I SLOWLY DRIFTED OVER THEM and cast back into the zone, carefully twitching my rod tip to make the little crazy-legged-lure look like an injured, but tasty, baitfish. Whatever it was I did, worked, because a few seconds later my rod bent over and line started peeling steadily off my reel. The characteristic ‘knock, knock’ on my rod tip suggested I had a snapper on, and the fact that my kayak started getting dragged around the bay told me it was a big one! In fact, I was pretty certain it was going to go over 20lb – probably a world record …
I’d been kayak fishing over a shallow reef in a secluded east coast bay – which I won’t name due to how awesome it is … (it’s in-between Spirits Bay and Papamoa Beach). My fish-finder had just picked up a handful of good-sized fish on the bottom. It looked promising. No, scratch that, more than promising! You see, up until now, the largest snapper I’d caught was 17 pounds – which is a good sized fish. But bragging rights don’t really start until you’ve landed something over 20lb (9kg), and this was my mission …
My rod was rigged with a New Penny coloured Crazy Legs Jerk Shad softbait. And for those of you who’d like a few tips on what softbait to choose and when, I mostly choose them by how cool their name sounds. I hope that helps.
Anyway, on this particular day, the good ol’ jerk shad did the trick, and as line went whizzing off my reel I was already imagining the phone call I was going to make to my friend Willy – who suffers from an incurable fishing addiction that goes beyond the norm, into the realm of a sickness. He’s yet to land a 20 pounder, and I thought my call might just make his day. Or not. But unfortunately, I’d started counting my chickens a little too early. The one time I knew I’d hooked the biggest snapper of my life, disaster struck!
Now I’m a pretty lazy fisherman, and don’t like tying knots while I’m out fishing, so I was using a ‘genie clip’ to swap out my softbait rig – a simple system that makes changing hooks and lures a breeze. And it was this system that let me down. (If you don’t know already, it’s much easier to blame someone else!)
After only a couple of minutes fighting the fish, the large snapper went on a punishing run, gave a few violent shakes … and my line went limp. I couldn’t believe it! My world-beater was free, and I was gutted! Ecstasy to despair – a feeling most fishos understand Λ. And when I wound in my line and saw that shiny little genie clip – without the hook attached – my despair turned into anger. And I’m afraid to admit that I said some things my mother wouldn’t be proud of …
But hey, that’s fishing. And almost a year later, you’ll be pleased to know that I’m starting to feel a little better. You’ll also be pleased to know that I’ve started tying knots more often.
Did you know?
Fishing for snapper (pagrus auratus for my Latin friends) is about as Kiwi as pavlova and the Buzzy Bee – and I doubt there’d be many of us who haven’t at some stage chased New Zealand’s most popular fish for dinner. Whether it’s fishing out of the back of a tinny or off the beach, this iconic pastime is enjoyed by people of all ages. The often quoted stat that “over 1 million Kiwis fish, hunt … and vote” says it all.
And to make life even sweeter, it’s during these summer months that snapper fishing becomes easiest. Around Novemberish (depending on how far north or south you are), schools of snapper move into the shallower water around the coast of New Zealand to spawn – which is fish talk for procreate. The males usually arrive first – because they’re always keen to get started …
The fishing just prior to spawning is often red-hot, as snapper are gorging themselves, trying to get into the best shape as possible for the anticipated action. The other time fishing is good is just after spawning. By now the snapper are completely shagged. (You would be too after days of 24/7 procreation!) And they’re pretty keen for a good feed and a sleep. The downside to fishing at this time is they’re often in poor condition. A skinny snapper with a glazed look in its eyes, probably won’t look quite as nice on the barbie as a fat, pre-spawn beastie full of love.
Actually, while we’re talking about sex, you might be interested to know that all snapper start life as female, with half deciding at about 3-4 years old that being a male is the way to go. Something, quite frankly, I understand completely. Just thought you’d like to know.
“Oi! Leave some for my grandkids!”
The future of our snapper fishery is a subject that can cause hot debate – as the recent change to the Snapper One recreational quota demonstrated. The catch limit in this east-coast area was decreased from nine fish to seven, and the size limit increased from 27 to 30cm. Now, to be honest, I’m not too concerned about this. We’ve always set our personal limit at 30cm+, and only need a few fish to feed our family. However, the fact that the commercial rules haven’t changed (they can take fish as little as 25cm), is a little more concerning.
For example, a few times recently, thousands of dead snapper have washed up on our Coromandel beaches as a result of illegal dumping (due to the quota system) by dodgy, mostly foreign, trawlers. Some estimate the dumping to be upwards of 140,000 tonnes (or around 35 million fish) each year!
It makes me wonder whether the recreational changes were just a ‘red herring’ (nice pun!), taking the focus of the more serious issues within our fisheries. Whatever we do, it’s got to be sustainable.
Gently does it!
Anyway, how do we look after our snapper fishery so my kid’s kids can experience the thrill of landing a few fish for tea? While there’s little we can do to fix the out-dated commercial quota system (except vote), we can look after our own fishing habits. Obviously, taking only what we need and not taking undersized fish are good places to start, but there are other things we can do too …
Unfortunately, a significant number of fish that get caught and released die – largely because of how we handle them. So, land them as soon as you can so they’re not completely exhausted (they’ll taste better too!) And, to minimise hooking undersized fish, use bigger hooks. There will, however, be times you’ll need to release a fish, and it’s important you touch them as little as possible. Fish are a lot more fragile than they look … a wet cloth and hands is good – but doing it while they’re still in the water is even better.
Finally, don’t forget the big beasties are important breeders – and they taste like rubbish compared to a nice, fat pannie! So if you have your 20 pounder already, take a quick photo and let it go. It needs to be quick! Research has shown that 38% of fish fought to exhaustion, and then held out of water for 30 seconds, die within 12 hours. That increases to 72% for those held out for 60 seconds! So have your camera all ready to go so you can release it ASAP – or even better, photograph it in the water.
As a matter of interest, Forest and Bird (in their Best Fish Guide) have listed snapper with the second worst ranking for ecological sustainability of the commercial fish species in New Zealand. I’m not sure if that means we shouldn’t be catching them, or if we shouldn’t be buying them from the supermarket – I suggest the latter. Now I’m no F&B supporter, but I do agree we need to carefully look after our wild fish stocks – and make changes where necessary to protect them for the future.
When this mag hits the streets, the spawning season will be upon us – and the fishing will be some of the easiest all year – so for goodness sake, don’t be greedy! Get out there with your kids, take only what you need, try the recipes in this issue, and enjoy one of the great Kiwi pastimes.
Just stay away from my spot.