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The only thing certain
in fishing - nothing is certain.

"This needs replacing, it's way overdue," said the owner, a well out-doored man of somewhere between 50 and 60 years.

He was the master of the understatement. The fishing rod was not new. Numerous scars, bumps and bruises gave testimony to a rough life chasing fish. The rod had an action just short of broomstick. The reel had seen better days, and it was filled with line around the 15kg (30lb) mark.

From behind the counter of my tackle shop and sadly without too much thought, I launched into the spiel about the new jig sticks with their fast action tips, sensitive materials, and light weight. Stray-lining was the way to go, light weights, minimal tackle, etc. It is a good and accurate story, for most people, at most times.

He was patient enough, for a few minutes, but he soon bought my enthusiasm to a juddering halt. I had, for not the first time, forgotten the best piece of advice I ever received about selling

'The most valuable time a salesman can spend, is with his mouth shut, and his ears, eyes, and mind, wide open.' (Actually, this is good advice for anyone, anytime - but I digress.)

"Where I fish, that gear is about as much use as udders on a bull," he said.

It transpired, he lived a short row in his clinker-built dingy, from a headland around which flowed a fierce current. He needed six to ten ounces of lead to hit bottom, depending on the current. The current flowed over a floor of weed covered, broken rock.

I could have launched into a story about how lighter line is less susceptible to current and therefore less weight is needed, less weight means more sensitivity to bites, etc., but the conversation that followed set me to thinking a little more deeply, than when the conversation began.

His theory was very interesting.

He was an avid user of ground bait. Before Berley Mate, he had used frozen berley dropped to the bottom in a heavily weighted PVC pipe, drilled with many holes. Now he was a convert to the Berley Mate system (A solid tube of fish oil that dissolves slowly). He was well and truly sold on the benefits of fishing in the berley (ground bait) trail. Right in the berley trail.

His aim was to get his bait as close to the berley pot as possible. His theory was that the berley bought fish right up to the berley pot. The smell would drive the fish to distraction, they found the source of the smell of food, but no food.

Competition for any food in the immediate vicinity of the pot would be intense, so there would be little of the tentative mouth it and see, of snapper in a less competitive situation.

In this scenario, light sensitive gear was not needed, the fish basically hooked themselves.

This might be fine for smallish fish I thought, and said, but what about big fish?

Conventional wisdom seemed to have it that the bigger fish hung back, they are shy suspicious fish. True to a point, was the reply, but there does come a point where even a shy fish cannot resist the potential for a meal. His experience was that initially the berley attracted smaller fish, but the longer the berley was in the water, the closer the big fish would come to the pot.

Jack Mackerel School

Perfect Bait Fish,
Jack mackerel

There seemed to be a lot of sense in all this, but the clincher was yet to come.

Ground bait does not only draw snapper, it draws bait-fish in droves. They cluster around the berley pot in a solid mass.

If anything is going to draw in big snapper it is this ball of food; a ball of food reckless about their safety in the smell of food flooding from the berley pot. A bait jig dropped into this mass of bait fish soon had a yellowtail on board, impaled on a size 8/0 hook, and heading back down toward where it very recently was, pulled by the lead below it.

This crippled fish did not last long if big snapper were about, and it was here that he brought the stump-puller gear into play.

In the territory being fished, no quarter could be given. Even a metre of leeway would see the snapper into the weed or under rocks. So it was a very heavy drag setting, and hang on.

Brutish and unsporting, perhaps, but highly effective if snapper fillets for dinner is the aim.

It was this episode, and there have been many others, that reminded me that there is no one answer; there are answers but they dependent on the situation at that time and a place.

One of the more enduring "one answers" has been the keeper-hook answer from the first 'Snapper Secrets' video.

The 'keeper-hook' was a small hook threaded to be free running above the bigger main hook. The idea was to use the 'keeper-hook' to help hold the bait. There was Bill and Geoff on the video sitting in the shadows of the Auckland Harbour Bridge pulling in what they called 'pan-sized' snapper, and if you held them close to the camera lens and away from the body, I suppose they were.

Much was made of the ability of this 1/0 or 2/0 keeper-hook's ability to catch fish.

Too quickly the keeper-hook theory became for some, an unarguable truth, a one answer. It was not of course. For catching 'pan size' snapper it is a valuable aid.

But if large snapper are the target, the 'keeper' hook may as well be, and probably more effectively be, the same size as the main hook.

Another enduring 'answer' has been the apparent NZ fetish with huge line capacities on reels. I am talking here about basic bottom bouncing for snapper and such, not big-game or light-line fishing.

As a wild generalisation, most recreational fishing for snapper is done in say 10 to 30 meters of water. Most reels are filled by somewhere close to 300 meters of it's recommended line weight. So in 10 meters of water a fish has to pull off 290 meters of line to empty a spool, and then break the line off at the arbor.

That is sprinting, pulling a weight usually around 25% or more of a snapper's body weight, down three full-sized football fields. Give me a break!

Trout fishing is a quiet sport, right? Enter the water quietly, make as little disturbance as possible. This is the right answer most of the time, but it is not the answer.

One early, cold but clear, Spring September morning, myself and another who had joined me, were fishing the Hay Barn area on the lower Tongariro. After an action packed morning, things went very quiet. There were fish there, we could see them.

My fishing companion, a bloke in his late sixties came up with a wild suggestion that had worked for him in the past.

He wandered up the bank and came back with large clay sods. The first he tossed with a huge splash in the tail of the pool, the second exploded the quiet of the middle, and the third shattered any peace at the head.

The fishing picked up immediately. "All they needed was a stir up," my wise companion said, "after the first section of their run up the river, they seem to settle down and become inactive, they need a wake up." The tactic worked that day; and quite a few days since.

When it all boils down, there is no single answer to any fishing problem, or situation.

There is an old saying that goes like this, 'even a fool must be right now and then, even if by chance.'


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Article written by Tony Bishop


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