by Lee Brake
As the weather cools off it's worth heading offshore in search of some snapper, be they knobbies or goldens, and this month Lee Brake takes us through the advantages of jigging offshore marks at night.
Sometimes, if you’re a small boat owner without a cabin, it’s worth getting a camping permit and staying on an offshore island so you can fish the best parts of the night.
You’d have thought we were on an Alaskan voyage of discovery. I personally was wearing four layers, a beanie and a Buff so that combined with a pair of borrowed long pants, that were about four sizes too big, I looked like a cross between a navy seal, a mountaineer and a hobo who hangs around liquor stores in winter. Sure, I had an excuse in the form of a flu that expressed itself in a cough that resembled the hacking, mucus-ridden, bark of a life-long pack-a-day smoker, but in reality, a Tasmanian or Canadian would probably have called it singlet weather.
Big spangled emperor are regular night time captures. They love a curl tail softy.
So what was I – the hacking, spluttering, many layered nut bar – doing out on a night like this? I was with the old man and we were jigging soft plastics over a deep rubble patch. You see, in the depths of winter, Mackay folk get overcome with a certain delusion I like to call ‘snapper fever’. Now snapper fever is not a very logical condition. Mackay is pretty much at the furthermost extent of the snapper’s northern migratory run and, as such, we get a fleeting, and patchy, snapper season when the water is at its coldest.
The problem with this is that to Mackayites, snapper take on a somewhat mythical rarity that makes them rather appealing and makes them somewhat of a status symbol. If you can rock up at work bleary-eyed, yet puffy-chested and declare to one and all that you, 'went out and got a few nobbies last night', you win instant respect. It’s a badge of honour akin to being the first into a breach or being the one who can stand up to the mother-in-law at family gatherings, and to be honest, it probably stems from the fact that, due to our short snapper run, none of us actually become very good at catching them. So, no, before you get the wrong idea, this article is not about catching snapper, nor is it the story of how this hacking, spluttering, many layered nut bar slayed them – because honestly I’ve caught chicken pox more often than I’ve caught bloody snapper!
I do, however, have a penchant for nocturnal jigging and I have caught some damn good fish doing it! We’ve had some cracker jigging trips at night with big fingermark, red fish and various lipper species all being on the menu. So why jig at night you may ask? Why bother, when surely jigs will be more visible and more effective in the daylight hours? In my book, it’s simply a matter of targeting different species; if I wanted trout and pelagics I’d jig the day, but for these rarer catches the darkening sky is the key.
Fingermark are a favourite night time target. They respond well to jerkshads jigged hard around isolated structure. Graham Brake took this one on a Berkley Gulp 7" Jerkshad.
Time of night
STOP! Before you give in to that light bulb above your head that’s just convinced you that a nocturnal sortie is the answer to all your trophy species aspirations, let me continue. Yes, different species bite better at night, but like the daytime fish, they don’t feed all night. They have bite periods. In my experience these are very similar to your daytime bite times in that the hour-and-a-bit either side of the change of the tide are usually your prime bite times, then once the run stops at dead tide, things quiet off till the change (no run, no fun). The other obvious time to shine is the dark side of dawn and dusk – I call it the 'magic hour'.
It’s usually that time when there’s no sun, but there is a light grey/red glow appearing faintly on the horizon. It’s been during this time that the vast majority of our big fingermark have been caught. Then, once the horizon blackens or the sun appears in full... goodbye hot bite. The message here – be in the right place at the right time folks! Lastly, unlike the daytime, there is the added bonus of a third bite trigger – the moon.
How's that for a fingermark! Note the lumo Got Stryper Pintail jig in its gob. It's worth going charging up a lumo lure when fish like this are the prize.
Yes, always check the time of the rising moon. If you’re at a spot for the dusk bite, but the moon rises at 9.00pm, then you’d be mad not to hang around for its appearance. It’s sometimes enough to start a flurry of activity!
Adapting to the night: conditions
Like any type of fishing, if you rigidly stick to one approach then you rigidly limit your fish-catching potential. I have just said that the period either side of the tide is prime, but that doesn’t mean you won’t catch that trophy fish at dead water or when the run picks up. If the run drops off at the bottom of the tide, the fish will still feed, you just need more finesse. Try downsizing your jighead to one that just flutters down to the bottom and to keep the bow out of your line, try bringing a lighter combo just for this – 30lb braid is usually popular.
Red emperor are a well-known nocturnal species. They are best targeted with big softies.
Adapting to night: visibility
Now, before I tell you how to make your lures more visible for a nocturnal assault, it must be pointed out that sight is just one, minor, way in which a predator finds a feed. First, fish keenly feel vibration, so a lure with plenty of erratic action should be your first consideration. For this reason we’ve often had some interesting results with speedy retrieves. I’ve been slammed by fingermark with all the timidity of a Maroons forward pack... while I was cranking the lure in at the end of a drift! Also, it’s not uncommon for us to employ a fast jerk-and-crank retrieve that we would normally employ for pelagics during daylight hours – the instinctive bite really seems to kick in once the sun goes down! It’s not just plastics either; I’ve heard plenty of reports of guys using metal jigs to catch reef species at night, and it seems as if darker, more contrasting colours are the most effective.
Mangrove jack move offshore once they get past around 60cm. These brutes of the reef feed mostly at night.
Secondly, a wide range of plastics are coming 'juiced up' these days and the results are lures that put out pheromones, scents and all sorts of sexy smells guaranteed to have predators zoning in on the culprit. As a note, I’ve found the Berkley Gulps (which I am in no way professionally associated with) to have the best attracting scent. In fact we’ve done little tests where two of us have jigged over a spot repeatedly with the result that the Gulp got taken and the unscented plastic didn’t, until I put the unscented plastic into the Gulp juice for a soak, and yes, you guessed it, next drop it got inhaled! Gulp aside; there are many proven scents on the market that can be bought and rubbed, squirted or sprayed onto your lures, so I suggest if you plan on doing this nocturnal jigging thing, it’s a good idea to invest in some.
Lastly, if you’ve got the other bases covered, it’s time to think about making your lure stand out in the water column. This is where luminescent jigs really shine (cough) and I must say the results so far have impressed me no end! I personally use an American plastic called the Got Stryper Pintail in a lumo-coloured, 7', joined, single-tail jerkshad; however, there are plenty of easier to acquire options. All will have the same effect; simply use a powerful light to 'charge' the plastic and then send it into the depths. Getting a good charge is important though, because if you just shine a weak torch on the plastic for a few seconds between drifts, you’ll only get a few seconds of glow. Ideally, you want something bright; a spotlight will do the job, but if you’re in a hurry then simply take a few photos of your plastic at point blank range. The lumen-filled flash will have the plastic glowing like a Fukushima frog. I use the external flash on my SLR which has a 'test fire' button, but any flash will provide a quick fix and, as a bonus, you’ll be able to show people photos of the plastic you caught the whopper on!
Worth staying up?
Yes friends, if you can bear to miss Heartbeat or that re-run of The Bill then you probably still have it in you to get out at night and get jiggy. Pack the warmies, fill the thermos and load up the coffee, make sure you’re wearing a lifejacket with glow stick attached (hitting floating debris at night is an inherent danger) and most of all, don’t think of it as something that takes all night. Pick a good tide that coincides with dusk or dawn, run out for a few hours, and then head home in time to boast to the work crew about the nocturnal nasties you’ve conquered, or just hit the sack.
Till next month, fish hard and stay safe.