Winter fishing off the rocks – Great Barrier Island

Some years ago I read in a fishing magazine that winter is the best time to sort out and maintain your fishing gear. The rationale being to get things serviced during the quiet months and be prepared for the next fishing season.

If you live in (sub) tropical areas, you might just as well disregard this advice. Winter fishing off the rocks cannot only be highly productive, it is also a preferred time of the year – as highlighted in the following – to get out there and catch a feed.

After all, and dedicated (land based) anglers will agree, the best fishing days, those memorable and magical days, are simply those when you catch decent fish effortlessly, regardless of the time of year. I actually prefer the colder months because:

I catch in general bigger snapper & there are less small snapper in close less recreational people fish; e.g. less pressure on the fish I don’t break a sweat hiking, nor fishing throughout the middle of the day. No need for sunscreen either keeping landed fish fresh is easier when cold more rewarding as land based fishing in winter can be more challenging more private, more adventurous, simply because there are less people out there I generally fish around the low tide, starting a couple hours before low tide and usually finish up a couple hours after the start of the incoming, and this is the best advice I can give to any dedicated land based angler.

When it comes to spots, I differentiate three types:

ledges that give access to deep waters with strong currents spots that no one fishes areas where there is plenty of foul and/or other food resources Other factors that influence my decision making are of course:

Wind Moon Astronomical phenomena Obviously, I don’t enjoy fishing with a head or side wind. So when we experience northerlies, I go south, when westerlies, I go east, etc.

There are possibly many theories about the moon and how it affects the bite time. I’ve heard some strange things in this regard but there is no arguing, the moon affects the tides. Bigger tides means bigger currents. Winter solstice is in a few days (21 June) and a few days ago we had a full moon.

There is a spot about 5 km from where I live, it offers about 10-15 m of water depth and experiences a strong current being the headlands of a small bay. The forecast was for variable or insignificant northerly winds, it was Sunday, I had finished my chores and it was a beautiful day to get out, so I ‘had to’ go, and hope you did as well!

Low tides was at 1500. At 1330 in the shop, I noticed that there was no burley, so I grabbed 1 kg of squid and 1 kg of pilchards. 1400, Rani and I started hiking on a rocky beach in Tryphena.

1430, we arrived at the ledge. I thoroughly enjoyed the hike, it was so calm and quiet, and with the tide being unusually far out I took the time to look into those usually inaccessible rock pools. You never know what you might see, an octopus, kina, paua and other goodies which can be used to attract fish or complement dinner.

I only found a small eel, which turned out to be useless bait and I regret now killing that small bugger…

I cubed a hand full of pilchards and chucked them into the water. There were no sea gulls around (another bonus of winter fishing, less birds) and I continued doing this whilst watching the water closely, hoping to see a kahawai.

1500 o’clock and the fishing was slow. I felt a bit uneasy, no burley to attract fish, no kahawai to use as fresh bait, so I kept burleying up with small pieces of pilchard and squid.

A few minutes later and I landed a snapper. Usually a keeper, the politicians and policy makers who keep telling us that the fish stocks are sustainable (they mean economically sustainable, not ecologically. In other words, making money with fishing commercially is sustainable.) have increased the legal size limit and decreased the bag limit of snapper for recreational anglers as of 01.04.2014. They even mock us with choosing such a date.

Anyway, the legal size is 300 mm now. My catch seemed just over 30 cm, so it went into the rock pool. Nevertheless, this was the first time I felt the new regulation (there is no size limit for commercial fishing…). If I could, and I DO NOT encourage anyone, I’d give these people who continue to decrease our rights to access nature a solid hiding. A hiding so fierce that they would not know when the worst will be over. But of course I can’t and neither should you.

KAAABOOOOM, my rod bent over hard after half a pilchard on a two hook rig was cast out far. It was taken close to the surface and very aggressively. I landed a 40 cm-ish snapper.

From then on, the fishing got only better. After every decent cast, my bait got hammered near the surface. One snapper after another. I threw the small one back into the brink and, to my surprise, landed a decent trevally with the next cast.

I was ‘cleaning up’ and the best thing was that the fish were getting gradually bigger. Quite unusual, only a couple of throwback snapper, the rest were all respectable and it seemed that they were just getting bigger. I continued and landed a nice 50 cm+ fish.

It was too easy really, pilchard or squid, they took both and as there was no wind, it was straightforward to feel the take. I noticed that decreasing the drag helped improve the hookup rate (not a problem with a bait-feeder reel).

Land based fishing doesn’t get much better than this (unless you are land based game fishing and manage to land those game fish). I could have easily landed my bag limit (7 snapper, used to be 9. There was no reduction of quota for commercial fishing) in less than 2 hours. It was such a calm day with so much fishing action that I was fishing in a t-shirt and shorts. Next time you eat fish in a restaurant or buy fish, ponder about how a natural resource has been so greatly politicised and commercialised. Think of how rights are taken away from the normal person and more rights are being granted to corporations. Think of the poor souls who are enslaved (as per definition) by corporations fishing New Zealand waters. Consider that taking undersized fish or trading your catch will in general have more legal (and financial) implications than beating a person up.