I’ve spent a few trips over summer fishing the deep water at various locations, from the Sunshine Coast to the Gold Coast. On all of these outings at some time during the day, when conditions were best, we stopped off at a deep reef and caught a feed of ‘reefies’ for the table.
But instead of reaching into the esky and thawing out a block of pillies or a chunk of squid, we just reached into the tacklebox for those Japanese-style deep jigs which are now all the rage. Another option is to use Aussie lures such as 125-200g Raiders (whatever weight it takes to get to the bottom) and, if the water is shallow enough, lighter metal lures of around 60-75g, such as Snipers and Bumpa Bars.
There isn’t much to catching reefies on metal lures. As long as the basic principles are in place you stand a very good chance of catching a feed of ‘prime reef’ for the family. Our regular catch on metal lures this summer has included pearl perch, tuskfish (blue parrotfish), snapper, along with various cod and other mixed reefies.
When you’re armed with metal lures there’s no need to start thawing the bait out an hour ahead of time. Also, when deep jigging is on the agenda for most of the day, you don’t need to carry a separate range of tackle. In the old days we often carried a different rod and reel if we planned to hit the reef during the day, and the terminal tackle always needed to be changed – snapper leads, hooks, multiple dropper paternoster rigs etc.
The new approach is simple. If you have a spin outfit at the lighter end of the deep jigging spectrum, such as an outfit loaded with 40lb braid, you’re already set as far as rods and reels go. I used a durable Shakespeare Ugly Stick with one of Pflueger’s Contender spin reels loaded with Platypus Super Braid. There’s no need for those hi-tech coloured lines here, your lure spends most of its fish catching time very close to the bottom so you know where it is most of the time.
I would even suggest you could use an old style reefie outfit if you have one – either an Alvey snapper reel set up or the ‘M10 rod’ and star drag overhead reel.
Whichever outfit you choose, all you need to do is attach a metal lure and you’ll be ready when the skipper says drop.
I like spin outfits these days because the line flows effortlessly off the spool when you are freespooling, so your lure gets to the bottom quicker and straighter. And you can often use a lighter or smaller lure, something which may help when targeting a feed of reef fish. Generally the reef fish that you are after will have smaller mouths than the kingfish, amberjack and samsonfish you target with the bigger deep jigs.
The only concession you might have to make with the lure is to downsize the free swinging hook to a smaller size (that’s if you normally use a big hook like a 10/0 for deep jigging for kings and the like). Over summer I used the locally available and pre-packaged Mustad Assist hooks from SureCatch in size 5/0 with success. I saw some anglers downsize to hooks as small as size 1, and this approach also worked fine.
You don’t want one of those trips where the reef stopover is poorly organized – you end up in the wrong place at the wrong part of the tide, bait goes all over the place, tackle gets swapped backwards and forwards and not much gets caught. To ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip, all you have to do is checklist some basic principles.
Firstly, plan to be near the spot(s) that you wish to fish at prime times during the day. Prime times include dusk, dawn, change of tides, and solunar highs. Good spots include reef and ledge locations which you hopefully already have in your GPS. To fine-tune these spots on any given day, you may elect to troll over and around them as part of your bluewater trolling. By keeping an eye on the sounder you’ll see which of your options has the best shows of bottom-dwelling tablefish and you can narrow the field by electing to fish the spot with the biggest concentrations of fish. This way, by spending your time efficiently, you’ll increase your chances of catching a feed.
Three basic retrieves are employed to jig reef fish with metal jigs.
The first is to freespool the lure to the bottom and then crank it up a few turns of the reel handle at a slow to moderate pace. Then freespool it back to the bottom, sometimes using finger pressure on the line to feather the spool, slowing the rate of fall and making the lure flutter in freefall. You’ll often get hit on the drop.
My favourite retrieve is as follows: once the lure has been freespooled to the bottom, engage the reel and simply raise and lower the rod tip so that the lure bounces on the bottom as you drift over the reef. Sometimes you may need to let more line out to keep the lure contacting the bottom every now and again. This a good technique around the change of the tide when the current slows enough to let you yo-yo.
The third technique, and one which we found worked really well on parrotfish, is to leave your single-hook metal lure on the bottom. With a single small hook rigged on a short piece of braid, and with the lure’s tail dragging over the ocean floor, the tactic is surprisingly snagless in the right locations. As the boat drifts along the lure gets dragged across the bottom and the parrotfish show a fondness for hooking up on the metal jigs. Before we tried this I had never seen tuskers get caught in any numbers using metal before, but this technique works well for them. The first parrot over the side was a surprise for all on board, but after the second and third hit the ice slurry everybody was trying the technique.
If you’re out deep jigging for bigger fish and want to switch to targeting reefies, just change to a slightly smaller jig on your lighter outfit if the tide slows, or modify the retrieve with your bigger jig. If you’re bluewater trolling, have a few deep jigging spin outfits ready rigged.
In both cases, the transition to spending an hour or so catching a feed, and then back to the original approach for the day, will be smooth and uncomplicated.
So there you have it. Keep it simple. Take a short stopover on some likely-looking reef and load up for the table. Please remember to keep an eye on minimum lengths, protected species, bag limits and other legal requirements such as fin clipping and restricted fishing zones.
1) The boys show of a feed of pearlies. With some basic planning you can incorporate a tablefish-catching break in the day’s deep jigging or bluewater trolling.
2) The author caught this scarlet sea perch on a 200g chrome Raider, and on a Pflueger Trion baitcaster outfit loaded with heavy braid.
3) This tuskfish (blue parrotfish) was one of many caught ‘dragging’ a Raider metal jig across the bottom in 60m of water.
4) When you’re using smaller lures to target pearlies, parrot and squire, you still have to be prepared for the possibility of an amberjack encounter.
5) A close up of a parrot and the metal jig that caught it. Note the length of ‘string’ at the top eyelet to which the hook is attached. The main line is also attached to the top eyelet and the tail left bare. Leaving the tail hookless reduces the risk of snagging the lure, and most of the fish hook up fine with just the top hook.Reads: 1329