Fruitful offshore tips
  |  First Published: May 2012

The weather bureau tells us that the El Niño weather pattern is all but gone. For the past two years it has been responsible for some extreme weather making fishing a very difficult task at times.

We have experienced long periods of very rough seas and heavy rain all of which affect the habits of fish species out on the reefs and within the estuarine systems.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that everything under the ocean stops because of poor weather. Smaller species still need to eat and the bigger fish need to chomp on the smaller fish and the cycle continues every day. What we don’t see in rough weather is the more common signs of the process taking place, but it is down there happening right now. So how do we successfully target species on the reefs when the weather is against us or there is a big fresh water run-off in the estuaries?

You may notice on windy days that there are still birds out at sea cruising around waiting for bait to come within striking range. The difference is that the birds work much closer to land so that they have the opportunity to rest more often against the prevailing winds.

They will break into groups, working the bait balls or feeding tuna schools until near exhaustion or a full belly forces them back to land then the next group will continue the chase. Birds are a tell tale sign for fishers and we use their presence as a method of hunting large schools of predators like tuna varieties and different pelagics.

When birds are firstly circling around an area of ocean we motor over to see what is taking place and watch them as they dive into the encircled bait schools that are being decimated by schools of hungry fish from below. This creates a ‘boiling’ effect on the water as everything just explodes into chaos.

On many occasions you will see different species leaping out of the water, fish like mackerel, tuna and sailfish. Most anglers would then cast a small chrome slug weighing between 20-40g in to the school with the hope of hooking up. Others would cast a fly, a soft plastic or another lure all with the same effect.

So birds are one of the best signs to find and follow when offshore fishing as they will normally be close to an area where there is an opportunity to feed. The birds in our area start to work a little later in the morning and operate all day. So you have a chance to get some reef fishing in or trolling before they get started. This all comes down to planning your day.

Predators also like to remain hidden as long as possible otherwise they will become the hunted. After long periods of rain along the coast there is a dirty water line protruding out from the bays, inlets and estuaries. This water line is often used to target pelagics like mackerel, wahoo and larger species.

Dirty water offers the cover predators need to sneak in close to rock formations and shallow bars to hunt bait and other schools of reefies. Many anglers troll along the dirty water line in the attempt to offer a meal to any fish that wants to shoot out of the dirty water to grab its prey. A spread of shallow and deep diving lures or live baits can be used to cover different depths offering the maximum chance of hooking up on a predator.

The number of lures depends on how many are on board because once you get one hook up all the other lures have to be wound up so that they don’t get tangled. Placing the lures out at different distances also assists with this.

Other factors come in to play, for example conditions and what bait is around the area. It is always best to try and use the same bait that the pelagics are feeding on to increase your chances of a catch.

Another method to use offshore is working known areas with structure. Structure is basically any area with pinnacles, weed, wrecks, buoys, FADs or drop-offs that you know are in the area. Bait schools will normally hang around structure because they have protection and that will bring the bigger fish in to eat them.

The tide change is one of the best times to target species around structure as it triggers an internal feeding time for fish. The moon also plays an important role in this but without getting too technical the better fishing times occur around the new and full moon phases.

Team these up with a tide change at dusk or dawn and you are generally looking at a red hot opportunity to get some fish in the esky. Work lures, plastics or bait around known structure at times when things slow down or before the birds start finding the bait schools.

Lastly and most importantly when all else fails and nothing seems to be working then the only option would be to find the bait. Bait balls are the key to finding fish and if there is no bait around, then there is little chance of bigger fish wanting to be in the immediate area. Sure you can berley and wait but by finding bait schools you can be assured that big fish are either there now or soon will be.

A lot of time bait moves around so it may mean that you will need to drift with it or follow it on your sounder to the best of your ability. If you get in the middle of a bait ball then drop a bait, plastic or jig in amongst it and work it hard. If you find that the bait school is hanging around a pinnacle or some structure then put down the anchor and try different options. We use para anchors to slow our drift rate down to stick with the fish.

So now there are a few more options to add to your fishing plan on any given day. These ideas are not new, but really are the basis of finding fish at anytime. If you get to the point where there are no birds, no bait and it’s like a desert down below, then crack open a stubby, enjoy your time on the water and remember that this is why it’s called fishing and not catching.

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