When birds, baitfish and pelagics collide it’s an amazing sight and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more exhilarating lure fishing scenario. There’s not many more exciting situations in fishing than watching the ocean boil with fish life as fast swimming predators tear a path through hapless surface driven baitfish. Adding to the crazy situation are the birds as they plummet head first into the action, contributing to the wash-tub appearance of the ocean as bait gets attacked from both above and below in a timeless oceanic struggle.
For anglers a bust-up situation presents a prime luring opportunity to get connected to obviously feeding fish. Generally such situations provide almost instant hook-ups when you can get your lure amongst the chaos, although on other days there can be considerable chasing and time involved before you get a strike.
Anglers right around the country will be privy to various bust-up situations, and while the species involved may alter, there’s still a huge fun factor no matter what predators are in the mix. So how to you fish these surface bust-ups and what species and tactics are likely to come into play?
From coolers waters down south, to tropical seas up north, there’s plenty of surface activity to be found and fished.
Up north when there’s an inshore frenzy happening, you’re likely to run into a myriad of species doing all the chasing, with school fish such as northern bluefin, mack tuna, queenfish and various types of mackerel such as shark, spotted and Spanish lurking around the commotion. Of course depending on how remote the area is this diversity could increase further. Fish like rainbow runner and various types of trevally will also round up baitfish and give them some hammer. As you fish deeper yellowfin tuna, wahoo, dolphin fish, marlin and others can be shadowing bait balls.
Down south southern bluefin tuna, albacore, striped tuna, barracouta and others are regular offshore culprits. In bays and estuaries salmon, tailor, kingfish and others will be getting stuck in and are capable of causing the surface to erupt and your heart to skip a beat. Feeding frenzies really are like an oasis in a desert and don’t be surprised if there’s multiple species in on the action both big and small drawn in by the commotion.
Always keep an eye out for surface activity when on the water, regardless of what fishing you’re actually fishing for. It’s a good habit to get into to have a casting outfit rigged up with a metal lure, stickbait or soft plastic, even if it is resting in the corner doing nothing for most of the day. These bust-up situations will often occur out of the blue and you may only get one or two casts at the fish before they disappear. It really can be a day saving bonus if you can pluck a couple of pelagics out to complement your other exploits.
When deliberately looking for a surface scrap look for birds as the first indicator. This can involve scanning the horizon for hours at a time and fishing around underwater structures/areas that are known baitfish holding areas.
Remember that bust-ups don’t have to be a football field sized frenzies, as even a few birds diving can be a positive sign and reveal hot decent schools of fish. Ideally you want actively diving birds to denote fish activity or those that are hovering and looking down rather than disinterested birds or those just resting on the water.
While the full-on foaming ocean situation will stick out like a sore thumb, be mindful of the smaller feeding situations that could be multiple boils in an area, spraying bait or simply involve a couple of birds. There could be more fish in a scenario like this than initially meets the eye and you can do much worse than investigate!
Not all frenzied situations are equal. Dolphins, seals and other creatures feeding on baitfish don’t necessarily indicate the presence of pelagics in the area. This said, many anglers will still have a look as you never know some days. Also recognising the size of the detonations/bait on the surface can tell you if your target species is likely to be involved or not. In remote tropical areas surface activity can be prolific and you can’t fish it all, so experienced fishos may take a close look and weigh up if it’s worth a cast or not. Say if you’re chasing GTs and you’ve only got small sized bait jumping out you’re probably not going to be overly interested, as such a big fish is unlikely to be feeding on it. However, if you’ve got fusiliers getting worked over it’s game on and we’ll worth stopping for a cast or three!
Time of the day can influence the frequency of bust-ups. Take northern bluefin tuna for example. These fish love feeding in low light conditions and will generally be at their bait smashing best late in the day or first thing in the morning, but will be less active during the middle part of the day. Anglers fishing Darwin Harbor generally wait until the sun starts to go down to chase these fish, and in pressured waters this is especially the case as they’re even more flighty than usual. Other tuna also follow suit. Southern bluefin will carve up the ocean more frequently when it’s a lumpy old day, with overcast skies also increasing their surface raids on bunched up pilchards.
However if you’re in the right area and there’s no activity look at your electronics to spot bait balls which could be holding down deeper. Remember that fish don’t have to be actively thumping bait to be in the area. Just the presence of bait is always a positive and it may be a case of spending time in the area waiting for the dinner bell to be rung!
So how do you cash in when the fish are on top and going berko? The sight of bulky predators on the surface throwing sprays of white water in all directions can cause a massive rush of blood for fishos. Hands and knees suddenly start to shake and logic can go out the window. There’s no doubting that a level head is the way to approach this situation and try to save all the hooting and adrenalin for when you’re hooked-up. This is easier said than done though!
There are a couple of approaches to the situation and by far the most exciting one is casting lures at the feeding fish. This often involves long and accurate casts into the mix and then either a flat-out retrieve or simply letting the lure freefall through the turmoil, convincing them it’s a wounded baitfish.
Casting to schools of active fish isn’t always easy and can be downright frustrating at times if they dive down before you get in range and this cat-and-mouse game can go on for hours. A good ploy to try it to go up-wind of the fish if there’s a stiff breeze blowing and catch them off guard with long range casts into the action. Use the wind to assist your casting and often you can get the extra distance required to hit the edge of the school. Alternatively try heavier lures so you don’t need to be as close to reach them. Most times you need to hold well off the fish to get a cast in and not spook them at the same time. Have your rod ready to cast and being positioned for a quick flick to maximise any fish windows that open up.
Trolling is also a common tactic to turn to. Again you need to get as close to the fish as possible without sending them bolting in the opposite direction. While trolling is still a hoot, there’s something about feeling your lure get stopped dead in its tracks and experiencing the full power of that first run after your lure has been hit. This sensation can only be achieved when casting to the fish.
A quality casting outfit is vital to successfully fishing bust-ups. For inshore bays chasing the likes of salmon, tailor and small kings you can go light and down to bream sized outfits. The use of such gear is dependent on getting close enough to the fish to cast smaller lures like plastics and stickbaits or metals.
Stepping up to chasing tuna and others with a bit of size about them, you can still use sporting tackle. A 4000 or 6000 sized reel spooled with 12-30lb braid will stop a majority of fish you’ll encounter, yet provide you with a lot of fun in the process. This should be paired to a rod with a bit of length to it, say around 6’6” to 7ft plus that will enable you to peg out long and precise casts. Also expect the unexpected as one cast it could be a tuna of some type, the next five feet of Spanish mack may swoop in and nail your lure - it happens!
First and foremost getting distance on the cast is usually required. When you do need to make long casts metal lures and weighted stickbaits are the standout choices. When close range casting is required you’re only limited by your imagination and plastics, poppers, minnows and many other styles will work.
If you’re casting to the fish and they’re ignoring your lures then take a moment to consider what you’re throwing at them, as the fish maybe prey focused and simply not interested in deviating from what they’re eating. In this instance look to emulate the size of the baitfish to get results.
Being confronted with a foaming ocean and getting your lure belted is lure fishing heaven. Look hard for these situations and you may well be shocked what you get connected to when you next lob a lure in a bust-up!