Peter Pakula - Lures, Techniques & Dreams
By Peter Webster Fishing and Boating February 1995
Presenting the first in a series of interviews with interesting people who have made, or a making a significant contribution to the world of Australian fishing and boating. Few would disagree that our first subject, Peter Pakula meets the criteria. Over the last decade, Pakula lures have had a profound impact on offshore fishing strategies, techniques and success. But there is more to this 20 year veteran's "overnight success" - this is a man who has lectured, toured, written countless articles and brought the excitement of offshore fishing right down to the man on the street - but as the world starts clamoring for his products, Pakula is becoming increasingly concerned that maybe, just maybe his lures and techniques have been too successful ... in this wide ranging interview with F&B's Senior journalist, Peter Webster, Pakula talks about the past, the present ... and the future.
F&B: Tell us a little about how you first became involved in the lure making business.
The purpose of Pakula lures originally was to just stick it up the Sydney guys who were trolling Hawaiian and other American lures. My brother and I have always been dogmatic sort of patriots, followers of Henry Parkes (laughs) and I thought it was terrible that we had to use this imported stuff, so I decided to make some of my own. Apart from that, everybody off Sydney in those days spent hours drifting and berlying up the fish - and I hated drifting in those lousy conditions and the available lures were mainly for calm conditions, so trolling on those days was also a pain.
F&B: When did you start?
F&B: When did you realise that you could make good lures - was it straight away, or did it take a few months ... ?
No, the lures took years before they started catching anything, and more years before they were as good or better than the imported lures - but it was another 10 years before they started to blitz them. Nobody had really heard of Pakula lures in Australia prior to '88. Strangely enough, I was making lures for some Hawaiian and Californians in the early '80's, and they were winning tournaments with them.
F&B: So where was the crossover when Peter Pakula left the rag trade and concentrated on the fishing tackle business.
There wasn't one. It just evolved. Basically, I started making 5 lures a month, and I was designing a few lures for other lure makers. For example, some Cobalt lures were Pakula designs but I had no intention of being a commercial lure maker as I was very deeply and successfully involved in the clothing trade. I finally went commercial because Cobalt had made an arrangement with Tim Simpson from Compleat Angler to make the lures exclusively for his shops and didn't hold to that commitment. Tim wanted exclusive lures or nothing, so I ended up supplying him myself.
F&B: Was that really when it started to get serious for you? Was that your first major commercial commitment?
It was my first major commercial commitment, but it's only been serious in the last couple of years.
F&B: We're talking here the late 80's?
F&B: So until quite recently, it was still not full time?
It's only been full time for the last 7 years. But I've only actually lived off it since the last three years or so because until then, I was still earning from the rag trade, too.
F&B: Do you miss the rag trade?
Yes, absolutely. I mean it was very good to me, but circumstances, the people in it, everything changed ... people forget it took me 20 years to get to that stage. Pakula lures is now 20 years down the track too. It takes 20 years to be an overnight success in this country. We get a couple of phone calls a month from people who say they are going to wipe us off the face of the lure market, and we go "All right, and if it takes you as long to do that as it's taken us, then we'll be out of it by the time you get there ...... so quite possibly there's a lure maker out there now who will take over from Pakula lures in due course. Though to get to the top you have to be original; no one gets to the top by copying someone else.
F&B: Pakula Lures are now renown throughout the world as being prominent fish takers, especially billfish, can you tell us how you arrive at the shape of a new lure, how you tell whether a new head shape is going to work? Do you look at it in the water and think "Terrific, that will work ....?
The way we design lures, or when we bring a new lure out, it's because the market needs a new lure. There is a circumstance somewhere or weather conditions, or a bait fish pattern we simply haven't covered in our current range. For example, we do lures for inshore fisheries, or offshore fisheries ... it might be for juvenile fish in brown water, or juvenile fish in blue water ... in rough conditions or calm conditions. The difference between a calm water lure and rough water lure is that they do the same things in different conditions. A calm water lure will work in rough conditions but it does something different in those conditions and actually doesn't imitate what we want it to.
The possibility that a lure will ever imitate anything live is a mistake, let's get that quite clear first. What we try and do is trigger fish to take it. There's got to be things in the lure that make the fish go crazy to attack it: to make it look like a wounded or fleeing bait species. The idea of actually being able to imitate a tuna with a lure, or a school of fish with 5 lures, is insane. Actually, you don't want to imitate real bait- fish, as there are lots of them there already.
Over the years, the hours on the water trolling lures show you different things that do trigger fish. Different actions in a lure; what happens when it gives a single head shake; how the fish reacts; and we try to give it as many triggers and/or actions as possible.
F&B: How much time do you spend testing a new lure before it's released on the market? Is it a very quick process?
It's a very quick process. Basically, for a lure to get into the range it's got to out fish all the others first time in the water.
F&B: Do they often? I mean how often do you get it right the first time?
Okay, we just put out a range of Long Shots which comprises 5 lures and to get that statistic right on those 5 lures, there are 75 prototypes.
F&B: They've all been dragged through the water?
All of them.
F&B: Do you test most of this stuff here on the Gold Coast or do you have guys that you work with round the country?
Because the marlin fishing season here is so good, we do most of it here and to cheek it out we actually send some to New Zealand, we send some to St Thomas, some to Fiji - and recently, Vanuatu's been a really good testing ground. You need somewhere where there's a lot of fish. The idea of trying out a new lure in an area where you get one shot in three days is crazy.
F&B: What influence does the skirt length and material have on the action o the lure? And what about the rigging? Is it possible to rig a lure with hooks that are too big and thereby limit the lure's action in the water?
A lure is balanced like an arrow. If the skirt is too long or too thick, it detracts from the action. If it's too thin from the lure it has too much action. Basically, the lure and the head are married together in a specific size to give a specific result. I think it's interesting because 1 always wanted longer skirts from the Japanese when I was in with them. Now I'm in with the Americans, I've finally got the skirts the exact length I want them which is quite a breakthrough, so all the new lures are actually exactly what 1 want.
F&B: So there is a difference between a 1992 and a 1996 Cockroach?
Absolutely! All the lures have been continually upgraded. A lot of people can't tell the difference between a Mark two Sprocket and a Mark Eleven Sprocket, but there have been eleven changes to the Sprocket over the years.
F&B: I've noticed that with most of your pre-rigged lures you set the hooks up with the trailing hook angle of 60 degrees from the first hook. How important is. this? I notice that some anglers prefer to rig the trailing hook so that the point is facing the other way, while other fisho's run both hooks in the one direction.
Okay, simple straight answer: Sixty degrees has an 80% hook-up rate, sometimes better, given sharp hooks and the right drag setting etc, and once you get away from sixty degrees, it's less than 40 percent. If you are not going to use the sixty degrees, use one hook.
F&B: Is it because most of the fish are attacking sideways? Coming in at an angle?
Well, at sixty degrees, both hooks are riding up. At 90 degrees, one hook is always facing the wrong way. Basically, the statistics are that sixty degrees is 80% successful, and single hooks, 70% successful.
F&B: When you say things like that - do you get those statistics out of your head?
No, nothing comes out of my head . . . besides, I'm dyslexic (laughs). Seriously, it's all facts that have basically taken many years to put together and record. We keep pretty comprehensive records. And also you know, a couple of times a year 1 reinforce that by actually getting into some pretty hot bites.
F&B: Is the two hook billfish shackle rig used in many of your lures, suitable for yellowfin tuna? We've heard a single hook has a better hook-up ratio...
That's fair enough, the single hook is fine for many fishermen, it's also safer for the crew, but if you set up your tackle properly at 60 degrees, keep the hooks sharpened, the two hook rig is slightly better.
F&B: Are your lures designed to work at only one speed or will they work at various speeds? I ask because it's often difficult for a trailer-boat to determine the precise speed and some trailer boats are trying to break-out and plane at around the speeds they need to be trolling your lures. The question: to what extent are your lures speed critical?
This is a really interesting question. The lures are not speed critical. They will work and look pretty from six knots upwards. However, the reality is that fish attacking modes and triggers seem to be in the 7.5 to 8.5-knot area, and those boats that can troll at this speed have a far better hook-up rate. It is true it is often difficult for a trailer-boat to troll at these speeds with any precision. However, if they use more teasers, they can trigger the fish a bit more, and go a bit slower.
F&B: You've mentioned to me before that many fishermen troll their lures too far back behind the boat. What distance behind the boat do you recommend your lures be set, or do different lures work better at different lengths back? Is there a recommended distance?
Yes, there is. The best position to catch fish is centred in the area from the back of the propeller to where the white water and wash ends.
F&B: Right in that close?
Right in that close. Now on a trailer-boat, change the speed by 1.5-2.0 knots, and the distance of white water varies incredibly. It can almost double, even with a very small speed increase. So trailer-boat skippers have to think about their lure placement very carefully.
F&B: And what about the prop noise there, by the way?
Yeah, it doesn't make enough.
F&B: Doesn't make enough noise! So more is better than less?
Yes. The difference between a small boat and a big boat is that a small boat makes a whole lot less noise than a big boat. Going through the water, the splashing, the vibrations that are going through the hull. You can't expect something that's got 100 horsepower to put out the same vibrations as a boat that's got 600 hp.
F&B: So you're comfortable about through prop exhaust noise, but what about the leaded Vs unleaded petrol issue. Plenty of people believe the newer unleaded fuels from the outboards puts fish off the bite ....
I don't think fish actually hear exhaust or smell it. You know, basically each creature - a dog, for example - can hear louder sounds than us, because it's designed to do that. An eagle sees better than us. Each creature is designed for its own environment. As there weren't petrol motors when these creatures were devised it's unlikely they can smell them or hear them, at least not within their normal range.
I can troll in two foot of water for flathead using a 70 hp motor and it doesn't spook them - and it's going less than a foot over their beads. The shadow of the boat spooks the hell out of them, but not the noise or whatever smell comes out of the prop.
F&B: During the past decade or so I've been out on several different pro game boats, and have been surprised that the skippers would troll the same lures for literally hours on end. When asked why they rarely seemed to change their lures or even the colour, most skippers responded with something like "Well, these are the best lures we've got, so there's no point changing them." Do you believe there is any truth in this theory, or do you think lures should be regularly changed throughout the day regardless?
Well, this is interesting. You know, if you ever took a lure like the Lumo Sprocket off the long 'rigger, you'd be an idiot; it has caught too many fish to be ignored. I think there is a set medium / heavy tackle pattern that basically involves four Pakula lures . . . it includes the Lumo Sprocket off the long 'rigger, Purple Rat on the short 'rigger, Evil Animal on the long flat line and Fire Scad Chatterbox on the short flat line. They are the four main lures. If you ever remove those from the pattern you'd be crazy.
F&B: So you're suggesting that these four lure types, in fact, do form a sort of foundation that you build around.
Leave them there! I used to find it impossible to go fishing for a day without changing at least fifteen lures. But knowing that these four lures are the foundation, I don't touch them. I change the fifth lure up to twenty times. The way I do that is I play around with the lures on the shotgun. Each of the four lures in the main pattern has won so many trophies and tournaments ... Sanctuary Cove twice, Port Stephens about a couple of times, the Golden Lure four or five times, so why would you change them?
F&B: So the pro skipper is really hedging his bets by leaving them alone isn't he?
Yes, if he's using a pattern that is proven. But let me say I don't think enough people who charter boats, talk through the day's strategy with the skipper - and vice versa. If they did, both would have a better understanding of what they were trying to achieve, and both sides would have a much better day - even if the fish were scarce.
F&B: Are you an advocate of stand-up sports fishing tackle? or do you prefer to use the conventional full-length gear? I ask this question because I've wondered whether the action of your lures is likely to be effected if the lures are trolled behind the much shorter stand-up rods, especially if they are left in the conventional boat-rod trolling positions.
Okay, as far as the lures action goes, the longer the rod the better, because you can adjust it more easily, and also, short rods by their nature are much more flexible at the tip, so it's much harder to set the hooks on standard short strokers. As far as whether I like stand-up fishing or sit-down fishing, well, 24 kilo and under I like stand-up, anything over that I prefer to sit down. I wouldn't dream of catching anything on an 80 lb stand-up, it would hurt ... (laughs) that's not what I need!
F&B: How important is the use of teasers when lure trolling for billfish?
Teasers do increase your hook-up rates and do attract fish. The thing about teasers is that they attract fish to them and almost away from the lures. So the idea is that when you are using a teaser you must have a lure adjacent to that teaser, so that when the fish switches off his investigation of the big flashy Witchdoctor, for example, you've got something else ready to tempt him into striking. If you don't have a lure adjacent to it, then you'll basically catch less fish.
F&B: Where do you like to position the teaser?
Basically in front of the first lure or bait, and that is very important, especially in smaller boats.
F&B: At Port Stephens one year, we were using the Witchdoctor out of the Hookham 6.0 m. Then it was definitely working - putting it in and out of the water was just like turning the lights on, but the obvious comment to make was that on that particular day, there were so many small billies around, they were being "turned on" by anything that sparkled ...
Well, interestingly enough just up in Townsville at the last tournament, Reef Hunter was coming first the first three days and I think they took twice as many fish as the other boats. They lost their Witchdoctor on the third day and by the fifth day they were losing - and they put it all down to the loss of the Witchdoctor. The flashing of the Witchdoctor makes it look like another fish that's trying to eat the baits. It's like a dog that as soon as it thinks somebody else wants its food - it will growl and go over and grab it. Grab it with a lot more aggression than it would previously.
F&B: We felt the Witchdoctor's performance was markedly affected by the angle of the sun on it. Where there's a big flash induced by the angle that the boat is running, the Witchdoctor seemed to work much better than (say) when the sun was directly above, behind or in front of it.
Yes, that's accepted, because you're getting the different angles coming into play. But somewhere in the circumference around the teaser, it's always flashing in one direction or another, even at the more acute sun angles. Don't forget the vibration of the 'doctor is more important than the flash.
F&B: Do you believe in that school of thought that Peter Goadby (as much as anyone) pursued over the years, that more sports fish were caught when trolling downhill?
Absolutely. The fish prefer working with the sea, rather than against it. Peter Goadby is one person that I would not question; his books are the bibles of blue-water fishing.
F&B: Can we talk about innovations .... in lures and tackle. What do you see coming out of the future? For example ... using strobe lights in heads of lures ... that sort of thing. Do you see any great revolution coming?
No, not really. We actually developed a bunch of lures in the late 80's that did have strobe lights in them. We also developed lures with special sounds emanating from them and stuff like that. But what we have always done is concentrate on making lures incorporating luminescence, fluorescence and scent additives. Most have a couple of scents you can't smell, but they are there. And we found that while using luminescence, ultra-violets, pigments and stuff like that, that just in normal daylight under any conditions the lure does give off that glow. And yes, that is part of the Pakula secret.... it is very important because wounded fish flesh has that glow. A lot of people don't realise that ....
F&B: But do you see any breakthrough emerging? Is there anything you've seen or thought about which is radically different that made you think "Hey, this might just work ...
Absolutely, but the cost factors come in, and basically, people already think lures are expensive enough, and they are! But even if I made every skirted lure in the world it would not be enough to warrant designing (say) electronic circuitry for micro processor controlled lures. The technology already exists to build computer driven, guided lures that the skipper could drive out and away from the boat ... just imagine what you could do ... but if each lure costs $2,000 at cost and you lost a couple during the day - it would get a bit discouraging !! (Laughs) I mean, you could develop these guided lures, incorporating special sound frequencies, but even if you had the whole world as a captive market, it is just not commercially viable.
F&B: To what extent are lures a fashion item. For example, do you remember the Joe Gospel In southern Qld jigs and lures, or the WK (Werner Kossman) lures . . . . they used to be all the rage in the 1970's, but these days, wouldn't bother taking them out of that box of old lures we all have in our garage. What happened? Did the fish wise up?
We stopped jigging for them because when you first started jigging for them there was a lot of fish at the Peak and on the 'Banks and the places where you always caught these fish. Jigging was a good technique, but those fish aren't there to take those jigs anymore.
F&B: You think it's just that simple? The fish have gone. . It is that simple!
Flathead lures worked really well until there's no flathead. I've got a spot out there on the Broadwater (Southport, QLD) where I tagged and released around forty flathead over 10 lb over the last year. But every time I went there, I'd see somebody else catch a big flathead and put a knife to the back of its head.
Many have now been recaptured, all been killed and very simply there wasn't many of them in the first place. I've been trolling that place now for mouths with little success. You tell me - is it because the lures don't work as well this year, or are there less fish?
F&B: Let's talk about this as an environmental issue. Without painting Peter Pakula green, let's talk about fisheries management and situations like the lessening pod of fathead in the Broadwater. What is the solution?
Ban the killing of wild fish. Let's look at marlin for example. In southern Queensland, it is almost a hanging offence to kill a marlin. And it is that serious. Basically, in our fishing competitions here, if somebody brings in a marlin of any size they're almost run out of the competition. The days of killing wild fish should be over.
F&B: I wish you'd tell that to Toyota.
Yeah, but at least they've switched the Cairns Lexus Tournament across to Tag and Release. That is a typical case with marlin, where the pro game fishermen got together. They said this is a valuable resource for us; we don't want to exploit it; we don't want to kill it. It's very rare to see a dead marlin anywhere in Queensland. These fish are worth more to the economy alive than dead, around $30,000 each!
Marlin are not a rare species, there are lots of them out there to catch. I know; we've gone out and caught 22 of them in one day out here off the Gold Coast. So they're not rare, but they're so valuable that we want all of them there.
The blue-water pelagics such as marlin, mahi-mahi, yellowfin, etc are international, they travel the world's oceans and are targeted by the world's fishing fleets though we choose to release a great deal of those caught in our waters, so we should. The fish we mainly target and kill are our Aussie native species such as flathead, bream, whiting, jewfish and snapper. Yes, these fish are our natives, many don't exist anywhere else! We have an area in the Broadwater which is probably a third of the size of Sydney Harbour, with up to 600 boats fishing on the weekend, and commercial fishermen working it as well. There is no way this area can sustain the killing of so many fish. Of any size, of any sort. Most of the fish are resident here at some period through here. Whether they migrate back out to sea or up the river is irrelevant, at some period, they are all being targeted within this Broadwater structure - and its equivalent waterways and estuaries around Australia.
F&B: Have the canals helped or hindered their growth and protection? Many people believe the canals are an excellent nursery environment capable of nurturing substantial fish stocks ....
They have, and do. There's no denying that. Remember too, you can't commercially fish in a canal, either. And yes, there are plenty of fish in the canals and under our pontoons and jetties. But once again, people do target them, and they take out far more than they need ...
F&B: But you cannot just stop fishing. That is not going to happen, is it? There is a Powerful and entrenched fishing industry - both recreational and commercial - let alone society's demand for fish as a food ... all this is not about to change.
Of course not. I take some fish (blue water pelagics) too, but fishing is an unnatural act in the natural environment. Fish were not designed to be caught by humans by the increasingly effective methods that we use to catch them.
F&B: How are we supposed to catch them? You couldn't persuade many people that fish were not part of man's basic food chain ...
And I wouldn't try, but there are alternatives, there are fantastic alternatives. The canals systems exist; they are not part of the natural world; they're false. Let's net off the canals, let's introduce species of fish, like the dusky flathead, and pay for them and stock them. The canal systems here on the Gold Coast would hold millions of fish. It's a very large system. And there are enough vacant blocks of land, enough parks and bridge sidings to give access to those areas quite satisfactorily. And whether or not you charge people a licence fee or charge them a daily rate to fish is insignificant because the amount people would be charged is not even a packet of prawns in reality.
Because they breed a lot of bass now, it costs less than 20 cents to buy a bass .... and if you set up these programs to breed estuary fish in the quantities necessary, it would be so large, there would be a scale of economy and they'd be quite cheap to buy. And they may breed very successfully within the canal systems.
F&B: Would you then stop fishing in the Broadwater altogether?
No, I wouldn't stop fishing per se; I'd just ban the killing of wild fish in the Broadwater or any natural environment, and only kill and eat fish out of a false stocked environment.
F&B: Where does aquaculture then fit? Isn't this part of the answer to the fish-for-food question?
Yes and no. Aquaculture is kind of bad because (for example) in the tuna fishery in Port Lincoln they kill 30 tonnes of pilchards a day to feed their tuna. I mean, that's insane as well. Give them chicken pellets. They should give them some- thing off the land that is farm grown and renewable.
You know, if we can farm bait species for these fish, that's fine - but if you can't farm them, don't take, them from an existing environment. We all remember what fishing was like when we were kids. But I know you can't catch a 12 lb salmon off Rose Bay Wharf now; I know you can't catch many tailor there. I know you can cast your arm off, and maybe once a year a school will come past ....
F&B. In management terms, do you believe in licensing fishermen?
Yes, people should pay a licence basically to enjoy the act of fishing. It is not a right for everyone, it is a privilege, and when you take a fish out of the water, you are taking out a significant resource.
For example, when I saw people catching those big flathead, on the Broadwater, I felt very hurt because I really, firmly believe that when I let those fish go, in a funny sort of way their lives were in my hands. So what right do other people have to come along and kill what I have just set free? It is as if they've killed my fish if you can see what I mean. It's a native for heaven's sake, too good to catch just once, too good to kill ever!
F&B: Do you believe in overall management groups? The Recfish lobby group in Canberra, for example.
No, they're well-meaning puppets of the professional bureaucrats. These Management groups and Advisory bodies are usually set-up so the pollies can say "Yes, we had a Committee of Review investigate that matter .... and they've decided it is perfectly okay to mine the crap out of Moreton Bay. . . " etc!
Usually, they then have so many departments involved, the system is designed so the answer can be No! and nobody can jack-up about it!
F&B: Specifically, though, what are you saying? Surely without these Advisory and Management groups, the national fisheries would be even less protected than they are now.
Yes, I appreciate that, but what have they all achieved? To go back to my Broadwater flathead example for a minute, what people don't realise is that if there are fifty fish there and you take away twenty of them, the thirty left may not breed, because you've taken away the base that's kept the fifty there. Those large female flathead could have laid two million eggs each, that's millions of eggs taken out of the system this year. Doesn't matter how many male flathead are left.
We are not making enough noise; all these Advisory groups, Quangos and management lobby groups are only breaking up the signal we should be sending home to the politicians. More often than not, some of these Advisory groups are just plain wrong - and if you want a good example - consider the recent closure of Pumicestone Passage to professional fishermen.
In one hit, 10 commercial fishing families are put out of business; the amateurs shout "Hooray- we won !" but nobody stops to contemplate the real truth i.e. the genuine professional fishing families mainly caught mullet which amateurs do not pursue - and nobody has placed any restrictions on the hundreds of amateurs who can now go into this sensitive area and plunder as many flathead, bream, muddies, whiting etc., they can stuff into their eskies. . . . this is progress? This is reasonable fisheries management?
F&B: But in the real world, how do you get the message through to the government more effectively? Let's say you've just been put in charge of fishing of Southeast Queensland. What would you do?
I would look at a successful area. We have to look at commercial enterprises. People won't do anything unless there's money in it. A good case in point is the Northern Territory where they banned or greatly reduced the commercial pressure on barramundi. In many areas and parts of the year, they've banned commercial fishermen; they put on bag limits, and now they make an absolute mint out of tourists catching barramundi.
I'm going up there in a couple of months and it's costing me $2,500 that I'm going to put into their Northern Territory economy to go and catch a barra. Now if they didn't have those barra there, and I really desperately wanted to eat barra, I would probably spend $100 a year on barra to eat. This way they're getting $2,400 more out of me.
F&B: Finally, does Peter Pakula have fishless days?
Oh, absolutely, heaps of them; heaps and heaps of them. But I don't care, I go fishing when I can, where I can, regardless. Some days are good. Some are better. That's fishing.