How to

Go the Blues!

A white knuckled brawl with maxxed out drag settings is more commonly associated with tropical waters and exotic locations.

Big GTs and coral trout have a reputation for dishing out serious punishment to even the most well equipped anglers.

Coming from the South Coast of NSW this sort of action unfortunately only gets played out in my dreams.

With the exception of maybe a big red or the odd hoodlum king, there aren’t too many fish that fit into the “stop ’em or pop ’em” category, especially in the cooler months.

But one species does fit the bill. The humble groper can certainly keep those winter doldrums at bay. This member of the wrasse family is plentiful in the southern states, especially around rocky reefs and headlands. They grow big, look amazing (especially the monster blue models) and are awesomely powerful, being able to smash you up in a heartbeat.

Combined, these characteristics make the groper a worthy sportfishing target. The winter months are prime time for a spot of groper action with westerly winds and flat seas ideal for targeting these piscatorial bulldozers.

Gathering bait is the first step in connecting yourself with a rampaging groper. This can be done either from land or by boat. Groper can be caught on a range of different baits including crabs, cunjevoi and even squid.

But if you’re serious about catching a trophy sized fish a good supply of red crabs is a must as the big fellas definitely show a preference for these colourful crustaceans.

When collecting bait from the land you’ll need to focus your expedition around a low tide change. The need to get down to the water line means the swell also has to be bordering on dead flat.

Small pools and crevices with fine red weed are a good place to start looking. A glove is also a good idea to guard against any nasties, as you really need to delve deep and have a good feel around.

These days I prefer to throw the dive gear onboard and do my bait collecting from the boat before we fish as this gives you the added bonus of grabbing some berley. Sea urchins mashed up with a few loaves of bread makes an ideal berley that will get the resident groper really fired up.

Be sure to stick to the regulations regarding bag limits on both red crabs and sea urchins.

Once you have the bait the next thing to consider is where to fish. Areas of white bouldery bottom mixed with kelp have produced the goods for me but that may vary so scout around until you find some action.

The standard technique of anchor and berley will get you amongst the fish and is probably the best way to go when the wind is up.

If conditions are favourable, however, I like to actively hunt the fish with the bow mount electric motor just like you would chasing bream or flathead on lures in the estuary.

Once a stretch of rocky shore has been chosen, go through and seed the more likely looking areas with a couple of handfuls of berley.

Return to the start and slowly cruise the shore, casting baits along with a scoop of berley here and there, then repeat the process. It’s a productive method as it allows you to cover plenty of water and ultimately hook more fish.

Along with this relatively new style of chasing these fish, it’s only fitting to match the tackle to suit. The trusty old Alvey sidecast loaded with 50lb mono will catch fish but the castability and power of a modern 4000-5000 size threadline makes these reels hard to go past, in my opinion.

A heavy snapper SP combo is perfect for the job with my personal choice being a Twinpower 5000 spooled with 30lb braid matched to a Shimano Tescsta 20-50lb rod. A 3500 Diawa Certate HD spooled with 20lb briad has also scored me some great fish and is generally used in deeper water scenarios.

As far as terminal tackle goes it is minimal to say the least. Three metres of 30-40lb fluorocarbon connected via an FG knot (see the Knots & Rigs column in the July issue for details on how to tie this nifty knot) down to a 4/0 or 5/0 heavy-duty live bait style hook and you’re ready for action.

A little weight may be needed in the form of a small ball sinker running down to the hook if you’re fishing water over five metres deep.

With today’s sensitive graphite rods and braided lines it’s quite easy to distinguish a groper bite from other species. They have a very distinct “clunk” as they crunch down on your bait.

When this happens, resist the urge to strike. Instead just give the fish a moment to move off with your offering then set the hook hard.

If this doesn’t occur you’ve been baited, which is something that the average groper is pretty good at. When this happens repeatedly it can be a good idea to go down in hook size and use smaller bait.

One or two crab legs and a small bit of flesh with the hook well concealed instead of the standard half crab bait can result in an instant hook-up.

Once connected, be prepared for a serious wrestle with powerful runs and directional changes as the fish attempts to drive you back into its bouldery, kelp strewn domain.

As a general rule, if you lose more than 4-5m of line it’s all over, so once you turn the head of the fish go hard.

Use whatever fighting techniques you have in your repertoire to put the odds in your favour. I find that a strange style of highstick and wind seems to work for me, however unattractive as it may look.

Drag settings need to be solid without being ridiculous; I run around 7kgs on my 30lb with 40lb leader and 5kgs on the 20lb with 30lb leader. This gives you a little bit of room for spool grabbing when things get really out of control!

So when your sportfishing options are limited in the cooler months, give the good old groper a crack. You won’t be disappointed when you hook into a few winter blues.

Fact Box: Practice C&R
Unrestricted overfishing back in the 1950s and ’60s really made a dent in east coast groper populations. These laidback fish are relatively easy to spear and the stocks along the south-east coast were in dire straits before a total ban on taking them was instituted in 1969.

In 1974, angling and commercial fishing were again allowed, but spearfishing remained prohibited, as it still does today. In 1975, concern over the large catches by commercial fishers led to a ban on bottom-set gill nets.Blue groper were banned from sale in 1980.

Since then, sensible line fishing bag limits have seen stocks of these fish really bounce back. Go for a snorkel off just about any rock platform and you’ll generally spot plenty of smaller green and brown groper, plus get a chance of seeing a big blue cruising around his territory.

While smaller groper aren’t bad eating, most anglers these days practice C&R, especially with the big blue tanks. Like bass and Murray cod, groper are an iconic Aussie sportfish. If you want a feed, catch a few drummer or bream and let the groper go!

The Fisho team.

This story was first published in the Fishing World September 2013 issue.

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