by Lee Brake
For many, many years chasing big reds, red emperor and nannygai was the job of the twin hook paternoster rig, squid, pilchards and flesh baits. Lee Brake explains that these days you can leave all that at home!
When your sounder is showing fish like this, you do not need bait! Note how little bottom structure there is. Fish don't need much in deep water.
I love catching big reds, but sometimes you need to say enough is enough. On several trips out wide on the Reefari Charter's Cougar Cat 'Raptor II' we've hit them early in the day and well and truly have more than enough fish before lunch time. That's not to say we've filled our bag limits, but honestly, how much fish do you need? Rather than just continuing to fill up, we've started to implement a 'no bait rule' in order to slow down our catch rate and experiment with new lures. Unfortunately, we quickly discovered that, while maybe not two at a time, the fish you catch on jigs tend to be bigger, thus negating any esky-space-saving benefits.
I remember the first time the 'no bait rule' was implemented. We were fishing a 50m shoal around the Barrier Reef edge and, thanks to a visit from Colin Burdon of Reidy's Lures, we'd been gifted a box of Reidy's Sea Bugs octo jigs. I'd taken these squid-looking jigs and beefed them up with some split rings and 8/0 hooks and handed them around. First drop saw a six-way hook-up on 10kg red emperor and huge nannygai. I remember my Sea Bug Midgy hitting the bottom and then, after one wind, getting smashed like a full toss in a 20/20 cricket match. I felt the hook pull so took a few more turns only to feel an even harder hit. This also failed to hook up, so I cranked even faster and finally the line went tight from a colossal hit. I thought it had to be a pelagic for sure; there was the blistering strike and the now prevalent headshakes all through the fight. Thinking it was a trevally and seeing a few of my fellow anglers pulling in nannygai, I probably went a little hard on the fish and certainly got the shock of my life when a 10kg red emperor surfaced with my octo jig and a very nearly fully straightened 8/0 in its mouth!
After the octo jigs, we experimented with all sorts of jigs: curl tail and jerk shad plastics, knife jigs, and paternosters rigged with saltwater flies and soft plastic grubs. All worked, with spangled emperor loving the smaller curl tail grubs, coral trout smashing the jerk shads, big cod latching on to the big curl tails and more nannygai loving the flies. We even picked up some mackerel on the knife jigs!
With all this in mind, we decided that we'd introduce the 'no bait rule' a bit earlier this weekend just passed. It was also an added bonus that we were fishing the same mark as last time, aptly named 'six-way', and we had two blokes on board who had never caught fish on jigs, ever. I rigged one, Yohan, up with a four ounce TT Jighead and seven' Atomic Jerk Minnow and the other, Matt, up with a Berkley Grub, also on a four ounce. At the back of the boat, Sam McCowan and I both had octo jigs and my old man, Graham Brake, went for a Reidy's Knife Jig. The results where as chaotic as a soccer riot. There was yelling, grunting and groaning coming from all directions.
Both octo jigs got eaten almost as soon as they got to bottom, but the plastics remained untouched until I looked over at the sounder and noted a lot of fish life around 10m above the bottom. 'Crank those jigs up about 10m guys and really twitch them with the rod tip,' I yelled. Sure enough, Yohan gave a cry of 'strike... no... yes, FISH ON!' and Matt followed seconds later. It was now a four way hook-up with the only jig not taken being the knife jig. The old man, inspired by Matt and Yohan, cranked his knife jig right up through the water column and, amazingly, some 25m off the bottom it got smashed! Now it was all on, with every man for himself. We ducked, dived, danced and weaved around the deck until fish began to show. Mine ended up being a cod on one hook of the octo jig with the other hook missing – the work of a big red, I think. Sam and Yohan both yielded massive chinaman fish, which went back, Matt got a big cod on the grub and dad, on the knife jig, got a beautiful nannygai. What a rush!!!
Next drop and we got a little crazy. Sam went to his tackle box and pulled out a soft plastic Zman frog designed for popping in freshwater for barra. He rigged it on the bottom of his octo jig, dropped it down and just about got pulled overboard. This fish had weight and power and made him work for every metre. When it finally surfaced it revealed itself as a huge nannygai with the frog firmly planted in its jaw.
So folks, the lesson here is simple. When the reds are on, you don't need to waste money on bait; they'll eat just about anything, from metal knife jigs, feathers and fibre, to soft plastic frogs! Next time you have a few in the esky, experiment a little, I dare you! It's a bucket load of fun!
Fish hard and stay safe!