By Craig Edmonds of Jim’s Bait and Tackle

A combined father and son effort with Harry (in photo) helping net this 70cm flathead at Cowes.

A COMMENT I get in the shop all the time is, “I sounded fish but couldn’t get them to take a bait”, or, “I fished on the edge of the channel, and nothing but rays”. I will generally ask a few questions when people tell me either of the above, and most of the time the solution is simple to improve your chances. One question I ask, and the response always surprises me is, “After you anchored did you still see the fish on the sounder or were you still on the bank”. Unbelievably the answer in 90% of the cases is, “I didn’t really check I just wanted to get the rods in the water” One of the biggest mistakes that is often made is anchoring in the wrong spot, and while it doesn’t guarantee fish if you are in the right spot it certainly helps: spend five minutes on your GPS and 25 minutes on your sounder, find the area you want to fish, then sound around looking for fish or structure. If you are sounding for fish and find a school, mark them and then look for more. Do a circle and go back over them, work out if they are swimming or feeding, how far from the bottom they are, and so on. If they are a school of feeding fish then as a rule they will be closer to the bottom. So many people will drop the anchor right on top of them, then once the anchor takes up are 20 or 30m past where they are feeding, or will find a ledge, channel edge or structure and taking no notice of the tide direction just drop the anchor and finish up again 20 or 30m from where they should be. If you are sounding for fish and find a school head up current 50 to 100 metres, then, by the time the anchor takes up, you are up current from the fish.
Using good berley will then bring the fish to you, but don’t forget that for the fish to see the berley you will need to get it to the bottom, otherwise by the time it goes past them it isn’t just going over their heads. Use a weighted pot or a scaler bag with a brick or two in it, and a few handfuls of pilchards with a frozen mince block tied just at the right depth so any movement of the boat gives it a shake. If you want to fish on structure of some type go over it, mark it on the GPS, then once you have anchored make sure that’s where you stop. But again, if you are fishing right on top of the structure, don’t cast your baits 50m away from the boat, drop them straight under on to the structure.
The easiest way to describe fishing reports over the last few weeks has been on a par with the weather, good one minute and not so good the other. Ever so slowly the reports are falling into patterns and making finding the fish a bit easier. The bay has finally got to a consistent 16+ degrees which is closer to the ideal snapper temperature. The warmer water seems to be helping with the couta and they are starting to move out of the bay which is increasing the whiting and calamari reports. Offshore is also looking better with the wind heading into the north and the flathead showing up in reasonable numbers.
Snapper are starting to fall into the pattern we would expect this time of the season although a little later than the last few years from the reports we are receiving. If you are heading out early morning the deeper water off Rhyll and Silverleaves are the places to head to, especially if there is an early morning tide change. Expect to get your fish right on the change. As the day gets later head towards the corals and fish across the edge where it starts to get deeper, but fishing now is slow during the day and will be until the pinkies arrive in numbers. Once you get to the evening, especially after a midday low tide and when the sun has been out all day, head towards the shallow end of the corals and the mud up around coronet bay and fish it into the evening.
Whiting reports and calamari reports are almost mirroring each other from the boats, whereas the land has been all about the calamari. Boating, and where you find whiting you can generally find calamari and vice a versa. From those who fish for both together this has been the case with the reports, and they are on the improve for both species. For the first time this season we have had several reports of undersize whiting with customers telling us even the undersize ones are in very good condition. The size whiting have been the quality condition we have come to expect over the last few years, but the numbers haven’t changed a lot and not too many are getting into double figures. Not as much of a pattern with the whiting and it has just been a case of trying different spots until you find the fish. The best areas have been the usual below the bridge in Cleeland Bight and in Dickies bay to Reef Island.
Calamari have been best in both of those areas as well from the boats but the ones around reef island have been in better numbers and smaller. The best size calamari have come from those fishing off the beaches, Cleeland bight the best. Some reasonable reports have come from Ventnor but with the couta slowly disappearing the beaches on this side of the island are improving. The slowest of all has been the jetties for some unknown reason. While we are seeing calamari caught it is nowhere the numbers we saw last season where several times I would receive reports telling me there were half a dozen people on the jetty the night before who all bagged out. Calamari are one of the most sustainable fisheries we have, due to the way they breed, and because there is no commercial fishery in the bay for them, maybe the reason the bay has so many bait fish and is as healthy as it is has something to do with this, because the very small just hatched calamari would be an easy feed for them. As everything eventually does it will balance out and we will start catching more calamari and less of something else.