Sabikis, Flashers & Flies – Fishing Around Wellington and Stewart Island

Puka Flash Sabikis
Puka Flash Sabiki.

Sabikis, Flashers & Flies

by Chris Wong

Sabiki, flashers, flies, call them anything you want so long as you call them deadly. Sabikis were designed for the species of baitfish that were once in abundance throughout the seas of Asia. Here in New Zealand, they are the ultimate fishing tackle, taking anything from groper and snapper to trumpeter. These baitfish rigs have grown up to be known as “flasher rigs” in New Zealand with numerous brands now available from Dynatech, Kilwell, Surfmaster, Snappa Flash and Hayabusa.

Sabiki Rig Construction

Kilwell uses a dropper loop style of rig that has the flies looped on to loops formed on the mainline while the others are made in the Japanese style of rig. The Japanese rigs consist “of the flies with a branch line snelled to the hook. The snell knot is also used to secure the wing material to the spade end hook which is considered the best form of line-to-hook attachment.

These special hooks are without traditional eyes, instead, there is a flattened end resembling a spade shape. This special spade end has the advantage of better light reflection and can only be attached using the snell knot (tube or nail knot) which has near 100 per cent knot strength. The snelled fly is attached to the mainline by a stiff monofilament known as the branch line. The branch line must be stiff enough to make the fly hang out and away from the mainline; this ensures a natural presentation as well as prevents the fly fouling the mainline.

Of the various brands, Hayabusa is the most renowned and innovative sabiki manufacturer in Japan. Some of their sabiki range have fish oil-impregnated wings of which there is a large range of synthetic material and natural material made from real fish skin. For small bait flies, all brands tend to use synthetic fish skin or natural fish skin to resemble a small school of whitebait—like fish. The fish skin can be enhanced to have a realistic pearlescent sheen or wear scale-like markings on the skin. Most brands also make flies from pink rubber latex to resemble shrimp or krill.

For the larger Flasher rigs, most brands use a variety of soft bristle material while Snappa Flash uses a soft white and pink material containing a pearlescent sheen. All brands work well enough to convince me that sabikis are the way to go if you are wanting to put a meal on the table. They would be the easiest and most productive rig for inexperienced anglers too; all fish love flies and these rigs resemble a delectable kebab of whitebait or krill.

Rigging Sabikis

The way to rig sabikis is to fish them with a ledger rig. This type of rig has a sinker or jig lure tied to the bottom end of the rig and has proven most successful in southern waters. When setting up your tackle, the Japanese rigs have a top and a bottom end. This can be found by holding the sabiki string vertically; the correct way up is when the flies hang outwards away from the mainline.

When rigging up my rod, I like to pass a rubber glow bead onto the mainline before tying on a snap-swivel. This bead has the effect of cushioning the crash of a rapidly retrieved swivel from smashing the guide tip. Since all of my reels have a high retrieve rate and many of my fishing guests are novice anglers, this is a sensible move in the hands of an inexperienced angler.

A sabiki rig can be highly effective with or without the hooks being baited.
Sabiki rigs can be highly effective with or without the hooks being baited.

Fishing Out ’n About in Wellington

Most of my fishing in Wellington is drifting over areas of foul ground where I fish depths of between 30m to 70m for blue cod and tarakihi. I learned quickly a few years ago the advantages of fishing fairly light line – 6kg. You may feel that 6kg is too light, but ask yourself this — how big is your target fish likely to be? Most experienced fishermen tend to fish as light as possible given the target species, the terrain and maybe a couple of extra kilograms for insurance.

About 90 per cent of my fishing is to feed the family so my tackle has evolved to where I almost exclusively use sabikis with a 6kg mainline, still too light? Try breaking off 6kg just using your rod (assuming balanced tackle) and you will find that it is almost impossible to do. I doubt whether any blue cod will do it! My friends and I use from 8oz to 16oz sinkers and really strike hard on any nibbles without any line breakage so there is real muscle in this size of line – trust me!

Tactics Sabikis

When fishing over snaggy ground, you can take out a bit of insurance by tying on a short length of lighter line at the bottom end of the rig. If you hang up, all you lose is an inexpensive sinker. I have lost a heap of jig lures to hungry reefs and have almost eliminated their use when sabiki fishing in my home waters. Most of the southern waters around Wellington are home to blue cod, blue moki, tarakihi, kahawai, some snapper and many other species who are all suckers for sabikis.

The strong currents around prime fishing grounds such as the waters around Karori Lighthouse and Turakirae Head run at up to 5 knots which makes boat anchoring a dicey affair. My preference is to fish from a drifting boat with the aid of a sea anchor to slow down the extra drift caused by gusty offshore winds. The strong currents make keeping tackle on the bottom strike zone difficult because of the water resistance forcing the line and sinker from the bottom. I fish the sabikis dead since jigging the sabikis only lifts the sinker off the bottom prematurely and I catch plenty without the extra action.

To keep in the strike zone, I let out extra line until I feel the sinker strike bottom then repeat this a few more times. As the line becomes increasingly horizontal, the chances of fouling the bottom are increased so I reel in the line, check the flies for bait and lob the rig up-current similar to the nymph fly fisherman who casts upstream. This enables the rig to find bottom and stay there longer until the boat drift and current combine to swing the sinker away again. The importance of keeping to the bottom is reflected in instant action; no bites generally means that your sinker has swung off the bottom and time for recontact.

Since keeping bottom contact is so important, I have trimmed down my mainline to 6kg, as previously mentioned. The thinner line has the advantage of having less drag in strong currents. It is this drag that will create a belly in the line which dramatically decreases bite detection and helps sweep the sinker off the bottom and away from fish. Less line belly means a shorter line which further translates into greater sensitivity hence better bite detection. The longer that you can keep your sabikis on the bottom and in the strike zone, the longer the effective fishing or strike time.

Sabiki rigs.
Sabiki rigs – samples only. Photograph, Allan Burgess.

Spectra line

In an effort to improve line sensitivity and extend the effective strike time, I have been trialling some of the new braided Spectrum line from Composite Sports. This new braided line consists of Spectra fibres developed by Allied Signals from Polyethylene. The resultant line is similar to dacron in appearance but has a fine diameter, about a quarter of the size of equivalent nylon monofilament.

The results so far have been brilliant! The thin diameter 6kg Spectrum line is not so susceptible to the strong Cook Strait currents resulting in doubling the strike time. Bite detection is greatly enhanced; fishing in 80 metres depth feels like only 20 metres. My normal rod sweeps at biting fish proved too great for I was having a little trouble in producing solid hookups.

The solution was for a far more moderate striking action since the virtual zero line stretch was translated into a brutal swipe at the sabiki end and who wants to catch just lips? Once I got used to the Spectrum line, I was able to settle into a solid session which filled the fish bin in quick time. Some of my fishing mates have been lured into shelling out for this expensive line and are likewise extolling the virtues of a type of line that has no equal for our type of fishing.

More Tactics with Sabikis

You can further enhance sabikis by baiting each hook with a narrow wedge-shaped strip of bait like squid, octopus, trevally, bonito or pilchards. In fact, almost any type of bait will improve its performance since the bait is cut into a wedge shape sliver and hooked at the wide end once only. In this manner, the bait resembles a life-like extension of the sabiki tail that has the right shape, smell and even taste – until too late! I cut strips of about 50mm long and tapering from 10mm wide. In talking to Dave Craze and Dick Marquand, I found that they only fished their sabikis unbaited and still hooked up more fish than ever before.

Check out your local store and insist on a range of sabikis from 1/0 to 6/0. At this juncture, the jury is out as to the effectiveness of pink versus white sabikis but remember, colours do matter to some fish species and you do not want to be stuck with the wrong colour for the day!

Sabiki rig fished off Motunau, North Canterbury.
Sabiki rig fished off Motunau, North Canterbury.

What to Buy

Buy an assortment of sabikis in both colour ranges and in the smaller sizes rather than larger. Check out all of the available brands and look for sabikis that have these qualities:

1. Made for New Zealand conditions.
2. Uses heavy mainline and branch line.
3. Uses a quality sharp hook that is a recognised brand leader.
4. Check out the quality of the rig from knots, nylon, hooks, flies, packaging to reputation.
5. Is priced right; remember you only get what you pay for.

I have covered a fair bit on sabiki fishing that applies to mv home waters and I am sure will apply equally well to the South Island. Rest assured that sabikis are here to stay for I am willing to wager that they will outfish conventional baited hooks in the South – well, 90 per cent of the time anyway. Do not think that they are only for boat fishermen either; surf fishermen have been using sabikis from the beach with great success! Some of my friends have worked out an ingenious method to rig these for the surf and are eagerly waiting for the early snapper to appear so I will cover these later if it works out. Sabikis do not require any particular skill or specialist tackle to fish successfully and are the ideal tackle for novice anglers. All it takes is a healthy attitude in trying something different. There, the secret is out!

more recommended stories