GRAVEYARD WINTER SOFTBAITING TIPS
Fishing Godzone Editor, Matt Hewetson loves winter softbaiting and provides his tips to help put more fish in your bin.
Early winter is one of my favourite times of the year to softbait, the snapper come in close looking to feed up before the depths of winter and the busy summer activity from other water users has died down, so the fishing isn’t so fickle. Summer is too hot for my liking as I prefer the cooler days on the water and some of my best softbaiting is usually in May and June especially out on the Kaipara.
WEST IS BEST
I grew up fishing the Kaipara harbour and the snapper are found here in good numbers and size in Godzone’s largest harbour. The harbour tides on average rise and fall 2.10m and current here is amazing, running around five knots at the height of its flow (9km/h with a spring tide) at the entrance channel with 1,990 million cubic metres per tidal movement! This means two things; you drift a long way fast when softbaiting and the snapper use this current when hooked. So, you are fighting a fish and the current to land your fish. I also believe the snapper we catch here in the Tasman side are built different to those on the east side. They are longer and have a much bigger tail, it makes sense as they need a longer paddle to live in these currents. They are also always on the move with less reefs or structure available in a sandy bottomed harbour to reside in as their eastern cousins over on the Pacific coast. We typically head to the ‘graveyard’ which starts under the northern Pouto light house and runs to the entrance near the unforgiving ‘bar’. Along this stretch of water which runs from 18m-50m in parts, are huge mussel beds which the fish are feeding on. The sounder will show sharp drop offs and good fish sign hard on the bottom under larger baitfish schools, this is where the snapper are feeding.
HEAVY JIG HEADS WITH LARGE SOFTBAITS
You need to drop down 1oz+ jig heads with large 7” softbaits to get noticed in the murky waters and reach the bottom. When the current is really humming, we add small 1/2oz ball sinkers above the jig head to help get down. If you hook a big fish, it pays to have someone on the wheel to keep over the fish because if you get a lot of angle, it will throw the softbait or bend out the hook. This has happened on many trips and our catch rate goes up with a good boat person, remember 25-30lb fish are often caught here with many more lost in the punishing currents. The boat drifts fast here so you need to be moving a lot, going back to where you found the sign or hooked fish to drop again. Don’t bother using a drogue either, this catches in the current and makes you drift even faster.
If you live in Northland, the best boat ramps to launch from is at Ruawai (takes about an hour to reach graveyard), Port Albert (under an hour) and for Auckland anglers then Shelly Beach out from Helensville (about an hour). The shallow water fishing in the harbour is also particularly good, drifting the channels on the outgoing tide or up on top of the sand banks covered by high tide (only 1-2m deep) will produce gurnard, trevally, and snapper. The water looks murky in the shallow Kaipara harbour and many anglers think the west coast doesn’t fish lures well but that is a total myth.
EAST COAST GO SHALLOW
On the east side, I like to head into the shallows early in the morning prospecting the coastline behind breakers on a sandy beach, into quiet bays on outer islands and along the coast away from other boaties. The key here is stealth and to come into these areas early and with as less noise as possible. So, bringing the boat in from 100m out at idle speed and turning off the outboard to drift into your casting zone. A Minn Kota is lethal for this style of fishing, we have fished using them a lot over the past few years and our catch rate has gone up because they give you an edge in the shallows. Use the Minn Kota to explore the coastline quietly and cast your softbaits into the rocks and work back to the boat. We typically use 1/2oz Light Bulb jig heads matched to a Z-man 5” Jerk Shadz or Paddlerz. This gives good weight for casting 30-40m out and keep moving the lure steadily to prevent if from snagging in the foul. We will fish the shallows from daylight until about 11am and when the sun is high overhead, move out to deeper water (15m+) to look for fish sign on the sounder. The fish leave the shallow water for the safety of deeper spots and especially after a high tide in the morning with retreating low tide. Heading into deeper water you will want to go up in jig head weight to 5/8 or 3/4oz and if more current is running, even 1oz jig heads. I prefer to fish with larger softbaits in deeper water so switch to either a Z-man 7” Jerk Shadz or 6” Darterz which have become a new favourite. People ask me what softbaits I use, I honestly reply only Z-man and I have a few that are my favourite colours or styles, but they all work, and their tough durability means they are simply the best softbait hands down.