Being a Sydney fishing Guide can be the best job in the world when there are plenty of fish on the bite and all your clients have had there rods bent and line being dragged of the spool. But it is not such a great job when the fish a not on the bite and are hard to find or you find fish and cannot get them to eat the lure that are cast at them.
If you have ever been out in the middle of huge school of fish and you can’t turn a scale, every lure that you cast at them comes back untouched or been out bass fishing casting lures at all the best snags in the river with out even at looker, you will know what I mean.
Most fishermen on these days will go home with an empty fish box. But when you have people on board that have paid you to catch fish; you have to work out how to get these fish to bite.
Over the years I have learnt a few tricks that have helped me turn an ordinary fishing day into a good day.
Last winter and spring we had big schools of Australian Salmon along the coast and schools of Kingfish inside Pittwater that where feeding on very small bait fish and were extremely hard to catch on lures. Even the smallest metal and soft plastics where being refused. I watched boat after boat approach the fish, cast their lures at them for hours without a result, most of them did not even bother to change lure or the retrieve. On most of these days we hooked up with fish more often then not.
The reason that we were catching fish and so many others weren’t was a combination of things. The most important factors was boat position, lure type, retrieve, casting accuracy and leaders.
Boat position is critical when fish are difficult. I like to position the boat up wind or in front and to one side so we can cast our lures in front of the fish as this will put your lure in the strike zone. If you cast your lure behind the fish it cannot see the lure. Being in front of the school also lets you have more casts at them before you have to reposition your boat. Take your time when approaching a school of fish, sit off the school and observe in what direction they are traveling, this is usually into the wind.
Once I have work out there direction and speed of the school I will slowly drive the boat in a wide circle around the outside and position the boat 40m in front school and 20 m to one side depending on wind direction. Don’t rush into a school as often this will put the school down deep. If the fish are spooky it often pays to position the boat well up wind and let the fish come to you.
Now you got your boat in the right position you have to get you lure in the right spot, its no good casting where the fish aren’t. Often when I have three or four anglers on board, one guy will be hooked on fish more than the others and this is not luck, he is casting his lure longer and more accurately than the others. I have found that the leading edge of the school is the most productive on most days. So before you head out to target some of
Sydney sports fish, head down to local park or waterway and learn how to cast. Put a target on the ground or pick a spot on the water about 20 m out and try to hit it. Once you get accurate, move the target out further. It’s more important to be accurate than casting a mile.
The accurate casting comes into it’s own when fishing smaller pods of Kingfish in Sydney Harbour and Pittwater, they will often just pop up for a few seconds in the one area. It pays to sit in or around the area and wait until they sound. Move in as fast as practicable to the fish trying not put them down or causing too much wash. Cast to the swirls cause by the kingies. It is very important to hit the spot, as often they will grab the Slugger as it hits the water. Remember not to strike until the Kingfish has turned and your line has gone taunt or you will pull lure out the fish’s mouth.
Another skill that will help you is if you are right hand retrieve left handed (opposite if you are left handed) this allows you to cast and retrieve without changing hands this will save you time and will mean more casts per hour and more fish.
Matching the lure
The old thinking was to match the hatch when it comes to lures is still a good way to start your approach to the size and shape of the lure to cast. Have a look in the water at the size, colour and shape of the baitfish. If you catch a fish it will often regurgitate its food when it tries to dislodge your lure. Try to match size, shape and colour of the bait to your lure.
Most of the salmon we caught this spring went against the match the hatch theory. Most of our fish where caught on lures a lot larger than the bait fish they where feeding on. These lures were soft plastic stick baits 4 inch and 6 inch and small poppers.
These plastics have broken all the rules when it comes to matching bait size. We caught fish on these lures even when the fish were feeding on small eyes. In the past, the only way we could catch these fish when feeding on eyes was by casting flies, tiny little plastic and metal lures. I remember one day these Salmon were feeding on eyes, turned up their noses at all the above lures and would only eat, believe it or not, 9-inch slugos that I was casting, to try and draw a king up from under the school salmon. These were stick baits, which are rigged unweighted on a worm hook. It is critical that they are rigged straight or they will not swim correctly or catch fish.
Retrieving your lure at the right speed and action can also be critical. On some days I often watch the angler on my boat to see what retrieve is working best and then change the action of the rest of the anglers to that retrieve. With metal lures I start with fast winding with a pause every now and then. If the fish are not taking them on the top, let the lure sink counting it down ten seconds for few casts, if I don’t hook up count down 15 or 20 seconds.
Poppers are another deadly lure on kings and Salmon. I like to rip the lure flat out with a pause or two. I have made some poppers that float and have that have fizzer blades on the back. These work well when fish are shut down and I rip them into the middle of the school then stop and it let sit for a second, then kick the rod tip down so the lure fizzes, this will often trigger a strike.
Soft plastic Stick baits are by far my favourite lure, they can be rigged weighted or unweighted. I mostly us them unweighted .I have three standard retrieves and vary the speed and action.
The retrieve that I start with and is the “walk the dog” retrieve. You cast you lure out, wind and lift your rod and push the tip down to put action into your slugger, you can vary the amount of action with the rod tip and retrieve speed. It’s a good idea to have a practice in smooth clear water to perfect the action.
Another retrieve is the “high speed retrieve”, hold your rod tip down and wind back fast. You can add pause and use your rod tip to put more action into it. One that we found deadly was when the fish were feeding on small bait is the “Marty” retrieve, hold your rod tip as high as you can and wind slowly so the tip of the tail is in the water. When the fish strikes, drop the rod tip to allow some line to feed back before setting the hook.
Some days the only thing that will catch these fish when they are feeding on small bait is a fly. Only a fly can match the size and the movement of small bait fish. So it pays to have a fly rod and a good selection of flies with you. What makes fly fishing so deadly on pelagic’s feeding on small bait is that you can match the bait size and shape perfectly to the bait that the fish are feeding on. It also allows you to cast a small fly 30m and imitate the baitfish swimming action and can be cast and left to sink slowly near the edge of a bait ball where it will hook a fish by doing nothing.
Here are some other ways to present a fly to fish if you do not have a fly rod or can not cast a fly rod:
1. Tie a fly in front or behind a small metal lure and wind back slowly.
2. You can tie a fly to a weighted float, this allows you to cast a fly and let it sit doing nothing or you can wind it back a varying speeds. I put the fly about 1m to1.5m under the float.
3. The best system I have found is to tie a fly in front or behind a soft plastic Slugger stick bait. This allows you cast the fly a long way and give it’s a natural presentation. The unweighted plastic sinks slowly and can be worked at varying speeds and retrieves .When the fly is rigged in front, it looks like it is being chased by the Slugger, this can trigger a bite.
When there is no fish on the surface, a good way to find fish is to troll some lures around the headlands and wash areas. These are where the bait fish tend to congregate. I will set a pattern of lures with two Rapalas down deep and an unweighted slugger and/or a small pusher working the top water. I run one Rapala back about 20m and other 25 to 30m enough distance between the lures so they don’t tangle up when turning. For the Slugger, I set it back about 50 to 70m, if I am running two I will set one in close between the Rapala. I run the slugger a long way back so I can angle the boat when trolling around the washes so the slugger comes in close to the white water. This is often where you will find the fish.
I like to troll at a speed that the lure works best at, this is usually around 5 to 6 knots with the lures I use. While I am trolling I am keeping my eye on my Humminbird for any signs of fish.
Written by the late Dean Hayes 2009