A beginner’s guide for summer saltwater action

If you’ve been thinking about giving lure fishing a crack but haven’t quite known where to begin, Nick Jones has the answers. He provides all the info you need to get started with lures this summer.

There is something incredibly satisfying about fooling fish with a lure. Moreover, it’s simple – there’s no messing around with smelly bait or anchoring, and it’s super effective on a range of our desirable fish species. However, for a beginner, or a tried-and-true bait angler, it can be a daunting prospect determining which lure to use when you’re out on the big blue. So here is a brief rundown on where, when and how to use the common types of saltwater lures deployed in NZ.

KABURA-STYLE LURES

Best depth range: 30m+
Effective fishing scenarios: Use kaburas-style lures over open sand/mud areas, both with or without workups.
General gear required: A light to medium slow-jigging set, spooled with 20-30lb braid and 30lb fluorocarbon trace.
Technique: Kabura-style lures are the perfect lure for beginners because they are so simple to use and catch lots of fish! Drop the lure straight down to the bottom. Once you’ve touched down, start retrieving the line slowly and steadily – about 1-2 seconds for each rotation of the reel. Do ten winds up then drop back down and repeat. Once you’ve had a couple of drops back down, wind the lure quickly right up to the top for another full deployment – the very best time to get a fish is just after the lure has hit the bottom on that first drop. If you feel bites, simply keep slowly retrieving until the fish hooks itself. If the fishing isn’t hot, err on the side of smaller lures, and experiment with different colours to find the ‘colour of the day’ that’s working. Kabura hooks are very small and easily pulled out of fish – reduce the pressure on them with a reasonably light drag setting and smooth action.

SOFT-BAITS

The writer landed this john dory on a soft-bait.

Best depth range: 0-30m
Effective fishing scenarios:
• Over sand/mud, reefy shallows, or underwater foul ground
• Harbours, inshore areas, or exposed coasts
• Landbased
• Under gannets or terns working
• Go-to lure for kayak or dinghy anglers
General gear required: A light spinning rod and reel spooled with 10-20lb braid, 20-30lb fluorocarbon trace and a range of jig-head weights.
Technique: Soft-baits can work well when simply dropped to the bottom, left in the rod holder and dragged along while you’re drifting; however, fishing them wore actively is more fun and generally yields greater success. To do this, cast downwind ahead of your drift, and let the soft-bait drift down towards the bottom. A ½ oz jig-head is normally a good all-round weight. As it drops, keep an eye on the belly of your line for twitches or changes in speed as these indicate it has been picked up by a fish. Otherwise, once the lure has reached the bottom, begin working it with some small twitches of your rod tip. Raise the rod, then drop the rod, wind in the slack line and repeat. If you’re working rocky, shallow terrain, fish will often take your lure soon after it lands on the surface, so you don’t need to drop right to the bottom where snags can often occur. If the bottom is less gnarly, then try to keep your lure in the strike zone close to the bottom for as long as possible.

INCHIKUS

Best depth range: 30m+
Effective fishing scenarios: Similar to kaburas, but most effective during workups or when the fishing is cranking, as they enable you to target bigger fish.
General gear required: A light to medium slow-jigging set, spooled with 20-30lb braid and 30lb fluorocarbon trace.
Technique: Inchiku lures would have to be my go-to lure if you’re after a combination of big snapper and kingfish around the workups. The beauty of inchikus is that any angler can make them look attractive. I’ve seen inchikus hook kings on the drop, on a slow steady retrieve, a slow lift-and-wind retrieve, a faster mechanical jigging motion, and even fished in the rod holder bouncing along close to the bottom on choppy days. All the colours seem to work – use more natural baitfish colours in shallower workups or if the kings are holding higher up in the water column, whereas brighter colours and lumo are effective for fish prowling deeper

SPEED-JIGS

Best depth range: 20m+
Effective fishing scenarios: Speed-jigs are primarily used to target kingfish over reefs and pinnacles where there is sign showing on the fishfinder. It pays to fish this style of jig over good bait sign, or kingfish sign itself. Getting an intimate knowledge of your sounder through time on the water is hugely beneficial, allowing you to differentiate between what is worth fishing and what might well be a waste of time. Kingfish move around reefs and pinnacles depending on the tide, generally holding on the up-current side where upwellings and eddies hold the bait. Speed jigs can also be successful when a school of kingfish shows up around a workup.
General gear required: An overhead or spinning jigging combo – with a reel capable of holding around 300m of 24- 37kg braid, and a rod in the weighting range of 200-300g.
Technique: Jigging can be deadly in some areas and an exercise in frustration in others. Generally, jigs will catch smaller fish than livebaits, although they are very simple to deploy. Simply drop to the bottom, or where the sign is showing on the fishfinder, and work the lure back up. Tuck the rod under your left armpit and start slowly to get the hang of it. The basic technique is one full rotation of the reel handle for each lift and drop of the rod. Go from 6 o’clock on the reel knob to 12 o’clock through the rod lift, and from 12 o’clock back to 6 o’clock on the reel knob through the rod drop. As with all things fishing, practice makes perfect.

STICK-BAITS AND POPPERS

Best depth range: Shallower than 30m
Effective fishing scenarios: Late spring, summer and autumn are the prime times to find kingies in many areas as they populate the inshore reefs, coastlines and harbours. However, don’t write off a spot just because it’s the cold season – good-sized kingfish will still be cruising around, but they generally won’t be present in substantial numbers. When I’m hunting for kingfish, I look for current, structure and bait. Current and structure can easily be inferred from a quick perusal of the charts – think channels, reefs, pinnacles, headlands, drop-offs, mussel farms and marker buoys. An early start can pay dividends before the fish become a tad gun-shy. Topwater lures are also very popular with land-based anglers.
General gear required: A PE6-8 rated topwater rod combined with a sturdy spinning reel with a decent drag output is a good all-around starter. Handcrafted wooden stickbaits catch more fish than their plastic counterparts but can be very expensive to lose! And good quality barbless treble hooks, like the BKK Raptor-Z Barbless, make fishing a lot safer.
Technique: Fishing with topwater surface lures is the most exciting and challenging way to catch kingfish. As a rule of thumb, poppers make more commotion while stick-baits offer a more realistic swimming action. Sweep and pause retrieves are the most effective, and it pays to practice with different brands and models as each will have a unique action.

MICRO-JIGS

Best depth range: 10-50m
Effective fishing scenarios: Microjigs are versatile lures that can be used in similar locations to soft-baits. However, they are most effective over open sand/mud areas, especially when the bite is slow and fish just want a small snack, or around surface schools of kahawai and trevally feeding on small prey.
General gear required: A light spinning rod and reel, or light slowjigging set, spooled with 10-20lb braid and a length of 20-30lb fluorocarbon trace. The ability to cast ahead of your drift is handy given the slow descent rate of these light lures.
Technique: The basic technique is the same as soft-baiting, although microjigs come in a variety of shapes and some work better with a slower action.