Author: Nige Webster
Snapper are one of, if not the most popular recreational fishing target in Australia, and prized models are often found in deep water around the country’s vast coastline.
While casting lures and using high speed retrieves is something we’ve been doing for a long time, technological advancements in boating electronics and fishing gear means the style has well and truly evolved.
Let’s take a look at some of basics of high-speed spinning while delving into how we can gain from scientific developments.
There is the old school way of finding activity by looking for the birds diving into the baitfish being herded to the surface by predators below and while this can be effective, predators don’t always feed at the surface.
In the areas I usually fish, boating activity quickly drives the fish deeper. When this is the case, we rely on our sounder to act as our eyes below the water. They help us identify signs of fish, structure or smaller fish schools which could attract bigger fish to the area. Then it becomes a case of proper boat positioning and finding the right lure presentation to get the job done.
Let’s look at some of the techniques and gear needed to put you in the best position to make your pelagic luring sessions successful.
It’s a big ocean out there and sounding the whole thing in search of pelagics is impossible. So how do you know where to start?
You could certainly fall back to basics and look to the sky for diving or swooping birds and at the same time keep a keen eye trained on the surface for any fish busting into bait. You still need a starting spot to head to and there are several ways to come by this.
Local reports are a good place to begin and thanks to social media, they’re never too far away. A lot of charter companies also use social media to promote their business so check in with their pages to see what they’ve been catching. Your local BCF is also an invaluable resource as customers are often too keen to talk to the staff about their recent catches and locations.
The best way to take advantage of pelagics is to be ready to jump into action as soon as there are whispers of fish and the weather is good. Most of these fish are seasonal and will move around in your area for some time. Getting out onto the water and finding more than one likely location over the course of several trips will give you a great starting point for future trips and a backup plan if spot A or even spot B fails.
I have found when fishing the smaller tides, the big fish seem to roam more. They can be caught all over the place, are happy to roam the open water and at times are less concentrated. Bait schools are often the key if you are looking to cast lures into them.
If you fail to find good shows of bait but fish are in the area, look for pinnacles or features that disturb the current flow. Such areas will attract the bait and the swirling water makes it easier for the predators to move in and snatch up a feed. Current lines are also worth a look as they trap debris like weed and other rubbish which of course attracts bait.
Bigger tides could be considered harder to fish but I have had some of my best action fishing six metre tides in North Queensland. When there is this much water ripping in and out of an area it can make fishing tough but it makes locating fish much easier. With the water running so fast between tides, the fish will need to get out of the current to conserve energy. Look for features that interrupt the tidal flow.
Hidden bombies are ideal but reef edges, rocks and islands can all redirect and interrupt the current flow too. Most times the big fish will position themselves on the pressure side of the obstruction. This is the side where the water pushes into first and creates an eddy (circular current of water) where it is easier for both big and small fish to hold position. As the tide turns fish will reposition themselves so be aware of this as a good run in tide spot could be totally barren on the run out and vice- versa.
Fish finders have come a long way in recent years with the development of more advanced side and down imaging and higher defined pictures when viewed in normal sonar. For images to show better detail it is necessary to travel at a slower speed.
Once I reach my chosen location, I like to toss out a couple of lures or baits and troll to cover ground while in search of pelagics or any signs of bait which could indicate bigger fish will move in to hunt the area.
At a trolling speed of 3 to 12km/h the sounder does a much better job of showing definite fish arches. Sounders should be set on the fastest scroll speed to ensure the picture is refreshing quickly to suit the moving boat. The faster the boat moves, the smaller (or shorter) any returns of big fish will be. And yes; bigger really is better. A bigger sounder screen will allow you to see things in more detail. What appears as a speck on a small screen could actually be a big fish cruising through the transducers beam at speed.
Lowrance and Garmin have some solid units in the mid to upper price ranges to suit pelagic pursuits. Check out some of the combo units available to give yourself the best chance of finding fish and marking them for future reference. Split screens with GPS are particularly handy as the GPS plays an important role in searching for fish by allowing you to keep track of boat movements via the track (or trail) the boat leaves.
You can then move away from areas which are barren and returning to ones which show signs of promise. Waypoints can be placed where fish have previously showed, strikes have occurred, raised bottom causes variation in current or bait schools are present.
Once you’ve gone to all the effort of finding fish it’s time to get down to business and start fishing. Rather than drifting while having a couple of casts, technology now allows us to hold sport fishing boats right on the spot without the use of an anchor. An anchor could certainly do the job but it is time consuming and as the wind and current changes; the boat will swing which can be a problem if you are fishing to a particularly small area.
Electric motors such as the i-Pilot series from Minn Kota have built-in GPS receivers which track satellites and circuitry which accurately controls the motor’s speed and direction to hold the boat on a set location.
This has made offshore and inshore fishing so much easier. At the touch of the anchor button on the remote or through a linked sounder, the deployed electric will do the rest while you start to fish. They perform well in the saltwater environment where they are working against a constant tide and wind as the boat has to work in a constant direction to maintain position and therefore hold straight.
Best lures for pelagics
There are plenty of lures you can cast and crank back at speed. Blades, lipless baits, stickbaits and poppers might live in some tackle boxes but most anglers will be carrying more basic offerings. Metal slices and soft plastics are cheap, common and in most instances more than capable of getting the job done.
The trick to choosing a lure is to match the size of the baitfish in the area. If the predators are already feeding, they tend to focus on a particular bait and anything that differs too much from this won’t draw their attention.
Chrome metal slices come in sizes from under 10g right up to objects that would anchor a kayak. It pays to have a fair selection of sizes and of course some spares of each in case you lose some during battle. In my waters, I carry heaps of 20, 40 and 55g slices. In the 20g size I like straight running models which have a very small profile to match the tiny bait the tuna feed on for most of the year.
The Halco Outcast and Halco Twisty are favourites and won’t bust the bank. They cast like bullets and perfectly imitate a range of baitfish found in our local waters. It pays to carry a range of sizes and multiples of each in case of bust offs and bite offs.
Micro jigging seems to be the new craze and I wonder how some of the newer lure styles will stack up against the proven 40g Twisty when jigged over the reef. Soft plastics can also be a great high speed option. Rigged on jigheads to give them the casting distance, plastics do a great job of mimicking baitfish. Both paddletails and stickbaits work well and you can either crank them back flat out or add some jigging action in between the winds.
There are plenty of good soft plastics to choose: select 4 to 7” minnow and curl-tail styles of soft plastic from brands such as Z-Man, Savage, Zerek, Squidgie, and Berkley.
Once the boat has been positioned it’s a case of choosing your lure, casting it over the fish, letting it sink and winding like crazy. The sink time will depend on the weight of the lure and how deep the fish are holding. It pays to count the lure down until you work out how long to let it sink to get a bite. If you are fishing reefy bottom, you may snag up a couple of times before working out when to pull the lure up just prior to it touching bottom.
Depending on the situation, you can drop the lure back mid retrieve and wind again. These pauses and letting the lure flutter back through the water column will often entice a strike as well. Bites on the drop back often result in sharp toothed fish biting the lure off. Check out the diagrams which explain how to fish lures in different situations.
pelagic rods & reels
When choosing a rod for high speed spinning, I like to go for a longer rod with a medium or fast action. A length of around 7’ to 7’6” (210 to 225cm) will ensure you can pelt your lure to the horizon should the need arise. At times, it’s just a matter of dropping the lure straight over the side of the boat to fish below and in this case you could get away with a 6ft rod. When fish bust up on the surface it’s a different matter though. A longer rod will let you deliver a cast from a greater distance. By keeping the boat further from surface feeders, you’ll be far less likely to spook them.
When choosing rod weights, consider the size of the lure you will be throwing as well as your target species. The speedsters I chase aren’t dirty fighters so I can afford to use rods rated to less than 10kg and they are comfortable delivering lures from 15 to 60 grams. Bigger, dirty fighting fish will require heavier rods but keep in mind it will be tougher to throw smaller lures and harder work fishing all day.
When teaming up your rod with a reel, the outfit needs to be well balanced and comfortable enough to fish with for extended periods. Winding as fast as you can is tough enough without having to battle against the outfit you are using.
Today’s spin reels have become powerhouses capable of taking the abuse dished out by big fish under tight drag settings. You need look no further than a quality spin reel to suit the size of the fish you are chasing and the speed retrieve you are after.
There are plenty to choose from on the market and I’d suggest a 5000 or 6000 sized reel capable of placing around a metre of line back on the spool with each crank of the handle. This would mean the gear ratio on a reel of this size would be around 5.6:1 to 6.2:1.
Lines for pelagics
Braided fishing line or fused lines are definitely the go. The finer diameter lets lures sink quicker with less drag from strong currents. Braided line has close to no stretch and some may argue that monofilament is a better option as it stretches and absorbs the shock of violent surges and head shaking fish. To combat the stretch issue in braid, I just run a longer leader of 2.5m attached to the mainline via an FG knot to ensure it sails through the guides nicely when casting.
The braid I run on most of my rods is 15 or 20 pound. At this weight it can cast smaller 20g metal slugs a long distance. When pelagics are feeding on smaller bait, they can be very hard to fool and the only way to do it is to match the lure to the fish they are feeding on. When choosing leader, I opt for 30 to 40 lb fluorocarbon over monofilament. It is a hard-wearing line which sinks and is much more invisible under water. When it comes to fishing areas where toothy pelagics like mackerel abound, there always comes the question of whether to use wire or not. If I’m experiencing a lot of bite offs I like to use a graphite, knotable wire for preventing bite offs.
This wire can be attached to the leader via a knot and a short section is all that is needed to keep you connected when sharp teeth are a chance of severing your line. The knotable wire remains quite flexible, taking little away from the lure’s action, and is thin enough to avoid detection when the lure is fished at speed.
Chasing surface pelagics
I tend to catch most of my pelagics while they’re holding deep, but there are times when I’ll come across fish busting bait on the surface. Anyone who has ever seen fish breach the water’s surface in pursuit of a lure will know it’s a real buzz, but it can also be frustrating to keep up with the fast moving fish.
There’s quite an art to predicting where the fish will bust up and when you’ll want to have the boat close but not so close as to spook the target fish away. Usually the fish will feed in a certain direction and establishing this is a great starting point.
Try to keep the boat beside or slightly in front of them and cruising along at an idle speed. I never turn the outboard off. It is either running in gear or running out of gear in the hope that no changes in engine noise when starting and stopping will spook the fish.
Watch the birds and learn to read them. When they are together and close to the surface, the fish aren’t far from the top and almost ready to feed voraciously. If they are on the move and spread out, the fish are deeper and they can’t see them. If they are flying together in the one direction, focused on the water below, chances are they are still with the predators as they move along to find the next school of bait to round up. If you see one or more birds double back and focus their attention on the water behind the flock, there is a good chance they are onto something the others have missed.
Having the boat close to where the action will erupt is a great starting point. Take into consideration the wind direction and the boats speed before placing a cast. The wind should never be in your face as it will reduce casting distance dramatically and push the boat away from the feeding fish. A good skipper will either stop the boat as you make the cast or turn it away from the fish.
Despite all your reading into where the action will unfold, the chasing that goes along with it and being just out of range, sooner or later it will happen right under your nose. Always be ready with a rod rigged and waiting to deliver a cast at a second’s notice.
It’s now time to put it all into practice. A day of high-speed spinning not only gets the heart racing but leaves you feeling like you’ve just hit the gym for an upper body workout, so be prepared!