The gannets set their sharp wings like those on a jet plane.
A day out on the Hauraki Gulf last weekend proved, yet again, how fickle our fishing can be.
All reports suggested an abundance of snapper had moved into the inner gulf as the seasonal migration from the northern depths started. Every year, there is a flush of snapper from Bream Bay and waters offshore down the coast past Kawau Island to the wide flats where the water varies from 20m to 30m in depth.
Another similar wave of snapper moves past the tip of the Coromandel Peninsula into the Firth of Thames. A lot of fish remain in the shallows right through winter, but the bulk of the snapper population moves around with the seasons, driven by water temperatures.
So it was with high expectations that we left Westhaven and turned left towards the distant shadow that was Tiritiri Matangi Island. The waters around 30m deep north of Tiri had proved kind during spring in past seasons, and a charter skipper talking on the radio reported filling quotas for his customers on the previous afternoon, when the bite was better than in the mornings.
A pair of divers slipped into the water just inside Tiri, and surfaced 30 minutes later with catch bags holding a little less than the allowable limit of scallops. A good start.
An easy 10-minute cruise took the launch out to just under 40m where a bunch of anchored boats suggested fish in the area, which was confirmed when a dense red mass appeared on the fish finder in midwater, with other scattered lumps on the seabed.
"Those will be bait fish - pilchards or anchovies or mackerel," said the skipper, pointing to the sign which now flecked the screen from top to bottom, "with snapper underneath them".
Then the birds, which had been circling all around us, suddenly sped into a tight mass and started wheeling over and hurtling down like dive bombers to slice into the water like arrows. The graceful gannets set their sharp wings like those on a jet plane and, with neck outstretched, they fold them at the last second and pierce the surface in a sharp splash of white foam.
It would take a hard-hearted person not to get excited at the intense activity and, for the angler, it is a wild scramble to get the first baits into the water. Some people like to rig a whole or half pilchard, but this takes time and the bait will often be snapped up by a passing kahawai or torn from the hook by small snapper.
Our rods were rigged with GT flasher rigs; the three recurved hooks baited with small chunks of pilchard. The 6/0 hooks can slip over the back of the piece of pilchard and slide under the backbone, with the point emerging on the other side. This will stay on firmly until a fish is hooked or the bait lost.
With three baits sitting above the sinker, rather than below it as with a long trace, the bites are easily felt. But it is important to resist the impulse to jerk the rod up at each bite. This only pulls the bait away from the fish, when the object should be to make it as easy as possible for it to eat your bait. By waiting until the weight comes on the line, then striking, a far better hook-up rate will be achieved.
But the snapper here were not hungry, or not feeding, as there were few bites. With only three snapper to show for two hours of fishing it was time to up-anchor and try somewhere different. You don't always catch fish under a work-up, and it is better to keep moving and try different spots, and this certainly proved the case.
But it was not until 4pm that a huge work-up appeared on the horizon and, after a half-hour of frenzied action, the fish box was loaded.
The annual spring releases of hatchery-raised fingerlings into the Rotorua lakes are taking place with the liberations spread over September to December. As well as putting fish into Lake Tarawera from the fish truck, Fish and Game officers took 1000 fingerlings by boat to each of the stream mouths at Waitangi, Twin Creeks and the Wairua on Tarawera. This spreads the angling pressure around the lake when the fish mature as three-year-olds and return to the point of liberation to spawn.
Tip of the week
A useful measure for fish can be made by marking the butt section of a rod, like a ruler, starting at the bottom. A marker pen will leave clear marks on the rod above the foregrip.
Bite times are 6am and 6.25pm today, and tomorrow at 6.50am and 7.20pm. These are based on the moon phase and position, not tides, so apply to the whole country. More fishing action can be found on Rheem Outdoors with Geoff, 6.30am Saturdays, TV3, and at www.GTTackle.co.nz.