How to

Getting Down to It


Winter can provide some excellent deepwater baitfishing opportunities, as David Green reports.

As conditions cool down on the east coast of Australia, the current also slows. This gives fishermen plenty of options to chase a range of fish on the wider reefs, but it is important to have your marine electronics set up for bottom fishing, and know how to set up your cockpit and deck to maximise your fishing space. On the wider grounds most of this type of fishing is done on the drift, as the depths make anchoring difficult. Drifting also allows you to cover a lot more distance and present your baits to more fish, but it isn’t that easy to do properly.

Off the coast of southern Queensland, snapper, pearl perch, samson, amberjack and kingies are commonly targeted, but teraglin and a range of other tasty creatures are also common. Increasingly, anglers using electric reels are exploring new grounds beyond a hundred fathoms in depth chasing bar cod, blue eye trevalla and bass groper. As the water cools with the coming of winter the effect of the summer currents slows right down and the bottom fishing in this region can be first class.

To fish these areas properly you need a good sounder, but one of the secrets is to use it infrequently, and make sure you turn it off once you’ve found your fish. What I do each trip is head out to a waypoint on the GPS, and then begin sounding the reef looking for fish. Each time I see a group of fish I put in a waypoint, and I try to work out the direction of drift. By watching the GPS plotter it is usually pretty easy to work out speed and direction of drift, and in our part of the world most of the reefs tend to lie in a north to south direction in long narrow bands of reef and rock. If there is no wind and a trickle of current, we’ll generally drift slowly south along the reef. Such days are rare. Most of the time there is a westerly slowly pushing us across the reef, which can greatly reduce the effective length of the drift, as we tend to go across the reef rather than along it. In these situations the key is to reverse the boat slowly into the wind, so that the current is the only force acting on the boat. As long as you can keep the drift speed less than about 1.5 knots, it shouldn’t be too hard to get the lines to the bottom. Most times in wind of less than 15 knots a very slow reverse idle directly into the wind will give you a much more controlled drift with good contact with your baits. If the current is raging and the drift is fast conditions become a lot more difficult, but in these situations using big metal jigs that get down quickly is often a much better option. Using braided lines also lets you get to the bottom faster and with less weight than is needed for heavy mono.

Most trips to the deeper grounds in winter are highly weather dependent. In general we fish water depths of over 60m out to 200 plus metres, and the run to these spots is generally over 30km from port, and often double that. Be careful of westerlies in the winter. The close in grounds can be quite flat, but out wide the winds can whip up some scary seas and it can be very deceptive. The wider grounds aren’t the place for boats less than 5.5m in length, and if you are a novice or new boat owner, it helps if you take someone with a bit of experience. It also greatly helps if you have a few listed GPS marks to head to before you go out, rather than head out wide to distant unknown pastures. Boats need a wide open area of cockpit to work three or more anglers fishing the bottom. In general most anglers will tend to fish from the side of the boat and fish back behind the engines, and keeping the boat directly over the fish is very important. As most anglers will require constant rebaiting, and hopefully be unhooking fish, a good ice box on the deck and a bait board at a workable height definitely make life a lot easier. Getting the fish killed, bled and iced immediately also greatly increases the table quality of the catch.

Once you have your drift plotted on the GPS and are happy with the direction of drift and the ground you are covering, turn off the echo sounder. Fish, especially on grounds with a bit of fishing pressure, are very tuned in to the “ping” of a sounder, and will definitely go off the bite if you leave the sounder on. This is a problem with dual GPS sounder units. While you may put the unit on GPS screen alone, the sounder is generally still pinging away and the only option is to disconnect the transducer from the back of the unit.

Out on the wider grounds, beyond a hundred fathoms, electric reels have opened up a whole new fishery for the recreational angler. For years, usually when blue marlin fishing, skippers saw huge schools of fish showing on their sounders on the sides of canyons and deep reefs. I’ve seen dense schools over 40 fathoms thick in areas like the Tweed Canyons. At this depth it takes a Herculean effort to fish the grounds with conventional rod and reel, but the use of large capacity electric reels has made the job a lot easier. Out in these depths, tangles and snags can be a huge problem, and it can take over 10 minutes for the sinker to get to the bottom and half an hour to bring it back up. The rewards, in terms of the quality of eating fish caught, can be high. Hapuka, bass groper, blue eye trevalla and bar cod all have firm white flesh that makes superb eating. In general, a couple of good drops will produce a feed for all on board. Once again, getting bait down in the super depths is all about preparation and calculation of the drift.

If there is any current running, the drift should start well up current from where you have seen the fish on the echo sounder, as it takes a long time to hit the bottom. The weight is usually a long piece of steel or a concrete filled can. Longer thinner weights such as a length of reinforcing steel sink faster than short more compact weights. Three hooks per rig are usually sufficient.

Electric reels are run from a 12-volt power cord to a marine battery, and if you are serious about this style of fishing you may want to rig up your deck wiring so you can plug in connections near your rod holders on the deck.

Electric reels are an expensive investment but make the job at hand a lot easier. If you are investing in this gear, make sure you get a reel that holds at least 1000m of 100-pound braid. Some of our best deep-water fishing takes place in 300 to 500m and there is often twice this amount of line off the reel.

Winter is the best time of the year to fish the wider reefs. While the mornings may be cold, the fishing can be red hot, and if you learn to calculate drift and use your motor to counteract the effects of wind, and then turn off your sounder, you should have a good head start to catching some nice table fish.


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