Straylining
-simple but
so effective
Straylining is one of the most effective ways of fishing with a hook and line. Snapper love straylined baits, but the technique works on most species.
Straylining involves casting a baited hook and letting it sink gently through the water until it hits the bottom. Often no sinker is needed, but usually a little weight is necessary to counteract the current.
Bay of Islands snapper caught straylining a whole mackerel bait. Photo Josh Worthington The idea behind straylining is that a bait looks natural as it drifts down through the water, and fish feel minimal resistance from the sinker or the line when they take the bait.
Bites can occur anywhere between the surface and the bottom, but once the bait has settled on the seabed, it pays to move it regularly to attract the attention of fish in the area and to prevent it getting buried in the weed or eaten by moray eels.
Straylining is one of the best methods to fish for popular species like snapper. It can be deadly on big moochers in the shallows.
Tackling up
If the water is deep, or there is current to contend with, slide a ball sinker onto the trace above the hook You can strayline successfully with a strong hand line and a hook. Try it one day – it’s lots of fun. However, most people like to use rods and reels for their fishing. A rod makes casting, hooking and playing fish easier and lets you fish light lines, which are less noticeable to shy fish.
Rods can be any length, but are generally shorter for boat fishing and longer for shore fishing. Rods are usually hollow fibreglass or more expensive carbon fibre (graphite) – or combinations of both. Graphite rods are lighter, more sensitive and offer better casting and fish-fighting performance. They’re more fun to use, but fragile compared to fibreglass rods – they won’t stand up to rough or inappropriate treatment.
For all-round fishing, choose fibreglass or graphite composite rods rated for lines somewhere between 6kg and 15kg. It’s best to buy reputable brands from tackle dealers that know what they’re talking about. They’ll usually fit you into something that suits your needs and budget.
Reels can be either spinning or overhead (free-spool) types. Beginners often prefer spinning reels because they are easier to master. Modern spinning reels at the upper end of the quality and price spectrum make superb fishing tools with excellent drag systems; cheaper spinning reels miss out on durability and performance.
Overhead reels tend to be robust and are well suited to strayline fishing. Experienced anglers have no trouble casting overhead reels, especially since casts are seldom very long when strayline fishing – often a lob is sufficient.
Take your pick, but whichever reel you get, make sure the drag is smooth and that it holds at least 200 metres of appropriate nylon line. The line strength should match the rating of the rod.
You can get a reasonable spinning reel for $100 – a decent overhead reel costs more – but if you have to skimp when buying a rod and reel, skimp on the rod, because the reel is more important.
You can use superbraid outfits for straylining, which will allow you to use smaller reels and lighter (usually graphite) rods – a medium-weight soft bait set makes a reasonable strayline outfit – but many anglers feel that conventional nylon is a better option for strayline fishing.
Terminal tackle
Straylining is the best way to catch snapper over rocky ground Once you’ve got your rod and reel (or your handline), all you’ll need are a few hooks, swivels, trace and a small sinker or two. Hooks from 4/0 to 9/0 in short-shank, beak, octopus or circle (re-curved) styles are good. Big baits need big hooks; smaller baits, smaller hooks.
The trace can be any old line, provided it’s at least twice as strong as the nylon on your reel to protect against rough rocks and sharp fish teeth. Fluorocarbon trace is low visibility and tougher than nylon, but it costs more and is trickier to tie. If the fish are really shy, don’t use any trace at all, but be prepared to lose a few fish.
Rigging up
A fixed two-hook rig is an excellent choice for straylining A simple strayline rig consists of a metre of trace tied to the main line via a swivel. Alternatively, dispense with the swivel and attach the trace to the doubled main line using an Albright knot. The hook is tied on the other end with a uni knot or improved blood knot.
You can use two hooks if you like: just slide one up the trace before tying on the other one, or tie a fixed two-hook rig using a longline knot or snood knot. The fixed two-hook rig is IGFA legal; a sliding two-hook rig is not.
If the water is deep or there is a fair bit of current, slide a ball sinker onto the trace before you tie on the hook. Sinkers can be anywhere from 7g (¼ ounce) to 60g (two ounces) in weight. Stack several sinkers one on top of the other if you need more weight – this is better than using one large ball sinker.
The sinker(s) will sit right on top of the hook. Don’t worry about it – fish don’t.
Baiting up
Overhead reels offer certain advantages when straylining. Drag systems are usually good and they tend to be more robust. Snapper eat all sorts of bait. Big ones eat very big baits, so whole fish are good. Pilchards are popular, so are yellowtail, yellow-eyed mullet (herrings), koheru and slimy mackerel. Big baits can be cut in two or slashed to let out the juices. Oily fish work best.
Live jack mackerel or herrings can be deadly on big snapper. Even live kahawai are not too large for big snapper to tackle – anglers targeting kingfish using kahawai fished under balloons, regularly lose livebaits to large snapper.
Cut baits are also good – try pieces of skipjack (bonito), mullet, kahawai, large slimy mackerel or barracouta. Cut them big if catching moochers is your goal. Shellfish, crabs, squid and octopus are also useful snapper baits.
Species:Snapper Kahawai Kingfish Octopus

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