Modern "bottom bashing" tactics
"BOTTOM bashing"... it’s like a dirty word to most sport minded fisher folk. Meaninglessly dropping a hunk of lead to the ocean floor loaded with servo station pilchards or squid isn't everyone's idea of fun. Many think it's a "hunter gatherer" form of fishing with little skill or thought process involved.
Maturity or age may have skewed my perspective somewhat but with a little skill and some fore-thought in the process, "bottom bashing" for a bag of reef fish has grown in its appeal. After all, it's probably the most common coastal fishing from a boat and a feed of fresh fish is hard to beat. The way I go about it is a little different to most common perceptions. With an adoption of modern day electronics, techniques with some experimentation has improved the catch, and most importantly, size.
Sure, the good old paternoster rig still works and will always continue to deliver fish to the esky, but by honing the process and improving some aspects, the results are speaking for themselves.
Firstly, the tried and true 'glass rod with a level-wind overhead needs to be swapped for something a little more modern. Changing it for a light jig rod in PE 2-3 matched with a spin reel in the 5000-10000 class, or overhead with comparative line capacity, will work a treat. Just because 8oz of lead is commonly used doesn't mean the little jig rod won’t handle it; they're designed to be used with heavy-weighted jigs for hard pulling reef species. Fill the reel with 20-40lb braid. Braid certainly is a large catalyst for improving this fishing. Minimal water resistance and the minimal stretch increases bite detection and hook setting and with amazing strength in most brands, even 20lb will land very large fish. Essentially you'll have a light to medium jigging outfit. These outfits can cost a few hundred to well over a thousand dollars depending on the model and quality. It's probably best to start out with something on the lower end of the price scale and work your way up over time. It will be a versatile outfit to that can be trolled with or chase dollies around the fads, so the expense can be shared among a few types of fishing. Plus, a lot of the species being targeted are very susceptible to a spiced up slow or Octopus jig, especially the days when the bait might be drawing a blank it’s amazing how a jig can turn things around.
Depending on species and the structure being fished, 30-80lb fluorocarbon should cover most situations. That's unless you stumble across some true beasts lurking below. I've found fluorocarbon does make a significant difference to the amount of bites some days, especially metro snapper.
The most widely used rig would be the "paternoster". Simply add a loop at the end of the rig for a weight of your choice and 1-3 dropper loops above this spaced at a distance of your choice for the hooks. Sounds simple, right... just drop to the bottom and away you go to fill the esky with the next few night's meals. Well not exactly; it will produce but there is a few things that can make even this simple rig work more efficiently. Try replacing the sinker with a cheap reflective or lumo jig, or maybe paint or wrap the snapper leads in some contrasting colour to attract the attention of nearby fish. I find a reflective jig best as it will flash and flicker on the way down and species like snapper and teraglin can’t help but go check it out.
Spicing up the hooks with some flashy marabou or a squid skirt can add more attraction to your baits and also once the bait is gone they can be eaten anyway depending on how hungry the fish are.
The next step might be the biggest factor. Tie the rigs out of the lightest fluorocarbon you can use for the given species or terrain being fished. Rigs tied with 30-80lb fluoro almost exclusively out fish the more common heavier mono varieties.
A rig not used so often by most, but one I prefer, is a running sinker rig probably best to look at the animation inset to understand fully. In short I thread a swivel onto the leader then tie another swivel to the end. After this I attach around 1 metre minimum of 30-80lb fluorocarbon with snelled 5/0-7/0 Mustad big gun’s or similar. This rig I prefer to use longer slender baits like slimy mackerel fillets, cuttlefish or squid. The free running swivel I attach a reflective jig with a split ring; that way it can be easily change out for heavier or lighter jig if moving spots or current picks up.
A word of warning with this rig is to slow down the drop and intermittently pause it, so the leader does not tangle around the main line. I find this rig presents a bait more naturally and wafts around in the current tempting larger and more wary fish.
The other option which I find can work very well some days is a slow jig, either leaf or octopus style fished close and slow on the bottom. Another reason to switch to the light and sensitive jig outfit. Personally, I prefer this way as it has more angler input and feels more rewarding when you do hook a nice fish but if I was pressed to say which is better, a freshly presented bait on the running sinker rig accounts for some exceptional fish from snapper to samson fish and all in between.
Fresh is best especially in heavily fished or populated localities. I actually keep my leftover marlin baits in summer or catch a few extra and keep on ice if I know next few days I’ll try to grab a quick feed before or after work.
Take the time to try and catch something on the morning of your outing or a few days prior and keep cool in the fridge. Yellowtail, pike, slimy mackerel are usually easy to come by with some berley around the local headlands or artificial reefs. Squid are another option that can be jigged in the morning around the ribbon weed and kelp beds. Even freshly caught salmon, tailor and bonito can work well and good fun if you're on the way to grounds to fish.
If you can’t attain fresh bait then buy IQF or cyovac freshly frozen bait at the very least; it does make a big difference especially for larger fish or on days when the bite is slow. Another option is a replace the bait with a big soft plastic covered in some scent like S-Factor; this can work quite well at times especially the curl tail plastics with a bit of action.
Sound Them Up
A sounder and chart plotter are imperative to this form of fishing. Sometimes I won't even drop on an area if I haven't sounded up decent sized fish. Snapper, teraglin, jewfish, kingfish, pearl perch, etc, all sound up quite strong returns on a sonar.
If you're not sounder or chart plotter savvy then take the time to become reasonably good at using both as this will undoubtedly increase your catch significantly. Even the more modest sounders available will work well until you get beyond 100m of depth.
Take the time to sound around a likely area, and if you do mark some interesting targets, set a waypoint exactly where they are. Now you need to determine the rate of the drift and the direction so you can drift through the area you way pointed holding the bigger fish.
One trick which I use on calm days is to deploy my electric motor and use the spot lock feature to sit right above them and then send my baits or jigs straight on them. If after 10-15 minutes there is no interest I'll move on and look for other reasonable targets on the sounder to target. I'll continue this until fish willing to bite are found and will work that area thoroughly. I tend to find on most occasions if you find fish marking well on the sounder a bit of the bottom they will be willing to eat a well presented fresh bait or jig on all but the most toughest days.
Where to Drop
If you're new to offshore fishing it might pay to search around the internet for local information on good grounds to fish. You want to fish areas of broken reef, gravel and or mud that holds concentrations of bait.
I generally start my day by fishing the shallower broken reefs 40m and below and progressively work deeper as the sun gets higher or a highly productive area has been found. It's quite common on any given day that a certain depth might be very productive. For example, if the fishing was good on a reef or broken area in 65m then look for other areas in this depth. For several reasons it could be productive, possibly a small amount of current or it could be the water depth the bait is concentrated in also might be a temperature change as well. Always be vigilant around how the fishing is going each trip and try to evaluate where and why the best fishing will be. After many trips you might be able to work out the more productive areas much quicker, putting yourself straight on the fish.
Different species will occur in most areas but at certain times of the year species like snapper will have an affinity with a certain substrate; be it mud, gravel or hard reef. Try to keep a diary or at least a mental note of what type of structure you come across good size and numbers of a certain species. It would be a fair bet you will find them there again at the same time the following year or when conditions are very similar.
Most importantly is to keep an open mind and try to fish smarter, trust in technology and learn to embrace it. By doing this and adopting more modern tackle and giving some new things a go I think you may be surprised how regularly a nice feed fish is coming home to be enjoyed.