Winter offshore SEQ – Cody Hochen

Over the last 2 years, I have been building my knowledge base and extending my fishing to some offshore areas out from south-east Queensland. This has given me the opportunity to target and catch a new range of species using some techniques that I don’t usually use in the bay. Unless the weather is perfect, my little Quintrex isn’t usually sturdy enough to venture too far offshore.

This is when it is handy to have a friend with a bigger boat. In this article, I am going to cover two techniques that I have been using to produce some quality fish over the last 24 months. Although, I am new to offshore fishing, and far from mastering these techniques, I learn something different every time I venture offshore. Below are a few tips I have picked up that can help you catch some nice offshore fish this winter.

Lightly Weighted Plastics

Although far from being a new technique, fishing lightly weighted soft plastics offshore is a very effective technique for a wide range of species, especially snapper. This technique involves using a ¼ ounce jighead to let the softplastic waft toward the bottom. Due to the lightly weighted jighead, it is a technique usually suited to the shallower offshore reefs up to 45 metres in depth (pending current). Once the depth gets beyond 45 metres, I find micro jigging or bouncing soft plastics with larger jigheads, a more effective technique.

Like all fishing, the key is to find bait and predators in the vicinity, therefore, a sounder is a must. An electric motor isn’t a necessity, although as outlined below, it has its advantages. Due to the depth and the current, I like to travel at least 100 metres up current of the structure or school of fish that has been sounded. I usually start with a ¼ ounce jighead and if there is too much current to get contact with the bottom, I move to a 3/8. The aim is to cast towards the direction of your target, while drifting and letting the lightly weighted plastic flutter down the water column towards your target. Sometimes the lure can take a couple of minutes to get into the strike zone, but generally a snapper will not resist a well presented wafting plastic.

Instead of casting, another option is to drop the softplastic to the bottom, while feeding line from the reel with the bail arm open. Depending on the conditions, this technique allows the angler to watch the plastic fall through the water column with the sounder. Often when the snapper are hungry, you will see them rise from the bottom. This is a visual technique that is very exciting especially when you see a snapper rise and the line starts peeling from the spool. Simply flipping the bail arm of the spool over is enough to set the hook; and then the fight begins. Sometimes a snapper will rise 15 metres from the bottom to smash a wafting plastic.

Both these techniques are deadly on snapper, but bycatch can include sweetlip, amberjack and kingfish. As the plastic wafts through the water column, pelagics such as tuna and mackerel will also show interest and will keep you busy for the next 30 minutes or so.

Although snapper are more active in low light conditions, wafting lightly weighted plastics through the water column can attract fish all day. In previous articles I have mentioned that it is imperative to be fishing shallower areas at first or last light when fishing inside Moreton Bay. This is when boat traffic is at its least and is when most fish, particularly snapper, feel safe to rise in the water column to hunt. This is no different when fishing offshore, however, shallow water is 30 – 40 metres, instead of 2 – 7 metres in the bay. Three tips to avoid scaring skittish fish (and hence catching more) in the bay are: keeping noise to a minimum by using an electric motor, fishing away from crowds, and not motoring over your drift. Although there is a high chance of hooking some rather large fish, I like to use light line and leader when using this technique. Even though I lose the odd fish, I definitely get more bites from finicky fish. If I am fishing around wrecks or abrasive structure, I use 20lb line and leader. If I am fishing coffee rock and rubbly reef, which is the common type of structure out from the Sunshine Coast to the Gold Coast, I usually use 10 – 15lb line and 10 – 16lb leader.

It is important for the lure to impart some kind of action as it wafts through the water column. I like to use curly tail plastics around 4 – 6 inches, but jerkshads around the same size can also be deadly. I also like to use baitfish-coloured softplastics when using this technique, since the visibility is usually clear in winter. If the bite happens to be slow, it always pays to change colour to trigger action.

Since I have been venturing offshore, I have fished most inshore reefs – from Noosa to the Gold Coast. North Reef, Sunshine Reef, Jew Shoal, Inner Gneerings and the 18 – 24 fathoms out from the Seaway are all great spots for catching a nice feed of fish this winter. To get you started there are basic GPS marks available on the Fish and Boat website for all the above reefs. Once on the spot, it is a matter of sounding around and finding fish and bait on your sounder.

Slow pitch micro jigging

To say micro jigging has been a frustrating technique for me to rely on is an understatement. It has taken two years (and many lost jigs and few fish) to finally have success with this challenging technique. Watching u-tube clips and talking to the helpful folk at Jones’s Tackle has been a huge help to produce fish on micro jigs. Up until twelve-months ago, my micro jigging frustrations were confined to Moreton Bay. Although, it can be a productive technique in the bay, I was making the mistake of using the wrong jigs and fishing in the wrong areas, which resulted in many lost jigs. This really starts to add up after losing 3 – 4, $15 jigs and assist hooks per session, and all for minimal results.

However, this time last year, I started venturing offshore and using micro jigs on the shallower reefs. Although, we didn’t catch anything outstanding, results started to improve with a few feeds of squire.

My main target this winter has been to catch my first pearl perch on a lure. After some research, it seemed as though my best chance of catching a pearl perch would be on a micro jig. When it comes to these perch, slow pitch/flutter micro jigs are the most effective. Who would have thought five years ago, a traditional species targeted on bait would eat a bit of metal? Unlike traditional micro jigs that are usually skinny and long, a slow pitch micro jig is wider, making the lure move to the side and flutter as it falls to the bottom. Instead of aggressively working the jig, slow pitch jigging is all about working the jig slowly at a vertical angle. After each turn of the handle (pitch), the rod tip falls and rises with the weight of the jig, resulting in the jig fluttering from side to side. How many pitches you do, depends on the location of the fish in the water column. I find that 10 – 15 are adequate before I free spool the jig back to the bottom. This is a very basic description of this technique. For further information, I recommend researching slow pitch jigging on the net and watching U-tube footage.

During a recent trip across South Passage Bar we spent a lot of time sounding around the endless reef systems in 50 – 60 metres of water in search of good structure to micro jig. Since we hadn’t fished this area before it was more of an exploratory mission and so we didn’t have the highest of expectations. After sounding around and catching a few tusk fish, we eventually came across what looked to be wire weed in 50 metres of water. From reading articles and viewing fishing shows, I have learned that wire weed is a favourite haunt of pearl perch. After a few lost fish to pulled hooks, my mate and I both came up tight on to two decent size fish on our 60 gram slow pitch jigs. After great battles on our light gear, up came two beautiful 55cm pearl perch.

Usually pearl perch are not astute hunters and don’t venture far from their patch of reef; they tend to rely mostly on bait fish or food to come to them. In aquatic ecosystems, any fish that is injured or weak and falling to the sea floor usually makes an easy meal for most fish species, especially a bucket mouthed pearl perch. The fluttering, darting and flashing action of a slow pitch jig falling towards the bottom, resembles an injured bait fish amazingly well and entices a fish to bite. As well as being very effective on pearl perch, snapper, tusk fish, amberjack, coral trout and kingfish can also be targeted on slow pitch jigs. As with most techniques, it pays to mix up the retrieve if the fish are timid. Slowing the pitch down to ½ or even ¼ turns of the reel will result in the jig to fall shorter. Faster pitches can also entice a bite, particularly from kingfish or amberjack.

Choosing the size jig to use has proven to be difficult. Slow pitch jigs come in all sizes, but to stick with the micro theme, I generally use 40 – 80 gram jigs. After some discussions with people who have been using this technique for a while, allowing 15 – 20 grams per 10 metres of water (pending current) is recommended. This allows the jig to reach the bottom, but also allows the lure to flutter from side to side in shallower water.

As I haven’t done enough micro jigging to warrant buying a new combination, with advice from the staff at Jones’s Tackle, I have been using my heavier barra outfit. This consists of a Smith Tourler STC-
63TX with a Shimano Calcutta 200DC, rigged with 20lb braid and 30lb leader. Although the rod is not designed for this style of fishing, it seems to have enough bounce in the tip to pitch micro jigs and is all I need until I purchase a new combo. If you want to purchase a traditional micro jigging outfit for 40 – 100 gram jigs, a rod within the PE 1-2 range is sufficient. Both Major Craft and NS Black Hole produce an assortment of high quality jigging rods at a reasonable price.

It is always a thrill to learn a new technique and achieve success. Both techniques are a pleasurable and successful way to catch fish and will work on any reef system up and down the Queensland coastline.