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Did you bring the bait?
12:17PM 6th Jan 14

With lengthening days and spring winds throttling back to a more manageable level it was time to get back into explore mode: time for a four day sortie to target new areas looking for the next hot kayak fishing destination. Rather than lurk around familiar territory Milkey and I would check out new access points so we could cover water neither of us had paddled before. This summer is going to be one of new inshore and offshore grounds, and pushing the kayak angling performance as hard as we can.

This session was also the shakedown run for planned remote fishing missions around the country over the next 12 months. The perfect time to check out what tackle and gear is needed and also to experiment with ways of keeping the plethora of electronics now making up so much of our kit charged and running (more on this in future articles). Cameras especially are becoming more important with catch and release forming the bulk of our fishing. In a nutshell “if it ain’t on film, it was never caught!”

The prospecting drive showed a coastline that hinted at the huge fishing potential both in close and off shore. Kayaks can access all this water as their robust nature allows anglers to explore all this structure without fear of wrecking a prop on unexpected rocks.

This time the destination was Great Exhibition Bay, a broad expanse of the Far North’s east coast with potential for a wide variety of fishing. Though water temperatures were still cold for this trip they do heat up quickly and typically stay warm late in the year. You can fish shallow behind the breakers along the beaches, head out wide for deeper waters, and also explore many areas of shallow and deeper structure.

A 4WD and a roof rack, no trailer, no need for a ramp, let’s go exploring!

This is a real kayak angling gem offering huge lure fishing potential. In fact, though I actually remembered the bait for this trip having my mate out fish me on a variety of lures showed I could easily have forgotten it without affecting our fishing. In fact there was much to be learnt from this. Future expeditions will see less bait and an even greater range of lures carried, the goal being to simplify the logistics of carrying enough ice and keeping frozen bait in top condition.

As with any trip to a new destination it’s important to do a little research to make the most of your time on the water. I start with marine charts and look for areas that have potential for current and a mixture of sand and structure. These are often the best areas for accumulations of bait fish (another source of bait to minimize the need for frozen supplies) and the predators that hunt them – these are the angling targets we’re after.

A scan of the area using Google maps is my next step. This gives a good idea of what the coastline looks like and what its makeup is: rocky, sandy, lots of gutters, etc. By matching this up with a detailed road atlas it’s also possible to look at access to potential launch points. Most of the Google images of our coast are now detailed enough to give some idea of vehicle parking at road ends, and most importantly, if there’s track or vehicle access to the water’s edge. This is the joy of kayaking, in most circumstances if there’s reasonable walking access it’s usually possible to get your kayak there – no ramp required.

The next part of the mission is committing to go, but making sure you allow yourself time to reconnoiter before actually launching the kayaks. I like to have enough time to drive to all the potential launching points to check access and local conditions. I also like to seek out any spots that overlook fishing areas. This serves two main purposes: it allows me to get an overview of parts of the coast I may not have seen before so I can recognize where I am, and it allows me to spot potentially fishy areas.

Rarawa Beach, the gateway to the expanse of Great Exhibition Bay. Brilliantly easy access and not another person in sight – kayak anglers paradise!

In this case standing on the dunes above the beaches and at the lookout over Henderson Point not only showed structure, rip areas, and sandy gutters around the shallows, but also showed offshore structure where it contrasted against the light coloured sand. It’s also interesting to have a scan with binoculars to look for areas where swells seem to lift that might indicate a change in depth, and also to look for working birds that indicate concentrations of fish.

A little time doing this on your afternoon of arrival can pay huge dividends the next day. Launches are less stressful because you know where you’re going and what the conditions are. Parking is familiar rather than fumbling around in the dark, and it’s great to know where you’re going once launched. Having that first destination in mind makes it easy to get under way and begin the search for the day’s action rather than paddling blindly into the early morning gloom hoping to stumble onto something on the sounder.

Remote area fishing doesn’t mean you have to do without bait. Tuatua’s will catch an amazing range of fish provided your mate doesn’t eat them all.

Bait vs. lures

I’m a self-confessed bait addict spending roughly half my time on the water presenting natural foods to my targets. The remaining half of my fishing time is spread across all the other types of angling including trolling, soft-baiting, jigging, etc. I don’t feel comfortable on the water unless I have something 100% natural to present to my targets. My preference is pillies or anything I can catch fresh: piper, mackerel, koheru, sprats (yellow eyed mullet), cut baits of trevally or kahawai, or shellfish. Basically anything that could be part of the diet of local predators.

Keeping frozen bait in top condition over the summer months, especially in remote locations, is often problematic. A bin full of ice is good for a few days but without freezer access everything eventually gets mushy and goes to waste unless used for berley. Time spent catching or gathering fresh bait is always worthwhile. A suitable cast or bait net (make sure you comply with local regulations) and sabiki rigs are brilliant way to source smaller fish. Trolling and casting lures works well for the larger specie.

“Give it back!” A nice lure caught snapper about to be released. When fishing remote areas it’s great to be able to let big fish go with the minimum of handling and only a photo kept as your trophy.

The key message here is that a lack of bait is no longer a reason for having a bad day. The range of lure systems now available to kayak anglers makes it possible to cycle through a variety of techniques to find which are performing the best. The trick is to have a selection to choose from and being prepared to experiment until you find what’s working.This trip to the Far North proved a point though: as mentioned Milkey definitely caught the biggest and the most, and proved that actively fishing lures can easily be the best strategy for many trips. Despite my carrying a range of bait and playing with different presentations it was lure fishing doing the most damage (next time I’ll get my own back!).  Though I was catching fish on bait it takes longer to present and pickers meant that too much time was spent out of the strike zone baiting up and re-presenting each time a bait was destroyed.

Be aware that this preference for a particular style, shape, colour, etc. can and does often change throughout any day on the water. A classic example was our first full fishing day on this expedition. The morning started with no wind but a fast running tide, and with most fish falling to soft-baits and soft-plastics. As the tide slackened and the bite lessened it became harder to get takes on these lures and a change was made to knuckle jigs. The vibration, flash, and action of these lures upped the noise and visual factor and suddenly we were catching fish again.

Once the tide turned and the current picked up again the afternoon breezes also arrived. This made it slower and more difficult to present the knuckle jigs as the kayaks wanted to blow off the marks too quickly. Although putting out drift chutes (sea anchors) would have solved this another lure change was made so we could maintain mobility. Inchiku style slow jigs were now the lure of choice, making it was easier to target the strike zone. The result is the bite that seemed to be tailing off suddenly came alive again and we were back into exciting fish action!

Written By Stephen Tapp for the NZ Fishing News magazine, read more of Stephens Fishing News articles HERE

Having a good cross selection of lures and being prepared to experiment with them can make a huge difference to your day on the water. By utilizing the performance characteristics of each type it’s possible to keep fishing as conditions and the bite changes