up the juices, which adds more scent when tossed in the water. I also add to the mix any old bread, fish frames [broken up] along with fish oil all of which will disperse in different ways as it sinks helping to give as big as coverage of the target area you are fishing as possible.
The reasons for leaving the pipis in the shell is they sink more quickly, plus snapper need to be more aggressive when extracting the meat which attracts other snapper close by.
Fish your feet
Fishing from or close to the shore is where the term ‘fish your feet’ comes from. This is where the yearlong food
source is and very often over the summer months targeting fish where they naturally feed will be more productive than heading off over the horizon.
Fishing from a boat close in to a popular beach in very shallow water may seem a bit odd and most people would never think of trying it. But I can assure you, more times than not, after only a few hours I have come back to the ramp with all the fish I need. You just need to approach it the right way.
Walk the legnth of the beach at low tide, in ankle deep water, to gather bait. As you are collecting shell fish look around in the shallow water for signs of bait fish such as pier and sprats, as
well as for holes in the sand as these will have been made by snapper coming in to feed on the shellfish. When all the signs are there you not only know where to target the snapper, you also have shellfish for the table and berley.
The best time to target areas like this is on a rising tide at the change of light, either early dawn or late dusk when the fish come in to feed with the tide. If you’re fishing on an outgoing tide you need to anchor further out in slightly deeper water as the fish will move back deeper as the tide drops.
On more remote beaches where there might be a bit of a ground swell or surf, so long as the conditions allow you to safely anchor and fish, I anchor the boat in a position which allows me to cast the baits so they land just where the waves start to form off the beach.
With a supply of fresh sprats and piper and shellfish, I chop up a pile of bait fish into small pieces while steaming the pipis - half to eat and half for bait
As the waves crash on a beach the sand is churned up on the bottom exposing the worms and shellfish.
Lining up the land marks on the part of the beach you wish to fish, go down current a few hundred meters and start tossing a bit of ground bait /shellfish berly mixture over the side every twenty metres or so. This provides a wide area of pre laid berley to attract the fish. You still need to add to the berly trail to maximise its effect with a consistent flow as it will slowly be taken by the current to the same target zone of the pre laid shellfish berley.
When fishing in only a few meters of water there may be little current so it is imperative you cast your baits as far back from the boat into the berley trail as possible. Straylining is best as ledger or running rigs do not work in shallow water. Fishing so shallow, often only 2-3 meters deep, means you will not need a sinker unless you are close to an estuary or headland where there will be current. If needed, a ¼ oz sinker will get the bait down to the bottom. The more natural looking a bait that slowly floats down and drift salong the bottom, the more likely it is to be eaten.
Until the fish really come on the bite, use smaller baits then up-size to a whole piper or butterflied sprat or Jack mackerel. Slowly the snapper will be drawn by the berley towards the boat so you need to be casting one of the baits directly behind the boat and the other out at a different angle. The reason for this technique is to allow for the long-shore current to drag the bait slowly parallel to the beach.
Beware the big fish
By keeping the tips of the rods down low and pointing them in the direction of the mono in the water you will be able to easily see any line movement and feel every bite. When a fish has picked up a bait and the line has come up tight on the reel, strike hard and keep the rod tip high so the fish can’t spit the hook. In very shallow water big fish put up a hell of a fight and all the commotion will actually attract other fish close by. As they arrive they will find the opened pipis and ground bait, assume the big fish's activity has caused this bounty of food and stay in the area to feed.
A berley trail will also attract bait fish to the boat and it’s worth catching them as even though you are in shallow water close to a beach, predators such as kingfish and John dory are likely to turn up given enough time. Most of the big (10kg plus) snapper and kingfish I have caught in my life have come from less than three meters of water, just off local beaches and in places where you never think big fish would be.
Trying out new tactics in different surroundings will often result in some of the most rewarding fishing experiences you get in life. As good as it is to head over the horizon out to sea, just sitting close to shore with family and friends, watching the sunset with a few nice snapper in the fish bin is what life’s all about.