Eleven Tips For Small Boat Anglers

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The ocean can be a big and daunting place – even to relatively experienced anglers sometimes. However, by observing just a few basic pointers, much of the guesswork and disappointment can be kept to a minimum.

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  • Crayfish buoys tend to mark reefs or patches of foul, so keep an eye out for floats, especially if you do not have a fish-finder. Whatever you do though, do not tie up to the floats directly, as this can drag the pot off the mark, and will naturally raise the ire of the cray-fisherman concerned.


  • Often, if the currents are not too strong, it pays to drift over patches of foul to locate the fish before anchoring. I like to use a ball sinker, which readily bounces along the bottom when tied to the end of a ledger rig armed with two hooks. I like to use flasher rigs or soft-plastic lures to attract the fishes’ attention. Try baiting the flasher rigs with a small piece of mackerel or a squid tentacle. In windy conditions a sea anchor (drogue) will help keep you in the zone.


  • I cut my baits in long strips that are slightly broader at one end, and place the hook through the broad end. The bait is then streamlined and less likely to unduly twist up the line. Also, I like to put the point of the hook though the bait only once so the bait swings in the current and looks more appealing to the fish. Often, when I place a squid tentacle on the hook, I cut the tentacle lengthwise into strips so that it looks like a small squid with its ‘tentacles’ waving around in the current. This extra movement can entice species such as blue cod and snapper to take the bait when in a fickle mood.


  • I like to place a berley bucket (the orange ‘Snifter type’ is my favourite) with a berley roll in it and tied to the anchor line. The berley is then dispensed close to the bottom, near where your baits are located, to prevent the berley straying too far away from the zone you are fishing – and taking the fish with it! Oily types work best. There are many types of berley available, from salmon feed pellets to minced-up barracouta and mackerel. I have found paua guts, mixed with oats, to be an especially effective type of berley when fishing around reefs. I also cut up and ground-bait the occasional wrasse to bring larger fish into the nearby area. It is important not to place too much berley in the water, as you do not want to feed the fish that would otherwise take your bait!

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  • Often, after fishing with baits for a while and the berley has been dispensed, I use a jig, which is often taken by predatory fish lurking around. A jig used in combination with two flasher rigs is a particularly lethal combination – as long as the ground you are fishing over is not too foul. Flasher rigs and jigs will generally take a wider range of fish, so give them a go every now and then.

  • Sometimes fish are attracted into the region you are fishing by the commotion of the fish feeding and those being played on rod and reel. I like to use a bait-fishing rod to catch fresh bait-fish on the same spot that I will later be fishing. The splashing of the baitfish and the smell of the bait in the water often attracts larger, predatory fish.


  • I like to fish with a handline, especially in shallower water, and then place a larger bait out wide behind the boat on a rod and reel set-up. This bait is cast out and stray lined, with the reel’s ratchet engaged to alert you to any fish picking up the bait. Often the larger predatory fish will be lurking out wide of the immediate area you are fishing. It pays to check the stray-lined bait every 20 minutes or so to make sure it is not badly snagged or grasped by a starfish (which makes it very unappealing to fish). And the splash of the bait landing on the water again afterwards often attracts the fishes’ attention.


  • Be prepared to move around. Gener­ally it pays to move on if you have not encountered any good fish within half an hour. Many fish, especially reef fish, are territorial, so if the fishing is slow it pays to move around the reef regularly to increase your catch. If snagging up regularly or catching lots of wrasse, move out into slightly deeper water. Often blue cod, tarakihi, trumpeter and sea perch will sit on the edge of the reef where it drops away onto a sandy bottom, so it pays to anchor up right on the edge of the reef, along the sandy bottom. Sea perch tend to be found in slightly deeper water than blue cod.

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  • Try a range of baits. I like to bait each hook with a different type of bait. Salted mussels or tuatua baits are favoured by tarakihi in the south and porae in the north, but I like to increase my fish-attracting chances by taking out a set of bait sabikis too, so I can catch fresh baitfish to make cut baits or use them whole when stray-lining. Fresh baits will increase your catch rate. Cocktail baits can be particularly effective, such as a wedge of mackerel with a squid tentacle dangling off the end. You can use up to three different types of bait in a cocktail, so it appeals to a wider range of fish, especially when placed on flasher rig hooks or used to enhance a soft-rubber jig.


  • Take out a set-line or set-net to increase your chances of getting a feed of fish. (When using set-lines, use a durable bait that is not easily picked off; I recommend squid.) Place either the setline or net out at the start of the day and then go out line fishing, before picking the gear up at the end of the day – a good way to end your time on the water.


Use a landing net to small boat larger fish. Often fish are lost as you lift the line to swing the fish onboard – especially blue cod, as they spin around a lot and the hook can fall out of their mouth. Many other types of fish have soft mouths that hooks tear out of easily – trevally are a good example. And sometimes landing nets are useful for scooping lightly-hooked  fish out of set-nets, preventing them from falling free at the last moment… Good Luck!

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