No Bait Mate – Reef Plastics – John Boon

It was that time again. The time where we were to challenge ourselves. The time where we jump out of our comfort zones that we call bait and jump into some artificial offerings. As a die hard red emperor fishermen it’s hard to leave the bait at home but ever since I was introduced to a bit of jigging a few years back I now aim to get out a couple of times a year without a trace of bait anywhere inside the Cruise Craft.

I always like taking a few mates that haven’t had much success with artificial’s or who are reluctant to try them. Dan Baker has done a fair bit of reef fishing and caught some great fish in the process but hasn’t really taken the plunge into the world of fantastic plastic. Jason Howard is another good mate who lives down the road and is a very accomplished estuary fishermen. He hasn’t had a lot of opportunity to hit the big blue so he was keen as mustard to see what all the fuss was about.

The day before we were leaving I received a phone call from Dan asking about what he would need for the trip. The greatest starter plastics I will recommend for anyone are the Berkley Gulp Range. The scent infused in these plastics is a dead set winner in my opinion. What’s in it is anyone’s guess. I reckon it would be on the same level as the colonels secret herbs and spices. Jerk shads, Nemesis and Squid Vicious have all caught fish while jigging. When it comes to jig head strength the Nitro range have proved themselves time and time again. I have fished the 3/O size right up to the 7/O and have rarely bent them even when red lining gear. When jigging harsh structure you need everything in your favour. So this was the advice that I passed onto Dan as well as “if you think something will work mate then bring it along”.

The boat was loaded, fuelled and ready to hit the briny. There is always a buzz among the crew when the ocean is flat and the tides are spot on. As with most jigging trips we opt to hit spots that have fairly concentrated fish and bait activity. Pressure points on particular reef systems, small bommies and wrecks are some of my favourite places. Identifying these areas is very easy with the use of a quality sounder like the Furuno 588. If the bait is concentrated in a certain area then the predators wont be to far away.

We stared our trip heading north of Yeppoon to a fairly well known reef system called Finlays Reef. This spot gets fished a lot by locals so it’s a very pressured area but still produces quality fish. I find that taking the time to have a good look around for specific fish holding areas like drop offs and bommies holding bait fish have definitely seen our catch rates improve. Also being in position and set up for a drop during key bite periods is also important. Things like moon rise, moon set, sun rise and sun set have all worked for us in the past. We have found that the hour just before the sun up has worked best.

We positioned ourselves over a patch of ground that was showing some concentrations of bait. It was now go time. We had a mild current so we were able to get away with jig heads from 1/2 an ounce to an ounce. A lot of people make the mistake of using to much weight and it can take away some of the plastics action. After all, you’re after a realistic action with your softie.   

I have also been asked a bit about anchoring or drifting. I do like to drift to start off with because you can cover a bit more ground and you do pick up the odd good fish away from the structure or bait concentration. If the only interest our plastics receive after a few drifts is right in tight then a precise anchor deploy can greatly benefit the fisher.

The boat came to a stop, the motor was switched off and it was time to see if we could entice a strike. The Furuno lit up as we drifted across our little patch. Gulps were sent into action. We varied our retrieves from a slow hop across the bottom to a fairly fast burn up to about half way in the water column. Dan was first into the action nailing a quality Grunter (Javelin Fish) on a Nuclear Chicken Nemesis. Dan was quietly impressed I reckon. We hadn’t been jigging long and already had a quality capture on board. Just as we had put the camera down from securing the evidence, Jason was quickly doubled over into the preaching position as he had hooked onto a solid fish and was struggling to get the upper hand. The unknown seemed to travel where it wanted to for a while before Jase started to gain some line back. After an intense fight Jase had a solid Black Jew boat side. I can still remember Jason’s words very clearly of “Geez don’t these things go hard”. I’m no scientist but I think the boys were having a ball and we hadn’t even been jigging that long. I noticed Jason had changed plastics as well. He had observed two other anglers using a similar technique and choose to change it up, a great example of the thinking angler.

Sometimes it doesn’t go quite this well though. There are times when you can spend hours searching and ripping plastics up and down for no result. These are the times you will be tested as to whether you hang with the whole jigging bizo or do you fall back onto safer proven methods. At the end of the day it’s all fishing, fish don’t bite all the time and it’s up to the individual angler to suss out whats going on, adapt to the conditions and outsmart the game.

We hung around this area for a while before the sharks moved in and made it pointless to continue. I kicked the big merc in the guts and pointed the cruisey north to visit another well known place called The Pinnacles.

The Pinnacles see’s a lot of local fishing pressure. I have an uncle that was around when this place was discovered way back when. The stories of massive coral trout, red emperor and snapper truly get the blood pumping. These days you don’t get that sort of calibre of fish but it still fishes well at times and for anglers who think a bit outside of the square there is still plenty of action available. Within a 5km radius there are plenty of bommies and wrecks to get ones jig on.

The particular wreck that we had picked for spot number 2 lies in approximately 30 meters of water and is home to some rather large brutes. It’s a go hard or go home affair with wreck jigging and I bloody love it. At times when it’s hard to entice a strike you have got to be working those plastics and jigs as close to the wreck as possible which doesn’t leave a lot of room for error. Locked drags, mint knots and high quality terminal tackle are a must. Epic bust offs are fairly common with this sort of close quarters combat.

Dan choose to stay with his original nuke chicken nemesis while myself and Jason went searching for some different offerings. The wreck had just come into view on the sounder when Dan’s slow hop had come to a sudden stop and powered off in the other direction. This style of fishing is very exciting when the fish are on the chew and the best part is that it’s fairly clean fun as there isn’t bait getting flung around all over the place making a mess. Dan had quick control and had another feisty black jew ready for the landing net. Another victim for the Berkley Gulp range.

At long last the next drift it was the skippers turn. I was starting to feel a little left out. Big powerful runs had a jewie call early into the fight and the it turned out to be spot on. This time it was a big 9 inch Z Man lumo grub that did the trick. I did get the idea for this from fellow fish and boat scribe Dan Kaggelis who is a mad jigger from up north so cheers mate, the big grub worked a treat.

By now the sun was starting to poke its head out from over the horizon, so much fun was already happening and the day was only just beginning. We worked around the pinnacles area and found the resident tea leaf trevally population hadn’t thinned since our last trip. They are good fun but an absolute menace when chasing other species and fight right to the top in true trevally form.

Other species that we encountered were gold spot cod, coral trout, mac tuna and mackerel. When jigging it really is a luck dip as to what might climb on next and it can also be pure luck to land toothy critters like mackerel when using mono leaders. More often then not you get snipped off dropping down or retrieving back to the boat. Jason had a bit of luck on his side when he managed to boat a nice spanish mackerel.

With the morning starting to get away on us it was time for one more drift. Dan loaded up on one more quality fish and was rewarded with a beautiful large mouth nannygai. “How good is this” Dan said. “Mate I couldn’t agree more with you” I said. Plenty of artificial action for everyone and good times on the water with great mates, it’s hard to ask for anymore then that. The tides were starting to hit prime time so we put away the jigging rods and pulled out the squidding rods. We put the cruisey up on the plane and pointed her towards Keppel Island but that my friends, is a story for another time.