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Rocks, Softies & Jewies

There was nothing new about walking out to the point in the dark; I’d done exactly the same thing on countless occasions, taking my time, waiting for first light, always with a shiver of anticipation flicking up my spine.

But this time I was carrying a SP outfit rather than a surfboard and I’d walked past the jump-off rock and climbed over the front of the headland onto the ledge below.

I’d had to bum-walk around a tricky ledge where the overhang kept me low.

It was raining so the rocks were slippery. Being sloped and jagged, my possie wasn’t comfortable but, hey, I was being careful and this was going to be the time I caught my first jew on a soft plastic!

The gutter looked as fishy as it gets: sufficient swell to break on outside edge sending surges of whitewater over the surface of the protected hole.

Given that I’ve chased all sorts of fish on plastics, I was hoping that I could extract a jewie, but like all new forms of fishing, I figured that I lacked the finesse to tempt reluctant fish so it was a case of having a go with the view of looking and learning.

After 10 minutes of nothingness, I was wondering what to try next. I’d cast to all the likely looking spots – the water outside the barrier rock, just behind the barrier rock and through the middle.

I suspect I was a bit worried about snagging up and not knowing how deep the hole was, I might not have been letting the lure sink sufficiently.

With all this going through my mind I remember thinking that they might be right at my feet, and that maybe there was a cave down there full of jewies, so I dropped the lure off the rod tip and fed it slack line.

I remember drawing the SP right back to the rock and then feeling a light double-tap that felt disturbingly like a snag.

A gentle lift to free the lure produced another bump so I struck just in case, and found myself connected.

The fight was far from an elegant event. I’d caught several good jews in my previous life as a blood and guts rock fisherman and thus knew what it was like to be rubbed out on sharp rocks.

At close to 75cm in length, it was my smallest jew from the rocks by a long way, but given that I planned to catch one on a soft plastic, I was pretty pleased and relieved as well – it’s always nice to get the first one as it gets the monkey off your back …

It was a satisfying walk back to the holiday house with a jew in one hand and a rod in the other.

My boy was surfing the point and judging from the “Yew Davo!” he was pretty pleased as well.

I got two more that evening, but they were the size of a decent bass rather than a proper jewie, although I did come away with the notion that jews must be keen when they are in the mood, because these 45cm fish were nailing six-inch lures that looked too large for their mouths, let alone to get fully inhaled.

There were no more fish for the next few days as a result of the swell becoming large enough to hammer into the hole. I tried but I suspect there was too much water movement.

After that the ocean flattened off and again I couldn’t catch a jew to save my life. With minimal whitewater, it seemed more of a swimming hole than a jew spot.

On the last morning of our week away, I caught another schoolie; a new swell had arrived and conditions were back to prime … some water movement and a substantial cover of whitewater – just enough swell to splash me without being dangerous to life and limb.

I’ve continued the hunt since coming back home. While I did experience a golden run of an 80-85cm fish each time I visited a certain area, I’ve been doing it tough of late.

My thinking is that the northerlies have pushed sand into the gutters that were producing fish, making them less attractive as holding areas.

The good news is that I’ve been forced to look further afield. In so doing, I’m sure I’ve found a new honey hole.

The rocks are a little too low and there isn’t any protection from the wind, but it definitely looks like the goods with deeper holes and shallow gutters all interspersed with knobs and submerged rocks, all producing smears of whitewater to shade the water below.

It’s going to be a problem when I hook a big one, but I think there’ll be plenty of manageable fish as well.

One or two small bays provide sufficient room to work a big hard-body, so I’ll keep you posted on the big one.

Depending on your preference, either a medium sized overhead/baitcast reel (say, a 400 size) or a 3000-6000 sized threadline will do the job.

Personally, I use either a 3500 or 4000 threadline in combination with 15kg and 20kg braid as a mainline.

Both my rods are graphite, and while I have caught a few jew using snapper rods, I prefer to use the rods I chase coral trout with up north.

Both will break 15kg braid on full lock, so while they have the light tips required to cast a plastic, they’re still gutsy sticks with plenty of power in the butt.

The use of good leader material is very important because most fish are encountered tight in against structure.

In the course of the fight, it can be difficult to move solid fish away from trouble quickly.

Leader material should vary in strength between 15–24kg, and the leader should be at least two metres in length. Use the lighter stuff when fishing a fairly clear area or after an area has been worked without result.

Nobody likes losing fish, but when the fish in question comes from a tightly packed school, it becomes doubly important because if there’s anything that spooks a school of jew more than one on the line, it seems to be a fish recently off the line.

Panicking fish disperse schools, so try to get them out ASAP; minimum fuss means minimal disturbance.

Remember that while you can get solid hits often you get double taps that feel like impoundment barra that inhale by flaring their gills and then swallowing. Perhaps jew are the same?

What matters is that you react quickly. Keep your mind on water depth and try to have an idea of how deep your lure is, but don’t choose to wait in order to determine whether you have a snag or not.

You’ll get snagged heaps of times; don’t try and rip your lure free until you’ve taken up the slack and spent 60 seconds tapping the rod butt.

Do this long enough and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how many rigs are saved.

Plastics & Jig Heads
Surprisingly, you don’t need to use massive plastics to catch jew.

I stick with lures between four and six inches, with no particular favourites as I’ve caught fish on all of them. The lures I carry at present include jerk shads, shads, fish and grub styles from a variety of manufacturers such as Z-Man, Berkley and Squidgy.

I’m not aware of a “best” colour as yet, but that could change with time.

As far as jigheads go, 3/0-5/0 sized hooks on weights between ¼ oz and ¾ oz are the go. I use heavier heads than I thought I would, particularly on six-inch grubs or Z-Man lures as they need the weight to stay near the bottom.

Conventional jigheads have an exposed hook which is best for hooking fish but worst in terms of snagging on the bottom.

Weedless rigs such as TT weighted worm hooks and Snakeheads are good for avoiding snags but not quite as efficient at pinning fish.

I tend to let the terrain determine how I rig the SP, but I do use a loop knot to connect all my hooks; not only does it allow the plastic to move, but it’s much quicker to tie … and jews frequently hit a SP a second time, or their mate does, if they don’t feel the hook.

inline_23_ softies and jewies fish pic_EB74EC70-D1AE-11E3-831D005056A302E6.jpg?source=%2Fimages%2FdmImage%2FSourceImage%2Frocks softies and jewies fish pic%2Ejpg

Above: A nice schoolie takes a rest in a rock pool, still wearing the Z-Man softie that fooled it.

Travelling light
If you are going to catch a jew on a plastic, nine times out of 10 you get it pretty quickly, more often than not within the first cast or two.

I’m not sure if this reflects a presence or a keenness to feed, so perhaps they can be schooled up without a willingness to feed at times.

For whatever reason, given that the prime times are fairly short (daylight and dusk), it’s wise to travel light and fish an area with a couple of options close by.

That way you can do an early circuit and a prime time circuit in the one visit, making it more likely that you will come across some fish.

Put another way, don’t stick in the one spot if you haven’t had a bite after 10 minutes of fishing. In most cases, if jews were there, you would know by this stage.

Travel light and keep your gear with you; a vinyl shoulder bag is ideal for this – they’re available cheaply at most tackle stores.

All you need is a variety of soft plastics, a container with a few differing styles and weight jig heads, leader material, a small knife and pair of scissors.

Rapala makes beaut little knives; they are white and come with a sheath (so you don’t stab yourself through the bag) and cost $7 in my local fishing store.

Similarly, Rapala’s scissors have finger holes large enough for my sausage-shaped fingers. They are a similar price and of equally good quality.

Given that this is a rock-fishing scenario, it would be remiss of me to ignore the safety aspect.

I’m going to assume that even bulletproof adolescents, of which all of us once were, have become aware of the dangers of not taking care while rock fishing.

Always watch a stretch of rock before moving out onto it, look for a place to climb out safely if you get washed in and if you don’t think you can reach safety, don’t fish there.

Perhaps if more anglers jumped in before being washed in, we’d have less fatalities … just strip off, let go of your gear and swim away from the rocks!

There’s a safety bonus involved with this style of fishing in that you should be targeting areas of water covered with a layer of whitewater, which means that you don’t need to fish exposed points, but rather holes and gutters in more sheltered areas.

When heavy swell is moving through, it’s time to go home as the jews will be elsewhere.

Jew areas often have slippery algal growth in the vicinity so decent, non-slip footwear becomes very important for an angler’s safety.

For years rock fishermen used plastic sandals, but these days metal spiked neoprene booties or hard soled fishing shoes offer great protection.

After Dark
The action doesn’t stop after daylight fades from the sky. Jews are skilled nocturnal hunters and they can move into very shallow water under cover of darkness.

They are also efficient hunters in the suds after the sun goes down, so don’t think it’s all over once you can’t see; unless of course it becomes dangerous to stay.

Water that was too calm in daylight becomes a real possibility at night, so stick at it.

In addition to bumping SPs across the bottom, try a very slow roll across the surface because the lure will be visible from below, casting a dark silhouette to fish beneath it.

Dark plastics would be my choice for a surface roll while white and glow plastics work well along the bottom.

Last But Not Least
There are no shortcuts with jewfish. Cracking a pattern in a given area requires significant time and thought.

Take detailed dated notes in regard to tides, moon, wind and swell.

Record when and where you don’t catch fish and look for the emergence of patterns.

Get into the water and have a look at where you fish – not only will you see what the bottom is like, you’ll eventually come across schools of fish.

With perseverance you’ll build a knowledge base for each spot, and therefore become an accomplished jew angler.

 Fact Box: Six jewie tips

1. Small plastics are surprisingly effective; 4”-6” is adequate if schoolies are around. Try a big hard-body if a thumper is your target.

2. Work your SPs as close to structure as you dare.

3. Slowly slowly is the key. A gentle lift/sink and a dead stop will produce more fish than a quicker action. Plastics with fine tails or grub styles with their curly tails can be left to sit on sand; a tail that wafts back and forth must look like a worm!

4. No need for super heavy gear. A soft plastics snapper outfit with 10kg-15kg braid is all you need for school jew.

5. Look for a spot to wash your fish out; any jew longer than 60cm will require washing out so look for a spot to do that safely.

6. For a safe and secure grip on your fish, slip your hand along the inside of the gill plate, curling finger tips behind the bony ridge that you’ll feel back there. Never reach INTO the gills themselves; they are like barbed knives.

This story was first published in the Fishing World January 2014 issue.

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