Ivan Bulmer, Alan’s late father, was a bait fishing expert. He lived in Whangamata and used to help out as “boat boy” on many of the charter vessels based there, especially MV Te Ra and Astraea. Most weeks he would help out on two or three charters and over the summer he’d be on board one of the boats almost daily. It certainly kept him busy in his retirement.
According to his mates “Big Ive” was an angling machine and hardly ever failed to catch something. Apparently in 20 years at Whangamata you could count the number of times he blanked on your fingers.
When he was not out fishing on the charter boats he spent most of his spare time making and repairing fishing rods in his garage. At one time or another he repaired rods for all of the sports shops in Whangamata.
Ivan’s preferred method of fishing with bait was a Ledger rig (also known as a Paternoster rig in the UK) and he spent hours perfecting his trace designs, especially those for tarakihi and snapper. Eventually he settled on a formula that seemed to work consistently and then he set out to make a jig to simplify his trace making.
The secret to his success was the use of tiny circle hooks and small thumbnail sized pieces of bait. Ivan was a Yorkshireman and Yorkshiremen are notoriously frugal which is probably why he used tiny baits exclusively. Contrary to what you would expect he caught some big fish on these tiny hook ledger rigs. His personal best being a 16 lb snapper.
The circle hooks he used were Mustad Demon 39952NPBL is Size 2 or 4. These were imported in bulk from Australia.
His favourite bait was pipi and whenever his grandsons went down to Whangamata he’d take them out with him to gather them. They never took more than 100 and they had a ritual for shelling them which was based around the microwave. Ivan had a special Pyrex bowl that he’d put a certain number of pipi into and this was placed in the microwave for a set time which was just enough for the pipi to start to open. The pipi were then plunged in cold water and the boys opened and removed the pipi as fast as they could. They were placed into an empty margarine container, salted and frozen.
Ivan always had a small bag of pilchards in the freezer and a couple of skipjack tuna (caught over summer trolling flies) to supplement his bait stocks but he never went fishing without his beloved margarine pot of pipi. He’d often catch small baitfish on the ledger rigs and these would go straight back down, generally attached to a larger hook on the top dropper loop, as a live bait for John Dory.
His traces were always constructed from either 15 or 20 kilogram nylon. The 15 kilogram was the “go to” trace nylon and he’d step up if there were bigger fish around. He attached the traces to his main line with a snap swivel and used to prefer snap clips to attach his weights. The snaps and swivels had to be black nickel coated to reduce the risk of attack from barracouta.
The jig he created to tie his identical traces was a series of nails and removable dowels arranged on a large sheet of plywood. See the video below. He’d tie a loop at one end of the trace and attach this to the starting nail. Then he’d wrap the nylon around the nails like macrame. The pieces of dowel were located at the points where the snoods needed to be tied. The dropper loops were made by lifting each piece of dowel out of its hole and spinning the line with the dowel. This twisted the nylon and created the hole through which the end of the loop was threaded. Very clever.
When the trace was completed he unthreaded it from the jig, attached circle hooks, clips and swivels, and wound it around a piece of foam or polystyrene so that it was ready to use. The full dimensions of the ledger rig trace are:-
Ivan used to fish exclusively with rods he’d made himself from broken or damaged blanks and he had 40 prototypes in his garage. The rods he preferred were quite heavy and had very powerful butt sections. The rods were very aggressively tapered and the tips, although they were fairly stiff, folded quickly under load. This apparently helped with setting the hooks.
A special thanks to Brian Grant of Whangamata for helping with the video.