Blades and the Reef
Its no revelation that metal ‘micro-style’ jigs and the jigged retrieve works well when targeting our tropical reef species. Today there are also blades and other lipless crankbait type lures that are large enough and heavy enough to enable successful targeting of tropical reef fish. We often have our favourites when it comes to various brands of lures. I have subsequently found it hard to go past the well-suited TT Switchblade HD when it comes to blade jigging the tropical reefs. This being said, I encourage you to do your research and find your confidence lure that will carry out the required tasks.
The reason blades work so well on the reef is that they imitate local baitfish supplies and thereby, ‘match-the hatch.’ They also emit powerful noise and vibrations that alert aggressive predatory fish to their whereabouts. Once you have fished for predatory reef species such as trout for a while you develop an imagined picture of how they behave. These fish either position themselves individually or in schools within close proximity to solid bottom structure. Current moves bait across the reef areas and the fish when actively feeding tend to dart out and grab isolated or unwary food sources as they drift across and near to the reef bottom. It is easy to replicate this movement of bait with a drifting boat and heavy blade lure. The fact that you can make a blade bump into the reef and then vibrate near to and above the reef makes them a very effective reef lure.
Finding extended areas of reef are paramount to catching tropical reef species. I have used blades to catch our favoured species across many areas of coral reef. The technique is definitely not location specific; I have taken fish on these lures throughout the Whitsundays, in the waters off Gladstone and 1770 and also from some of the Sunshine Coast reef systems. I typically look for extended hard reef bottom in 10 to 30 m of water. Look for areas of undulating bottom that is holding bait concentrations. Noticeable ledges where the reef starts to drop into deeper water nearly always hold fish and I often focus most of my efforts on these structures. A pattern will often emerge that shows more fish being caught at specific depths. It pays to vary drift lines when first fishing the reef to establish what areas and depths are producing the most fish. The manner in which current strikes the reef often has bearing on where you will find fish. Pressure edges and current shadows often attract concentrations of trout and other species. These ‘shadow zones’ can move with changing tides and the fish will respond. If you are catching fish on a particular tide but then struggling to continue your success after the tide has turned, it might have a lot to do with the fact that the fish have moved to another part of the reef.
**Fact Box – Tackle Talk**
Many of my mates are surprised by how light I fish when tackling reef species with metal lures. I nearly always use the same outfit and it comprises of a 2 m spin rod in 5 to 10 kg weighting. The rod is matched with a 3500 to 4500 size threadline reel. The reel is loaded with highly visible braid in 15 kg breaking strain and this line is completed with 2 to 3 m of 20 kg fluorocarbon leader material.
Blading Bite Times
There are definite periods where desired reef species seem to bite more aggressively. My ideal conditions for chasing coral trout include a building moon that is 7 to 4 days before the full moon. The harder the southerly wind blows the better the trout seem to bite; glassy sea conditions are generally associated with a tough trout bite. Perfect scenario: cloud cover, 10 knots of south wind, the last three hours of a run-out tide and 5 days to go to the full moon. Fishing around the tide turn will always produce a few active trout so try to not miss these periods. There is definite merit in fishing outside of these prescribed times because at the end of the day, when the weather is good and you have a leave pass you are going to go fishing and you can often find the fish biting somewhere!
**Fact Box – Approach**
Drifting is by far the best way to tangle with tropical reef predators when casting blades. The ability to present the lure effectively and also to cover ground and cross paths with as many fish as possible is made easier when drifting. Early in a fishing day, try to work a variety of depths when drifting to establish areas where fish are more active. My best drift patterns are generally any time that prevailing wind and current conditions allow me to drift along ‘ledge’ ground.
Many anglers are dissuaded from using metal blades on the reef due to the snag rate. In the event that you do not, or cannot manage your braided line adequately you will suffer heavy lure loss. The practice of blading requires direct contact be managed with your lure at all times. If environmental conditions such as wind or excessive current make line management difficult the lure attrition rate becomes higher.
To reduce snagging I have found several practices will help. Remove the belly hooks from the blade: this slightly alters the action of the blade but greatly reduces the snagging potential of the lure. The most influence you can have when trying to reduce snagging is to learn how to ‘walk’ your blade through the reef. The moment the blade lands on the reefy bottom and your line slackens briefly, quickly retrieve slack line and rather than aggressively lifting the lure from the reef, gently pick up the rod tip to establish if the lure is caught. If the lure lifts freely, continue with the retrieve of choice. If however, the lure snags, rather than pull hard on the rod, try to subtly shake the rod tip repeatedly and in many cases the lure will free itself. In the event that it does not, wait until the drift of the boat has positioned you upside of the snagging location and try again to shake the lure free: this often frees the lure.
Given different scenarios, there are several ways in which I choose to fish a blade lure. The chosen presentation is usually based on the mood of the fish. A faster and aggressive retrieve is used when the fish are found to be feeding actively. In the event that fish are subdued, a more subtle retrieve is used.
A new day always starts with this retrieve; once the mood of the fish is established the retrieve can be varied to suit. The retrieve works well in 10 to 20 m of water.
Given certain weather and moon variables lining up, the trout and other reef species can be found to be very active. One retrieve seems to instigate aggressive bites from bigger fish given this type of bite; many anglers would refer to this retrieve as a slow-rolled approach. The retrieve works well in 10 to 30 m of water.
Subtle Vertical Retrieve
During periods of glassy weather the reef fish can bite in a subdued manner. One retrieve has produced more bites for me than others when conditions such as these occur. The retrieve is very much like the vertical and subtle jigged approach that bass anglers use when ice jigging for these species. The retrieve works best in 10 to 20 m of water.
**FACT BOX – Southern Barrier Reef Fishing**
Brisbane and South-East Qld anglers wishing to try this technique close to home are well-placed with an easy 4 to 5 hour drive to Agnes Water and 1770. This area provides access to the Bunker Group and areas of the Southern Barrier Reef. The family and AFN film crews have often stayed in these parts and always been well looked after by contacting the team at Sandcastles in 1770; they are happy to look after angling groups and can be contacted on 1800 890 072.
Blade Jigging Summary
There are few styles of lure fishing that I have found to be as engaging as fishing with large metal blades around the reef. The process of exploring a reef while watching every subtle movement of a braided line, knowing that the moment that line flicks aggressively that you have a significant battle on your hands, is truly an addictive way to play with some of our more beautiful reef fish.
Nige Webster is northern field editor of Sport Fishing and Freshwater Fishing magazines. He is the producer of ‘The Fishing Show’ and is based at Noosa, where he fishes the entire east coast in fresh and salt water.