Light NW Wind - With the forecast building in the afternoon. Small Tide - LW 0925 / 1.8m // HW 1545 / 4.4m
John Locker had planned to spend a day at anchor on a mark of rough ground. Feathered up some fresh mackerel on the way out and kept a couple of joeys alive in a bucket on the off-chance I could put a live-bait down. As I neared my mark I cut then engine to see which way the boat would lay and put a live Joey over the side on a live-bait rig I've been having some good success with lately (see image).
He calls it “direct contact live-baiting” - it's not quite free-lining as you do have added weight but there’s no float. You simply connect the rig to your mainline and lip hook a live-bait to the other end and lower it to your chosen depth. He prefers to lower it right to the bottom then give it 4 or 5 winds of the reel, suspending the bait 4 to 5 foot above the bottom. If the rod is sitting in a rest, set the drag light; If you are holding the rod in your hand, then grip a little tighter.
John has 3 or 4 different size bullet leads pre-tied on short lengths for easy change out as the tide increases/decreases. Also rather than having the bullet lead freely sliding up and down the line, keep it on a short section because it prevents the live-bait or predator fish from swimming upwards in the water column and creating a slack belly in the line with the lead sliding back up the line. You want to be able to feel what's happening with the live-bait and in the event of a take you want to be able to connect with immediately. He uses a Cox & Rawle 6/0 Specimen Extra hook on 2 to 3 feet of 30-40lb mono hook length; 2, 3 or 4oz bullet lead on 10 inches of 40lb mono then clipped straight to your mainline. He prefers to fish this on a spinning rod with 20lb braid.
As the boat neared the chosen mark, the anchor was dropped and no sooner had the boat begun to swing into position than the live-bait rod arched over violently. A spirited fight ensued in 40ft of water and a very thick set Pollack was in the net. Unfortunately it had completely engulfed the mackerel live bait and was deeply gut hooked but would make a lovely meal. Once settled at anchor a further two big baits went down. Usually when fishing for conger John opts for a simple Running Ledger rig – cos it’s simple and effective. When fishing in very rough and kelpy ground though, he has found using a combination of a Portland Rig and Paternoster works better (see image).
Using a weak wire snap to the lead in case it comes fast on the bottom – he doesn't like losing leads if he doesn't have to and finds mono rotten bottoms just give up too easy, the rig body is 60lb mono. Between the top and bottom swivels he uses plastic beads to act as a cushion protecting the knots. The hook length is 200lb extra tough mono ending in a Cox & Rawle 10/0 Meat Hook. A small section of rubber lumi tubing on the hook length just above the hook acts as an attractant and certainly offers some added abrasion resistance. This is all connected to the mainline with a strong snap swivel. Usually on 6 to 8ft of 40lb mono leader for abrasion resistance and 30lb braid to a SL30SH/gx2 20/30lb Ugly Stick.
With this rig set up he loses less tackle in the snags and sees / feels bites sooner. With a running ledger Eels can sometimes engulf the bait and just sit there without showing any real indication and when fishing for Conger on rough ground you need to be on top of them straight away so they don't back into a snag.
Throughout the day he landed around a dozen Eels ranging from 5 to 31.3 pounds (63" long x 20" girth). Several times saw big surface feeding frenzies around the boat, so thinking that the fish were more active in higher in the water he rigged an empty water bottle as a float and ran out the live-bait rig at about 4ft depth and took two descent Bass around 6 to 7lb on live Mackerel. As the morning went on the wind backed round to Southerly and built as predicted. They called it a day and were back ashore by 1500 hrs.