A u au

Ever won­dered what to do on a chilly win­ter with not a breath of wind, the fog is just lift­ing, and ev­ery­one in the house is still tucked up in bed, so you’re not al­lowed to do any chores in case you wake them up? Ben Fran­cis reck­ons he has the an­swer: sn

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How­ever, get­ting the boat hitched up and the gear loaded can be noisy too, so a lit­tle for­ward plan­ning is needed (per­haps the night be­fore?) if you are to take ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­nity.

I have fished the west coast since I was a wee tacker, start­ing with in­ner har­bour fish­ing from a 14-foot Fyran with my par­ents; some of my most mem­o­rable fish­ing trips are from those early days. Since then I’ve man­aged to work my way up to a more sub­stan­tial rig and have made hun­dreds of cross­ings through the no­to­ri­ous Manukau Bar, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some in­cred­i­ble fish­ing in the process.

So, with that bit of back­ground about me and my fish­ing re­vealed, it’s fairly ob­vi­ous fish­ing has played a big part in my life, and sees me out on the wa­ter at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.

I there­fore can­not un­der­stand why so many peo­ple pack away their gear and cover up their boats for the win­ter – this is a for­eign con­cept to me, and prompted me to write this ar­ti­cle (and its se­quel), which will fo­cus on win­ter bot­tom fish­ing over the bar, and in­side the Manukau Har­bour, re­spec­tively.

The west coast is an in­ter­est­ing place, with un­touched shore­lines that boast in­cred­i­ble na­tive bush and scenery. For­tu­nately, it is the coast’s rugged na­ture that serves as a mod­er­a­tor for those who might po­ten­tially ham­mer the fish stocks. The area and con­di­tions cer­tainly de­mand re­spect, and the op­por­tu­ni­ties to head out over the Manukau Bar are limited all year round, but es­pe­cially dur­ing win­ter. How­ever, when the op­por­tu­nity presents it­self, your ef­forts can be hand­somely re­warded.

I won’t cover the lo­gis­tics of cross­ing the Manukau Bar in this piece, other than to say it re­quires prepa­ra­tion and con­sul­ta­tion with ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple who un­der­stand the dy­nam­ics of the area. Safety is para­mount and no risks should be taken. No fish is worth your life!

Once you have made your bar cross­ing and you’re out into the Tas­man Sea, where do you go? This is a good ques­tion and one that I am of­ten asked by those who haven’t fished the area be­fore – or have, but with­out much suc­cess. The thing with the coast off the Manukau is that struc­ture is very hard to come by, so the ma­jor­ity of the fish­ing takes place over a fea­ture­less, silty and sandy bot­tom.

This makes spe­cific spots dif­fi­cult to pin­point, lead­ing to lo­cal fish­ers work­ing par­tic­u­lar depths rather than a spe­cific spot. For ex­am­ple, dur­ing the win­ter months the fish tend to move out to deeper wa­ter, so I per­son­ally fish any­where be­tween the 40m and 70m con­tours.

Once the depth range has been de­ter­mined, the next de­ci­sion is whether to go north or south of the bar. This is a per­sonal choice, so ask any lo­cal and chances are you’ll get dif­fer­ent opin­ions. Hav­ing said that, if head­ing south seems more sen­si­ble – es­pe­cially if us­ing the South Chan­nel to exit the har­bour – com­mon ar­eas where peo­ple tend to fo­cus their ef­forts in­clude Hamil­tons

Gap and Cochranes Gap. Per­son­ally, I tend to fish north of the bar and fo­cus my ef­forts any­where be­tween Whatipu and Piha; there are some lit­tle bits of low-ly­ing struc­ture along this stretch of the coast, though they’re very dif­fi­cult to find.

At this point I want to point out some­thing that catches out many fish­er­men on the West Coast: the KISS prin­ci­ple. Keep It Sim­ple, Stupid! Keep­ing things ba­sic is an im­por­tant com­po­nent of my fish­ing; many of the peo­ple who come out with me have com­mented on the sim­plic­ity of the meth­ods we use. I’ve de­vel­oped this phi­los­o­phy af­ter a few years of be­ing able to fish the coast a cou­ple of times a week (ah, the univer­sity life­style, now long gone…). I ap­pre­ci­ate an­glers have their own meth­ods and opin­ions, but the fol­low­ing are mine and have pro­duced many happy an­glers over the years.

Now that you’ve come to a place you want fish, drop the an­chor. For some rea­son drift­ing just doesn’t seem to work very well out­side the Manukau, and many suc­cess­ful west coast fish­er­men will back this up. Some peo­ple will ques­tion this, es­pe­cially if they are fans of fish­ing lures, which is an­other con­tentious point for me, as I strictly fish with bait on a sim­ple ledger rig. Some may think this is nar­row-minded, but I’ve spent count­less hours us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial baits on the west coast and the re­sults just don’t stack up when com­pared to bait.

With the boat now an­chored, it’s time to get into the fish­ing. As men­tioned pre­vi­ously, I use a sim­ple home­made ledger-rig, with or with­out flasher ma­te­rial in­cor­po­rated. Bling, or lack of it, can be im­por­tant. Some days flasher ma­te­rial will be ad­van­ta­geous and some days its pres­ence will ac­tu­ally dis­cour­age the fish from bit­ing. On any given day it’s worth try­ing both and see­ing which

works best. I’ve of­ten found in win­ter, when the fish can be a bit shy, a bait on a hook with­out the flasher will out-fish a flasher rig with the same bait 10:1. If, on the other hand, there are gurnard around, flasher ma­te­rial may be ad­van­ta­geous. So see what’s work­ing and ad­just your rigs ac­cord­ingly.

An­other im­por­tant point is the colour of your trace ma­te­rial. I sug­gest stick­ing to clear, green or blue. High-vis line will in­vari­ably at­tract bites from sharks, sharks and more sharks. Sharks can be a prob­lem with any rig, but any as­pect that re­duces the chances of catch­ing them is a good thing. I take as many as 25 rigs with me for a day of snap­per fish­ing, and some­times go through all of them. Learn­ing to make your own rigs will save you money and it’s sat­is­fy­ing when you catch fish on them.

Bait se­lec­tion is im­por­tant too, and can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween catch­ing and go­ing home empty-handed. My sta­ples are skip­jack tuna and squid, with their use gen­er­ally re­sult­ing in a good day. When things are hard, adding pilchards to the mix can make a big dif­fer­ence, with fresh jack mack­erel and ka­hawai also good choices. Be sure to skin the ka­hawai though as it still holds on a hook pretty well and can be deadly on snap­per.

It may seem un­usual that I haven’t men­tioned berley by now. That is for good rea­son: I never ever use berley on the west coast. As I al­luded to be­fore, the sharks off the west coast can be a ma­jor nui­sance, with tope, spiny dog­fish and blue sharks be­ing the main rig-de­stroy­ing cul­prits. So why not just move to es­cape the sharks? Again, pa­tience is the key to fish­ing the west coast; I will very sel­dom move spots. In­stead, I fish through the sharks and non­tar­get species, and let the tar­get species find me. My gen­eral rule of thumb is that if we don’t have snap­per in the bin af­ter an hour or two, I’ll try an­other area – other­wise, I’ll stay put.

Fish­ing baits on the bot­tom will at­tract most of the main tar­get species, which in turn at­tract more fish, cre­at­ing a domino ef­fect that sees a good con­gre­ga­tion feed­ing below the boat. At this point the sharks of­ten dis­ap­pear, be­cause the snap­per work them­selves into a feed­ing frenzy and beat the other species to the baits.

Make sure there is al­ways a baited rig down, be­cause as quickly as the fish ar­rive they can leave if their in­ter­est is lost.

Fish­ing this way is ef­fec­tive for catch­ing all the avail­able in­shore species, such as snap­per, gurnard, ka­hawai, trevally and the very oc­ca­sional tarak­ihi. How­ever, it is also well worth putting a live bait out, as the num­ber of king­fish has in­creased markedly in the past three or four years. Use either a bal­loon-rigged bait or a live bait hard on the bot­tom (which can also at­tract a tro­phy snap­per!).

That pretty much cov­ers bot­tom fish­ing on the west coast – there isn’t much more to it. So just keep it sim­ple and you’ll have fresh fish for your family – and your neigh­bours’ fam­i­lies too if you want to catch your quota!

Wayne Thor­burn on a cold win­ter morn­ing with a mixed bag of fat gurnard and snap­per from over the bar. Rikke Bryn­te­sen with a very re­spectable win­ter snap­per, taken in 50m of wa­ter off Whatipu north of the bar.

Left to right: Todd Nut­tall, Stephen Scott and Mike Stal­lard af­ter a suc­cess­ful fish­ing trip over the bar in the later win­ter months.

Linda Fran­cis with a big mid­win­ter snap­per from 60 m off Karekare.

Win­ter weather can be change­able – watch for squalls like this one.

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