WITH the rise and rise of stickbaits and poppers in the Land Based Game scene, people are becoming less inclined to honour the age old tradition of “drifting out a livie”. And who can really blame them? Throwing big lures for big fish is great, it’s engaging, it catches fish and the lures are always nice and shiny!
However, if I really had to catch a predatory fish from the stones I would leave the high modulus graphite on the shelf and dust off my lever-drag.
Unlike when you are throwing a lure, your bait is always in with a chance of being eaten. When you are between casts, having a drink or a bite to eat, changing lures or having a yarn to your mates you haven’t got a shot at a fish. Whereas, if you have managed your bait correctly you are always in with a shot, you can also throw lures at the same time if you want, maximising your chances of getting a hook up.
A lot has been written about livebait rigs over the years and I don’t wish to get bogged down in the finer details here. A float stopper, then float on your double followed by a swivel, a couple of meters of appropriate strength trace and a hook to match both the bait size and your quarry will generally suffice. There are of course a few variations upon the theme, putting a sinker above your bait if it won’t sit deep or the gannets are giving you trouble. Different sizes and styles of floats to alter your drifts, balloons will act like a sail which is great if there is an offshore breeze but makes life difficult if it is blowing onshore. Filling your balloon with water before putting some air in it will allow it to utilise wash or current to get a drift. The choice is yours whether you run a swivel or not, mono or flurocarbon leader material, straight or off set, J or circle hooks, a lot of it really comes down to personal preference.
Yellowtail and cowanyoung
At least in my eyes, these fish are the backbone of the livebaiting arsenal. Generally easy to catch, hardy and snack sized, there probably aren’t too many species of predatory fish in NSW that haven’t been caught on the humble yakka. Although not one of my favourite baits I am always glad to have at least a couple swimming around my bait pool. Pinned just behind the dorsal fin, above their very well defined lateral line they will swim all day unless they get eaten. It is easy to tell when they are starting to get stressed due to poor water quality or a lack of oxygen as they will develop dark brown bands instead of being plain silver or light brown.
These are one of my favourite baits, kingfish and longtail both adore them and as gars usually swim on the surface, the strikes can be spectacular to say the least. Gars can be caught on a sabiki jig with a float tied to the far end where one would usually attach a sinker so the jigs stay on the surface. I usually shorten the string of jigs to only two or three droppers so there is less chance of the gars getting tangled and dying while you try to unhook them.
They are a reasonably hardy bait but if your bait pool has sharp corners they will swim into them and die as they don’t seem to have reverse gear.
I have found that the easiest way to hook them is to turn them upside down and pin them lightly near the anal fin, avoiding any vital organs.
My favourite livebait. Everything eats these and you can see why, bite sized, no spines and full of oil, they are like the bacon of the fish world. A lot of people seem to struggle keeping smilies alive and I think that is primarily because they are too rough with them. Do not touch them if you can possibly help it, I will generally use pliers to grip the hook and shake the fish straight into the pool. Once in there they are very oxygen hungry and need a near constant supply of fresh water, otherwise you will notice that they develop dark green bands before dying quickly. I generally turn them upside down and pin them behind the dorsal fin. Like gars they will quite often swim away from the pressure of the line, so if you can get them pointed in the right direction they will swim straight out until you stop them.
Maligned by most, the stinky pike is the go to bait for a lot of gun XOS king and mulloway anglers. We generally spin them up on small soft plastics and minnows cast parallel to the ledge in the wash during the predawn period and have found that bridle rigging keeps them alive for the longest length of time. Keep them in close where they would normally be found but out of too much wash and current otherwise they will die quickly.
They are another bait that should be handled as little as possible and not just to avoid the smell.
Traps for young players
Don’t cast baits like pike, slimies or gar, it will kill them, keep them in the pool for as long as you can, pull enough line off your reel so that they will reach the water then swing/lower them into the water.
When rigging gars keep you rig to the absolute minimum. I plat a short double and tie it directly, with a double uni knot, to a 2m leader on which I run a small torpedo float to a stopper 20cm above the hook so the float doesn’t sit on the bait and kill it. When fishing for kings with pike I rig them in the same manner only with a bigger float and heavier line.
Before handling baits wet your hands first or use a damp cloth like a microfiber cleaning cloth and keep them in the water for as long as possible.
When using big baits like bonito, frigates and salmon it is generally easier to have a second person help you with the rigging. If you are spinning for them have your livebait rod rigged and ready to go so you can put them back out straight away.
If you are bridle rigging small baits use silicon hair ties, they won’t degrade as quickly as rubber bands do in the sun and heat. You can also use dacron or dental floss, pre-tie them with a sliding loop knot at either end so you don’t have to waste time doing so on the ledge.
Scoop dead baits and bits of regurgitated food out of the bait pool and fight the urge to fill your pool up with pretty mystery fish which sometimes show up in burley trails from time to time. They just increase the biomass in the water, increasing the need for water changes.
Leave your bait alone. Don’t bring it in unless you really have to, the more times you drag it through the water the more quickly it will die.
On hot days you will need to change your water more regularly, warm water holds less dissolved oxygen than cold water.
Keep an eye on your baits, if they start to look stressed, do a water change, don’t just add more fish (seriously, I have seen people do this).
If you have the opportunity to top up your baits do so, get rid of the most sickly looking ones and replace them with fresh baits.
At the end of the session, before you drain all of your water out rub the walls and base of your pool down with your hand or a cloth. It develops a biofilm on its surfaces and will increase the need for water changes during future trips.
Don’t just bundle your sabiki jigs up and chuck them out. Cut a piece of high density foam so that it will fit in your tackle box, cut a couple of slits into it and wrap your jig around that. It will stop it from tangling and will save you money and reduce the amount of rubbish you throw away.
Tie your own baitjigs using stronger mainline and droppers and long shanked hooks to reduce the chances of losing hooks to pest fish like bream and large sweep that inevitably turn up in burley trails. The long shank hooks makes it easier to unhook fish, increasing their chances of survival.
If you are fishing multiple rods on a small ledge and your baits are sitting too close together run different styles of float on each rod (a torpedo on one and a balloon on another). As the floats react differently to wind and current they should get different drifts, reducing the chaos.