The upsurge in trailer boat popularity along with the ever improving boat and motor design has seen the offshore reefs come well within range of boat fishermen. Electronic navigation aids such as GPS and LCD fish finders have opened up a new world for the reef fisherman. The safety aspect has been improved by the formation of Air/Seas Rescue groups at most points of departure.
FISHING OFFSHORE REEFS:
The reefs like our estuaries have come under heavy fishing pressure over the decades, and more sophisticated gear and methods are needed for a successful day's fishing. The days of the heavy handlines are just about over. Rods and reels have become standard equipment for most reef fishermen.
As with all types of fishing, the lighter you fish the better you will do. Reef fishing is no exception. Lines as light as 10kg are commonly in use, and most fishermen wouldn't use much over 15kg. If you are going to use a handline, 20 to 30 kg would do the job. The depths fished vary depending on the locations of the reefs, and the currents or set dictate the tackle and methods you adopt.
On the shallower reefs, where it is practicable you can anchor, but in very deep water drifting is the best method. When novices take up reef/bottom fishing, the very nature of the word conveys the idea of fish being caught right on the very bottom of the ocean. The a certain extent this is correct, but most experienced reef anglers will tell you most of their fish are caught above the bottom. Your fishfinder will often display snapper, squire etc. holding in schools over the reef, often quite a distance above.
When anchoring, drop the anchor up current of the reef/fish display on your fishfinder. Estimate the distance your boat will drift before the anchor bites and also take into consideration the effect of the run on your line. You often have to repeat the exercise several times before the boat is positioned correctly.
The most popular bottom rig is a snapper lead from 120 to 500 gms on the end of your line with 2 or more hooks on dropper lines above it. In a heavy set, this night be the only way to hod bottom. If the set is light simply use a large round sinker on top of the hook. With this rig the bait will drift out with the run and will eventually reach the depth at which the fish are sitting. A burley slick in this situation will increase your chances of success. Drifting will result in a lot tackle being lost, so once you make contact with the bottom, wind up short distance and be prepared to give and take line as the ocean swells lift the boat up and down. Always be prepared for a bite as you are winding up your gear. As mentioned the fish could well be schooling above the bottom.
The rod and reel outfit would be the Alvey 725 or 925C Snapper Reels for the heavy work. A 700 or 650C can be used for lighter line and they give you the option of being able to cast away from the boat and pay out line when fishing light. For use with the Snapper Reels rigged with heavy line and sinkers, the rod needs to be short and powerful. Fishing with the casting reels and lighter tackle, you can use a fast taper rod from 2 to 3 metres. Like estuary fishing, a rod with that "feel" in the tip will help you feel the bite.
BOTTOM FISHING RIG:
Bait for fishing can be squid, mullet or any fish flesh as well as pilchards. Use the normal rig of linked hooks with pilchards, and a 2/0 to 6/0 heavy duty French (Mustard 540) or suicide (Mustad 92554, Eagle Claw 6056N) for squid and flesh baits.
Trolling is the main method used to catch pelagic fish such as Mackerel, Tuna, Cobia, and Kingfish etc. It is simply towing a lure or correctly rigged bait fish at varying distances behind the boat to attract the fish.
You can troll baits like Gar, Tailor, Pike, Mullet and even Pilchards, but they must be rigged so they troll in their normal swimming mode. they must not spin. Rigging these baits takes practice, and is something that must be taught by someone proficient in the art. There are pre-made rigs (Easy Troll Rigs) on the market, that both allow the bait to troll properly and act as lure in conjunction with the bait. The speed for bait trolling is usually no more than 4 to 5 kph. When trolling more than one bait, say 3, let one side back 15 to 20 metres, the other side to 30 plus metres and put one right in your wake, only 10 metres from the stern. Fish will often rise to the disturbance from the prop wash and see this close bait. On a strike, set the hooks with quick, hard pulls of the rod or by accelerating the boat for a short distance. when maneuvering, always turn on the side with the shorter line, this will minimize fouling the lines.
Trolling lures is an exciting way to fish. There is a vast range of lures suitable for trolling and all work in different ways. Speed can vary depending on the lure design. Metal spoons (Mirrorspoons, Halco Barra Spoon, Makka Spoon) can only be trolled at about 2 kph, bibbed minnows (Rapala CD18 & 14 Magnum) up to 4 kph and bibbless minnows (Masta & Casta Blastas, Mackerel Maulers) are capable of being trolled up to speeds of 10 to 15 kph.
The tackle for trolling thing to remember when working a school of fish, is to never troll through them. This will scare the school and disperse them. Always troll around them in an arc. The bait or lure will always troll inside the turn and pass through the edge of the school.
The tackle for trolling would be an Alvey 725C reel on a powerful, fast taper 2 metre rod, spooled with 500 metres of 10 to 15 kg line. A 1 metre wire trace approximately twice the strain of your line would be used on toothy fish such as Mackerel. A monofilament (Platypus Game Leader) trace of about 50 to 60 kg would be used for Tuna Kingfish.
Alvey's Downrigger can add a new dimension to trolling by getting the bait or lure down to the fish. The principle is a weight with a line release clip lowered by wire cable. The line is attached to the clip with about 10 to 20 metres of line to whatever you are trolling. The weight is then dropped to a depth using the in built depth counter, to where you think the fish will be hanging, Use your fish finder in conjunction with the downrigger, to pre-determine depths and adjust the drop accordingly. When you have a hook up, the line releases from the clip, and you can play the fish as normal.
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Reef fishing and trolling.