Rockfishing – The Benefits of Berley

Wow, last time I went fishing was three months ago. Glad to back on the Barrier, and writing about another truly great day on the rocks. Monday was the day, it had to be the day, conditions were good and comfortable, I was keen, and the plan was to catch a feed and have a go at live-baiting in winter.

The Spot

I enjoy walking on a rocky beach, especially on a crisp but sunny winter day, and when access to the headlands of a bay is easy, it doesn’t matter if it takes 30 minutes or an hour, you just have to walk the extra mile. This is where you find a good current and deep water. Sure, you can catch great fish anywhere, and there are times when a ‘minor’ spot is good enough, but to go on a ‘mission’, you just have to get to the ‘major’ spot.

Big rod, small rod, live-baiting rod, gaff, bucket and burley. All easily accessible.

Look at this, a major rockfishing spot, and big rod, small rod, live-baiting rod, gaff, bucket and burley. All easily accessible.

Conditions & Tide

I had the berley out and my rods set up about two and a half hours before low tide. Low was at 1530, the ten knot breeze was more in my back than on my side, the sky overcast and all in all, it was just a magnificent feeling, standing on that ledge, enjoying the outdoors, the solitude, the sounds of the coast, Rani sleeping in the background and then there was the anticipation of fish.

The Benefits of Berley

Berley significantly increases your catch and kinda guarantees some action. In my opinion, getting a good, constant berley trail going is nothing less than paramount. The trail attracts fish miles away and entices the bigger fish to get in closer to you. Watching how the contents are dispersed by wind and current is important, as it gives you a good indication of where to cast. You can also judge the turn of the tide by monitoring the berley trail.

The berley is kept in a berley pot or onion bag. You can clearly see the trail on the surface in this photo.

The berley is kept in a berley pot or onion bag. You can clearly see the trail on the surface in this photo.

The Waiting Game

Nothing happened for at least an hour. It was strange, I didn’t even have a bite, no sight of kahawai, hiwihiwi, leather jacket, piper. Just some random, small, rock-fish munching away on the pieces falling off the berley. Ah well, this is the waiting game. You know, this part of fishing is best when nothing happens at all. Often, there are so many small and/or unwanted fish in the berley nibbling on your bait, or otherwise keeping you busy. But when nothing happens, you can truly enjoy the waiting part. After all, you know that the berley is going to work, you just have to wait…

The Kahawai & Live-Baiting

I always observe what’s going in the water close to me and have the small rod easily accessible. For when the kahawai comes, you need to be ready. This one was about 30 cm long, alone and eager. I had him secured about a minute after it swam into the ‘picture’. He was sent out under a balloon moments later, but, unfortunately, kept swimming close into the kelp line and just didn’t want to get out. I mucked around for half an hour before deciding to put more air into the balloon. The rationale being to increase the resistance of swimming against the wind and therefore pushing the live-bait further out.

It worked, and so quickly. First, I see this huge shadow come from the left. Not a shark, but certainly not a kingfish either. It turned out to be a big dolphin cruising by alone. It stopped, changed direction and headed to the live-bait. Ooops, I grabbed the bait knife and just hoped nothing would happen. Gladly, the dolphin was clever to see the trap and after having a good look and scaring the colour out of my bait, it swam into the bay.

So I put the rod down, secured it and put a bait on the snapper rod. Booom, the rod goes off, the balloon explodes, I can hear line being released. Unfortunately, I’m not holding the live-bait rod in my hand and by the time I’m ready to strike, there is nothing to strike against. I increase the drag, reel in a bit and pull hard. Nothing. At the end of the line is only a dead kahawai, and I observe that the hook is set deeper, not in its original spot.

I reckon that dragging on the bait for half an hour trying to force it to change its swimming direction opened up the piercing, allowing for the barb to slide back and forth into the meat. What am I saying?, the bait presentation was shit. I shall do better, I should have had that hook-up.

When Weights Are Good

I usually stray-line without a weight, but there are times when they are necessary. At times, the wind and current were going in the same direction which stopped bait like squid to sink. It just stays on the surface, the more line you send out the further it goes, but still on the surface.

I put a quarter ounce on, just enough for the bait to sink slowly into the deep. This is where the snapper would be and I was wondering where they were. Two hours into the fishing and still not a single hook-up.

The Hookup

The weight really made the difference. Boom, I felt a solid hook-up and fought a fish in deep water. It wasn’t massive, but I didn’t want to lose this one. I stayed on top of the fish and brought it in. A solid winter snapper, about 3 pound, deep-hooked on the keeper. That was dinner, good stuff. I had a few more solid takes after that but failed to land anything.

No sign of any further kahawai, so I kept casting far out and letting the bait sink. Finally, one of those strong takes resulted in a fish at the end of my line. I fought hard and I it seemed that I was on the winning side until it was right at my feet. A nice 3-4 pound trevally. I couldn’t see where it was hooked but just had that feeling this one will get away, and so it did. I didn’t have a net and it was hooked in the mouth. The hook slid out as I grabbed the leader and gently guided the fish onto the rocks. Ah well, no harm done.

The Last Bait

It was about four o’clock, half an hour after low tide. I had a big grin on my face mates, it was a lovely day out, great, comfortable conditions, a game fish had a go, dinner was sorted and there was just one more thing to do. Yes, cast an entire kahawai head, stay close to the rod and wait for five minutes.

Well, nothing happened, so I secured the rod and started packing in. But nothing happened this time, no big moocher. All good, what a great day.

The only snapper I caught today.

The only snapper I caught today.

The Gist Of It

Fish: Snapper – Caught Rockfishing: August 2015 – Bait: half pilchrd – Where: Tryphena – Weight: 3 lbs – Gear: 30 lbs Main Line, 30 lbs Trace, quarter ounce lead – Fish landed half an hour before low tide



  1. Pingback: Rockfishing - The Benefits of Berley | BENIsLAND

  2. Well Ben…

    You know that I will stand for all eternity holding the livebait rod, often at the expense of other fishing action. I do this because it often happens fast and if you don’t have the rod in your hands you are not in a position to strike and deal to the fish. Yes the hook will turn into the livebait as it’s being swallowed and so the fish will be lost but you should have probably struck before this moment, before the fish felt the drag of your line, got spooked and ejected the livebait. Shame, but hopefully next time you will watch like a hawk and hold that rod! The dolphin should have been the big clue – it seems whenever a mammal appears in the water a kingi is not so far behind!

    Paul xxxxx

    • Heya Paul, cheers for the comment. Good point with the dolphin, I shall keep it in mind. And yes, I could have hooked that fish by just holding onto the rod a few more minutes. The tragic bit was that it took me a while to get the kahawai swimming where I wanted it to. As soon as that was accomplished, I put the rod down and BOOOM, 2 minutes later, something had a go at it.

      The good news is, if it was a kingi, that there will one more on the Barrier when you head over. Who knows, I hear about a lot of sightings and will have another crack at it on a morning low.

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