Geoff Thomas
Geoff Thomas on fishing

Geoff Thomas: Wings and a prayer

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A gannet looks for a landing spot on Gannet Rock off Waiheke Island. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey
A gannet looks for a landing spot on Gannet Rock off Waiheke Island. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey

Look for the birds!

That is the message when it comes to finding fish at the moment. And it is working well. The fishing has taken off in the past two weeks and there are concentrations of snapper east of Tiritiri Matangi Island, Kawau Island and along the edge of the cable zone.

The Firth of Thames is running hot in terms of fishing, and north of Gannet Rock is one of the most consistent areas. It is still early in the summer season for fish to be found closer to the mainland in any numbers, but the channels are picking up.

Those hunting big game fish during the hot months are accustomed to keeping an eye peeled for flashes of white flickering in the distant sky, and quality binoculars are always close at hand. They know that the best eyes in the sky belong to the winged hunters.

It is also why fish that swim near the surface have dark blue or green backs, which merge with the water when viewed from above, and sparkling silver when seen from below - and why fish which dwell in the depths have different colouration and camouflage techniques.

But for the hapless baitfish, it is all about survival, and it is only their sheer numbers that ensure the species continue. The bait may be small anchovies, fat pilchards or sleek mackerel, but they all provide a meal ticket for birds, dolphins, whales and a host of larger fish, from snapper and kahawai to john dory, kingfish, marlin, sharks and tuna.

So the chain which starts with minute organisms nurtured by nutrients carried in the ocean's currents moves from link to link, with plankton feeding on the plant cells, anchovies eating the plankton and everything else scoffing the anchovies.

Dolphins working in unison like undersea ballet dancers herd the bait into balls, and the only defence the masses of small silver fish can offer is to present a shimmering wall to confuse the predators. It offers a brief respite as the dolphins are joined by kahawai, kingfish and other speedsters which crash into the mass of bait and, as it is driven towards the surface, the circling gannets flip and dive like bombers, snapping wings shut as they angle into the water to spear a wriggling fish.

They pop up, shake their feathers and clumsily take to the air again to repeat the performance. It is said they eventually go blind from crashing into the water so often.

Occasionally, a mammoth whale arrives to scoop up a whole school of bait in one mouthful.

But the wheeling flocks of birds and splashing dolphins hold special meaning for those looking for snapper. The work-ups, as they are known, are a beacon for fishermen.

But different birds signal different opportunities. Marlin fishermen know that a single tiny fairy tern dancing across the surface many miles offshore often signals the presence of marlin. It is aptly named the Jesus bird for its propensity for "walking" on the water as it flits across the ocean, delicately dipping its beak to capture a small organism.

A concentration of white-fronted terns with the occasional heavyweight - a brown or black-backed gull - means kahawai can be found splashing in the green water.

When the fighter-bombers of the avian world, the gannets, join the fray, the snapper-hunters smile.

The work-up is always on the move and it is a common complaint from anglers that as soon as they arrive, the fish "go down" or move away. That doesn't really matter, for if the snapper are there they will be spread out, usually behind the activity as they snap up injured baitfish which drift down under the melee.

Snapper can be hooked on lures like soft baits, slow jigs, metal jigs or chunks of bait. It is always wise to offer the fish what they are eating, and pilchards or anchovies will prove irresistible while other popular baits like squid may be ignored. It is not that the fish are smart; they are simply focused on one type of food.

But there are not always snapper under the work-ups, so the experienced angler will drop baits and drift for a while and, if no fish strike, he will race to the next work-up. It may take several attempts before finding the target fish. The snapper often rise up in the water column, so those holding a rod should be prepared for a strike as the bait or lure drops.

Also, the birds will not always be wheeling and diving, for the activity is always moving and the baitfish will dive in an attempt to evade the predators. Then the birds will float around on the water waiting for everything to surface again. The schools of bait will show up on the screen of the fish-finder in mid-water and it is always worth checking the area for snapper before moving on.

* More fishing action can be found on Rheem Outdoors with Geoff, 5.00pm tonight, and on the internet television channel www.FishnHunt.Tv

- NZ Herald

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