So, what's the best way get a feed from the wild at this time of year?
I'm not going to con you into thinking it's easy to catch fish and shoot game in winter, because it's not. Of course there will always be people who can hunt, fish and dive all year round and be successful, but that is not the norm for the average weekend warrior.
My target audience this week are the ones who may get out only once or twice over the next three or four months, which I reckon would be a sizeable group.
The first thing is to determine how much time and money you are willing to put into getting a fresh feed, as this will play a major part in what you do next.
If you are happy to spend a few dollars and are willing to put in a couple of early starts and possibly long days, then you have a few more options. If you have a good safe boat and crew then you can choose from a few destinations such as going to the outer Sounds or even Kaikoura to fish and dive.
If you're after wild game then you can travel a distance to have a better chance of getting an animal. If you're happy to spend a bit more you can go on a charter, either locally or up north to a slightly warmer climate, with a bit more chance of success either fishing or hunting.
There is also some prime hunting down south that is well worth the effort of planning a trip.
Game such as thar and chamois are prime targets at this time of year with their splendid coats, as are deer, which are feeding up to put on condition for the winter. The stags still have their antlers so opportunity for a trophy is still high if you know what you're doing.
If none of the above is you, there are still options available.
For instance, you can still get a feed of paua within 20 metres of shore down the coast. Swim out a bit further or use a small boat or kayak and you can get into shellfish, crayfish and paua in Port Underwood.
Yes, the water is cold for a dive but it's really only the exposed parts of your body if you have a decent wetsuit on, so after the initial shock of cold water on your face it soon goes numb and you can carry on. Today's dive gear is streets ahead of the suits of old and they are cheaper, too. Well worth updating your old gear as you can dive right through winter.
If you are after a snapper, things get a little trickier as I can testify that the spiny dogfish have moved into the inner Sounds – in plague proportions in some places. I hate spiny dogs and find it very frustrating fishing while they continually take the bait and often cause tangles.
So at times I just don't fish with bait when they are around and instead practice finding fish on the sounder and dropping lures to try catching them. This is a fun way of spending a sunny afternoon out fishing. You can surprise yourself with what you can actually catch, such as kahawai, which are fun to catch and nice smoked.
There is also every chance you will stumble upon some snapper, as you are now hunting rather than sitting in a time-proven spot, which is good for increasing your skill levels.
You also learn how to identify fish on your sounder and what different fish appear like on the screen if you catch them. This will pay huge dividends in spring and summer when the more popular fish start to return and you know what you are seeing on the screen.
Maybe pigs could be on the menu as the ground gets softer and the days shorter, so visit a few places to see if there is any sign such as rooting, or talk to a farmer or forestry owner who may be quite happy for you to reduce the pig population.
Best thing is to do it in person so they can see who you are and get an idea if you will be trustworthy in looking after their property and livestock. I find it a good idea to offer something in return such as a day helping on the property or maybe some fish or shellfish – something that says you are not taking it for granted and you do appreciate the opportunity. Some landowners will not take it but it's always good to offer.
Just like us, the animals slow down in winter so you need to adapt if you are to be successful. We need to think a lot more about why and where before we even leave the house.
Winter is a time of planning, which could save frustration and effort if you put in some time before a trip. Just like humans, animals and fish like to stay warm in the cooler temperatures and this requires a few different things than in summer.
Because their metabolism slows down they do not want to waste energy just moving about willy nilly, but will find areas where they can get the basics of food and shelter without having to go far. Deer will be in the thicker bush with food close by and sun during the day so they can eat and stay relatively safe and dry.
Snapper will be in the deeper water where the temperature is more stable and food comes to or past them. Kingfish the same. This is why the outer reefs will fish well during the cold months.
Cod, well they are pretty easy to catch all year round – just be mindful of the season and the restrictions that apply at this time of year. Whenever I talk to people about blue cod I find there is still a lot of confusion around the regulations but ignorance is no excuse. Read the pamphlets, which are readily available, and know the rules.
Of course I have only glossed over enough to give you a fighting chance of getting a feed. The key is to study your quarry to be able to make informed decisions about how to catch them.
Life is meant to be about constantly learning and outdoor recreation is no different. I will say it again: information is everywhere around us in the form of specialty shops and publications and other people – it takes only a bit of effort to find out. Good luck and happy times out there.
- The Marlborough Express
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