Fishing The Deep

By Steve Reed

 In recent years Wellington’s fishermen have taken advantage of the new technology available, from chart plotters, depth sounders, GPS (Global Positioning Systems), super braids, and the advent of soft tipped rods and the newer style two speed reels, to go out greater distances to the more extreme fishing grounds. This new technology has made it easier to explore and fish the deep waters of Nicholson’s Trench off Wellington’s South Coast.

Recreational fishermen have proven quick to appreciate the extreme depths that provide such excellent bluenose and groper fishing. With deep water as close as approximately five miles off the Harbour Entrance, and with water depths dropping to over one thousand meters, it is accessible to most well equipped runabout craft, though because of the distances involved many of the smaller boats fish in pairs for two boat safety.

With only a few days per month that boats can get out safely, and in enjoyable fishing conditions, the unpredictable weather on the rugged south coast both protects the fishery while ensuring that overfishing is impossible. It is important to remember when fishing the Trench, that the weather can turn very quickly and it is a long way back to dry land! The spring north westerly’s can keep anglers away from the deep water for weeks at a time so it pays to make the most of the winter months with those clear still days that make for excellent fishing conditions.

The primary species targeted at Nicholson’s Trench are groper and bluenose, which are magnificent eating fish. The by catches are ling, sea perch (scarpies) and a variety of sharks, with blue sharks being the most common, and with the occasional mako, porbeagle, and the unusual looking seal shark caught as well. Do not be too disappointed with the humble scarpie who has swallowed your well presented groper bait and matching large hook and been dragged up 300 odd metres. He can be returned to the depths as two nicely shaped fillets to tempt his larger neighbours.

From March to September it is noticeable that the blue nose are not only more plentiful, but also larger, with fish weighing around eight to twelve kg quite common over the spring period. Over the winter months with the Hoki season around the same time, the blue nose fishing can be all action with large schools of juvenile Hoki attracting the bluenose in the same way as pilchards do for kahawai and kingfish.

Tackle has changed from very stiff inflexible rods matched with winch type reels spooled with Dacron line, to the new style soft tip rods that foldaway at the tip, yet still have plenty of power in the butt section. Light weight Two Speed reels with large handles combined with a gimbal belt, or full stand up harness set, make retrieving line in deep water easy. The most significant advance in recent years in fishing tackle is super braid. This super thin yet incredibly strong line has almost no stretch and creates minimum drag, and it is this line that has helped this deep water fishery become so popular. Fishermen are now able to use twenty to thirty ounce sinkers as compared to the sixty ounce plus sinkers of the past.

Rigs, like rods and reels, have changed too. While the old dropper loop still works, with crimp tools and crane swivels on sleeves etc; it is possible to buy or make more effective rigs than have been available in the past. Crane swivels on crimp sleeves have revolutionised and replaced the old style ledger rig. The big advantage of crane swivels is that they allow your hooks to rotate the full three hundred and sixty degrees and help prevent tangling as the line is descending to the bottom.

A good rig consists of four or five hooks, crane swivels with 14/0 and 16/0 power baiter or circle style hooks, luminescent beads, luminescent tubing and luminescent squids set on 400lb mono backbone and 250 lb mono for the hook trace. To some fishermen this might sound heavy handed but when you purchase or make a deep water rig, you want it to last more than one trip. Secondly, quite often two or more fish can be hooked at a time. Using any trace line with less strength and the fish will just rip the rig apart. Remember, the fish are a long way down and have to come a long way up and will be fighting all the way.

The two 16/0 hooks are used on the bottom of the rig with the two or three smaller hooks at the top. The Lumo squid are best placed at the top of the rig as they can attract the blue nose to your line. Most anglers give far too little consideration to their bait. Type, size and shape are very important, after all you expect the fish to see, eat and swallow it.

No doubt about it, fresh bait is always the best, but is not always easily obtainable. Bait should be hard and firm so that it can last the three to four hundred metre decent down to the bottom, as well as being able to withstand the small picker fish attacks on the way down. The preferred baits are squid, seaperch, barracouta and pilchards as well as, or used in conjunction with, artificial squid baits and flasher rig flies.

When you bait your hooks, taper your baits so that they sink quicker and represent a fish on the way down, after all, big fish prey on smaller fish. One of the top baits is barracouta fillets, nicely tapered; it’s tough and looks like a small Hoki. Pilchards hooked once through the eyes and with a strip of firm squid added to help keep the pilchard on the hook is another popular bait. Pilchards on their own don’t usually last the distance as they are a very soft bait and small fish easily pick it off the hook.

Fortunately the days of using sash weights and lumps of lead as sinkers are gone. You can now purchase sinkers specifically designed for deepwater fishing and are much easier to retrieve from the bottom. The new style of sinkers are torpedo shaped, tapered at both ends creating less resistance to the ever present Wellington current. When fishing deepwater it is of the utmost importance that your line reaches the bottom. Depending on the tide and weather conditions, some days a 20oz sinker will hold your line on the bottom and other days you may need as much as 30 to 40 oz of lead. Many anglers attach their sinkers using a light weight trace so if the sinker becomes caught you can break off the sinker without losing your precious five hook rig as well.

The tide can be your greatest asset or your biggest hindrance. Drifting off the banks, not knowing whether your line is on the bottom or not, makes for a long day winding up the hard yards and usually with little reward. It is far more effective to drift up the banks from four hundred metres to two hundred and then along the top of the banks. This makes for far more controlled and effective fishing. Of course, those with electric reels will be laughing as they recognize excessive winding is not an issue they have to deal with!

Some anglers like to wind their lines off the bottom for bluenose as they don’t have to worry about catching seaperch or other small fish. Personally I like my line hard on the bottom as the by catch of groper and bass etc; can be just as rewarding. One of the advantages of using a five hook rig is that if you get hit by seaperch you will usually still have hooks free to enable you to continue fishing effectively despite the small fish hook ups.

The trench is an exciting place to fish as you slide up and down small mountains of water with the rugged hills on the horizon rising and falling from view. It can be beautiful with albatross feeding on discarded bait and dolphins riding the bow waves, and occasionally whales cresting the surface. Fishing the trench is an awesome experience; the effort of fishing such deep water and the possibilities of those unknown creatures of the deep combine to make it one of Wellington’s great fishing experiences.


Top Spots


A good spot for bluenose and groper on the 
outgoing tide is
  A good spot for bluenose, bass and groper is at 
GPS co-ordinates


  Fish the incoming tide and start drift-fishing at 
300 metres
174-51-34   41-27-93



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