Subject: fishing today -- 21feb09
Date: Saturday, 21 February 2009 5:16 PM
Jaro and Jim, be prepared to weep.
Steve and I were the only nominated starters this morning. I was launched just after 0530 in beautiful conditions...
I'd pretty much resigned myself to going alone as Steve still hadn't shown up by the time I was rigged up out the back and ready to fish at about 0550. Then the radio blared -- Steve informing me that he'd arrived in the carpark and would be with me soon. There were a few birds searching for a fresh fish breakfast -- a strong sign that there could be fishy predators around also -- so I decided not to wait but to troll gently to the eastern side of the bay and then make up my mind whether to head out to the Hell's Gates area, Jew Shoal, or whatever. As Steve and I were in contact by radio I knew we could easily rendezvous later.
Very soon after I started trolling to the ENE I noticed a flock of birds in feeding mode about 500m away to the north, and as the light improved, I could see them more clearly. I approached this activity gently and unobtrusively and saw that the terns were feeding on baitfish which were packed in dense schools near the NP shark nets (again!). No fishy predators were evident however, and I didn't even cast a lure as the bait was far too dispersed. So I gently turned through 180° and began heading more west, scanning the horizon as I travelled for signs of more avian activity. Before long I spotted a dense flock of birds just north of the river mouth so headed in their general direction, still trolling and travelling easily without much effort at 5kph. By 0630 I'd reached the activity I'd spotted about 20 minutes earlier, to find a bait ball -- a dense mass of baitfish right on the surface. The ball was only about 3 metres in diameter and even in the restricted light available (it was overcast as well as early morning) the typical brown colour of the ball could just be discerned. These were baitfish a couple of inches long and usually the reason that they are on the surface, and thus accessible to the terns, is that even more fierce underwater predators have forced them into this position. I knew, therefore, that there was a strong chance that a well presented lure would be attacked by these predators and as soon as I was in position I fired off a cast, across the top of the bait ball and well beyond it. A quick few cranks of the reel handle was all it took -- a swirl appeared behind my lure and it was unceremoniously engulfed and I had my first hookup of the day. Yahoo!
It wasn't a big fish and I thought that it was most likely a mackerel tuna but even so it had enough vigour to tow me right past the bait ball so that I got a close look at the tightly-packed hapless baitfish as I cruised past propelled by my tuna. A couple of minutes later my prediction of a mackerel tuna was proven correct and I boated my fish and took a pic or two, after which I stowed him in my fishbox for possible later use as sashimi or bait.
Shortly after this Steve joined me at this spot as I'd told him by radio what was happening. He told me he'd caught a tiny mac tuna just off Middle Groyne immediately after launch but his casts into the area where I now was proved fruitless, even though the bait ball was still present. I was not interested in catching more mac tuna so I suggested a shift to Little Hall's Reef, some 2km away to the north. He agreed and off we went, trolling as we paddled over a placid and gently rolling ocean accompanied by a SW breeze of around 5 knots. As soon as the GPS indicated that we were some 200m from the reef mark I started concentrating on the sonar display, looking for the characteristic bumps of a reef to appear. And soon they did, accompanied by signs of dense schools of baitfish, so I confirmed my GPS mark was good, and circled around a little to get a feel for this reef which I've rarely fished before. Having decided that it was worth a try for sweetlip or similar, I quickly swapped the chrome casting "slug" lure on my casting outfit for a soft plastic rig, deployed the drogue and started fishing the SP for whatever might be interested, hopefully sweetlip or snapper. Despite signs of fish (albeit small ones) on the sonar my first couple of casts on my downwind drift enticed nothing. I've never seriously fished this area before so lacked confidence or "feel" for the location and was beginning to wonder if there was anything here worth fishing for when, on my third or fourth cast I felt a slight resistance typical of a "take" by a fish. Sure enough I was "on", and a nice fish it was, too for it steadily took line off against the drag as it headed for the bottom (depth: 14m), in a run typical of a sweetlip -- head down and go for the reef. In a short but exhilarating time it was all over, and a very nice sweetlip, at least as large as my previous biggest, lay beside the yak.
My day was now made, what else could lie in store? Steve and I continued to fish the reef, now sure that there were fish to be had there, today. Despite that, apart from a few half-hearted bumps by small fish and the capture of yet another grinner, again on the SP, by around 0815 neither of us had had any further action, although Steve was visited by a dolphin and her calf, who leaped nearby then swam past directly under his yak. I began to get itchy feet and mentioned to Steve that I was considering moving back toward the river mouth, which was on the way home anyway.
So a few minutes later, we'd reverted to our trolling and casting rigs and were heading south again, into an increasing SW breeze. Still there were plenty of signs of terns, individually and in small groups, hunting for food in our vicinity, and every now and then a large mass of baitfish would show up on the sonar display. Clearly there was plenty of food around, but where were the predatory pelagics we love to try to catch?
The paddling was easy and the scenery very easy on the eye. We travelled parallel to the North Shore beach, free of visible development except for a solitary hilltop home blending peacefully into its surrounding forest. Every now and again dolphins near us leapt, in pairs in unison, totally clear of the ocean, a "trick" that tame dolphins perform for tourists who marvel at the ability of man to train them -- Hah! Shortly we came upon a shoal of baitfish which extended for 100 metres or more in length and whose individual members were so jostled for space that terns were able to pick up a meal easily as the less wary school members allowed themselves to get too close to the surface. But this shoal had no apparent marine predators, its individuals were not densely packed together and the shoal was moving without haste to the south. A couple of casts by Steve and me got nothing but unfortunate tiny baitfish impaled on the comparatively large hooks of our lures. Steve pointed out to me that there was some more frantic bird action further east. I turned to look and noticed that a power boat was hove-to near the site, surmised that possibly the occupants were fishing and so proposed to Steve that we should take a look. He opted to stay with the shoal we were presently attending so I offered to checkout the more distant bird action and give him a call as to what I found.
I approached the location shortly before 0900 and could immediately see that a baitball was the centre of attention for the wheeling terns. The two guys in the power boat were doing the right thing and holding back from the baitball, casting toward it, rather than charging up to it as sometimes they do, dispersing the ball. I manoeuvered into a position where I would not interfere with the activities of the other guys, stood off about 20m from the 2 metre wide baitball and fired off a cast which accurately went about 20m past the baitball and a little to the left of it. One thing I've learned over the years in situations like this is that high speed retrieval of the lure, if possible skipping it across the water surface, seems to throw a switch in predators, causing them to go for broke and throw caution to the wind. So I madly cranked my reel and sure enough, there was a wild surface CRASH! and I was hooked up, with the fish immediately stripping line off my reel in a run away from me. It then swung back and, looking down, I caught sight of three or four mackerel passing under the boat. These were the predators which were keeping the bait balled up. Still hooked up, I radioed Steve and told him that there were mackerel here, that I was hooked up and that he'd best get his yak over here ASAP. As I discovered quite soon, I'd hooked a Queensland school mackerel (aka doggie mackerel). Fairly quickly, he was in the yak.
Removing the lure from this fish was quite difficult and it took me several minutes, while all of this time the nearby bait ball was still attracting huge amounts of attention from the terns and presumably the mackerel, although the attentions of the latter were conducted well below the waterline, and invisible to me. The mackerel were probably picking off stragglers near the bottom of the ball.
By now Steve had arrived and he said to me on arrival "There's a bird on the back of your yak". I rotated the top part my body with some difficulty to visually check this strange claim and sure enough, there was a sooty coloured tern look-alike, preening itself on my back deck. How long it had been there I had no idea. I immediately decided to take a pic or two as it's not every day one gets a visitor such as this.
Now confident that I knew the tactics that worked in this particular situation, once I'd extracted the lure, stowed the fish and done a bit of housekeeping I turned my attention back to the baitball. I appraised Steve of the situation and went back to the baitball to demonstrate the tactics and technique which had proven successful. Again I manoeuvered into a position which allowed for the longest cast in reference to the bait ball, and fired off cast #2. Bang!, on again, with this time a much bigger surface splash and a much more powerful run. Clearly this was no school mackerel, or if so it was an unusually large specimen. My opponent towed me clear of the bait ball and made several long runs against the reel drag accompanied by that screaming zzz sound which is like music to the keen fisherman. This one took me several minutes to subdue on the 12lb line and matching tackle that I was using. A spotted mackerel, and a beauty, I noted, mentally. I readied the gaff, allowed the fish one more circle of the yak to tire itself out a little more then drew it toward me to deliver the fatal blow. Then the lure detached itself... and the fish swam languidly away.
Back to the baitball. Cast #3. Bang! on again.This time it was a school mackerel like the first and very quickly it was dispatched. Back to the bait ball...
Cast #4. You guessed it -- on again instantly. This time I was almost certain early on that the fish was a spotted mackerel similar to the previous which had escaped. Another vigorous struggle ensued during which the fish towed me straight toward Steve's yak and he fended me off just before we collided. And the bird was still on the stern of the yak. Several minutes passed during which, I later found, my camera was running, lying in my lap, lens facing the sky, in video mode. Some interesting footage and sound recording resulted. Sure enough, at the end of the fight a beautiful spotted mackerel appeared yak-side. This time I was taking no chances and gaffed him -- probably a little early as it turned out, for no sooner had I crash tackled him into the footwell than he jumped out again (this done with far more alacrity than I can muster, even though I have legs). But the lure was still holding him and the wire trace gave an extra margin of safety. The gaff was at hand so I put another hole in him, this time neatly in the head where the first should have been. This fish then made his second visit to the footwell where I held him down with my feet which are shod, for this very reason in ankle high dive bootees. Once I was sure he was unlikely to jump out again, I cradled his head in my feet for a photo.
The lure, inhaled right into the throat, was too difficult to extract from this fish so I opted to cut the line and leave it in there until I got back to shore. I tail roped the spotty and whacked him into the fish box where he joined the mackerel tuna, the sweetlip and two school mackerel -- enough fish for me for today. Now I turned my attention to the camera, intent on video-ing the baitball if possible...
And here’s the action as seen by the video camera:
With a full fish box, I headed for home while Steve kept trying to get a hookup. My little bird companion stayed with me all of this time, drawing delighted stares and finger-pointing from several drifting power boat occupants whom we closely passed. Even though the re-entry through the surf zone looked totally benign, I followed my normal procedure of totally securing everything and noted, as I started my run through the surf transit zone, that the little bird was still game to come in with me. It was an easy entry but my visitor bailed out just before I hit the beach, as related to me by several beach goers who saw it on the yak as I was coming in.
The usual photos on the measure mat/lie detector:
What a great morning! Steve and I finished off with a refreshing swim in the clear blue water at our landing beach. Oh and some kids on the beach helped me to gut the fish and showed keen interest in the various organs (gills, livers, etc) so I asked and received their Mum's permission to take a photo of them with some of the fish.
Red & Yellow Espri, black paddle
VHF channel 09 or 22 (if alone), Call Sign: sunshiner