Tips for tracking down that elusive catch.
I'm asked all the time where is the best place to go fishing. Straightforward enough query, you would think.
However, those expecting clarity often find themselves more dazed than unconfused with my answer, for two reasons. One, I'm far too waffly and spend way too much time overthinking all the fishing variables. Two, you can never give a long enough answer or spend too much time thinking about the many fishing variables.
Because a spot that's red-hot one minute can be a barren desert the next. The trick to making yourself a better fisher is learning the why.
A clue is in the name really. It's called "fishing" not "catching" and successful fishing comes down to combining moving parts.
Good fishers will literally read the water — if you spend enough time on the sea it starts to come naturally. I find taking inexperienced people out (which I enjoy doing) is a great refresher on all the things you take for granted.
So what helps tame this 600-headed variable beast?
Birds hunt baitfish, baitfish attract bigger fish. But different birds chase different fish.
Whereas a diving gannet is a big bird that feeds on larger baitfish like pilchards, smaller white-fronted terns (called kahawai birds), feed on tiny larval fish and will sit over schools of kahawai — hence the name.
These work-ups are often fast moving and, because they aren't breaking up schools of oily pilchards, they won't attract any other predatory fish like snapper or kingfish to the party. The kahawai themselves are so focused on such tiny prey that they will mostly ignore any bait or larger lures thrown their way. I often see boats mistakenly charging into the middle of them, thinking they've hit the jackpot. Seagulls, on the other hand, are scavengers and so don't really help at all. We have a constant seagull work-up off Gisborne at the sewage discharge pipe. Birds chasing turds.
This is just the tip of the avian clue finder, but it demonstrates that you can improve your fishing by learning more about the birds around you.
Tides bring current and current stirs the bottom, this triggers feeding behaviours.
Changes of light
Fish love morning and dusk. Bright sunlight can make reef fish wary, but works well for game fish like marlin.
Dolphins and whales
Dolphins will round up baitfish before charging in to feed. Over time you learn to recognise when they have switched into hunt and gather mode. Leave them alone when they are doing this; realise it takes much longer for other predatory fish to turn up underneath. Baitfish-feeding whales feeding whales are even better as they move less so hold the baitfish in one spot longer.
Sounders and maps of areas form pictures of what's going on underneath. I could write an entire dissertation on interpreting transducer-induced LED screen squiggles. But that's an article for another day.
Reefs and rocks are houses for small fish, which attract big fish. Simple. Combine currents and reef and you get the ingredients for kingfish hunting grounds.
But kingfish prefer clean water and they also become lethargic around full moons. I suspect that's because they do their hunting under moonlight. They also tend to sit on the top side of any current and prefer a well-presented livebait to a piece of squid. While they mob up in summer, winter kingfish are often solo cruisers.
So while you might think you've got conditions lined up perfectly, just one wobbly variable on this (see above) and it's back to the drawing board. Bloody variables. Fishing is nature's game of chess — one that no one human has ever completely mastered. But as you unlock the parameters of each essential variable (and trust me this list is endless) you collect better strategies that will improve your fishing odds.
● Clarke Gayford hosts Fish of the Day.