Successful winter fishing

By: Jeff Strang, Photography by: Jeff Strang


Successful winter fishing Winter is a great time for tarakihi. They head for the shallows and are territorial, so seek local knowledge (and have a few beers ready to hand over) Successful winter fishing
Successful winter fishing Successful winter fishing
Successful winter fishing Hapuku can gather in quite big numbers to spawn around pinnacles in anywhere from 80m to 150m Successful winter fishing
Successful winter fishing Successful winter fishing
Successful winter fishing Snapper move to the deep in winter, 50m plus. Place a berley pot on the anchor warp and send it to the bottom Successful winter fishing
Successful winter fishing Black Magic Snapper Snatcher Successful winter fishing
Successful winter fishing Speed jigs should be in every tacklebox Successful winter fishing
Successful winter fishing Black Magic Tarakihi Terminator Successful winter fishing

Interested in fishing in the colder months but not sure how to make the most of it? If you want to return home with dinner, here are a few tips…

Successful winter fishing
Successful winter fishing

I'm not going to start by boldly claiming that, in fishing terms, winter is just like summer only with a woolly hat instead of sunscreen. You should still be wearing sunscreen.

The truth is, winter is just not as productive as we would like it to be. As a former charter boat skipper I did not have the luxury of whiling away the colder months in front of a roaring fire and the ITM Fishing Show. In order to save face in front of my valued customers (otherwise known as the lynch mob), I had to come up with a few strategies that would, with a little patience, put dinner on the table.

Snapper

This staple of the summer season has moved to deep water but they're still there for the taking. It's going to be harder to fill the fish bin, but with a little skill and a sprinkling of luck a productive day can still be had.

Where: Fish can still be taken in the shallows by those patient enough to berley hard or those who have the skills to coax wary moochers out of their hiding spots with a lure, but the easy money is in much deeper water — 50m plus. Look for signs of life on the surface as indicated by bird action or whale and dolphin activity. On days when there is no sign of such activity, target known areas of broken structure at a similar depth.

How: Fishing surface activity in the winter is much like fishing the same scenario in the summer. Artificial lures like soft plastics and slow jigs are very effective if dropped through the water column in the right place. Pay attention to the direction in which the action is moving and try to position your boat slightly ahead of it. This will give your offering time to reach the bottom before the fish have passed. Be aware that in the winter barracuda are very likely to be present, so test the waters with some cheaper options before throwing that shiny new $20 lure down some bitie's gullet.

Fishing structure on a cold winter's day often takes a good deal of patience. It's probably best to anchor and fish oily baits hard on the bottom. If possible, place a berley pot on the anchor warp and set it right on the bottom. Drifting berley higher up through the water column is likely to attract barracuda. Fishing with flasher rigs may greatly enhance your success. One of my favourites is the Black Magic Snapper Snatcher.

Tarakihi

Winter is tarakihi time at most locations around the country. These tasty morsels tend to spend the summer months in deep water but swap with the snapper and head into the relative shallows during winter. Catching tarakihi is an art form that takes practise, but is rewarding once mastered.

Where: Tarakihi are very territorial and tend to show up on the same marks every year. The old boys will know where these are so try and garner some local knowledge — a beer or two in the right place will not go astray. Expect to find tarakihi anywhere from 20m to 50m plus. They often gather in quite tight schools around small areas of structure. Although I have never witnessed this myself, it is often said tarakihi marks show up on a sounder as small pyramids. My own experience suggests you're more likely to see a reasonably tight cluster of small blue dots close to the bottom depending on your sounder's display settings.

How: It's always best to set an anchor on your chosen location. Much like fishing for snapper, it is a good idea to place a berley pot on the bottom. If tarakihi are present it will not be long before these fairly voracious feeders gather under your vessel. Again, flasher rigs like the Black Magic Tarakihi Terror will deliver the goods. If you have no flasher rig in your tackle box, make a ledger rig using no larger than 3/0 hooks and bait with very small pieces of shellfish or squid. The key to catching plenty of tarakihi is to use small hooks and braid instead of monofilament. This is because tarakihi have very small mouths and you need to be able to strike the moment you feel a bite.

Kingfish

Winter — June and July in particular — is the absolute best time of the year to catch a trophy kingfish. I don't know why but I guess it doesn't really matter if you're getting results. Most of the country's kingfish tournaments are held in June for this reason.

Where: Winter kingfish hang around exposed rocky outcrops and larger pinnacles. The best locations will have three things in common:

  • Deep water nearby
  • Plenty of current
  • A good supply of food

Food is the most important of these factors. Look for bird life and school fish activity. I'm always delighted to find terns and red-billed gulls. Kahawai feeding on the surface are a bonus, but blue koheru (if you know what you're looking at) are gold. For some reason rocks subject to plenty of wave action seem to be the best, and actually fish considerably better when it's rough. The best time of the day to catch your trophy kingfish is first thing in the morning, although the change of tide can be productive so keep those windows in mind when planning a trip.

How: Live blue koheru are like strawberries to kingfish and should be an angler's first choice when available. Kahawai also work but take a little more swallowing due to their size. If fishing with live bait, the fresher and more lively the better. Use a balloon to keep the bait out of the kelp if the location is shallow, but if the water is deeper I like to place a two-ounce sinker on top of the hook to help keep the live bait down where the kingies are prowling. A serious angler will also increase his chances of success by using fluorocarbon trace instead of monofilament. Its abrasion-resistant qualities allow you to reduce the leader diameter, increasing your chances of eliciting a strike from a wary quarry.

Speed jigging is also deadly on kingfish, particularly around deeper pinnacles. Modern speed jigging equipment is a science in itself, so get some trusted professional advice before splashing out hundreds of dollars on new kit.

Hapuku

In northern waters, hapuku and groper move in from the deep to spawn in late winter. For most of us this represents the best opportunity to catch this wonderful sport fish without travelling great distances out to the wider seamounts. Smoked hapuku is tasty but smoked hapuku roe is a true delicacy, and fish caught at this time of year are likely to be bursting with roe.

Where: These larger fish can gather in quite big numbers to spawn around pinnacles in anywhere from 80m to 150m. Study a chart of your area to identify likely looking locations, as good hapuku spots tend to be a closely guarded secret. A quality sounder and GPS chartplotter are the most important tools on your boat when targeting these fish. Commercial fishers spare no expense in this area. Hapuku are indicated by blue dots hard on the bottom, so don't be fooled by red and yellow clouds of baitfish over the rock. The bait clouds are a good sign but it pays to put in some time to thoroughly explore the area to find exactly where the puka are hanging out. Accuracy is the key to results and anglers soon get tired of long fish-less retrieval winds.

How: It's likely to be difficult or impossible to anchor on a hapuku-producing rock, so drift fishing will be the order of the day. Accurate drift fishing is an art in itself that takes time and practise to master. I always like to make a test drift to see which way the vessel will move in relation to the rock. Use the auto-track function on your chartplotter to produce a line on this test drift that can be used as a reference point on subsequent drifts. Fish with heavily-weighted ledger rigs using circle hooks.

The best bait money can't buy are live jack mackerel, but if these are off the menu almost any large-cut bait will suffice. Artificial jigs are a reasonable alternative, but jig fishing is much more labour intensive and usually less productive.

The longer the bait stays in the strike zone the better chance an angler will meet with success. A skipper who can slowly and accurately drift their vessel over a fishing ground will be a successful one. Try gently reversing into the wind and always modify subsequent drifts to spend more time on the hot spot. Like a lot of fish, hapuku are often most active during the change of tide, so try to plan your trip around those times.

Best of luck.

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