"Want to catch some big snapper on light tackle?" asked the caller. Well, what do you say to that? "No, I'm too busy working ..."?

And so we got off the ferry at Matiatia on Waiheke Island, after a 40-minute cruise across water like glass on a balmy, sunny afternoon at the beginning of the week. It is not hard finding a crew to put their hands up when an offer like that is sent out.

And after the stories which had been related, hopes were high and expectations right up there.

All the stars were aligned: It was a 3.6m tide, peaking just after dark, so a good current should be running.


The skipper was a new charter operator on the scene at Waiheke, but Scott Lloyd-Jones has spent a lifetime living and breathing fishing in various guises. Now part of the Epic Charters family, he runs a slick operation.

The brand is well known among sport fishing aficionados, earning its spurs specialising in targeting kingfish out of Tairua and now covering from the Moko Hinau Islands to the Bay of Plenty.

Lloyd-Jones bases himself at Waiheke but will travel to the BoP or to the Bay of Islands in search of the best action. He did his apprenticeship on top charter boats in the Bay of Plenty and learned from the best, and the speed at which he ties the trace rigs and sets up the tackle is impressive.

"Blood knots are not allowed on this boat," he says, as he whips the hooks on to 44kg trace with a special knot he picked up from the pros, which connects to a double in the 4.5kg monofilament line.

Punters have a choice of mono line or braid. Both have advantages. The stretch of mono gives a cushion against the lunges of a big fish and the braid's thin diameter adds strength.

"The snapper fishing in shallow water has been excellent," says Lloyd-Jones as he powers his 8m Senator out towards the Ahaaha Rocks.

He has been producing boxes of snapper for his punters by staylining down a berley trail in close along Waiheke's outer coast and around Kauri Point, but this time the shallow reefs around the Ahaas will be the target.

There is no end to this type of terrain around the coast, from Flat Rock to the back of Tiritiri Matangi Island, to The Noises to the David Rocks to D'Urville Rock. The Coromandel coast and Bay of Plenty have plenty of the right type of country, and there is good reef off Raglan which the locals know well, and when it comes to Northland the options are endless. It is more a question of knowing what to look for and how to approach it.

As Lloyd-Jones approached the main rock he pointed to the screen of the Navnet -- "There is an 80cm fish." The technology can now show you not only where the fish are but the size of individual fish. The boat's track on the screen showed a trail of numbers, each one a snapper.

"There is a channel pushing in close here, so we will anchor in 12m and cast into 5m. The current will take the berley across the reef towards that rock," he added, pointing to the other main rock about 200m away.

He shows how to hook up a whole pilchard on the two 10/0 hooks, with a small sliding sinker above the hooks. They are cast out with spin reels on 2m rods in an arc from the stern, and then four anglers hold the line carefully in their left hands, waiting for the first pull.

The bites are tentative at first, barely registering, and the hooks come back bare. Small snapper and mackerel dart around in the cloud of berley and Lloyd-Jones flicks out a piece of mono line with a couple of baited tiny hooks and soon small jack mackerel are added to the bait tray.

Then a blue koheru is lifted, flashing and wriggling. "That would be a marlin, or a tuna, or a kingfish," says Lloyd-Jones, admiring the chunky, torpedo-like fish.

"They love them as live bait."

As the sun sinks and the light fades the bites are stronger, and suddenly Mat Peters yells and leans back on his rod. Line whips out through the rod guides and the reel groans.

"This is a good fish," says Lloyd-Jones, and the struggle goes back and forth. Peters gains line, then it is torn from the reel. Slowly the fish yields and finally Lloyd-Jones slides the net under it and lifts it high. "That's six or seven kilos!"

"My biggest," says Peters with a smile a metre wide. High fives all around are followed by renewed casts, and more snapper come to the net.

Pilchards and fresh mackerel are both snapped up, and finally as the sun is lost and twilight darkens three rods go off at once. More snapper of around four kilos go on to the salt ice in the bin, and the bite continues until about half an hour after dark.

"Good fishing boys," says Lloyd-Jones as the anchor rattles in and he points the bow towards Waiheke.

The fishing was slow until the sun had gone, then it all happened in about 90 minutes. But the key is to have the boat in the right position (and Lloyd-Jones moved three times before he was satisfied) and the berley flowing well before the prime bite time, allowing the anglers time to become familiar with the tackle, rigging the baits and placing the casts.

Tip of the week

Whether using a whole pilchard or fresh jack mackerel, pull the head off the bait to allow blood and juices to run out. This will often trigger a bite from a lethargic snapper.

Bite times

Bite times today are 3.55am and 4.15pm, and tomorrow at 4.40am and 5pm. These are based on the moon phase and position, not tides, so apply to the whole country.

More fishing action can be found at www.GTtackle.co.nz.