Everyone wants to be in the top 10 per cent. It’s human nature to strive to be better, no matter what the sport or hobby – and nowhere is this truer than in the world of fishing. Whether we like it or not, it’s a highly competitive sport and we are forever pushing to catch bigger and better fish than anyone else.
Recreational fishing has seen dramatic changes in recent years. It’s no longer simply a matter of cruising around the ocean hoping for a bite – instead, it is a highly technical sport that requires dedication and commitment to succeed. We’re employing all sorts of technology and professional crews, while becoming very target-specific, which is a far cry from simply ‘going for a fish’. As a result, recreational anglers are much more professional in their approach.
This professionalism really shone through on a recent trip. I had been working hard, fighting for angler rights as the threat of yet more Marine Park lockouts loomed over NSW anglers, and, after a seriously hectic week, I decided I needed a fish.
With calm weather, there was only one fish I wanted to target – a daytime swordfish, a relatively new fishery that has gripped much of Australia’s southern states.
I had just three days to satisfy my swordfish sensation so I started by fishing locally off Sydney. We missed one, but the water was average, so I decided to shift camp. The next morning, we drove three hours south to Jervis Bay for round two. Sadly, we drew blanks again, but this didn’t deter me at all.
With just one day left, I decided to go for broke and drove all the way to Mallacoota in Victoria to meet up with my old mates, George Lirantzis and Ritchie Abela, who have been setting the world on fire with some unbelievable results, scoring multiple fish almost daily.
When you’re talking about being at the top of the game, these guys are right up there.
Daylight swordfishing is a recent fishery development and Ritchie is at the forefront, cracking the code better than anyone else because he is willing to experiment and try new things. Together with George, the attention to detail and their commitment is second-to-none.
Along with gun rod builder Ian Miller, we powered out across an oily calm sea into Bass Strait. Swordfishing used to be about long cold nights in atrocious conditions, so doing it on a calm, sunny day seemed wrong, but the enthusiasm was certainly high.
The first bait was in the water for less than 20 minutes before Ian found himself tied to a sword. An hour and a bit later, the fish he had fantasied about for decades was boatside.
I was up next. We missed one on the next drift before hooking up on the third drift. Within half an hour, I had the fish within 30m of the boat and everything was looking good for a quick release. How wrong I was … the fish started swimming downward and didn’t stop for another 500m.
Two hours passed, then three, before finally, at the four-hour mark, the fish came up. Inch by inch, I gained the upper hand and then, finally, we saw it – a magnificent 200kg swordfish. It’s hard to explain the feeling after so many years of trying, but it’s elation like no other … and that’s why I love fishing so much.
FORGE YOUR LUCK
After the capture, I was inundated with comments about how lucky we were to catch two huge swords in a day. However, luck only played a small role. If you want to get the biggest fish, you need to make your own ‘luck’.
It’s all about preparation, attention to detail, doing your homework, fishing with confidence and going that extra mile … which could be taken literally, when you think how far I travelled in three days in pursuit of that fish!
Well before hitting the water, you need to be prepared and have your gear set up. Check and recheck everything, from the terminal tackle to everything on your boat, even the safety gear. When I arrived in Mallacoota it was 10pm. Ritchie and George were hard at work, re-spooling reels, replacing the leaders and testing knots so that everything would be tip top for the next day … so I poured a glass of red and watched.
Seriously, though – all too often, anglers forego proper preparation because they’re in a hurry to get on the water. However, while getting on the water is a good thing, without proper preparation it can actually be counterproductive, as you’re not maximising your time on the water. In other words, it’s almost like a waste of time
So, what needs to be done? It varies a bit, depending on the techniques employed and what species are to be targeted. Essentially, you need to go through every element of your tackle. You can’t go wrong if you touch up hooks, inspect all the lines and leaders for any signs of wear as well as for knots or crimps. Run through your outfits, too, ensuring drags are smooth and inspect the guides. Attention to detail means you will spend more time fishing instead of rigging when you’re on the water.
Sharpening hooks makes sense to most anglers, but when I suggest checking the drags or rod guides, I sometimes get weird looks. Think of it this way: a hairline crack in a guide can instantly spell disaster, especially with braid. Just imagine hooking up to that fish of a lifetime and then inexplicably the braid parts. Most people will blame the braid, thinking it’s faulty, yet it’s usually angler error due to a lack of attention to detail. This can easily be avoided by simply running your fingers over the guides for a quick inspection.
The same goes for the drag. Imagine if you hook a stomper that screams off and – bang – the drag locks up. Snap, the fish is gone, and again the angler is most likely to blame the reel. But, as the saying goes, a good tradesman never blames his tools.
The more time you spend prepping your gear, the more confident you’ll be, which is crucial for success. The more time you spend running over your gear, the better you’ll get to know how it works and what its limits are. Fishing with the knowledge that your gear is in top shape and you know how to use it goes a long way toward success.
Information is king, so it’s vital to know what’s going on well before you go fishing.
What fish are firing? What technique is working best?
It has never been easier to get this information, in part thanks to social media. While the likes of Facebook and Instagram have their good and their bad sides, anglers love to boast of their success and there is no better platform for this than on social media. The minute the bite is on, you will see it pasted all over the place.
On the down side, a lot of rubbish can be found on social media. Get up to date by ringing your fishing buddies or dropping in at a local tackle shop, like the Compleat Angler, where the guys actually fish. You’ll get more than just information about what the fish are doing that can help steer you to the right spot, such as about currents, river levels, and conditions.
Information is king – I can’t stress that enough. It really is key to becoming a better angler because it doesn’t matter how good you are, if you’re not fishing with the right techniques where the fish are, then you aren’t even close.
Once you’ve got the information, you need to formulate a plan. Don’t just ‘go fishing’ – instead, use all the information you can get to your advantage. Fish the tides, work the weather, know where you need to be and know which techniques are working.
While this all sounds logical, a lot of anglers just go for a fish even when they know the bite is on elsewhere. It’s the same for anglers who get some good information on the right bait, but then don’t use it, which happens all too often with kingies. I recall telling some mates the kingfish were on, but would only eat squid, so the next day they pulled up beside us with yakkas. Apparently, they couldn’t be bothered. They watched us hook up hand over fist, while they got zip.
I should also add that when you go fishing, you should be target specific. Focusing on one species will always give you the best results, because you’re concentrating all your efforts and not diluting them across different species.
While your tackle should be sorted before hitting the water, you need to keep up the vigilance with regular tackle inspections while on the water. Catching a fish is one thing, but, after you have successfully landed it, you need to go through all the tackle again looking for faults.
The humble flathead is a classic example. Being an ambush hunter, they often try to engulf their prey, with their raspy teeth coming into direct contact with the leader. To make matters worse, flathead shake their head vigorously when hooked, which can spell disaster. The bigger the fish, the bigger the problem.
So, you obviously need to be aware of this while fighting the fish, especially during the closing stages, and go easy. And once you have landed the fish, check the leader for damage before casting again – not just visually, but by running your fingers along it to feel for any wear. If in doubt, pull on it to see if it breaks. I’d prefer it to snap in my hands while testing it, rather than feeling it break when fighting a monster flatty.
It’s not just toothy fish that can cause damage – soft-mouthed species like King George whiting can, too. In a hot session with a fish on every drop, take a minute to check for abrasion on the line before having another shot. Again, it’s these small details that play a big role – check and recheck everything and if there is any doubt with anything, replace it.
RIG IT RIGHT
It doesn’t matter what the target is, fresh is best when it comes to bait. However, you need to take it a step further and rig it right. Employ finesse and really apply the detail to make sure each bait goes into the water looking perfect. There is no ‘close enough is good enough’ if you want to be among the best. And this applies just as much to artificial bait, such as soft plastics, that need to be rigged perfectly otherwise they simply won’t swim properly.
Whatever bait you use, always check it by swimming it in the water to make sure it looks and swims right. Again, it is these little finer points that make the big difference.
If you’re not 100 per cent happy, don’t offer it to the fish.
PUT IN THE HOURS
Above all else, you have to go hard and put in the hours. I often hear that I’m lucky, but I make my own luck by being the first boat out and the last boat home. I get lucky because I’m fishing longer than most and my baits are in the water longer, so it’s a logical consequence.
These days, we are all working harder to be successful, but we need to apply this same determination to our fishing to crack the 10 per cent barrier. As the saying goes, working hard with determination equals success.