Fishing with David LockwoodDavid Lockwood

Harbour survey casts doubts

A recent fishing survey by the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) found Sydney Harbour produces the most fish per square kilometre of any state waterway. In that sense it is a truly world-class fishery.
The survey asked more than 500 anglers to rate the harbour with respect to the number, size and variety of fish available. More than 70 per cent of those surveyed considered the fishery as good to very good.
In excess of 300,000 hours of fishing was conducted in the harbour during a typical summer season. The majority, 62 per cent, of harbour fishing is shore-based, with the balance enjoyed from boats.
The survey covered the areas west of the Harbour Bridge, including the Parramatta and Lane Cove Rivers where high dioxin levels render the fish unsafe to eat, and eastern areas including cleaner North and Middle harbours.
Anglers caught more than 32 different species of fish from the harbour. The most popular were yellowtail, bream, snapper, tailor, dusky flathead, kingfish, trumpeter whiting, slimy mackerel, sand whiting and yellow-finned leatherjacket.
But the number of fish caught and kept seemed wildly overstated to this writer. The survey reckons that 740,000 finfish, crabs and cephalopods were landed and that 225,000 of these were kept in the three-month period.
Curious, we requested greater detail from the DPI. The said survey identified that 14,393 snapper were kept. Legal size for a snapper is 30cm in NSW and to catch a keeper in the harbour is a relative rarity. So what gives!
There are further skewed results in respect of whiting (8,718 trumpeter whiting and 3,441 sand whiting kept), kingfish (10,419) and tailor (12,567). All these fish have generous legal lengths and only top anglers catch the keepers.
With an inordinate number of undersized fish being kept – and that would require immediate redressing through greater policing – urgent action is needed. The big problem is getting through to the new Australians and immigrants that have English as a second language.
These fisher folk firstly don’t understand size and bag limits and, secondly, have no idea that they are eating poisonous fish. Full-time fisheries patrols of the harbour west of the bridge are the answer.

Greenies target Eastern Suburbs

Armed with a cache of carefully crafted misinformation, Green groups in Sydney’s southern and eastern suburbs are angling to ban fishing between Clovelly and South Head. It would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact they are gaining a following from the local latte café set.
With links to scuba diving, and backed by local councillors from Randwick and Waverley, the groups claim that anglers are stripping the Eastern Suburbs of all marine life. Mayor of Waverley council, Sally Betts, gave an opening talk at a recent public forum with an agenda that was clearly pro-sanctuary.
The council somehow believes that locking people out of the Bondi region will increase tourism. Never mind that the fact that angling is our most popular pastime, with long cultural ties to the area, and that it’s a healthy recreation for youngsters to boot. And never mind the science-based arguments.
South Head Marine Sanctuaries is the lobby group behind the push and it isn’t letting the facts get in the way of its mission. It claims that blue groper is an endangered species; anglers fish for them with lures under the cover of darkness; purposely cast lures at schools of dolphins; and even caught a manta ray (a strictly planktivorous and tropical species) off North Bondi.
The baloney follows the reported slaying of a grey nurse shark off Long Reef by a self-proclaimed expert diver who said he found the shark’s carcass. That shark was later identified as a common mako by Fisheries inspectors. But the article had already run in the local rag.
The eastern blue groper at the centre of the latest sanctuary claims isn’t listed by the NSW Department of Industry and Investment as an endangered or even threatened species. Scientific studies have shown that the fish is abundant, with equal numbers along the entire coast of NSW. This healthy population statewide is the reason that further protection is not warranted.
Additionally, estuary rather than coastal environments are the preferred nursery grounds of juvenile groper, which mature when they are 20cm or below the 30cm size limit, and there’s a two-fish bag limit for anglers. But research shows less than 0.5 per cent of all fish caught by coastal anglers are groper. Of course, there has been a ban on spearfishing for the species since 1969.
A greater threat to the groper is the Eastern Suburbs divers feeding sea urchins to the curious fish. The co-dependence results in higher than usual numbers of groper in popular dive areas, while the razing of sea urchins risks upsetting local ecosystems.

fishDavid Lockwood’s Guide to Fishing – December

There’s a degree of despondency that hangs over the sleepy heads of Sydney’s offshore fishers for roughly half the year. Faced with cold, green water, and a lack of surface fish, the ocean resembles a desert more often than not.
To make matters worse, November is the stormy month and, although spring is in full swing on dry land, the ocean is only just catching up. So I’m pleased to announce that things have changed in the blink of a bloodshot eye these past few weeks.
During a recent boat delivering, I had to dodge the schools of rippling fish from Pittwater to Seaforth. Pods of whales and dolphins no longer rule the waves. Hot on their heels are the surface fish that finally announce the water has warmed up and summer is upon us.
The action started in the early hours when idling past Scotland Island. Schools of bonito were zipping excitedly on the surface chasing hapless sprats. The baitfish were the size of sardines, so lure casters would have no trouble hooking up.
As I rounded Barrenjoey, the ocean took on a bluer hue and thereafter my boat ran across fish after fish. Mostly striped tuna, they were splashing about the current lines running up to one knot from the north. That’s the East Australian Current getting into gear and the very thing that brings big fish to the eastern seaboard each year.
Everywhere you looked, striped tuna were launching from the surface and flashing like silver bullets in the morning light. Every now and then, I’d cross paths with a school of boiling slimy mackerel. You could smell them, as indeed could the seabirds wheeling overhead.
Off North Head, I caught sight of a huge explosion that I put down to a dolphin. So I pulled on the engine reins and idled about the area. But no sign of flipper. Thus, I’m betting it was either a big yellowfin tuna, a marlin or perhaps a mako.
Closer inshore, massive schools of Aussie salmon were rippling around Bluefish Point and along the sandstone ledges all the way back to North Head there were birds and fish.
Collectively, there were acres of fish riding the currents off Sydney and, by the time you read this, to ports further south. This is great news for the sports and offshore fisher, as well as the hordes of holiday anglers now gearing up.
But it’s my bet the marlin, tuna, big kingfish and even dolphin fish will be hot on their heels. Think about drifting through the schools of baitfish with a few live slimy mackerel out the back. Given some good weather in December, it’s time to head offshore and think big.
Meantime, offshore bottom fishers have been scoring plenty of flathead on the sand and gravel drifts. You couldn’t hope for a better beer-battered mouthful than the fat flatties coming over the gunwales. Pass the tartar.
Back inshore, surface fish including Aussie salmon and striped tuna are attacking the massive schools of bait around the headlands. Beach fishers are scoring some decent tailor, too.
But the beach fishing has really improved where local lakes such as Narrabeen opened to the sea. The prawns are running – or swimming – and savvy anglers are netting dinner-sized feeds of the sweet schoolies.
Hot on the prawns tails are whiting, flathead and bream. The whiting are also falling for live worms, of course. Catches of up to a dozen fish have been reported and the favourite holiday fish will become a mainstay this month.
Stuck at home? Fear not. King-sized kingfish have been encountered in Middle Harbour, while Port Jackson has Aussie salmon – look around Clifton Gardens and Bradleys Head – plenty of bonito and some decent tailor.
We’ve got second-hand news of yellowfin tuna in 600 fathoms or 1200 metres off Broken Bay. Game-boat skipper Tim Dean says the marlin bite off Cairns right now is the best in ages. Hopefully, their offspring make it down south. With all the baitfish about it’s just a matter of time.
In fact, with the return to a wet winter and spring, the foundations have been laid for a bumper summer. Head offshore, to the beach or gad about the estuary for a bounty this month.
Given the aforesaid fishy news, it’s entirely possible to put a repast including self-caught prawns, crabs, fish and calamari on the Christmas table this month. Best wishes and do play it safe.

Contact this column at david.lockwood@bigpond.com

December 2010 Fishing Key Sydney HarbourFishing Key —

AS   Australian salmon
Schooling fish that mills about on the surface, patrols the harbour, headlands and beaches. Partial to a well-presented saltwater fly, soft-plastic lure, or small casting slice. Takes both live baits and pilchards with gusto. Quite palatable when hot smoked.
B   Bream
Berleying with chopped pilchard and floating lightly weighted pilchard fillets back into the berley using light tackle and fine line. Suitable method from both boat and shore. Hook size No 1 to 2/0. Or try using the latest soft-plastic lures jigged around the harbour wharves, jetties and rock walls on ultra-light flick sticks and 4kg braided line with a 4kg monofilament trace.
F   Flathead
Drift with whitebait or frog-mouthed pilchards hooked through the eyes and bounced along the sandy bottom. Glue reflective tape to the sinker for added flash and appeal. Early morning before busy boat traffic is best. Or use rubber-tailed jigs flicked around the foreshore.
J   Jewfish
The prize of the estuaries, jewfish gather in the deep holes in our harbours and bays from November through to the end of summer. The fish is most active right on dusk, especially when that coincides with the last hour of a run-in tide. Use large cut baits of mullet, slimy mackerel or tuna, or fresh squid strips, set on the bottom. Berleying with cut fish pieces can help attract the fish to your bait. Ranging from 3-8kg, though specimens to 20kg aren’t unheard of, the general run of jewfish is easily subdued with 10kg tackle and a 4/0 hook.
K   Kingfish
Fish the deep, tidal shores or around the harbour channel markers with live or strips or heads from fresh-caught squid. Stagger the depth at which you fish the baits until the school is located. Berley helps keep the fish around your boat.
S   Snapper
Fish the inshore reefs in 30-50 metre of water with 6kg-10kg tackle. Anchor up and berley with chopped pilchards and chicken pellets. Drift a half pilchard bait on a 4/0 chemically-sharpened hook back down the berley, with a pea-sized running sinker or just enough lead for the bait to waft down to the bottom. Dawn and dusk is best.  
T   Tailor
An aggressive schooling fish, named for its ability to slash baitfish to ribbons, the tailor is a snap to catch. Troll or cast and retrieve lures around the schools of fish hunting around headlands and estuaries in winter. Or cast a pilchard from the shore or boat during the flood tide and at night around Sow and Pigs or The Spit.
Tun     Striped tuna, Mackerel Tuna and Bonito
School of small tuna can be found zipping across the surface at first light. Cast small metal slugs and retrieve fast, try saltwater flies, or troll minnow lures for the bonito, which are great eaten fresh on the barbie.
W   Whiting
Warm water heralds the whiting run along the beaches. The sweet-tasting fish are a cinch to catch, the only prerequisite being live worms for bait. Fish in the deep gutters and where there are rips and no surfers. Night sessions can be most rewarding from the harbour beaches.