Sunday, July 3, 2022

Time to hook the big one

Two seasons hit their peak in coming weeks – the contest and game-fishing seasons.

And there are means by which you can significantly improve your chances of hooking a big one in both.

The game fish, from marlin to tuna and mahimahi, tend to show up in big numbers at one place. While the tuna and mahimahi are schooling fish, marlin generally are not, except when “meatballing” schools of sardines, saury, anchovies, pilchards or mackerel.

They tend to travel and hunt alone. But there will be many marlin in one localised area of the ocean and all species will be there for the same reason – there is abundant food.

The tropical visitors generally follow current lines established by differences in water temperature. They might follow a cold current if it has warm water next to it, dashing in and out of the cooler seas to seize prey. You get some idea of likely hot-spots from the Sea Surface Temperature (SST) satellite monitoring available on the internet.

But the best guide is via contact with locals. When the fish arrive they arrive in numbers and if there is sufficient fishing going on at the time this will quickly show in club catch figures and gossip among anglers.

The runs can be short and sweet. In February 2006 about 200 striped marlin were caught off Hokianga in the space of a fortnight. Sometimes it’s sustained – the Whangarei Deep Sea Anglers Club at Tutukaka enjoyed an extended run of marlin catches through the summer of 2010, as did Mercury Bay in 2008.

Trailer boats are increasingly getting wide to chase big fish when the weather permits. And they allow movement from coast to coast, north to south to hit the hot-spots.

As for technique, there is nothing better than live-baiting. Many professional charter skippers tow lures to attract billfish, then throw live fish to them once they're in the wake. If fish are seen actively feeding in an area, they will also take dead bait drifted down to 50m or more beneath the boat.

Best baits are large, slimy mackerel or koheru, skipjack tuna or kahawai.

Contests often offer prizes for all manner of species yet most anglers will target the top prize for biggest snapper, kingfish or whatever. There was an old bloke who used to enter the Pah Farm contest at Kawau Island every year, where the World Snapper Cup took precedence. However, he fished in a shallow bay targeting John Dory and invariably he won the prizes for this class on days one, two and three of the event, as well as best overall, winning four prize packages and taking home $3000-4000 worth of gear.

So don't overlook the smaller prize packages on a contest list and think about going for a specific species. Major upcoming events include the Palliser Bay competition on January 19, the Duke of Marlborough contest at Russell on February 9, the Beach and Boat contest at Ruakaka on February 22-23, where more than $150,000 in cash and prizes is up for grabs, and the $50,000 Snapper Classic at Ninety Mile Beach from February 26 to March 2. And almost every fishing club in the country – there are more than 230 of them – holds events specific to their target species between now and the end of March. In most cases catching a fish means hooking a prize, because sponsors provide gear worth close to the value of ticket sales. So get smart, think hard about technique before the contest and get lucky.

For those lucky enough to be settling in for a stay at the beach, even if Dad has to travel back-and-forth to keep an eye on things on the farm, there’s no better way to ensure a feed of fish than via a longline.

Many dairy farmers are using torpedo-dragged longlines from beaches around both islands. Kites are cheaper. All you need bottom-line, though, is a dinghy, oars, $200 of basic gear and $10 of fresh bait.

I do this regularly at one of my favourite beaches up north and we have yet to return home empty-handed. Ideally you need two people to set and retrieve the line – one rowing and one dealing with the baits as they go out and the fish as they come in. The worst my mate Tim and I have done is a single kahawai, which we used as bait early the next morning and bagged 17 fish on 25 hooks.

Some tips:

* Bait should be as fresh as possible, not days old or frozen. The best bait is mullet, followed by kahawai, wharf-caught jack and slimy mackerel.

* The bait should be scaled because scales can impede the barb and scaled flesh is easy for the target to swallow.

* Small-cut bait works better than big, bloody bait. Big bait also attracts sharks.

* The hook should be threaded just once through the skin side so that it protrudes on the flesh side. If an inquisitive fish slides its teeth around the bait it can clean the flesh off and leave the skin, so the flesh is where the barb should be.

Set net extension

There are moves afoot to extend the set net ban, introduced to protect the Maui's dolphin, that applies from Taranaki to Northland on the west coast of the North Island. Under pressure from campaigners including Greenpeace and Forest and Bird, the Department of Conservation (DoC) is believed to be drawing up an extended border, taking the net ban both further into harbours, rivers and estuaries and also further offshore.

The campaigners say only 55 Maui's dolphins remain, though few people have seen one and there is no factual basis for the number. This is down from 111 when the ban was put in place, yet few carcases have been found. A project to install sonar dolphin recorders in Manukau Harbour to validate campaigners' claims that Maui's travel there regularly was never completed, so there is no evidence they do so and long-term residents around the harbour swear they have never seen one.

There is more smoke and mirrors in this one than there is at the Easter Show and I believe recreational fishers are getting a raw deal. There’s little genetic difference between the Hector's dolphin of the South Island and the Maui's dolphin of the North, which used to also be known as Hector's until pressure from environmentalists resulted in the Labour Party declaring the North's dolphins a different species and thus attracting the undeserved title of "the most threatened marine mammal in the world".

Conversely, in the South Island recreational fishers will be able to use set nets in a defined area at the top of the east coast for the four months from January 1 to April 30 from this summer on. The area where commercial netting has been allowed but amateur netting was not has been opened to recreational users following a High Court decision.

Recreational fishers are required to set their nets within 200m of the mean high-water mark and must stay and watch their net while it is set, the intention being to protect Hector's dolphins. There is no evidence that the dolphins move in these waters but the anti-fishing campaigners argue that they move through the region to congregate with other dolphin schools.

Huntly trout

It used to be unusual for people to target trout in the lower Waikato River but now there is an annual week-long contest based at Huntly. I lived at Port Waikato for a couple of years and the fact there were trophy-sized brown trout resident in the twisted roots and fallen branches of the willows that line much of that region was a secret locals preferred to keep to themselves. Occasionally these fish are caught in nets set for mullet and kahawai.

They are wary and will take only the best-presented flies and lures, including plastic softbaits. The most effective method during this year's Huntly event was slow retrieve of a softbait. The most fish were caught in the Rangiriri area of the river, with the average-sized fish 1.4kg and the winner a couple of grams under 3kg.

Off limits

The ban on fishing and the taking of all shellfish and crustaceans bar kina that has been in place at Maunganui Bay on the Cape Brett Peninsula in the Bay of Islands since 2009 has been extended until 2014. The two resident hapü, Ngati Kuta and Patukeha ki Te Rawhiti, imposed the first restrictions in the bay and that was given statutory recognition in 2010, for a two-year period. The hapu requested continuation of the ban and Minister of Fisheries David Carter has agreed so depleted stocks can continue rebuilding.

Fire risk prompts many forestry owners to restrict access over the summer months. In the Kawerau area, the Rangitaiki and Tarawera rivers are affected. Check details with your local Fish and Game office rather than finding a locked gate on the road in. 

Off home after this

A rookie angler gets lost after a day moving around the coastline trying different spots to catch a fish. So he sidles up to another boat and shouts: "Excuse me, I promised my wife I'd be home by now but I haven't got a clue where I am. Can you help me?"

The other fisherman replies: " Sure, you're off the coast, in a tinny with a 15-horsepower, four-stroke motor. You are between 36 and 37 degrees south latitude and between 175 and 176 degrees east longitude and in 16m of water."

"You must be a National Party voter," the rookie said.

"And I'm proud of it," the other fisherman said. "How did you know?"

"Because everything you've told me may be technically correct but it certainly doesn't help me out. I have no idea what to make of what you just said. The fact is I am still lost. You haven't been any help to me at all and now I'm going to be even later getting home."

The other fisherman said: "You must be a Labour Party supporter."

"Definitely," the rookie replied, "but how did you know?"

"Because you don't know where you are, where you're going, or how to get there. You made a promise that you can't possibly keep and now you expect me to solve your problem. You were lost and late before we met but now, somehow, everything's my fault and I keep making it worse."

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