Go In Close for Offshore Fishing
  |  First Published: June 2008

Fuel prices are going through the roof and boat motors certainly know how to guzzle it up, so a day on the water may cost more than what the average family car will go through in a week. But if catching a swag of big kings or snapper was a sure bet, then who would mind? However, there is no such thing as a sure bet offshore, so inshore fishing is a great alternative to big fuel bills with equal results.

Fishing in water between 5-20m within a kilometre or so from shore is probably a lot more productive than some would think. In fact, it’s always amazed me that this sort of water is so neglected by many offshore anglers. It seems as though there is some sort of perception that there are no fish that close to shore, or at least no decent fish. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Many anglers have reported the biggest kings, snapper and cobia are caught in very shallow water. Other species like tailor, trevally, flathead and bream can also be abundant within a few 100m from shore. There’s no trick to it, the fish are there. It’s just a matter of using lighter tackle, good bait or lures and actually believing there’s a good chance of having a lot more fun in close than you would way out to sea.

What would you really be missing by going further out? A lighter wallet because the fuel costs were so much less? An hour or two of travel time? A long ride back if the weather turns nasty or a plague of leatherjackets bite through everything you offer them? It’s not much to miss, so let’s take a look in closer.


I think it would be fair to say that we’ve seen a lot more photos of big snapper in the pages of fishing monthly over the past year or so. There are two reasons for that; one is that more and more anglers are successfully using soft plastics, which really do catch a better class of fish, and the other is that most of those reds are caught in relatively shallow water.

A few packets of plastics, a selection of jigheads and a good quality threadline outfit is all you need to start fishing for snapper in close. We’re now seeing that a huge variety of plastics will interest snapper, some of the more reliable ones are the Berkley 5” Gulp jerk shad and Atomic 6” jerk minnows. Match these to good quality size 3/0 to 6/0 jigheads in weights from 7-15g.

The earlier you can get on the water for shallow water snapper, the better. Patches of reef that you may have caught bait on in the past could surprise you with a few nice reddies, so don’t neglect any sort of shallow reef in water between 5-20m.

The best technique is to cut the motor and slowly drift over the reef, casting well ahead of the boat. Don’t let the plastic sink right to the bottom. Just allow it to waft about half way down and slowly bring it back towards the boat with a few sharp lifts and some pauses along the way. A second rod can be cast out the back and stuck in a rod holder and left to trail behind the boat as you drift. It’s amazing how often the trailing rod gets smashed by a rampaging red.

Of course, you can anchor up and berley over a reef. Once again, a rod with a plastic can be cast out and placed back in a rod holder while you fish another rod with bait. It’s a good idea to use a very light jighead when doing this, so it won’t sink to the bottom and get snagged up too quickly. While some snapper are caught right on the bottom, the majority will be swimming in mid water.


A lot of anglers complain about having to sift through a heap of little kings to catch one big enough to keep. Don’t think you’ll have to head out wide just to catch a decent king. Inshore reefs, bommies and islands with some current running past may hold decent kings, so it’s a matter of using methods to tempt them.

I am 100% convinced that soft plastics will out fish metal jigs for shallow water kings. Once again, those Atomic 6” jerk minnows work exceptionally well on kingfish. A heavier jighead is required to get to the bottom and then a brisk retrieve with a few sharp lifts along the way will bring any kings undone in no time.

Live yakkas, garfish or slimey mackerel may be very effective on kingfish, but other live fish like sweep, mados or even bream will also work. The very best bait however, would probably be fresh or live calamari squid, so I wouldn’t be fishing inshore without taking a couple of squid jigs along to catch some first class bait.


I can hear some readers saying “I’m not launching the boat just to catch a few tailor”. Well the truth is the humble chopper can provide a lot of angling entertainment and they aren’t difficult to catch, so why not chase them with light tackle and enjoy the fruits of inshore fishing.

Casting poppers or metals close in towards headlands or over shallow reefs is a top way to find out if any tailor are home. Keep the motor running and drift as you cast. If no tailor are present at one spot, simply keep moving until you run into a few.

Tailor may not have a great reputation as a table fish, but they are quite good if bled, kept on ice and cooked fresh. If done properly, smoked tailor can be absolutely spectacular.


Bonito are another fun fish that respond well to a range of lures, although it’s hard to beat a 40-60g metal wound flat out back to the boat. A lot of people may not realise that bonito can be a top table fish if they are dealt with properly. If bled and placed in an ice slurry, bonito come up well once filleted and skinned. Marinated in teriyaki sauce and chucked on a hot barby, they are quite tasty.

Those chasing a trophy red may frown upon silver trevally or ‘blurters’, but these fish can be quite abundant through the cooler months and are easy enough to catch in shallow water. Trevally respond well to a good berley mix like chicken pellets soaked in tuna oil. A lightly weighted bait left to drift behind the boat will soon bring any trevally undone.

Drifting deep water for flathead is one thing, but drifting in close and bouncing soft plastics along the bottom is another. There are probably a lot more flathead within 500m offshore than we think, so it’s largely a matter of just fishing for them. A sandy or gravel bottom not too far from the reef is flathead territory and a wide range of plastics will catch them. Those Berkley Gulps and Atomic jerk minnows are great, but Squidgies and storms are other proven softies well worth trying.

Samson fish, cobia, jewfish, mackerel, bream and tarwhine are other species that are quite common in shallow water at certain times of the year. That’s not a bad list of species to chase, so why head half way to NZ when there’s every chance of a great day on the water right in close.



• High petrol prices, a day’s fishing works out a lot cheaper

• Smaller boats, with smaller motors can be used in close

• Save travel time on the water, to reserve more time for fishing

• Shallow water fishing can be a lot more fun with lighter gear

• Some big snapper, kings, jewfish, mackerel and cobia lurk in shallow water

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