Geoff Thomas
Geoff Thomas on fishing

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A fat kahawai comes to the net. Photo / Geoff Thomas
A fat kahawai comes to the net. Photo / Geoff Thomas

This is the time of year when fishermen get pretty excited. They have been waiting through winter and enduring the seemingly endless winds of spring.

Now the first hot weekends arrive, and it is one of the prime times of the year for fishing, when birds and fish congregate to prey on hordes of small baitfish.

They feed on plankton, rising and descending as their food moves up and down in the water column. The plankton in turn exist on the nutrients carried by currents and tides. It is a remorseless cycle that ends only when the last pilchard or anchovy has been snapped up by a marauding kahawai, dolphin or gannet.

The fishermen seeking snapper know that they will often find the fish they seek underneath the surface activity, for snapper are opportunistic feeders and are drawn to the noise of fish and birds splashing.

They will usually be down-current from the surface activity as they wait for scraps and injured baitfish to drift down. So you might want to start fishing behind the activity, although it is tempting to plant the boat right in the middle of the action.

Jigs or lures like softbaits offer a fast way of testing the water. They can be cast ahead of the direction of drift and if heavy enough will sink quickly. The deeper the water the heavier the lures should be. It is all about getting to the bottom quickly and efficiently, without having too much line out. With braid line of seven or 10kg test, a 1/2oz jig-head will sink fast. But if the sea is rough a heavier model can be used. Some anglers will carry two outfits ready for use - a light one with a 1/2oz jig-head and a heavier rod and line for 1oz heads.

Metal jigs work just as well, and the rule of thumb is 40g jigs for 4kg line, 60g for 6kg, 80g for 8kg and so on.

The rod should match the weight of lure but there is more leeway. Clearly, a 100g metal jig is not going to be matched with a light softbait rod as the rod will fold over and the jig won't perform properly.

But lures are not for everybody and dropping a bait works very well. It is tempting to cast out a whole pilchard, but it will sink slowly and will be snatched by a passing kahawai long before it reaches the zone where snapper are lurking.

A ledger rig with a teardrop-shaped sinker will slide through the water efficiently, pulling down a couple of baits or a flasher rig. Cubes of bait will work fine, as will small strip baits. Squid, bonito, pillies or fresh bait will all catch fish. Again, in deep water a heaver sinker will be needed, maybe going up from a 6oz to an 8oz. It is just a question of matching the dynamics involved - depth and current speed - so the baits finish up beneath the boat and not angled back 100m away.

It is common to see boats racing through a work-up with lines trailing out the back as they troll lures for kahawai. This is an easy way of catching fish, but it is not smart to charge through the middle of the action as the boat will often put the fish down and you have to look around to see where they pop up again.

Fishing around the edges will catch plenty of fish, and if you can't get a hook-up it will be because you are not doing it right, not because of where you are fishing.

Kahawai can be the easiest of fish to catch but they can be the most frustrating. It all depends on the size of the bait they are preying on. It may be pilchards, small anchovies or tiny juvenile fish such as whitebait.

Two factors come into play when trolling - the lure and the depth at which it is presented. The old plastic kahawai jig with the double hook is the standard trolling lure, and it comes in a variety of colours and sizes. This is often all you need.

But if the fish are ignoring your lure, try a very small silver spinner, or trout lures like a silver toby or clown Tasmanian devil. Smelt flies like a small silver Grey Ghost are very effective on kahawai.

The problem with light lures such as flies or trout lures is they have no weight, so a ball sinker needs to be added above a swivel which can be about 1m ahead of the lure.

One rig which is very effective on kahawai is the standard trout lead-core trolling line.

You don't need all 100m, just two or three colours of line (10m a colour) with a long trace, and it will get down to where the fish are.

You will catch fish this way by trolling in the general area even after the surface activity has died away.

- Herald on Sunday

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