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Daniel Paull - Presented from Issue 91

As everyone is aware, with the current fuel prices and particular pelagic species becoming harder to find each year, we must become smarter in the way we approach our game fishing. St. Helens has been the game fishing capital for many years, but this has changed. Most people will agree that Eagle Hawk Neck is now the most popular fishing destination for large pelagic species such as the Thunnus maccoyii or southern bluefin tuna. St. Helens can still be a productive fishery if people start to use different techniques and tactics. I fish game fishing tournaments with a team of four keen anglers, and I having been doing so since I began attending the events. We have become very effective in the way we go about targeting specific species, including that of the albacore and southern bluefin tuna. Over the years, we have employed various techniques into our game fishing, live baiting and cubing have been our most successful methods.

While trolling is the undisputed method to catch the large fish that inhabit the temperate waters around Eagle Hawk Neck, burleying and cubing is becoming very popular amongst the anglers that fish from St. Helens. The north eastern side of the state has been producing a few very nice specimens of late. Large albacore have been caught in reasonably good numbers. Some solid fish have even exceeded the 21kg mark! At the beginning of the year, there were even scattered reports of large striped marlin patrolling the warmer sections of the coast. Although some reports were sceptical, these fish do appear in small numbers each year. Easter appeared to be a very successful time to target Thunnus albacares or yellowfin tuna last year. It was nice to be zipping around in Georges Bay during Easter, knowing that there were big yellowfin tuna to be caught out in the deep! Regardless, I still had fun pursuing large black bream and silver trevally on the light gear. Easter is quickly approaching now; I wonder if St. Helens will produce yellowfin of that calibre again?

St. Helens Game Fishing Classic While we fished the St. Helens Game Fishing Classic in early March, we made sure that we had all the necessary equipment to tackle absolutely anything that may swim up our burley trail. Along with the usual trolling lures such as skirts and divers, we also packed soft plastics, top quality leader material and hooks for live baiting. Before we left for a location known as the ‘Plateau’ each morning, we stopped and collected numerous yellowtail scad for live bait. As some people will know already, these small yellowtail scad would help us take out the competition. The live bait weren’t all that hard to catch, we used a really simple method. I believe the best way to catch these live bait is to use a sabiki rig. These light bait catching rigs can be purchased from every tackle store in the state and are well worth having in your arsenal.

After leaving the bait grounds, located just around the corner from the St. Helens Point boat ramp, we would then steam out to the Plateau. We were considerably lucky with the weather; both days produced excellent conditions for both live baiting and cubing. Before we stopped the boat, we would deploy our home made burley cage. We slowly moved along the outside of the Plateau with a cage full of burley in tow. For really calm days, this method allows you to get a reasonably long burley trail happening without the need of oceanic currents or wind. As all shark enthusiasts know, you really need to be drifting to produce an effective trail so this tactic works wonders on still days. After ‘trolling’ the cage for approximately half an hour, we would then turn the engine off and begin to deploy the live baits.

On the first day of the competition, we started to pick small albacore up on soft plastics as soon as we stopped. It wasn’t until I hooked a nice albacore when we encountered our first ‘winning’ fish. As I battled a solid 8kg model to the boat, dad hooked up to his first big fish for the day. This specimen took the live bait we had prepared earlier in the day and took a little stopping on 6kg tackle! After we landed that fish, Jamie Harris quickly deployed the same 6kg outfit and almost instantly hooked up to something even larger. This fish, obviously another solid albacore, would take well over an hour to land! During the fight, we even had a small mako shark swim curiously up to the boat. The shark was pretty aggressive and took to both the outboard and the burley cage on numerous occasions. We didn’t really know what to do with the shark. We literally had 1000 tag and release points swimming around the boat!

After considering what could happen if we actually hooked the shark, we decided to leave him alone as he menaced the birds floating around in the burley trail. As the fight progressed, the shark finally left us alone to continue the battle. As usual, I managed to get some fantastic underwater footage of him before he left. It wasn’t as grand as my last experience with a white shark but I was happy enough with the footage I captured! After an hour of fighting, the big albacore started to approach the boat with its usual circling behaviour. With the current weather conditions, it was great to watch the colossal albacore approach the surface. Throughout the fight, we could even see small albacore and striped tuna swimming under the boat in small schools! When we landed the fish, we couldn’t believe our luck. We knew that other competitors that were trolling would have a slim chance hooking into large fish like the one we now had laying on the deck.

The second day produced a few smaller albacore and a humble old blue shark. Some competitors were even lucky enough to catch a few very nice albacore of around the same size as the two specimens that we had caught previously. At the end of the competition, we had claimed heaviest fish for the first day and heaviest fish overall with Jamie’s 21kg albacore. Paul Hicks, the skipper aboard ‘Wild One’ took out tag and release with a juvenile southern bluefin tuna he tagged on the second day. This tactical decision was a wise choice and I’m sure Paul was rapt with the outcome! Along with a few other large albacore, there was one lucky crew that spotted a large striped marlin. Josh Hammersly, aboard his vessel titled ‘Hammerhead II’ spotted the marlin cruising around his burley trail on the first day of the event.

Tackle and Techniques Pelagic species, including sharks, can be successfully caught on most conventional game fishing gear. Ideally, an overhead reel with a smooth and reliable lever drag system is the way to go. Shimano make an excellent range of overhead game reels to suit all elements of game fishing. Small overhead reels such as the Shimano TLD 30A 2 Speed and Tiagra 30WLRS are perfect for both trolling and live baiting. Obviously, while fishing Eagle Hawk Neck where the chance of running into something large is high, you would probably use much heavier gear. I always like to take something out with me that will handle just about everything. If you end up targeting something big, like our southern bluefin tuna, the Shimano Tiagra 50WLRS would have to be the best reel for the job. Loaded with top quality 24kg monofilament line and a pre set drag of approximately 8kg, a Tiagra 50W will never let you down, even if you do manage to hook something colossal! Match the Tiagra 50W with either a custom built sabre or T-Curve Tiagra Game rod and you will be set to tackle something large! Just keep in mind that you will need to bring out the heavy gear while fishing at Eagle Hawk Neck. Down there on the Tasman Peninsula, you would be silly not to run at least two 37kg outfits, just in case you to hook one of those monster southern bluefin tuna!

The most important element to consider while live baiting is presentation. Presentation is the key to success in nearly every aspect of recreational fishing. If you set out to specifically fish with live bait, you can choose from a multitude of lightweight game fishing combinations. The Shimano TLD 15 is the perfect all round live baiting reel. If you load one of these with 6kg or 8kg monofilament, you will be set to start live baiting. These reels maybe small and cheap in the scheme of things but they have to be one of the best overhead reels on the market, especially for lightweight trolling, live baiting and bottom fishing. Match this reel with a Shimano Backbone Elite 10 Roller Tip or Triton Sportsfishing Series 6-8kg rod and you will be good to go. Custom built rods are another option; we have a range of custom sticks ranging from 6kg, to 37kg. It all depends on the amount of money you are willing to pay for an outfit.

The rig we use for live baiting is considerably simple. We run a small plaited double to a good quality snap swivel, try to keep the double as short as possible if you are fishing in tournaments as we have had trouble in the past with this! Because the possibility of running into a good fish is great, e use pretty some pretty heavy leader material. Anything between 80lb and 100lb Black Magic, Penn or Jinkai monofilament leader is usually the way to go. The traces don’t have to be all that long, just consider the size of the fish you will be targeting! There are plenty of hooks on the market these days. Gamakatsu, Mustad and Black Magic all make superb, chemically sharpened hooks. Anything from an 8/0 to a 10/0 circle or J-hook will catch just about any tuna that swims into your burley trail. Circle hooks work best as they role perfectly into the live baits back. That’s probably were a few people go wrong with live baiting, you only really need to pin them lightly, don’t go jamming a hook through their eye socket, they need to look lively after all!

Along with the large yellowfin, bluefin and albacore that can be caught of St. Helens, there are also the small striped tuna. As much as they are a nuisance, they can provide excellent fun on light tackle. When I say light, I mean the sort of stuff you would usually throw at salmon. I always pack an ultra light outfit when we head out for a burley, even in the Strait. We have caught some very nice fish on soft plastics, including a few very solid albacore. The Squidgy Pro Flick Bait range of soft plastics provides an excellent array of bait fish imitations suitable for our both albacore and striped tuna. We were basically using to patterns with our Flick Bait plastics, the 145mm Slimey and the 145mm Yakka. These two products are a must have in any game fishing enthusiasts tackle bag! Along with a top quality spinning outfit, you can basically catch albacore and striped tuna all day if you choose to do so! When choosing a suitable spinning outfit, remember not to go too light, or you will end up getting spooled! A 4000 size reel loaded with 10lb braid should do the job just nicely.

While live baiting, or burleying in general for that matter, you must be patient and commit the day to the style of fishing. Striped tuna make the best cubes, they are both easy to slice into bite sized pieces and they are oily enough to attract any ravenous tuna within your vicinity. Your cube trail must be steady, don’t go chucking in hundreds at a time! Just throw two over at a time and wait for them to disappear out of view before lobbing another two in. When hooking your live bait, place the circle hook a few centimetres behind the head. Gently roll the hook in so it just pierces the skin of the fish, this is a much more gentle approach and it almost ensures the survival of the fish while it is swimming around under the boat. After that, you can gently drop the live bait over the side. Keep your thumb on the spool while you let the fish swim down into the depths. Once your live bait has reached a suitable depth, push the drag lever up a little and wait for a hit. When you get a hit, remember to let the fish swallow the bait. After the fish has made a run for it, slowly push the lever up to strike, this will ensure that the circle hook has lodged itself perfectly in the jaw of the fish.

Try Something Different Don’t be afraid to try something different! You can usually discover new techniques out on the water that will help you catch more fish. In reality, the most important thing to consider while drifting in any scenario is to study you depth sounder. Your sounder will almost lead you directly to the fish. Choose you’re fishing location wisely, and stick to it for the entire day, dedication always pays off. The fishing may not be as great as it once was but St. Helens still has a lot to offer. At the end of the day, game fishing is ever changing and we need to adopt new angling tactics in order to successfully catch fish. You may even decide to leave the trolling gear at home one day to pursue our game fishing species on live bait and soft plastics!

Daniel Paull