The simple Kylin bottom fishing rig.

Learning is fun at Montes

We all fish for fun. All sorts of different kinds of fun – the hunt, the finding, the tempting and the take, the weight on the line, the battle, the meal at the end of the day; all sorts of different ‘enjoyment’ factors, but it’s all fun nonetheless.

Fishos who do it for a living often still get many of those same thrills, if not always then certainly often enough to keep doing it, but for the pro fisher the ability to find and catch fish is the fabric of their livelihood. For them no fish means no pay.

Every time I get the opportunity to observe how the pros do it I soak it up like the fishing sponge I am and there are lessons to be had. We cannot do everything they do, but there are likely to be bits and pieces that just might work for us anglers.

I was at the Monte Bello Islands last year and we stayed on the houseboat The Full Monte. Part of the operation is to fish offshore on the purpose built charter-fishing vessel, Kylin. There were some interesting things about their approach to demersal fishing that are well worth sharing.

To start with, while circle hooks are all the rage, I’m a J-hook kind of guy. On this trip terminal tackle like hooks, sinkers, leaders and swivels were all part of the package – with just one type of each. This limited range was nonetheless a very effective package when it came to catching fish. It was like the Model T Ford back in the day – you could have any colour you wanted so long as it was black, but the results spoke for themselves!

Moreover, the rig options were like the Model T as well – one layout was all that was needed. Tuna Circle 17/0 hooks, 45kg low stretch mono leader in clear/white and a black barrel swivel around 1/0 size, with a snapper lead around 500-600 grams.

The rig was dead simple. Leader around 70cm and pro-snell to the hook, making sure the leader was through the front of the eye and not the back of it. The science behind this approach is the hook is inclined inwards rather than outwards and therefore more easily finds a hold. Then it was a uni knot to the swivel, with the tag end cut off very short. The uni knot is very strong and thus not likely to slip, and cutting the tag end very short reduces the chance of another line being snagged on it. On a charter boat with 10 lines down, anything that reduces tangles is a good thing.

The sinker was rigged as a running sinker on the mainline, or in the case of braided main line it ran on the mono leader. The belief is that rigging the sinker to run on the main line or leader substantially reduces sinker loss in the inevitable event of a shark taking a hooked fish. I am sure 99.9 per cent of offshore demersal fishos would rig their snapper leads on a separate leader via a paternoster type rig via a three-way swivel of some sort or at the end of a simple mono dropper rig. Running a snapper lead as a running sinker seemed totally foreign to me at first, but it’s not so strange after a while and it works!

A couple things stood out with this rig.

Firstly, there was the use of just the one hook on the one leader (rather than a double) and this has a lot to do with sharks. Battling one hard-pulling bottom fish away from the safety of coral ledges and also out of the jaws of hungry sharks is hard enough and trying to pull two fish out of harm’s way would simply be impossible usually. There is absolutely no value in spending all day being busted off or having almost every fish eaten by a stinking shark.

Also, the fishing off the Montes is so fast and furious that a fish per drop is at times absolutely normal and multiple hooks and lines is a recipe for disaster. There’s still the odd tangle but most are fairly easy to sort out using this single hook rig.

Kylin fishes at anchor, rather than on the drift, and with good reason. Anchoring in an area where there are fish means quite simply you’re not wasting your time drifting away from them. The fishing action generates its own berley and activity, holding fish in the one area and enticing more and more into the zone. In a charter situation with numerous anglers all keen to get a line in the water, anchoring means both sides of the boat, plus the transom, can be fished. Smart idea.

Commercial wetliners do pretty much the same and we’ve been anchoring over deep offshore reefs since the early ‘80s. It simply works better than drifting, but it does require a whole other skill set.

On the Kylin, and probably many other demersal charter operations, circle hooks work extremely well and there are both functional aspect and safety aspects.

Functional first. The fishing gear supplied comprises Alvey-style winch reels with low stretch 45kg white mono matched to strong 1.8m boat rods to fish waters from 40-60m where there is often a bit of current running. Mono line is not the most sensitive when it comes to detecting fish bites with all that combined water depth, current and sinker weight. Circle hooks undoubtedly enable fish to hook themselves most of the time, so the first indication of any fish activity is that classic circle hook response of a sensation of weight coming onto the line. Simply take up the slack and start winding, and most times there’s a fish on the end – the system is designed to not have to feel bites and it works.

From a safety perspective, I started out on our trip using my own 10/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hooks, which are screamingly sharp and deadly effective at hooking fish but also have a lot more potential to hook a person in the heat of battle. My first Gama lasted a few fish until a stinking shark snaffled something on the way up. My second Gama lasted through a few more fish until I got a twinge of guilt and voluntarily took if off when in the midst of working through a tangle of lines. The skipper gave a short, sharp squeal followed by a sharp “Who’s using flamin’ J-hooks?” (As I recall flamin’ wasn’t the exact expletive used, but it did start with F, I’m sure of that!)

A big chemically sharpened J-hook flailing around on a pitching deck with a fish flapping around is dangerous to others on the boat. In a charter operation where safety, care and speed are paramount, good circle hooks are absolutely the way to go. You’d have to try pretty hard to get hooked accidently using a circle hook and it’s very unlikely.

So I understood the need to use them and I most certainly did. And caught stacks of fish. However, did I hook all the fish I took hits from? I did not. Using our own gear with good quality braid on our reels we probably felt a lot more bites than the folk using mono and that’s purely an advantage of braid. Would those missed fish have been converted to hookups in a J-hook with an active strike situation? I don’t know and it’s probably immaterial at the Montes as there are simply so many fish that a missed bite is simply an opportunity for another fish to have a crack, so it did not matter one iota if a bite was not a hookup.

Were all the fish hooked in the corner of the jaw? No they weren’t and some were hooked deep just like with J-hooks. But the percentage of deeply hooked fish was very small. Using J-hooks I don’t think the ratio would have been quite so clear cut.

Did every fish hooked on circles stay connected long enough to either make it to the boat or sadly get eaten on the way up? The answer was no, although it was pretty rare for a fish to simply fall off on the way up. Maybe that’s got something to do with not striking too early and fish being well hooked rather than pinned lightly because that’s how to fish circle hooks – simply wait for the weight to come on, lift the rod and wind, no striking. If there’s weight it’s a solid hookup most of the time.

So what about the running snapper lead? We learned way back in the early days of our offshore fishing that standard paternoster rigs were less effective when fished at anchor than when drifting. We bounced around trying different rigs that were better at catching fish at anchor and we settled on a very simple and effective rig that’s our first go-to demersal at anchor rig and it’s very effective. It is quite simply a large (around 110 grams) running barrel/bean sinker rigged directly onto the mainline which is tied directly to the hook. No swivel, no leader – simple.

The Kylin rig is similar but different, it’s similar in that it is sent down to the seafloor and fished at or very close to it with a single bait right down at the bottom. The difference is in the type of sinker (snapper lead versus large barrel/bean) and the short leader to the hook, not straight onto the main line hard up against the sinker.

There is a distinct advantage in the Kylin rig placing the sinker on the main line running down to the swivel acting as a stopper. It is all about not losing so many sinkers when a shark inevitably grabs a hooked fish – the shark bites off the fish and usually doesn’t snaffle the sinker into the bargain.

I started off with a compromise rig. A three-way crane swivel with the standard paternoster style single dropper to a single hook and the sinker on a traditional dropper style set up beneath it. On the couple of occasions when I got anything back after a shark attack I’d lost the hook and sinker. Yet others who were using the true Kylin rig with the running snapper lead were losing the fish but keeping the sinker. The evidence was compelling.

Skipper Waz quoted some startling numbers on how much lead they went through before switching to the running snapper lead on the mainline. There’s certainly no downside in terms of hooking fish and there’s only an upside in reducing the loss of sinkers. However, I am talking solely about fishing at anchor and fishing on the drift is a whole different ball game.

There were lots of little lessons to take from this trip, but it hasn’t convinced me to switch completely to circle hooks. However, they clearly worked well on this trip for several reasons and I’ll happily use them on Kylin next time I’m at the Montes.

It was a tremendous week and I loved the opportunity to observe, absorb and learn from fishos who do it for a living, as well as fun. Not grabbing hold of that chance would be simply wasting an opportunity which, for most of us, doesn’t come along all that often.

Caption: The simple Kylin bottom fishing rig. Note how the hook is snelled, with the line passing through the front of the eye initially.