The water temperature has dropped to about 13-14°C in the Hauraki Gulf and there has been some pretty exciting fishing in deeper water around Flat Rock and out in the middle of the Gulf, particularly the area about five miles south of Little Barrier. Big snapper and kingfish are in feeding in the work ups that occur when the whales and dolphins round up schools of pilchards. The gannets are the prime indicator for finding these work ups so keep your eyes peeled for them diving.
Just about any bait, soft bait or lure, will work when this frenzied action is happening and the recent advent of sinking stick baits is certainly gaining momentum and producing great results. I prefer to use a spinning reel on a light stick bait rod of about 7-8ft long. This allows long casts and a natural descent of the lure through the water. The kingfish love them as do the bigger snapper and kahawai that are not far below the feeding dolphins and pilchard schools. There is a huge range of colours to choose from brands like Nomad, Fish Inc and Savage Gear.
As the water cools further, this activity may decrease and the fishing seem to slow down. This is where drift fishing reefs, with soft baits or the tried and proven method of anchoring and berleying up while you float big baits back into the reef, comes into play. There are little tweaks you can make to your tackle to improve your catch rate over the colder months when the fish are not feeding as ravenously. Switching down to lighter leader works, but you do run the risk of losing big fish in the reefs so I switch to a fluorocarbon leader. Fluorocarbon has good knot strength, high abrasion resistance and is near-invisible in the water. Changing to circle hooks too can help when the fish are a little shy. Allow the fish to run and then slowly raise the rod tip to set the hook. The hook will almost always set in the corner of the mouth, which allows for an easier removal and safe release of a fish if you wanted.
Just like with soft baiting, it pays to take a selection of baits. Often one bait will out fish another and, likewise, with soft bait colours and actions. Colours I like to use over the winter are New Penny, yellows and I always pack a pack of ZMan “Motor Oil” as it just seems to produce fish when things go a bit quiet. When it comes to baits, then fresh is best but not always available so I pack pilchards, mullet and squid as the staples but as TopCatch has about 20 varieties of bait we are spoilt for choice so can switch things up and try piper, sanma, baby mullet, koheru and another good bait and many an anglers favourite, bonito. Get a good flow of berley happening and float baits back down your berley trail. In strong current you may need to weight the baits with a small ball sinker to get them down to the reef.
Wrap up warm and enjoy the weather windows for good winter fishing.