Reef Fishing and Trolling

The upsurge in trailer boat popularity along with the ever improving boat and motor design has seen the offshore reef come well within range of boat fishermen. Electronic navigation aids such as GPS and LCD fishfinders have opened up a new world for the reef fisherman.


As with all types of fishing, the lighter you fish the better you will do. Reef  fishing is no exception. Lines as light as 10kg are commonly in use, and most fishermen would not use much over 15kg. The depths fished vary depending on the location of the reefs, and the currents set encountered can vary as well. The depths and set dictate the tackle and the methods you adopt.

On the shallower reefs, where it is suitable you can anchor, but in very deep water drifting is the best method. When novices take up reef/bottom fishing, the very nature of the word conveys the idea of fish being caught right on the very bottom of the ocean. To a certain extent this is correct, but most experienced reef anglers will tell you most of their fish are caught above the bottom. Your fishfinder will often display snapper, squire etc, holding in schools over the reef, often quite a distance above.

When anchoring, drop the anchor upcurrent of the reef/fish display on your fishfinder. Estimate the distance your boat will drift before you anchor bites and also take into consideration the effect of the run on your line. You often have to repeat the exercise several times before the boat is positioned correctly.

The most popular bottom rig is a snapper lead from 120 to 500g on the end of your line with two or more hooks on dropper lines above it. In a heavy set, this might be the only way to hold bottom. If the set is light simply  use a large round sinker on top of the hook. With this rig the bait will drift out with the run and eventually reach the depth at which the fish are sitting.

A burley slick in this situation will increase your chances of success. Always be prepared for a bite as you are winding up your gear. As mentioned the fish could well be schooling above the bottom.

The rod and reel outfit would be the Alvey 725C, 825BCV or 925C Snapper Reels for the heavy work. A 700C, 655BC or 650C can be used for lighter line and they give you the option of being able to cast away from the boat. For use with the Snapper Reels rigged with heavy line and sinkers, the rod needs to be short and powerful (Alvey Rod 655 or 925).

Fishing with the casting reels and lighter tackle, you can use a fast taper rod from to 2 to 3m. Like estuary fishing, a rod with that ‘feel’ in the tip will help you feel that bite.


Bait for fishing can be squid, mullet or any fish flesh as well as pilchards. Use the normal rig of linked hooks with pilchards, and a 2/0 to 6/0 heavy duty French (Mustad 540) or Suicide (Mustad 92553, Eagle Claw 6056N) for squid and flesh baits.

Refer to rig on page 61.


Trolling is the main method used to catch pelagic fish such as mackerel, tuna, cobia and kingfish etc. It is simply towing a lure or correctly rigged bait fish at varying distances behind the boat to attract the fish.

You can troll baits like gar, tailor, pike, mullet and even pilchards, but they must be rigged so they can troll in their normal swimming mode. They must not spin. There are pre-made rigs (Easy Troll Rigs) on the market, that both allow the bait to troll properly and act as a lure in conjunction with the bait. The speed for bait trolling is usually no more than 4 to 5km/h. When trolling more than one bait, say three, let one side back 15 to 20m, the other side to 30m + and put one right in your wake, only 10m from the stern. Fish will often rise to the disturbance from the prop wash and see this close bait. On a strike, set the hooks with quick, hard pulls of the rod or by accelerating the boat for a short distance. When manouvering, always turn on the side with the shorter line, this will minimise fouling the lines.

Trolling lures is an exciting  way to fish. There is a vast range of lures suitable for trolling and all work in different ways. Speed can vary depending on the lure design. Metal spoons can only be trolled at about 2km/h, bibbed minnows up to 4km/h and bibbless minnows are capable of being trolled up to a speed of 10 to 15km/h. See your local tackle retailer for advice on these lures.

When working a  school of fish, never troll through them. This will scare the school and disperse them.

Always troll behind them in an arc. The bait or lure will always troll inside the turn and pass through the edge of the school.

The tackle for trolling would be an Alvey 725C or 825BCV reel on a powerful, fast taper 2m rod (Alvey Rod 655 or 925), spooled with 500m of 10 to 15kg line. A 1m wire trace approximately  twice the strain of your linewould be used on toothy fish such as mackerel.

A monofilament (Platypus Game Leader) trace of about 50 to 60kg would be used for tuna and kingfish.


Alvey’s Downrigger can add a new dimension to trolling by getting the bait or lure down to the fish. The method is a weight with a line release clip lowered by wire cable. The wire is attached to the clip with about 10 to 20m of line to whatever you are trolling. The weight is then dropped to the required depth. Use your fishfinder in conjunction with the downrigger, to pre-determine depths and adjust the drop accordingly. When you have a hook up, the line releases from the clip, and you can play the fish as normal.