The list of the contents of our bait freezer reads like a menu for the rest of the world, yet most Kiwi anglers have relegated the snapper’s small cousins – mackerel, piper, sprats – to the bait freezer for the longest time.
But a reload of your mindset and a non judgmental palate may surprise you – they really taste good.
Easy to catch and plentiful, the little guys line up to bite small pieces of bait or sabiki flies.
Sabiki flies are a string of small hooks with small moth-sized wings on them, they’re terriffic. Sometimes, a tiny cube of bait is needed on the hook, to turn on a hot bite. Bounce your sabiki on the sea floor from a boat or wharf, and you’ll often have a bucket full-o-fish quick-smart.
At sea the bait schools often outnumber the snapper schools by volume, and can be found mid-water at this time of year. It’s recommended to use an overly heavy sinker (1-3oz) on the bottom end of the sabiki, so when you catch your wriggler it’s not flaying around dangerously with the small hooks. A butter knife on the shank of the hook, and a flick, will get them off the tiny hooks easily.
Micro metal jigs also work well, in sizes from 3.3g to 11g on light tackle, and it’s fun.
Once you have your ‘bait meal’ you’ll find sprats are full of the good oils, low in the food chain and delicious grilled, smoked, baked, raw (sashimi-style) and my favourite – char-grilled piper – yum. Eating sprats takes a bit longer, you have to pick around the bones and armour, but what’s the hurry? Anything cooked on the bone is tastier, and plate full of pickings is a satisfying sight.