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Cubing Or Chunking For Increased Snapper Catches

How to use a very effective and well-proven tuna fishing technique to catch more snapper

We were chasing some fresh bait. The shallow bay in the Bay of Islands was just about perfect for netting some piper (garfish). At high tide the bay was little more than chest deep at the deep end of the drag net, and the bottom covered in eelgrass.

So we quietly set ourselves up – me on the shallow end – of course - and Ed the lad on the deep end – as it should be. Ed waded first waded straight out, then across the bay, pulling the net into a line across the beach, then letting out rope as he waded returned to shore. We then started to haul in the net.

As the net neared shore we knew we had scored. The belly of the net rippled with fish. By the time we pulled the net onto the beach we knew we had scored too well. We had scooped up a huge school of sprats, hundreds of them.

Far to many for us to keep at our freezer-less campsite. Far too many to even give away. We threw as many back as we could, but as sprats seem to do – many died, apparently from shock. We ended up with four or five big buckets of bait.

NZ Snapper

But all was not lost, nor wasted. The next day, Ed the lad and I were to join a couple of friends of ours, on their boat, for a spot of snapper fishing.

I had been doing some reading on tuna ‘cubing’ or ‘chunking’ (depending on whether the magazine was American or Australian) and a germ of an idea had formed.

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The time for the idea to germinate had arrived.

We reached the rock about mid-morning and anchored up-current. Ed and I then set about cutting a big heap of sprats into chunks, about three chunks per sprat. Then we started to feed these chunks over the side, two or so at a time. As these chunks disappeared into the depths, another two followed.

Meantime we all rigged up with tiny ball-sinkers straight onto the hook, pinned a chunk of sprat on the hook and slowly let the baits drift back behind the boat.

For the first half-hour, maybe more, very little happened, and there began some low grumbling amongst the crew. Towards the end of that time the grumbling began to turn into mutinous rumbling, and ‘chunking’ was being consigned to another one of my harebrained schemes.

But as if on cue a couple of snapper decided to bite a bait or two, and soon it was all on – really on. Fish biting just about every bait that drifted back.

The only break in the action coming when we realised we had forgotten, in the excitement, to keep the chunking trail going. But soon after the trail was started again, the fish began to bite. A truly memorable day.

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The idea did not die.

Sometime later I miscalculated the defrosting time of a ten kilo block of pilchards. I was left with something approaching ten kilos of mush. Putting the mess back in the freezer solidified the problem till the next fishing trip.

We picked up some good quality pilchards, and with the mushy pilchards in the bottom of a fish bin we headed to the latest spot ‘x’. Anchored up, Ed and I set up a chunk trail using the spoiled bait.

Down this trail we drifted chunks of our firmer pilchards. Soon snapper in numbers and good quality began to hit our baits.

Another time saw the dregs and dross from the bottom of the bait freezer come into play. It had to happen. Some of the fish down in the deep dark depths of that freezer had last seen the light of day too many years ago. It was not one of the more pleasant jobs to come my way.

But for every yin there is a yang.

I now owned a solid base of fillets from kahawai, trevally, and such to set up the cubing trail from Hades. While the fillets were still malleable I cut the fillets into cubes about 2 or 3 cm square, and re-froze them in bags.

So all was ready, and the next time Ed and I headed out in the tiny 'tinny' (Kiwi speak for an aluminium dinghy) the cubes came with us, and out they went, in an unending stream. Down the trail we drifted cubes of skipjack tuna loaded with a hook. We had great sport.

The technique works – and well it should – it seems to have three key factors leading to success.

There are a couple of factors that need to be taken into account when using this technique.

It is bait intensive
You need heaps of bait to set up a good trail, and you need to maintain it throughout the fishing session.

The cubes or chunks should not be fed out too quickly.
Judgement needs to be used here, but a chunk or two every thirty to forty seconds is often about right. But this is relative to fishing depth and current flows.

Too much weight illustration

The hooked baits need to be weighted, (or not weighted), so that they sink at much the same rate as the free sinking chunks.
Resist the temptation to add more weight to get a bait back down to the fish quicker. In my experience this usually just means the bait falls below the trail and away from the fish. If fish are directly below the boat in no-current situations this is less of a problem.

Just a feather touch on the spool shoulder

The best technique for feeding out line is to have the reel in free-spool - with the thumb lightly on the spool shoulder - pull off line at a rate that allows to bait to free-fall but not to the point where there is too much slack wafting about in the water.

For this reason I find it better to use a free-spool reel rather than a spinning reel. It is just so much easier to control the drift, and get the reel into gear when a fish strikes.

long-line hook

I find that using re-curve (sometimes called ‘long-line’ or JAP) hooks work best for this type of fishing. Because there is - or should be - little or no tension on the line as the bait drifts back, it can be very difficult to detect bites.

Re-curve hooks are self-setting, relying on the fish biting on them to push the point into flesh, so they are ideal for this job.

The breaking strain of the line you use is important too. Too heavy a line - read too thick - and the baited chunk or cube will not sink at the same rate as the unhooked chunks.

This is more especially true if the trail is drifting down in a current.

It also needs to be remembered that the cube or chunk used as a hooked bait should be around the same size as the chunks used in the trail. So too heavy a line will exaggerate drift problems as there may not be enough weight in the bait to pull the heavy line down.

Just a quick observation about bait size. In general I have found that the hooked bait should be around the same size as the chunks or cubes used for the trail – and it seems to make little difference to the size of fish caught.

I catch small fish and bigger fish in around the usual ratio. But I also as a matter of course fire out a really big bait, a skipjack head or large fillet, or four or five pilchards hung off a 8/0 hook, way back down the trail. This has picked up some very big fish.

As far as using a berley (ground bait) trail, when cubing, goes, I have found it better not to.

It is only a theory of mine but I think that because a berley trail sinks at a different rate to the chunks you can end up with two distinct trails. This is counter productive.

Besides a berley trail to often ends up attracting hoards of small bait fish which eat the cubes before they have a chance to reach snapper holding below.

Cubing or chunking for snapper can be a highly productive technique, but it does need a little prior planning and preparation. It also requires some patience – it can take some time for the trail to pull in fish. The rewards for that preparation and planning however can be spectacular.

An excerpt from "Fishing Even Smarter"

Viva wet fly

Article written by Tony Bishop

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