Bagging WA demersals

Releasing pink snapper every now and then is a great way to ensure WA anglers have future stocks in the years to come.

by Jesse Choy •

The demersal ban runs from 15 October until 15 December, meaning we have only a limited amount of time to target these bottom dwelling species before we are forced to focus on other things to get our fix.

It’s worth noting too, that both Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds have their own pink snapper bans, which begin on 1 September and run until 31 January.

Such regulations protect large aggregating schools of pink snapper, so anglers should take care when out fishing and do what they can to ensure healthy stocks in the future. Seasonal closures such as these and others around Western Australia are best clarified prior to heading out on your mission just to keep on the safe side of things.

Fishing with fresh bait always increases your odds and often outshines the packaged bait. While packaged baits bring in great-sized fish, presenting something straight from the ocean will tempt the fish that can be quite smart and sometimes fussy.

Gathering bait

Heading out from our coastline, there are markers, poles and rock walls are all around. These structures are great for species like herring or salmon trout, which will happily take a bait chasing rig or small soft plastic dropped down beside them. When fishing horizontal structure with lures, remember that casting parallel to the rocks will allow you to bring your lure back through the structure that the smaller species love to hang around. When fishing for your bait along these rock structures, it can be worth throwing out a squid jig if you notice some weed patches amongst the rock, as you will often find some of your bigger squid are on this broken ground. Often you will find squid relatively close to shore, using your sight to both catch squid and locate suitable grounds. Stopping where it is clear, with water depths of around 3-4m, and casting around your visible patches should get you onto enough squid for a reef fishing session.

In most cases you are able to both gather your fresh bait or a delicious feed, or both! Since you can hunt squid in shallow water, you are able to get quickly onto some good squid gathering grounds close to the boat and even from the shore. As previously mentioned, rock walls with a bit of weed around are a great place to start, but if you are heading out wide, you may want to squid some of the slight deeper weed beds like the ones around Rockingham, Garden Island, Woodmans Point, Coogee and Fremantle.

Jig colour choices varies between anglers, but you can work on the theory that when the water is less clear, you may want to turn to bright colours that pop and stand out. Bold colours like pink, orange, green, yellow and even black are top performers when it comes to catching squid in messier conditions. When the water clarity is quite good, you can often opt for more natural colours, like gold, pilchard, white and prawn patterns. Although these colours are generally quite subtle, the natural colours are a big winner for many, as they do a great job at imitating real baitfish and crustaceans.

Demersal preparation

Although there are plenty of advocates for monofilament lines, there are just as many anglers switched to fishing with low-stretch braided lines and fluorocarbon leaders. Fishing a fluorocarbon leader is very beneficial, as not only does it add abrasion resistance, but it is also your friend when it comes to powerful runs and absorbing shock.

Choosing your leader strength is dependent on your personal preference, but will more often be influenced by the type of structure you are fishing on the day. Lighter leaders will generally fool bigger fish, providing great sport, but stopping them and getting them out of the structure than becomes harder. Depending on how the fish are biting, heavier leaders may or may not decrease your capture rate, but when you do hook up, you have a far greater chance of being able to land the fish by going harder and applying more pressure.

Most anglers targeting demersal finfish tend to fish around 20-40lb, but bait anglers can get away with fishing as heavy as 80lb and the fish will still find it hard to turn down a well presented bait. Although you are able to fish as light as 10-12lb, it certainly pays to rig slightly heavier in anticipation of the bigger bites. You will certainly feel a bit more reassured if a big fish comes along.

Allowing your boat, berley and cast to work together often results in some great fish coming aboard. Positioning correctly ensures you get the most out of your session.
A few different rigs, worth giving a crack when you head out. Note that running rigs allow the fish to feel less weight, whereas paternoster style rigs are better for lifting your bait off the bottom.
Trying different style jigheads can produce different results, and it also affects the sink rate of your plastic. Choosing a few different colours is beneficial since a lot of the time you will be trying to figure out what is working.
A selection of jigs. If somethings not working, don't wait too long before trying another variation.
A brilliant shot by Han from Calamari Kings on Facebook. This one ate a DTD Real Fish Oita.
Herring, squid and salmon all make top snapper baits when they are available. You never know what you will get when your bait is fresh!
Thys is known to put himself through a bit of pain and loves fishing lighter leaders, even when targeting bigger fish.
Fishing with soft plastics from the kayak is insanely fun. Brad spends a lot of his time side imaging structures and dropping down his plastics to land awesome quality fish like this one.
How’s this for a chunky West Australian dhufish? This dhuie gave Craig some trouble while it was trying to get home!

Knots for connecting your braid to your leader can be as simple or complex as you like. The double uni knot will serve a lot of purpose, but you can also use more slim line knots that pass through the guides much easier, such as the FG, PR or Improved Albright knots. There are a lot of ways to tie each knot, so it is definitely best to do some research online and find a way that works for you, so that you can hang on to your fish with more confidence.

When rigging for a bait fishing mission out of the boat, there are many different approaches and ways to catch fish. One rig that constantly gets mentioned is the paternoster rig. Other popular rigs include a single hook or snell rig run either unweighted or with a ball sinker. Time on the water is the best way to refine your process, as it broadens your understanding to things such as bait size and preferences in certain waters. Sometimes you might want to drop down a whole squid and at other times it is much more beneficial to run just a tube ring with plenty of hook exposure. You can spend your life attempting to crack the code, but varying your approach when you head out and trying a few different things at one time will help you to work it out what the fish want eventually.

Finding ground

Looking for good places to start fishing or signs of fish doesn’t always involve electronics, although it does play a big part in today’s fishing scene. Fishing deeper water is certainly harder without the help of electronics, considering you cannot see what you are driving over or the way the structure is shaped to effectively fish and or drift over it. One of the most popular ways of fishing these days is using crayfish pots to identify various rock structures, which they are usually positioned on. Fishing around these pots can lead to fish on some quiet days, but keeping a distance is also a good idea to ensure you don’t leave hooks in any ropes or gear beneath the surface.

Good places to check when heading out can consist of both flat and vertical structures in anywhere from 5-100m. Fishing hard flat rock bottoms, small drops and mounds can hold some of your biggest fish. Not overlooking the smaller raises or drops also means that you are often fishing untouched waters and covering more ground in general.

Berley

Berley deserves a special mention, as it has proven its worth time and time again. When berleying, a cage to keep your mix in is a great way to go, as it lets out a scent and small snacks for the fish to keep them interested. Good quality cages often come in stainless, which means you won’t need to put an external weight inside to drop it to where the fish are. If you have a cage or have made one yourself that is unweighted, it can definitely pay to put in a few sinkers, rocks or small bricks to act as a weight and keep your berley from coming to the surface.

Baitmate are a great local brand manufactured in WA. Brands such as Baitmate offer premixed berley and pellets that can add a lot of content to the other products you may choose to place inside your cage. These days you can buy frozen blocks that slowly release their scent, and you can also make your own blocks with things such as bread and other foods that have gone out of date in your pantry.

Lifting your cage approximately 1m from the bottom will help distribute your berley and also allow the swell surge to bounce your cage without your attendance. If freezing your own berley blocks, it pays to keep in mind the size of your cage, to ensure you are easily able to drop the berley in, even when the block is rock solid and straight out the freezer. By doing this, it will ensure the block lasts throughout the day, and you are also able to return unused blocks back to the freezer for another mission.

Being mindful of your drift or boat positioning will not only allow you to fish the structure lines for longer, but will also allow a more effective cast into the berley trail, making the bait presentation more natural. If you are fishing shallow, it is possible to visibly locate structure, provided the water is reasonably clear and you are aware of your surroundings at all times. Anchoring ahead of the structure, keeping drift direction in mind will allow you to bring fish out of the structure, making it slightly easier to both hook and land the fish.

Try some plastics

Soft plastics to 7” in size are worth trying, but generally you should start with something around 4-5”. The best profiles to use varies amongst anglers, but for any sort of demersal fishing, curl-tail or shad profiles are generally the most popular options.

Curl-tail plastics such as ZMan GrubZ are great since they are durable, but the tail is also supple enough to with the  motion of the waves and flow, depending on how you rig your lure. Shad style plastics come in a lot of different shapes and sizes, but split and paddle-tails certainly shine when it comes to this sort of fishing. Not only do these lures offer a more active approach to fishing, but in comparison to a curl-tail, they also rely a lot more on your ability to impart an action into the lure to tempt the fish.

When manually jigging your plastics, you can fish with slow raises of the rod and you’ll often feel the weight of the fish on the lift. Another popular way of working plastics is to erratically whip your lure and let it sink. Fishing with plastics, whether it be for bream or pink snapper, is an anything goes type of technique, and you shouldn’t think there is only one way to go about doing it. Switch it up, do things you’ve never done before and you might be surprised!

When choosing a jighead to match to your plastic, the old saying go light to get the bite should come to mind. Ensuring that your soft plastic doesn’t plummet to the ocean floor will allow the fish more time to look at your offering, and it will also look like it is descending in the water column more naturally. Your plastic is not only more enticing on the fall if rigged as light as possible, but when you choose to hop, jiggle or shake your plastic, it is also suspending off the bottom for a second longer before returning to the floor. Weights from 1/4oz up to a heavier 5/8oz will serve you for most of your inshore fishing, but occasionally you may find yourself stepping up to 1oz to keep in contact with the bottom in the rougher conditions. Heavier jigheads to 4oz are generally best in waters upwards of 50m, however if you are leaving a curl-tail in the rod holder while you drift over shallow grounds it can really put you onto some good quality fish and can bounce away while you do other things.

The best plastic colours are widely debated, but there are quite a few standout colours regardless of the profile. Nuclear chicken, bleeding banana, glow white, coconut pink, pink, pilchard and bright orange are all favourite colours for anglers. Choosing colours is not something you should obsess over, but you should certainly aim to change it up every so often, if you’re not getting the desired results.

When you are going offshore, you are generally better off focusing on rigging your plastics as straight as possible, your jighead weights and retrieves play a bigger part when it comes to catching fish on plastics.

Jig for joy

Jigs are well worth trying, especially if you are out targeting dhufish on the rocky structures. Slow fall jigs, which are more rounded in shape, are generally the anglers’ choice when targeting demersals, as they offer a slower fall rate, whereas knife jigs both descend and ascend faster, which is far more effective for species that actively hunt faster moving prey.

Like plastics, jigging technique is best left to the angler, as there is no proper way you need to go about things. Slow lifts, continually picking up your slack line and also rapid jigs with pauses allowing your jig to sink back to the bottom are really effective. When fishing in depths up to around 50m, a jig of 80-120g is going to be a great start, but if there is a fair bit of current and you’re finding it hard to get your jig in the zone, going heavier might help.

Similarly, if you find your jig is getting to the bottom quite quick, you may want to try and change your approach and use a lighter jig. Colour choice is totally dependent on your personal preference, but choosing patterns that resemble something in the natural environment will usually turn over some good results. Pattern choices are endless, with companies continuing to revolutionize their approach to jig design, but colours such as sardine, glow, zebra, orange, red and gold are all very popular choices amongst anglers.

Looking after your catch

Caring for your fish can sometimes be overlooked in the heat of the moment when things are going on all around you. Ensuring that you take the time to properly measure any questionable fish, as well as bleeding your fish quickly and putting them on ice will ensure that you are going to get the most out of what you have borrowed from the ocean.

If you are releasing any demersal finfish, it is also a requirement that you send your fish down on a release weight to heighten their chances of survival once they leave the boat. Avoiding contact with dry hands or rags prior to release (especially around the gills) will help fish to survive and also protect the slime coat.

Do some research

As always, the best information you can get before heading out is from a local. Checking out local boat ramps, filleting stations and tackle stores can be very beneficial for finding what is working in the area. A lot of tackle stores have great knowledge on rigs, terminal tackle and effective local ways at approaching your next mission. If you have a little bit more time on your hands, you may want to also pick up an almanac from your local fishing store and plan your trip around the best times.

Remember that if you are heading out, especially by yourself, keep your own safety in mind. Wearing a life jacket, logging into your local marine safety channel, educating your passengers on procedures in case of an emergency and carrying all the appropriate safety equipment will ensure that you return from the great day out on the water.

Enjoy the short window of time before the close, and don’t forget your RFBL!