Fresh It Is – CQ – Dean Smith 2016

120 kilometres offshore, late afternoon bite period, rods nearly doubling over as more and more reds hit the deck. Even as I type this I am getting excited and my mind wanders off into that place that every offshore angler craves to be in.   As every angler who has ever been in this ideal situation knows, there is a lot of preparation that needs to go on behind the scenes to make this hypothetical situation a reality.

Fresh is best is the mantra of almost any fisherman, however, often we have found ourselves presented with an incredibly narrow window of weather in which to fish so the gathering of fresh and live bait has fallen by the wayside during these times. This all changed on a recent offshore trip that required the Hell’s Anglers crew to think outside the box to maximise our chances of that fish of a lifetime.

The weather gods had granted us a small window of approximately 20 hours to get out, drop the lines, hook up and get home before a 25knot south easterly picked up and blew the proverbial black dog off the chain. Our skipper Wade was knocking off night shift early that morning and was due to arrive back on the coast at 9am, leaving Luke the job of loading the boat and getting to Rosslyn Bay harbour in anticipation of Wade’s arrival. An early drop off in the wind saw us with an unforeseen opportunity to duck out to the Keppel Islands and gather some fresh live bait for what we were hoping would be an epic session on reds in the dark of the night.

Well before the sun had crested the horizon, I found myself bound for the harbour with the trusty uncle, Anthony, and Luke’s 4.5 metre tinny in tow destined for the Keppel islands. Our mission was to chase fresh live bait in the form of tiger squid and yellowtail pike that would then be transferred to the ‘mother ship’ as it made it’s way passed us heading for the offshore grounds. Armed with Yamashita warm jacket EGIs Anthony and myself began hunting the usual haunts, targeting sandy patches off the edge of reef or rock that our number one choice of bait liked to frequent. Within minutes of us setting our first troll line, we had managed a double hook up on some premium squid, with both tubes going 40cm plus. A quick reset and pull back over the same area confirmed to us that the school was still in the same location and the Minn Kota was deployed and spot lock had us sitting pretty as we hand picked and sight casted 11 more monsters from the one spot in less then 15 minutes.

Some quick tips when chasing squid, it helps to run an incredibly light drag, just enough to keep pressure on the cephalopod and not pull your jig out harshly, if you hook onto one of decent size, let it run and don’t panic, as the humble squid wont ‘reef’ you. Once you have tempted a strike, try to get another jig in the water right behind the hooked squid as the inquisitive nature of these creatures will often draw others near. As for the gear to use, we have always had great success with the whole range of Yamashita jigs, however, a close second favourite for me is the river2sea Kraken EGI range as they offer some interesting colour combinations that can at times out fish the Yamashita. Terminal tackle is quite simple, light fluorocarbon leader in the 8-10 pound range does the job for me, allowing the jig to appear more natural in the water, but also provide the holding power to control squid.

With the early morning sun starting to heat up the water, Anthony and I moved to an area where the squid where known to hold at a deeper level during the day, which meant a weight and size change in the jigs to enable them to get down to the strike zone while on the troll. Once again, after a single troll we had discovered the school’s location and pulled some more sizeable tubes from this area. One thing that really caught my eye was the cannibilistic nature of the squid, something I have never witnessed before, while playing with a smaller squid at the side of the boat, I had three absolute monsters come up from the deep and begin attacking the smaller squid, taking chunks out of it’s wings and tube. These three monsters were easily dispatched by three spare jigs being placed in front of them by Anthony and myself with two of these tubes going over 50cm. Getting an absolute buzz from catching these savage creatures, cause me to lose track of time, and it was only when I noticed our 9.2 metre centre console ‘treeshaker’ 200 metres away from our boat, that I realised we had run out of time. Luke, Boof, Cabbage and the skipper Wade came up beside us, absolutely dwarfing us, as we did a final count on our squid carnage. A hand off of 22 fresh squid to the boys saw ‘treeshaker’ turn east and motor off towards the offshore ground, leaving Anthony and myself wishing we were on board as well.

At this point, I did the boring bit, went home, cleaned the boat, cleaned the squid and went to work then bed later on that evening. The wind was due to come up at about 10am the next morning, so I was surprised to be woken by my phone going off at 430am with a phone call from the brothers. After rubbing the sleep from my eyes I came to the conclusion that one of two things had occurred, the boys had an absolute stunner of a trip or an absolute bludger and had drawn a donut to be back in phone service so early. That was when the pictures started rolling in, everything from sweetlip, redthroat and trout, through to an absolute horse of a night time red emperor that tipped the scales at 16.1 kilograms.

Once the boys had returned to home base, I was eager to receive a play by play of the action and even though they were absolutely dog tired Luke and Wade obliged. I listened intently as the recount happened, I discovered that the afternoon session was incredibly quiet, thanks in part to an offshore westerly wind that put the stop on most of the action, aside from a singular trout and the usual pelagic species. It wasn’t until the sun had set and the wind dropped off that the conditions changed for the better and the crew got stuck into some serious action. The fresh bait paid off with the fresh squid accounting for the majority of reefies that hit the deck, including some impressive cod and nannygai. Eventually I had to ask the question, “That red emperor….?” That was when both Luke and Wade’s faces lit up and Luke told me the beast nailed a live yellowtail pike sitting hard on the bottom. I listened in awe as what seemed like a five minute battle took over half an hour to tell and enjoyed every minute of it. Not being on the boat as this behemoth was pulled over the side was cruel, however, knowing that I played a part in supplying the bait and the trip preparation was nearly just as good as being there… nearly, but not quite.

Often I am asked how much time should be given to collecting fresh bait prior to a trip, after this experience, all of it, as much time as you can spare. \we were incredibly fortunate in this scenario to be able to send a scouting party out to gather some fresh stuff and it really payed off for us, so if you have even just an hour spare in your trip, I can pro

mise you that that hour gathering fresh and live bait will be a great investment into your fishing experience.