Out of the corner of my left eye I saw Manuel striking and setting his 3/8oz Nitro jighead hard! I snapped around immediately as I heard his Shimano Twinpower 4000 drag squeal under a heavy load as the fish he'd hooked bullrushed its way into the shadows of the shallows.
It was a good fish! And exactly what we were searching for in the spooky tiger country that we were hunting them in. The bottom was full of big boulders, with kelp, neptune necklace seaweed interspersed between the odd clear patches where colonies of kina clung to the surface of these boulders. Just impoverishing on terminal tackle is this style of softbaiting as it is a risk or reward technique that requires after the cast a measured guess-timate as to sink rates before skimming the Gulp softbait close to the bottom and through the tangled lattice work of trenches back towards the boat.
“Get on the helm Paul!” Manuel yelled as I was already turning the key to start up the Yamaha 4 stroke 100HP outboard.
Engaging forward gear as smoothly as I can and not upset the equilibrium of Manuel who was at this stage wrestling with a seriously bent Yeehaa 704 2 pce custom rod on the bow of his Extreme 540 centre console.
It was easy to drive up to the fish and cut it off as it was fleeing through his underground backyard as the bright green Varivas Sea Bass PE2 was highlighted against the stealthy shadow of the land.
“I forgot the landing net, it’s still leaning against the garage!” Manuel muttered in between choice expletives.
“No problem, it’ll just make it interesting.” I replied.
After the initial 100m plus burst and subsequently shorter runs the snapper appeared on the surface as Manuel worked it hard and kept its head up and soon we drove alongside it as it now flopped over on its side.
- 1. It's Big!
This fish was big.
My first attempt to grab it by its tail was a failure. It was meaty, slippery and strangely warm to the touch.
“Gill it!” Manuel suggested while expertly keeping this behemoth alongside.
I managed to with reasonable gentle force shove my right hand under and into its gill cavity. My right hand disappeared and I was able to quickly lift this snapper aboard.
- 2. This is not a pannie!
After a quick weight check the thing clocked the digital scale at 22.7lbs. Well over the 20lb mark, and a subsequent length check on the measure mat saw it in at 82cms. It is an impressive fish that after the photos swam away strongly back to its hood.
- 3. Let's get it back in the water!
- 4. Great to see it swim away strongly!
Obviously we were both delighted with this encounter and to have so quickly fulfilled the objective of the day within the first hour!
However, like all fishing there was then a long period between fish as we waded through our stocks of Gulp softbaits and jigheads. Its character building stuff and great practice for tying FG knots quickly in a rocking boat. It’s expedient to carry 2 softbait rod and reel sets to get back fast into the next cast. I also see it as an opportunity to improve the accuracy and distance of my casts both port, starboard and lefthanded in my case.
This style of angling wouldn’t suit everyone as hunting for trophy fish is not meat fishing in a thousand gannet workup. It requires patience and the acceptance that there will be losses in tackle to the gnarly bottom terrain and lots of softbait attrition from leatherjackets and banded wrasse attacks. However, the advantage are instead of focusing a bait and berley session on one zone off the stern through a single tide change. Softbaiting allows the angler to cover more ground and therefor more chances to encounter a trophy fish as you drift into each individual big fish territory. Before long you will note similarities in their choices of habitat. Availability of food, good shelter for hiding, ambushing prey and water quality.
The tactical choice for using Gulp is simply because they work well in this environment when the angler needs every advantage from his/her gear used. Gulp still has the most scent dispersion being a water based product compared to others on the market. Plus they are nearly biodegradeable a critical factor as our awareness for not leaving behind any plastic rubbish increases. I also like the greater variety of colour choices and shapes.
It also helps enormously to quickly startup and drive after the fleeing fish as the gear used is light tackle it requires team work and synchronisation to have even a 30% chance of landing these shallow water trophy fish.
My personal highlights came from using the Gulp 10 inch Natural Eel in the mid afternoon as I worked out that even though they were getting chewed up by leather jackets and reef fish during their swim time. I was not having to change softbaits as frequently. A 10” eel reduced per cast to 7”, 6” and finally 5” before I retired them.
My 2 fish both felt initially like another snag up on the bottom until they then headed into the shallows at ever increasing rate of knots. The first one fell off after its second run due to a blunt hook tip that failed to penetrate deeply. And the final one was close but no cigar as alongside the boat it came off the 5/8oz jighead I was using to counter the wind oppose tide situation. As my friend Joe would say, “Did you see it? And if you didn’t, “It doesn’t count!” Well in this case, yes Joe I saw the second one but it still doesn’t count as it’s still swimming out there.
Analysis is always productive after bumping into these rare fish that need to be released asap unharmed to allow their genetic line to propagate and continue. Manuel’s fish looked like a fast growing fish. And it wasn’t a battle scarred kelpie veteran of the shallows. It feels better to let it go then to chop it up for food.