Offshore Tactics – Float Lining

Offshore fishing is popular amongst many anglers and Chris Raimondi is one of them. One tactic used by him is that of Float Lining.

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With the cool westerly winds of a South East Queensland winter well and truly upon us, it’s the perfect time to highlight one of the most effective and underutilised techniques in offshore fishing; float lining. A significant amount of importance seems to be placed on ensuring a ‘natural presentation’ when lure fishing offshore, particularly with soft plastics. Jig head weight is the key factor that allows a soft plastic to waft naturally through the water column and appeal to predatory fish rising from the bottom to feed. Why then, when it comes to fishing with baits, do many offshore anglers simply reach for the paternoster rig and slap on the biggest bit of lead they can find and anchor their pilchard, squid or flesh bait on the ocean floor? Sure, there is a time and a place for bottom fishing with bait but it still pays to think through your sinker weight and bait presentation. Anyway, back to float lining and it’s similarities to soft plastic fishing. The general idea behind both techniques is to naturally present you’re offering in a specific area of the water column for the longest possible period.

Most species that are regularly caught on soft plastics can be caught float lining. Snapper are by far and away the most common target for South East QLD anglers but other reef species like Spangled Emperor, Mangrove Jack, Coral Trout, Red Throat Emperor and pelagics like Mackerel, Kingfish and Tuna are all prime candidates for float lining. The aforementioned species all have one thing in common; they’re all prepared to leave structure to feed higher in the water column. Pelagic species obvious live the majority of their lives on the move, high in the water column so floating lining for those species makes a lot of sense.

However, float lining for bottom dwelling reef species is often overlooked but can be an extremely effective way of catching quality fish. Low light periods are by far and away the best time to float line for reef species and this is especially the case for Snapper. During the night, and during the early morning or afternoon, Snapper will leave cover and rise in the water column nailing bait and sources of food.

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First, it’s a matter of locating the school of feeding fish on your sounder. If you’re targeting an area of heavy structure, use your sounder to view the area extensively, scanning each side of the structure as well as venturing 50-60m away from it to determine whether bait is presence, and to pinpoint exactly where the fish are holding. If conditions allow it, anchoring is advised. Ensure your boat is positioned up current from the structure or feeding school. If you’re using an electric motor with spot lock functionality, this process is ridiculously easy as you can use your bow mount to quietly change position until you’ve got it exactly right. If you’re using a plough or reef anchor, the margin for error is reduced significantly. Most schools of fish don’t like an anchor being dropped and retrieved repeatedly so getting things right the first time takes practice but is extremely important.

Once you’re satisfied with your position start a berley trail, particularly if you’re targeting Snapper. Feeding fish in the area will quickly converge on your berley trail and if things are a little slow, berley will often bring things to life. Don’t just throw a bit of flesh and pilchards over the side though, use very finely minced berley just to get their attention. The main course should be your bait! Use the first few handfuls of berley to help judge the current. Watch closely as your berley hits the water, watching closely to see how quick it sinks, and how quickly it drifts away from the boat.

To float line effectively, you do want some movement in the current as it’ll allow your baits to float away from the boat, on something like a 45 degree angle to the ocean floor. If there is no current, and your baits drop vertically, straight to the bottom you’re unable to cover any area so you may as well be bottom fishing with heavy lead. Wind direction is also important, if it’s in the same direction as the current, great! That will allow your baits to naturally drift away from the boat. The opposite will happen if you’re trying to float line in a situation where the wind is in an opposite direction to the current. What will happen in that scenario is that your line will belly with the wind and your bait won’t appear natural. As you can start to gather, there is a fair bit to consider before you’ve even dropped a bait in the water.

Once you’ve gauged the speed of the current, you need to choose a sinker weight that will allow your bait to drift slowly through the water column. Slowly is the key word here because slow means a natural presentation. Water depth also plays a part but in areas of 20-30m, often no sinker at all is the best way to start. A really small ball sinker may be necessary but the important thing is to not rig up too heavily.

A float line rig is simple; simply a running ball sinker rigged directly to a set of hooks. A neon green bead between your hooks and your sinker will ensure that your sinker doesn’t get crushed down on the eye of your hook during a strike. Using that little bead as a barrier can save you from an ugly bust off from a trophy Snapper. Depending on the size of fish you’re targeting, a 2 or 3 gang hook set up will work perfectly. Snelled hooks will also work but ganged hooks are perfect for rigging a pilchard or flesh bait in a streamline manner.

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Using an overhead reel is my personal preference but spin reels can be effective and bait runners are built for this type of fishing. Deploy your bait amongst the burley trail you have worked hard to create, slowly letting line flow off the reel at a consistent speed. If you let line out too quickly, you’ll get a large belly in your line which makes bite detection difficult and worse still, you won’t know when your bait has hit the bottom, meaning it’ll often get snagged. Letting line out too quickly will also cause your spool to overrun which is extremely frustrating, especially if you get lit up by a good fish while you’re trying to untangle the spool.

Using monofilament line is pretty important as it sinks, braid doesn’t. You want your line to sink naturally with your bait. The ability for monofilament to stretch is also very handy when you entice a run as you need to quickly engage the reel, and strike as you wind up any slack line. With braid, you can easily pull the bait from the fish during that process.

Try to make sure your bait doesn’t spin on the way down. Rigging your pilchard or flesh bait symmetrically will help to ensure this. A spinning bait is not a natural bait. As your bait drops deeper into the water column, try to keep in close contact, waiting for the line to start to scream off your reel. When that happens be patient, do not engage the reel and wait for more bites; allow the fish to mouth the bait until you’re confident it has taken it in and commences a run. As mentioned, engage the reel, wind quickly and strike. Keep your rod tip high as the angle of your line will often mean you’re a long way out the back and the fish may seek shelter in the reef. Often species such as Mackerel or even big Spangled Emperor will run at you so maintain tension on the fish at all times.

When that line starts to scream off your spool as a big Snapper nails your bait, there are few better feelings in offshore fishing! Float lining will often undo a quality fish that is brave enough to leave their structure and search for food. There is a fair bit to think about if you’re going to float line successfully but it’s often very much worth it. Catch ya!

Chris Raimondi

About Chris Raimondi

Chris Raimondi is a Brisbane based angler who's passion for fishing began in the estuaries chasing bream and whiting with his dad and grandfather. These days, Chris spends the majority of his spare time fishing offshore of South East Queensland anywhere from Cape Moreton to 1770 chasing snapper, red emperor and other reef species. Despite getting offshore at any opportunity, Chris also loves nothing more than chasing snapper on plastics in the shallows of Moreton Bay and prides himself on being an 'all rounder'.

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