LIVEBAITING FOR BIG FISH
by Andrew Hart
Ross Hunter is one of Australia's best marlin fishermen. He takes people who have never fished before into waters that make experienced boaters shake their heads in disbelief at a lack of fish, and catches them their first marlin.
In fact if you go out with Ross, you can expect to at least see a marlin. That is a huge expectation. He fishes all along the NSW coast and pulls marlin in as if they were easy to catch.
I was privileged enough to spend a day with Ross aboard his boat Broadbill. You probably read about that in the last issue, but this story is about Tasmania's big fish, not the mainlands.
'Live bait is the best way to catch any fish." This is a Ross Hunter statement, and it is one that Tassie anglers should keep in mind.
Kingfish, tuna, marlin, makos and anything else that is worth catching will take a live bait, and will often take one in preference to a lure. So why do only a handful of anglers in our waters use live bait.
The answer is probably Tasmanians have never needed to use livies. You can always go out and catch fish on lures, and at times, heaps of them. So is there actually any room for live baiting in our state?
Yes there is. Livebait sorts out the real fish from the cat food species. If you livebait, you may not catch as many fish - sometimes you will catch more - but the ones you get will be worth catching.
For an example of how effective livebait really is, just look at kingfish. Last year, many kings were caught from around the state. A lot of these were taken trolling dead baits such as garfish and some on lures. But not many of them were big.
At Christmas, I was livebaiting a spot near the Tamar River. I was messing about with a live salmon swimming under a balloon about ten metres from the rocks. I didn't really expect anything to eat the bait, but it was worth a try. In no more than fifteen minutes a kingfish of more than a metre swum up, and snapped me off. And there were not even supposed to be any kingfish about!
WHY IS LIVE BETTER
When you fish a livebait, whether you're trolling it or drifting it, the poor little fish is giving out huge vibrations. Have you ever wondered why lures wobble? It's because they are trying to imitate a distressed fish. So it makes sense to use livebait, because they are a distressed fish - not a hunk of plastic or wood.
Big predatory fish, and in fact all fish, will eat the easiest meal they can get. They're just like humans - they're lazy! So when a juicy, live, distressed, injured fish happens to be swimming about, it is little wonder it will get eaten.
What you look for in a livebait is durability. It has to stay alive. The very best livebait for big fish such as marlin is mackerel. Tasmania has jack mackerel and the blue mackerel. Both are fantastic in that big fish love to eat them, and they seem happy to swim about with a hook in them for hours.
Salmon are a good stand by bait. In fact in some areas such as the North Coast, mackerel may be hard to come by, so salmon is the best. Kingfish love salmon.
Any other species that looks eatable and attractive to you, is probably the same to a big fish. If you're having trouble catching livebait, put anything you can onto a hook. It is better having a bait in the water than nothing at all.
Trolling - the deadliest method of them all-
Trolling livebaits is something that is almost non-existent in Tasmania. But think about it Tassie, most marlin caught on the mainland, are caught on trolled livebaits. So why does nobody here target our beaks with livebait?
Perhaps the answer is, people are reluctant to try new things. I mean it wasn't until some 15 years after the mainland got hooked that we started to get serious about saltwater fly fishing!
I was always worried about rigging up a livebait. It takes a bit of effort to try something different and turn away from conventional lure trolling, when you're not sure what you are doing will work. But after seeing first hand at how easy it is to troll livebaits, I am hooked, and my lures will stay in the boat, instead of out the back, for quite a while.
The diagram above shows how to one way to rig a livebait for trolling. But if the truth be known, there are many ways. The simplest is to pin a hook through the fishes nose and lips, and start towing him about.
Trolling speed is slow. About four knots is maximum. The disadvantage about this is less water will be covered in a days fishing, so it means you have to be fishing the right water. It's the same old story, just look for bait in the area, temperature changes and structure.
Fish your rod on a light drag. When the fish takes the bait, stop the boat and let him take line to get the bait down. Then slam the hook home, often with the help of a few revs from the boat.
Try trolling with a livebait this year, it is the deadliest method known of catching marlin on mainland, so it will work down here as well. Big tuna, kingfish and makos also love a trolled livebait.