How to

Better Bottom Bouncing


When you want a feed of fresh fish, dropping a few baited hooks into a likely patch of reef is a surefire way of amassing tasty fillets. By JAMIE CRAWFORD.

WHEN my fishing mates and I are keen to put some quality fillets on the table, then bottom bouncing is our go-to technique. Bottom bouncing may not be at the cutting-edge of sportfishing, nor be an overly-technical style of fishing, but it can be a heap of fun and more often than not puts some tasty species in the ice box.

Bottom bouncing typically refers to sending baits down to deeper water reefs (say in the 25 to 70m depth range) targeting a host of delectable reef or bottom-dwelling species. Although there are prized bottom bouncing species right around the country, the non-specific technique in bottom bouncing makes this style of fishing very much a lucky dip affair.

And to be honest, I reckon that’s one of the best aspects of this style of fishing – the anticipation when fighting an “unknown” from the depths, is it a prize … or rubbish? Sometimes you can make an educated guess by the way the fish is fighting (or lack of fight), and it’s a real buzz when a prized species surfaces.

Down in the southern regions of our country (where I do the majority of my bottom bouncing), pink snapper, red snapper, blue morwong and swallowtail make up the bulk of our targeted bottom species. Occasionally we’ll snare a blue groper (protected in my area), samson fish, silver trevally, XOS King George whiting, gummy shark, school shark or a highly prized harlequin fish. All of these species are generally caught amongst an assortment of less desirable reef ooglies that inhabit the same real estate.

In other parts of the country, jackass morwong, Tasmanian trumpeter, WA dhufish, pearl perch, mulloway, venus tuskfish, golden snapper, black jewfish and coral trout, plus the various delectable emperors and cods, are just a few of the popular bottom bouncing targets. These fish are popular with anglers for a very good reason – they are all mighty fine table fish.

Regardless of where you are fishing, there will be some bottom bouncing possibilities not too far away.

The size of boat you have and your location, together with the target species (or group of species), will dictate the type of reef and water depth you’ll be fishing. In my local area, our most productive reefs for pink snapper lie between 20 to 35m of water, with the fish often holding at the bottom plateau of the reef – never on top. Pink snapper, together with red snapper (nannygai) are the mainstay for bottom bouncers in my region.

If we are specifically targeting red snapper or blue morwong, then we fish reef in the 35 to 60m depth range. On these reefs we are aiming to fish along the tapering edge, where distinct ledges and drop-offs are visible on the sounder. If we fish past the drop-off where the reef begins to plateau, we start catching more sergeant baker. If we are fishing right on top of the reef then we catch more sweep and bluethroat. Each reef and location fishes slightly differently to one another – it boils down to understanding the reef systems in your local area.

When we’re planning to head out for a bottom bouncing session, we’ll keep an eye on the weather to pick a prime day of light winds. Reaching the better reefs in my area requires driving a reasonable distance across open water. Good weather is not only an issue of comfort but also of safety.

The weather conditions play a big role with this style of fishing. Firstly, you need to actually reach the grounds and once there the weather will dictate how you can fish the reefs. We prefer to drift-fish, slowly covering ground as our offerings pass over the reef. This allows us to span an area, increasing our chances of pinning a school of fish, but also gives us the flexibility to make short shifts in an attempt to thoroughly search the area rather than being restricted to the one possie at anchor.

If the wind is puffing, our drift speed will be too quick and it becomes a laborious task keeping baits near the bottom. If the wind is up, we have the option of using a sea anchor to slow our drift. Sea anchors work a treat, especially for boats with a high cabin that are prone to catching the wind. The sea anchor will generally be deployed out the rear of the boat, so fishing lines can trail behind the boat rather than underneath. The only negative with using a sea anchor is that you have an added obstacle behind the boat, but you get used to it after a while.

In some situations, dropping the pick is the only option. If the reef is just a small localised patch of structure, if the wind is quite stiff, or if you are planning on berleying, then dropping the anchor will be your best option. Berleying over reef systems can be very effective, provided the current isn’t too strong. As with all berleying situations, ensuring the berley is getting down to the intended depth is imperative. We have a swing-door style berley cage that releases berley on the bottom, and is effective in this situation.

To summarise our bottom bouncing process, we generally launch first thing in the morning to arrive at the reef shortly after sunrise. The majority of the reefs we fish lie some distance from shore, so a GPS is mandatory. The GPS will also indicate drift lines and allow you to predict further drift patterns.

Once we have arrived on location, we’ll use our sounder to scour the area, looking for likely fish-holding ledges and lumps. With the species we target, we can regularly identify schools of fish holding just off the reef. Once we have pinpointed a likely possie, be it a reef or patch of fish, we will identify the direction of drift and motor just up-current of the spot (or up-wind, whichever is stronger at the time). We pre-prepare a pile of rigs, sinkers, rods and bait back on land so we’re not mucking around on the water trying to get organised.

Once the boat has slowed, it’s time to drop lines to the bottom. We use paternoster rigs for our bottom bouncing, comprising a 3ft trace of 80lb hard-wearing mono with a couple of droppers with 6/0 hooks – basic but effective. The amount of lead required will vary depending on daily conditions (drift speed, currents, bait size etc), but we use 230g leads as standard.

Our favoured baits over these deeper reefs are firm, long lasting baits such as squid and cuttlefish, followed by firm flesh baits such as those from fresh (not frozen) trevally, mackerel and tommy ruffs. The longer the bait withstands picking from smaller species the better chance it has of eventually being found by one of our target species.

As we are generally on the drift, our baits will slowly rise away from the bottom, so remember to continually release small amounts of line to keep your baits down deep. You don’t want your sinker dragging along the reef as you’ll eventually get snagged. Instead, raise your bait just a metre or so off the bottom and try to keep it at that depth. Keep an eye on the sounder and once the reef begins to plateau to a flat seafloor it’s time to retrieve lines and prepare for another drift.

If that initial drift held promise with a fish landed or a good hit, don’t be afraid to mimic the same drift a few times before searching for another drift-line. Deep water bites often come as a soft tap. After a while you will learn to decipher the difference between pickers and better fish having a little taste. You will need to strike firmly when fishing in the deeper water. Circle hooks are effective in these situations, but remember to let the fish move off with the bait and load up on the weight of the fish rather than striking at every bite.

The rod and reel selection for bottom bouncing needn’t be expensive, but you will be at a serious disadvantage if you don’t use braided or GSP line. This stuff makes a world of difference for this style of fishing. The thinner diameter aids in keeping your offerings down deep while on the drift and the sensitivity and direct feel offered by “super lines” equal more fish in the boat at the end of the day. You will need to tie a rod length of mono to act as a shock absorber. If you do get hung up on the reef it is generally the mono leader that parts, not expensive braid.

My bottom bouncing outfit consists of a 7’5” rod rated at 8–12kg. The longer rod provides better sensitivity and feel while bait fishing, but still has some lower strength should that rogue samson fish decide to pay a visit. Whether you prefer overhead or threadline reels is purely a personal choice. I prefer an overhead for this up-and-down style of fishing, and I run 30lb braid as mainline.

Although bait fishing dominates this style of fishing, “slow” or “occy” jigs can also be used over the same reefs to good effect. The size of the jig used will vary depending on the target species and water depth. We primarily use 150g Lucanus jigs on our 30–50m reefs, and they have been pretty effective for both pink and red snapper.

A day spent bouncing baits over some deep reefs will generally yield a healthy bag of prime fillets. Be sure to have a good supply of ice on hand to look after your prized reef fish, especially in summer or in northern parts of the country.

If you haven’t had a bottom bouncing session recently, then isn’t it time to drop some baits down to a reef near you?

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