One of the best eating fish for the table, the John dory is often a by-catch for most anglers, but winter is a good time to change things up and target JDs.
I will admit it myself, I set off fIshing planning to target snapper on jigs or soft baits, or jig for kingfish or try topwater lures and we make plenty of plans for catching these species over the day. They both fight hard and are common in Godzone’s waters, so the allure of snapper and kingfish is usually at the top of most angler’s wanted list. Kingfish and snapper taste rather good too for the family dinner, but there is one fish I would happily trade both for on my plate and that is John dory. A JD or Johnny is easily up there as the best fish to pan fry with its white, almost translucent flesh.
If I manage to catch one as a bycatch during the day’s fishing, it is one fish I won’t give away or let go of easily. John dory are common enough in our waters too it’s just that we don’t head out thinking about targeting them, but we love to catch them for the table. They don’t put up much of a fight so they aren’t considered much sport but I’m sure your family and friends would rather you served up dory for dinner. Here are a few tips on helping you catch more top tasting Johnnies.
JDs are the experts in stealth and camouflage, just look at their colour patterns, thin body and huge mouth that is telescopic and designed for grabbing smaller fish. John dories love live baits, with sprats, mackerel, and kahawai being at the top of their list.
To score more JD’s you need to spend the time catching livies to take out and drop to the bottom. Find a reef, harbour, or channel with plenty of baitfish in the area and you will find dory. They are found where the bait is and often in shallow areas under 15m. A good rig is the trusty ledger rig but makes the hook leader longer, so the live bait can move around away from the mainline. It is also a good idea to use heavier line for your mainline, say 15kg and a leader of between 18-24 kg as it won’t bother a JD but a struggling livie will also attract big snapper or kingfish.
You want to increase your chances of landing the bigger species if they turn up, so don’t break out the 12-15lb set for live baiting those poor swimming Johnnies. It pays to consider this if that 20lb+ snapper arrives unexpectedly to snaffle your livie, as I know of many people who have hooked up and lost huge fish on livies in the foul when using light gear. A 4/0 or 5/0 circle hook is also a good option and put through the live bait’s back, just in front of the dorsal fin. Small kahawai are the best for lasting the rigours of being dory dinner, then mackerel and finally sprats (yellow eyed mullet), which are the smallest live bait to consider and better than having none.
SOFT BAITS WORK
As I tend to softbait more often when in the boat over other methods, I also catch plenty of Johnnies when softbaiting for snapper. A soft bait is an imitation live bait and they fool JDs well, but the key to catching more is to really slow down your retrieve and almost drag your lure out the back of the boat’s drift.
As John dory aren’t great swimmers, a quick moving softbait won’t pick up many unless it goes right by its nose by chance. Just twitch your rod casually with a slow wind on the handle, leaving it every so often and let the boat pull it along with its drift. A lighter jig head of ½ oz or less is also best to prevent those snags when being fished closer to the bottom this way. Flicking soft baits around reefs, over the sand near harbour mouths or even around wharves or channel markers where baitfish hide, will bring more success.
I have also discovered over the past few years that my catch rate for dory has increased dramatically when using Z-Man 5” Atomic Sunrise lures. These bright orange soft baits have been deadly on JDs and would be my go-to softie for targeting them. The other upside is that snapper, trevally, gurnard, and kingfish also love this colour, so you have all bases covered.
GO STEADY & USE NET
When a JD strikes your soft bait or live bait, there is no big run of line screaming off your reel at speed, typically it is just a dead weight. When you start winding down and lifting the rod, it feels like you have got kelp or foul hooked a fish. From here, be careful how you bring up the fish, often they are just hooked in their delicate mouth or aren’t even hooked at all, with the live bait wedged in their large mouth. Take it easy when bringing the fish up and when you see it at the surface, always call for the net. So many dories are lost when at the boat as anglers attempt to lift in the non-struggling fish, only for the hook to rip out of its soft mouth and watch it swim (slowly) back to the bottom. So, this winter head out with a plan to put more John dory into your fish bin and you will be surprised by how many you catch and the bycatch benefit of other species you will often bag.
WORDS BY MATHEW HEWETSON – FISHING GODZONE EDITOR