Fishing is a bit like hunting. This was well demonstrated on a trip into the Hauraki Gulf on Thursday.
Lenny Rameka, the skipper of charter vessel SeaHawk, is well known as a canny operator.
"There are a lot of fish in the spot where you were a couple of weeks ago," he said as he pointed the bow towards the Waitemata Harbour entrance. Lenny was referring to an evening trip when the snapper had bitten hard through the outgoing and bottom of the tide. That spot was over some foul at 12m, inside Crusoe Rock in the Sargent Channel. "But the tide's too strong to fish there today."
With a 3.6m high tide in the harbour, the channels would be unfishable. That is the year's biggest tide and the currents racing through constricted areas like the channels and inside the harbour make it impossible to get a bait to the bottom.
Those big tides continue today and tomorrow, so anglers would be advised to head into open areas where the current will be dissipated.
"The snapper are moving out of the channels, so fishing the edges will be OK. We found a good bunch of fish on the edge of the reef at The Noises yesterday," said Lenny, and that was the first planned stop for the day.
On reaching the islands, he cruised around where the sand and reef meet, and watched the screen of the fish finder. Sure enough, large blue and orange blobs crawled across the bottom of the screen. The depth indicator read 105 feet (32m) - like many anglers, he still likes to work in feet.
Finally satisfied with the position regarding wind, although there was only a gentle breeze ruffling the calm water, and the influence of the current, he dropped the anchor. Lenny then showed his guests how to curl the recurved hooks on his hand-tied ledger rigs into the back of a large chunk of pilchard. "Roll the hook around so it goes under the backbone," he explained. This will hold the bait as firmly as possible before it falls to the attack of hungry snapper.
With 14 anglers all dropping two chunks of bloody, juicy bait, the result was instantaneous. Either the baits were stripped, or a fish hooked, and rods started bending. But most of the fish had to be slipped back over the side; they were well short of the required 30cm stretch from nose to the fork of the tail. A couple of keepers went into the ice bin, along with a large kahawai.
"The problem has been getting the bait down through the kahawai," said Lenny. This summer has seen a plague of good-sized kahawai throughout the gulf, a situation that would be welcomed in any other part of the world but snapper fishermen are a funny lot and often despise what is a worthy fighting and table fish. Still, in an ocean with falling populations of most species, it is good to see the humble kahawai make such a strong comeback.
But this fishing was too slow for Lenny, so he headed out into the sublime waters of the gulf on a day when the sea was as flat as a table.
"There will be fish right there," he said, pointing a stubby finger at a bunch of marks on the chart plotter. "They are small patches of foul, and the seine boats can't fish there."
Sure enough, as the boat indicator on the screen neared the first mark 30 minutes later, the first spears jutted up from the bottom of the depth sounder. It showed 150 feet of water, and the blobs and spears on the screen joined and expanded. Excitement grew among the anglers. But Lenny circled, then punched the throttle forward. "There will be more over there. It's only 600m," he said.
And he was right. The fish marks were solid across the screen, and again the anchor sped towards the sea bed. But when the boat settled, he still wasn't happy and inched the boat back and forwards. Finally, the master was satisfied with the position and the marks on the screen turned out to be much larger snapper. The rods were bending and the pile on ice grew steadily. Kahawai continued to tangle lines and a kingfish gave one angler a huge struggle but it was "a couple of fingers short" according to the boss and was slipped back into the water. Then a couple of gleaming silver trevally and a john dory brought smiles to a few faces. The party's final tally was 48 good snapper, about half the allowable catch but you don't have to catch your limit to have a memorable day.