While snapper fishing is proving patchy at best, game fish are keeping anglers occupied as they experience one of the best summer seasons for many years.
Example: A wahoo was caught off the west coast recently - the last one boated in our waters was recorded in the summer of 2005. These tropical speedsters are common throughout the Pacific Islands where water temperatures reach the high 20s, but are rare this far south. This was the first one caught off the west coast, and blue water reaching 26C has been recorded off the Bay of Plenty. The other tropical visitors, mahimahi and short-billed spearfish, are far more common and have been caught in large numbers from East Cape to North Cape, while marlin are everywhere.
But most people head out on the water hoping to bag a feed of snapper and what they usually encounter are hordes of small fish and big kahawai. Three-kilo kahawai are common and sometimes it is impossible getting a bait down to the sea bed where the snapper lurk.
A good example was the experience of the 250 guests fishing in the annual Pakuranga Rotary Club's Top Day Out on Tuesday. This is the 24th year the club has organised a fishing contest aimed at corporate guests to raise funds for various charities, including Coastguard, and a cheque for $15,000 was presented to Coastguard at the prizegiving on Motuihe Island.
The event is sponsored by Green Freight and principal Paul Green has won the prize with his team for either the biggest kingfish or biggest snapper - or both - for seven years running. This year, it was the largest snapper, and while the anglers reported catching large numbers of snapper, the largest was 2.65kg until Green's team weighed in a 3.4kg fish.
The stories of catching and releasing 20 or 30 kahawai were common among the teams, and it appeared nobody had targeted kingfish except for Green's team which boated and released 10 kings up to 65cm in length (the legal minimum is 75cm). They use live piper to target the kings, but reported problems with kahawai or snapper attacking the live bait as soon as it was dropped to the bottom in 8m of water off the Crusoe Rock reef.
But the snapper came from a reef off Rakino Island, where again smaller snapper and kahawai were quick to attack the baits.
The secret to targeting the large snapper is to use different baits, and Green goes to a lot of trouble to have a variety of quality bait on the boat. The answer was to rig a whole blue mackerel on two 8/0 hooks and cast it out. Snapper love blue mackerel, and if they are freshly caught, even better. But if snap frozen on a commercial seine boat, which is how pilchards are also processed in Northland waters, they work well. This bait is too large for kahawai to eat, and the whole fish can withstand the ravages of small snapper until a larger specimen comes along. Well, that's the theory, and it often works out according to the plan.
The largest snapper we have seen caught weighed 14.5kg and it was at the end of a weekend trip to Great Barrier Island many years ago. A work-up off the northern end of the Barrier had produced a live bait tank full of good-sized blue mackerel, maybe just under a kilo in size. On the return voyage back to Auckland on a bright, calm summer afternoon, it was decided to stop at the Horn Rock reef and try for some fish to take home.
With the baits drifting back into the reef, somebody suggested putting on a whole "bluey". The bait was nailed immediately and an 8kg snapper came to the boat. Those freshly killed whole mackerel accounted for a dozen huge snapper, including the monster.
Jigging on the deep lakes in Rotorua is producing some good results. A red setter is one of the most popular patterns on Lake Tarawera, while smelt imitations work better on Lake Rotoiti. Many anglers will offer a mix of smelt and bully patterns on their jig traces. As water temperatures cool, the trout will become dispersed through the water column and harder to locate.