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Early Season Game Fishing

with Leroy Tirant

With Christmas behind us a lot of anglers are now on their summer holidays. This sets the mind thinking as to where to spend the holidays with or without the family. Usually this time of the year some early reports start to filter in of Albacore at the shelf, and bait schools start showing up on mass. This gets game fishermen warm to the heart and they start breaking out the heavy tackle to head to the blue water for some serious trolling. Each year is different with the average size of fish being usually smaller than later in the season and showing up in sometimes the strangest of places. Last year it was Merricks reef that produced good sport early. So how do we give ourselves a better than average chance of turning a reel? Well there are a few different ways to look at it and if you slowly put the puzzle together with a bit of homework you can tip the odds in your favour.


Water temperature
How many times have you gone out blind and chucked some lures out the back and hoped for the best? Well water temps play a big part on where fish will be as each species of game fish has tolerance thresholds. Of course there are crossovers between the species but if you look for water temps that are generally between 17 and 22 degrees you are going to be on the money. Bait fish are also affected by water temp and if you aren't where the bait is it's a good bet the big fish aren't there either. Water temp variations can show up as current lines on the surface. Sounders of all brands these days should show water temperature so this will at least give you a reference point as you troll around. When you find the right temperature you can use your GPS if equipped and plot a course to stay in the zone.
A hot bit of advice is to get onto the internet and have a look at websites such as WEATHERZONE and B.O.M or www.tasfish.com, which has a Sea Surface Temperature on its front page. These weather sites can give you access to the latest satellite images of sea surface temperatures, which is the biggest heads up you will find as you can steer directly to where you know there will be warm water.

Current lines
So what if there's warm water everywhere or at least very little variance? Then start looking for bait schools. Bait schools will tend to hang around current lines, deepwater peaks, upwellings and structure. Current lines can show up as big slicks or riffled water. Current lines are also good places to troll for pelagics. Current lines can also be the clue to water temp variance often having differing temps on each side.

Birds
Every game fishermen looks for birds when trolling especially for birds that are diving. These can be a dead give away for a school of tuna busting up a bait school as the birds will follow these schools around waiting for them to push the bait to the surface and begin the attack. The birds then dive to either pick up bait fish or pieces of morsals left behind by the bigger fish. Smaller terns can lead you on a wild goose chase so try to keep an eye out for the bigger gulls and shearwaters. And don't dismiss a lone bird as they can at times be hovering over a large school and as Dean Butler will tell you in his writings a lone bird can sometimes be a give away to the presence of a marlin.

Gossip
Gossip is the single most misleading bit of information an angler can adhere to. Every year without fail someone will walk into my shop and give a report that so and so caught such and such a fish at such and such a location. When I track down the angler to get the report first hand you find he didn't catch a yellowfin on a purple Saltshaker. It was a small albacore on a Mackbait. Chinese whispers tend to really get inflated especially if someone has caught an exceptional fish like a big yellowfin or the like. You can bet that if you hear it was caught on a particular lure in a particular location that the angler would be giving misleading information to protect his patch.

Lures
Early season I tend to sell a lot of smaller lures which is what I recommend. Lures such as Mackbaits, Feathered Zuker style lures, Jet Heads and smaller pushers in the 4 inch range will suffice. And the most under utilized lures that I know work are worth a try such as small bibbed diving lures like Rapalas and soft plastic shads. I've given a list of the best selling lures and colors in the state to give you a reference of what to look for.
Position of lures in your spread can be important. I heard anglers at times running lures in a V pattern because they don't know any better but this is not recommended. Lure spreads have been written about in many magazines and it depends on how many rods you intend to troll or rod positions in your boat that will dictate your spread. I like to run a Mackbait on a short corner just below the boat wash with a Diver or Zuker opposite. I then run a small Pusher off the gunnel a bit further back with a larger Jet head opposite. Off the outriggers you can run two larger pushers staggered. Sometimes you can then run a larger Pusher or Salt shaker that leaves a big smoke trail in the SHOTGUN position out of your centre overhead rocket launcher way back past the boat wash for a shy fish.

Downrigging
Down riggers for game fishing is definitely the most under utilized piece of equipment available to anglers. When the Tuna schools are holding deep and aren't showing near the surface you have to get your lures deeper. This can be done with downrigger. My favoured option is for the Cannon brand. Downriggers don't have to be attatched to your boat full time as you can get a detachable base as an option so the downrigger can be easily removed when not needed. For the trolling speeds and size of lures you will be trolling with I would recommend a 15LB lead bomb as a minimum. Most of the better units come equipped with a depth counter which will allow you to troll your lures at a determined depth hopefully at the depth you see fish or bait marking on your sounder screen.

Recommended Lures

  • Rodney - Tassie Tassie and Outdoor
  • Zuker ZF14
  • Saltshaker # 3 Lumo
  • Mackbait
  • Meridian Demon #4 Bonito
  • Leroy - Bigfin Sportsfishing
  • Black Magic JET SETTER in green/gold & bonito
  • Mackbait in pink or blue
  • Williamson WAHOO CATCHER
  • Black Pete ZUKER in purple with gold head
  • Jamie - St Helens Bait and Tackle
  • Mackbait
  • Black Pete ZUKER
  • Glen Pankhurst HEX HEAD
  • John - Tamar Marine
  • Black Magic SAURY, FRENCH TICKLER and FLEAS in black/purple, green/gold and lumo
  • Williamson DORADO CATCHER
  • Halco MAX
  • Joe - Spot On The Fishing Connection
  • Black Magic JET SETTER
  • Mackbait
  • Pakula UZIs

This time of the year it's usually stripies and albacore that are the targets with maybe the odd yellowfin thrown in. So if you concentrate on these species and look for the right water your in with a chance.

Leroy Tirant