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“what was I thinking, why did I bring a knife to a gun fight?!”
5:14PM 18th Mar 14

The winning kingfish from the Taranaki Kayak Classic; despite being anchored in only 5m and briefly ending up amongst the stones, leader selection on the light snapper outfit made the difference in winning this furious battle.

This article was written by Stephen Tapp post competition for the NZ Fishing News, and may serve as a timely peice of info for those of you planning to compete at the up coming Taranaki Kayak Fishing classic or for any other missions you have planned where being prepared could make all the difference between landing that trophy fish or not!.

The article begins - "what was I thinking, why did I bring a knife to a gun fight?!” 

The past several weeks have seen a flurry of activity and two major competitions of the kayak angling calendar. Both events, the Ocean Kayak Kayak Fishing World Cup and the Taranaki Kayak Fishing Classic have a major points/weight component making it imperative to land solid representatives of as many qualifying specie as possible. To do well was going to take planning, appropriate tackle selection, and strategy. One lucky fish on its own wasn’t going to be good enough.

Where are the kahawai when you need them? Skippies like this guy weren’t part of the recent Kayak Fishing World Cup and it took several lure changes and a lot of “wasted” time to secure the desired target. Going prepared with an adequate selection of tackle and remembering to actually put it in the water is essential to securing the target specie.

I spent the week prior to each competition studying and planning over marine charts while sorting and servicing all the kit I thought I needed. Despite this I was still confronted with several instances of screaming braid, smoking drags, and a burning thumb, closely followed by the shudder and backwards slam of parting line. That heart-in-the-mouth moment of a fully loaded rod and the kayak slewing around to track the fish converting to the gut rendering instant of silence as the fish wins its freedom. 

Then the inevitable head-banging “what was I thinking, why did I bring a knife to a gun fight?!”

So, did I learn anything from my misfortunes? Was there anything I’d do differently? There is, and I’ve already started to see some of the results in the fish I’ve been landing. Here are three of the key points in time for the next round of competitions in the middle and end of April.

One of the secrets to my new approach to competition fishing; carrying a variety of leader material to change the performance of the heavier braid I now run making it easy to match changing conditions and target specie

Leader up

I enjoy fishing light tackle and for my day-to-day fishing have gone to some very fine braids (the 1lb Fireline on one of my spools has a diameter of only 0.06mm). This is OK when barbless hooks are used and there’s no real pressure to bring a fish home, but during a competition using cobwebs is only going to end in tears!

One of the reasons I like finer diameter lines is to improve presentation. Thinner lines are more supple and far less likely to influence the “natural” look and action of baits and lures. I’ve found it makes a big difference when targeting fish in areas with lots of pressure, and when looking for those wary specimens that have become large by not being stupid.

I now have a new approach when it comes to lines and leaders for competition fishing. I learnt some hard lessons during the Kayak Fishing World Cup when I lost a couple of decent fish, but the new technique has already served me well during the Taranaki Classic. Ultimately, by changing the main line and leaders I managed to land the heaviest kingfish for the competition while anchored over a reef in only 5 meters of water.

The concept is to change away from the stiffer fused lines I’ve been using, and spool up with a fine diameter woven braid that’s two or three line classes heavier than I’d normally use. To fish this heavier line in a variety of ways and conditions I can then easily change the length, weight, and type of leader I’m using to suit the baits and lures I’m running.

This system of changing the leaders on the one main line does make for more knot tying on the water, but it greatly improves the versatility of the rod and reel combo as a whole. If I need a more natural presentation I can go to a very fine leader around 5m long even though this may have a significantly lower breaking strain than the main line. In this situation I may use a very short trace if I need extra bite protection.

If conditions dictate that extra abrasion protection is going to be critical I can up the diameter of the leader, but also have the confidence of a more robust main line than I’ve typically used in the past. This allows me maximum versatility from the limited number of outfits I have on board, is reasonably good at allowing me to match changing conditions, but certainly improves my chances of actually landing the competition winner rather than simply having another “one that got away” story.

For my day-to-day fishing I’ll continue to use the ultra-fine braids I’ve become accustomed to. I enjoy the challenges of using them and the rewards of successfully landing fish on cobwebs, but for competitions I’ve now changed my approach.

If at first you don’t succeed… try another lure! Carrying a variety, especially with hard body lures, can make the difference in finally landing the desired fish. Each style, size, and position of bib creates a totally different look and action as well as changing the running depth

Change your lures

Here is where I have to laugh at myself and really ask the question “what was I thinking?!” I know the rules: if a lure isn’t catching the fish you want it to, change it. Any idiot can catch a kahawai can’t they? When the competition pressure is on it’s all too easy to default to old habits rather than taking the time to find out what your target specie are really interested in on the day.

In this case I’d been struggling to catch a weighable kahawai around Elizabeth Reef; normally a trouble free task done easily and quickly. They were there; I could see the schools in deeper water and their grey shapes in the lifts around the various bits of structure, but I chose to persevere with the wrong lures.

My thought was to use a darker bibbed lure that’s been successful on kahawai in the past. The theory being the darker/duller colour wouldn’t attract the attention of the tunas, and since it would only dive 40 – 80mm the snapper would leave it alone. How wrong I was on both counts! Any time I got near the schooling fish in deeper water a skippy would inhale it; any time I got too close to the reef a snapper would shoot out and absolutely hammer it. I should have changed much sooner to the tuna feathers the skippies weren’t interested in but the kahawai absolutely loved (go figure!).

When it comes to bibbed lures remember the different size, shape, angle, and position of the bib relative to the lures nose and the towing point will have a huge influence over its swimming action and diving ability. This is definitely a situation where carrying a selection of styles, shapes, and colours is critical rather than trying to rely on one “catch-all”. Of course, as I kick myself now, you actually have to try them in the water too.

Kayak Fishing World Cup runner-up Lyndon Cox smiling for the cameras. In a points competition it’s planning and consistency rather 

Don’t be afraid to change fishing styles

It’s always worthwhile finding out how the locals fish and following their lead, even if it means fishing outside your comfort zone. Often there are sound reasons why local anglers use particular techniques and these make a great place to start if you’ve never fished an area before. That doesn’t mean you should only fish as they do, simply that local common-use techniques are most likely to quickly get you under way. For the Taranaki Kayak Fishing Classic this meant  even though it’s been more than 4 years since I last anchored a kayak and berleyed, I made sure we went prepared just in case.

The idea was to start as the locals do and get the berley in the water before dawn. From there we would fish until mid-morning before reverting to our more usual techniques of spotting fish on the sounder, straylining, prospecting with soft baits, jigging inchiku, trolling lures, etc., etc.

During this competition using berley made a huge difference to our success. On Saturday it put a variety of fish on board early, freeing up our team so we could successfully target tuna, kahawai, and kingfish on lures and baits. On Sunday being anchored and berleying on a shallow reef allowed us to fish even though wind conditions at our spot south of Cape Egmont got a bit tough.

Along with paying attention to how others are fishing, don’t be afraid to experiment with more familiar techniques. A case in point, over the two days of the Taranaki Classic I saw several weighable fish come aboard on softbaits, a technique many locals haven’t found successful. The message here is to heed the local fishing conditions, but be prepared to try everything. If you can, get in a pre-competition fish if you’ve never been to an area before to give yourself a “heads-up” on what could deliver the best results.

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