By Bruce Duncan
A good mate of mine has made a habit of smashing up a few kina as he moved around on the bottom - leaving a widespread berley trail behind him. When he finishes his dive and quietly returning to the boat he notes the number and size of the snapper feeding in the area. This was great for me as the boatman as I could generally catch a few fish while watching out for him. Over time we discovered some amazing fishing spots where most people would least expect to find big fish.
With soft bait fishing becoming of age, more and more are finding it a good alternative as there is no need for huge tackle boxes, bait and a range of rods cluttering up boat. One two-piece rod and a couple of sachets of soft baits will do the job. The basics of soft bait fishing is that you present a lure that looks and acts like a distressed bait fish. This in turn makes the predatory instincts of all fish jump at the chance of nailing a free feed. However the key to all types of fishing is that first there must be fish in the area you are targeting so always remember ‘habitat is where it’s at’.
To be successful at soft bait fishing you must have the right type of rod and reel combination spooled up with braid to make the soft baits get the right action in the water. There is no point in thinking that any old light weight rod from the back shed will do the job.
There is a wide range of soft bait rods available for different line weights with some being more suited for deep water than in the shallows. As a general rule, a medium weight rod will cover most bases and all will have a solid action from the reel seat through to the rod tip. The reels are generally small fixed spool [egg beater style] that will have a good strong drag system. The reason for them being so small is that as the rods are light weight so must the reel be for balance. You will be constantly casting and retrieving the soft bait. Braid line is critical due to its fine diameter which allows it to sink rapidly and as there is no stretch in braid it is incredibly sensitive. Nylon will ‘belly’ in the water and will not enable the soft bait to be worked to attract the fish. The best advice I give to someone looking at getting set up for the first time is to go to a tackle shop and get them to show how to set up the rigs and the knots required for braid line.
Basically there are three depths/types of terrain for soft baiting. The first, which I’m going discuss, is close in on the shore where you are casting into rocks - known as wash fishing. This is where soft bait fishing is best suited for divers as you will know where to expect the fish. Being so close to shore I strongly advise one person dives the boat from a safety point of view while the others fish and this way you can move around, covering more territory. Each angler should use a different colour soft bait to establish if one works better than the rest. Soft baits come in a wide range of colours and shapes and they will all work but sometimes one colour will out-fish and be the only one to work on the day. As the water will be shallow, a light jig head is best as it is more visible as it sinks slowly down the water column. Naturally you’d think the soft bait would become stuck in the rocks but you will notice that the base of the head is flat and the hook points upwards. The shape of the heads means that they land facing upwards therefore lifting off the rock and through the kelp as you work the soft bait back towards the boat. In really rugged territory it is often best to let it fall to the bottom quickly then retrieve and cast again as here most fish will hit it on the drop.
Contrary to what one would think, the reel drag setting needs to be very tight so that when you strike a fish to set the hook, the rod is designed to bend radically and lift the fish. You must always play the fish hard and fast with the rod tip high to stop the fish diving into the rocks. Playing a fish on a skinny (I call them noodle sticks) rod means you must turn and work the fish back to the boat quickly as once the head is turned towards you and a constant pressure is applied by a fast retrieve it can only swim towards you. Never try to lift fish onboard by the rod as it will break, either net or grab the trace.
Every diver will see a wide variety of fish (every fish, including parore, will hit soft baits) and often very big ones close to shore so soft bait fishing here is where you should be in your element .
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