Geoff Thomas: Cooler months must mean carrot time

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A gurnard, or carrot as they are often known. Photo / Supplied
A gurnard, or carrot as they are often known. Photo / Supplied

Just as hunters swap their rifle for a shotgun when the attention switches from stags to ducks, so the fishermen who never stop pursuing their love change with the seasons.

The heavier snapper tackle gives way to the lighter gurnard gear. Many will continue with the same outfit, just changing the terminal bits.

But the canny old salts know that a slender but strong graphite rod armed with a small reel and 4kg braid line will hook more tasty carrots - as gurnard are affectionately widely known - than the thicker 15kg monofilament line they have been employing throughout the summer to drop baits in the channels.

In fact, soft-bait tackle is ideal for targeting gurnard with small cut baits instead of the usual squiggly lures.

The prime carrot country is the wide flats and channel edges where currents race past, found on the Manukau and Kaipara Harbours.

The seasonal fishing we enjoy is just another reminder of how lucky we are in this country, for snapper move into inshore waters when temperatures rise in spring and stay through summer and into autumn, moving back to the depths for the winter where the water is a couple of degrees warmer than the shallows.

Conversely, gurnard migrate into harbours as water cools, remaining through the winter. So we always have prime fish to target. The bonus species such as trevally and kahawai can be found all year round.

Carrots have got to be about the most user-friendly fish that swims. They are easy to catch and make beautiful eating. Many prefer their fillets to that of snapper.

The normal approach is to use a flasher rig with several hooks, usually decorated with gaudy flash material in different colours.

Veteran Manukau fisherman John Moran is a bit of a legend when it comes to catching carrots. He created the popular Gurnard Guru fishing contest, which is held out of the Manurewa RSA in mid-winter and has been going for about 20 years.

Moran reckons the gurnard have turned up earlier than normal this year, and are being caught in good numbers and sizes, as have snapper.

"All the signs are present for the 'year of the carrot'," he said.

"Brian Hobman and his mate caught 11 good snapper from 2kg to 6.5kg in 9m in Ropers channel. Now these reds were absolutely chocker with scallops and even spewing them up in the boat. They also accounted for a dozen really big gurnard in the same patch, yet at the same time another mate of mine, fishing in the nearby Papakura Channel, caught only undersized snapper.

"There is no sign of the dreaded weed and the water temperature is hanging between 16 and 17 degrees, and the water clarity is about as good as I have ever seen it. Last week Cheryl [Mrs Moran] and I took 30 really big carrots home, and we returned a similar number to the water. Cheryl nailed a monster trev; just under 3kg. We went out on Tuesday for only a couple of hours yet we still took home 15 really big fat carrots. Cheryl again caught a big trev of 2.2kg," said Moran.

He always carries flasher rigs in a variety of colours, but this year pink has been the main colour.

"But I went through a spell recently where flashers just did not work at all, in any colour or presentation, and the red-hot rig was just a plain dropper rig with 5/0 or 6/0 baited recurve hooks. I find that I got better results tying the dropper with 9kg fluorocarbon trace, and cutting the loops for the hooks close to the main leader and connecting the hook on the single strand ... Keep the traces short, about 100 to 150mm.

"Another great tip is to use a flasher rig as a running rig, by having the sinker at the top and adding a single hook on the end. A big hook with a big bait on the end often equates to a big carrot! My golden rule is to always carry a selection of rigs. I pre-tie these at home to save precious time on the water."

Moran is a firm believer in the value of movement to lure gurnard.

"Cheryl is a master at this. If they are not biting she simply twitches or raises the rod tip with an erratic lift which acts like a magnet to any gurnard in the vicinity. Let the sinker hit the bottom on every lift, to create a puff of dust ... Another little trick is to have your sinker just a bit too light to hold the bottom, and skip it back in the current."

His preferred baits are cubes of either pilchard, fresh or salted mullet or skipjack tuna.

"My experience and reports indicate the carrots are pretty widespread. The airport flats are going off, as is the Waiuku Channel and the channels in the centre harbour. It certainly pays to vary your spots. The sides of the channels in around 7m is a good starting point."

More fishing action can be found on Outdoors with Geoff, 5pm today on TV3, and on the new internet television channel, www.FishnHunt.Tv.

- NZ Herald

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