New crew – Lee Brake March 2016

Lani was bent over the stern on the Streaker Tournament Console in a fairly solid amount of discomfort.  The butt of the Loomis spin stick was already leaving a bruise and the 50lb-loaded Gladiator Titan Reel was spewing line against a drag set just under full lock.  She was hurting!

No one was overly surprised by her predicament, as the sounder showed a prominent bombie in over 30m off water that was tipped with a show of fish erupting like Mount Vesuvius.

She was grunting, groaning and gritting her teeth but nothing was stopping the fish’s downward momentum.  It found the rock and the rod snapped upwards, line flapping freely in the wind like Clive Palmer’s third chin.

I was ready for her though.  There was another spin rod waiting in the rod holder, a 5000 Stella and Samurai Kestrel combo rigged with a 7” Gulp jerkshad.

“Have you got one with a paternoster rig like I was just using,” she asked with a slight pout.

“I’ll re-rig your combo for you, but in the meantime, drop this down and when it hits bottom just lift the rod tip up a few times,” I replied.

She nodded, gritted her teeth with a look of determination and flipped over the bail arm.  My head was down tying a knot when the plastic found the bottom, but I looked up in time to see my little red-headed wife lift the Kestrel upwards only to have it reefed downwards by an unseen and unstoppable force.  I raced over and helped her bring the rod up to 90 degrees, but it was no use.  The fish found a cave and it was all over!  Fish two; Lani zip.

Not to be defeated, I quickly put the last twists in the paternoster and handed her a hook while I fitted a six ounce snapper lead to the bottom loop, then with the addition of a whole squid, she was back in action!

It was like Groundhog Day.  Once more she loaded up as soon as bottom was reached, but this time, the fish didn’t head for bottom.  It headed away from the boat, then arched around the boat, then came straight at the boat.  Not a trout.  Not a red.  Maybe a cobia or mackerel…  A bloody shark!

Lani handed me the rod as the reef shark surfaced. She sat down, a broken, defeated shell of her former self.

Such is life when you are fishing 40-50 nautical miles offshore. Some days you just get your ass handed to you.  However, despite her numerous dustings and defeats, Lani still put as many, if not more fish in the esky as either the old man or myself.  It was her first mission offshore with us in the 4.85 and it was a success.  The smile never left her face all day… except for a few painful grimaces at times.

Trial and error proved that the nannygai and reds were patchy at best, but by working our way from mark to mark throughout the day we added quite a decent feed of sweetlip, parrot fish, coral trout and even one nice red emperor to the esky.  Lani landed some crackers, but also seemed to attract the ‘unstoppables’.  All in all, it was a top day on the water with no stress and good cheer all round.

Now, I don’t want to imply anything offensive, but let’s face it, three in a 4.85m boat for a 100 nautical mile round trip, with some serious fishing going on, could well be a recipe for stress, mess and even possible injury.  When you factor in that Lani is still a learner, though a very keen one, you have to wonder how such a stress-free day was so easy accomplished.  Well, let me pass on a few things that I noticed that definitely helped.

Our newbie was pre-blooded, pre-warned and keen    

Lani might be able to count her offshore trips on one hand, but she has been creek fishing for almost a decade.  She is comfortable with a rod and reel, she knows how to bait a hook and she can, and will, cut up her own bait.  On top of that, she was keen.  We told her that there would be easily three hours of travel time, mostly standing, and possibly with some bumpy patches, and she was up for it.  We let her know what she was in for and that there was no shame is sitting this one out.  That’s important, because those kinds of hours travelling really do separate the casually interested from the “got the fishing bug bad” crowds.

Take the time to educate   

I know a few guys who hate taking their wives fishing, mostly because they feel they have to do everything for them.  I’m very lucky in that Lani is always willing to give something a go.  If it’s too hard or she doesn’t feel safe, I’ll happily do it for her, but mostly after a few lessons she’s all over it.  Bleeding fish was a key example.  I was so glad that I’d spent the time showing her how to bleed the first sweetlip she caught for the day, because later on we had spots where we were all hooked up and having a fish flapping on the deck waiting to be dispatched just wouldn’t have been safe.  As it was, she landed hers first and then bled everyone else’s.  Good decky or what, eh!

Pre-tie rigs

This is a trick I learnt doing some fill-in deckhand work.  You can’t expect offshore newbies to be able to proficiently tie their own rigs.  Instead, it’s usually better to spend some time on the journey, or before you leave, tying up a stack of paternoster rigs.  Then, simply catspaw a heavy swivel into the bottom of a double-loop and you have an easily interchangeable rigging system.  From there, all they need to learn is a locked blood knot and they can take care of themselves.

Give them good gear 

If you want your new crew member to want to come back again, then don’t give them the old broomstick combo from the darkest shed corner that has more spider’s web on it than line.  Instead, try to pick a combo that suits them as closely as possible.  Lani was very comfortable with a graphite Loomis spin stick rated at roughly 10-12kg and a well-balanced Banax spin reel.  It was a combo that fitted well under her arm and didn’t fatigue her too much.  Most importantly, it had the stopping power to match her strength (overly locked-up drags equal lost or broken tackle) and it was sensitive enough for her to feel and convert bites.

Other factors that help with feeling and converting are line, leader and hooks.  Braid is a must – no one bottom bashes with mono anymore in deep water.  Leader should be strong but not like whipper-snipper cord (a 60-80lb non-abrasive variety), and hooks should be the sharpest you can afford.  If you have to work to push the hook through the skin of your strip baits, it’s time to invest in something better.

Don’t over direct

My hand is up.  I’m a shocker for this.  I get excited – I can’t help it.  Before I know it, a stream of instructions are coming from my mouth as soon as my new crew member is hooked up.

“Keep your rod up.  No slack line.  Don’t let it get to the bottom.  Take a wind.  Don’t go too high.  Don’t go too low.”

Then, suddenly, I am getting that look that says, “I’m trying my best, but if you give me one more instruction, I am going to feed you my rod butt!”

And we’ve all been in that position, with someone yelling instruction at you.  A little helps a lot, but a lot is no help at all.

Save your instructions for when they are absolutely necessary and keep them clear, calm and relaxed.

Rod buckets are the devil

Bruises on your abdomen are victory marks – they let you know you’ve had a good day.  Oh so many fish are lost by new anglers who feel a bite, strike, feel weight and then drop their rod to put it in a rod bucket.  Suddenly, once they tighten up the slack they just threw the fish to manoeuvre the rod into the bucket, they are surprised to find nothing on the end.  If you must take a rod bucket, tie it on once the fish is up and off the bottom and you know the hook is well set.  Even then, only use it if your new crew member is really hurting!

Start with the basics  

I love lures as much as anyone, but unless the fish are stacked up, and the simple act of dropping into the school will get a strike, it’s best to start your new crew with bait.  Big, tough flesh baits on paternoster rigs are the go.  They will give them plenty of chances to pin a larger predator while also withstanding a barrage of pickers for a reasonable time.

Trolling is also a good, easy option, but be wary of boring newbies.  Hours on end of fruitless trolling for bluewater pelagics is not a good way to stoke the flames of a smouldering fishing addiction!

Most of all, have fun.  Fishing is still a recreational activity last time I checked, so don’t make everything so serious that you’d think the world would end if they don’t land the next fish.  Mistakes will be made, gear will be lost, fish will get a second chance, and burning biceps will be rewarded with slack line and a knot to tie.  Just remember to smile and shrug it off, because there will always be another drift, another hook-up and another trip.

Fish hard and stay safe folks.

See you next month.