Fishing with David LockwoodDavid Lockwood

Floods and fish

Amid the apocalyptic scenes that played out in South East Queensland (and elsewhere) last month, following the floods of biblical proportions and the ensuing human tragedy, thoughts turned to nature.
What does all that freshwater mean for the fish? How will they cope? And how did they survive given that Noah didn’t carry fish on his ark?
Marine biologist Dr Julian Pepperell, who lives in the now-soggy mountains behind Noosa, said everything from dusky flathead to barramundi was washed from their estuarine homes and swimming well out to sea. While survival rates are unknown, and mortality is a fact of floods, fish are at least in their natural environment.
“Floods tend to attract sharks, bull sharks, but these floods were extreme, with the freshwater and fish likely to be washed tens of miles out to sea. Eventually, there could be evidence of the floods by way of debris off Sydney,” Pepperell said.
Longer term, the massive influx of nutrients is likely to have a positive effect on fish stocks. In the Gulf of Carpentaria, there’s been a good deal of hard research that directly links big wet seasons with above-average prawn catches.
While true marine fishes like tuna and marlin don’t respond well to freshwater lying on top of the ocean, as it affects their gills, coastal populations of bottom-dwelling and mid-water fish might actually explode.
“Once the food chain receives a shot in the arm the whole fishery benefits. Fish’s fecundity, the amounts of eggs they produce, is enormous to cope with big events that might otherwise cause population crashes. In the right conditions, you see stock explosions,” Pepperell hinted.
Meantime, bull sharks were spotted in the flooded Queensland suburban streets, local newspapers reported, while authorities warned boaters to keep away from flooded rivers. Even after they have subsided, navigation markers might be displaced and the course of channels altered. There is also a health hazard from contaminated waters.
The Bureau of Meteorology said the La Nina event responsible for the floods was still severe and that the chances were that more extreme floods would arrive this summer. The silver lining is the long-term prospects for anglers. Meantime, our thoughts go to everyone affected by the extreme events.
According to theologists, fish survived The Flood by either adapting to the changed salinity or staying at a suitable level in the ocean to survive. Dry land sounds like a better option for most of us.

Cut to the chase

Outside of flood-affected areas, anglers have found catching a fish a cinch this summer. And contrary to popular wisdom, the land-based estuary angler hasn’t been at a disadvantage. Fish are pretty much boiling along the foreshores. Here are some neverfail ways to catch them.
Head to the points that jut out into the stream, with oyster-encrusted rocks and a decent tidal run. It’s there that you’ll catch fish as they swim past. But to hold them in your area, try the following:
Mix a pile of finely chopped pilchards with sand. Form into cricket-ball sized lumps. Now lob a ball of berley within casting distance from the shore. Continue doing this every half hour.
Meanwhile, fix a half pilchard to a 2/0 Suicide hook below a swivel and a running ball sinker that will carry your bait to the bottom. A sinker about the size of your little fingernail is perfect.
Pitch the bait where you tossed the berley. Set the rod up on the rocks and keep an eye on the tip for bites. Rig a second rod and cast it in a slightly different direction. The two-rod approach.
If the bottom is sandy or muddy (read free of snags), attach a soft-plastic imitation prawn lure. Cast and retrieve the lure with a slow jerking motion so it bounces across the bottom.
Between berleying, watching for bites, rebaiting and retrieving your lure, you’ll be kept busy. Add a stack of big bream, flathead and tailor, and you’ll be run off your feet. The hot bite should come at dusk, especially if that coincides with the top of the tide.
Boat-based anglers need only troll a minnow lure at first light for bonito, tailor and kingfish. Afterwards, drift the edges of the channels for flathead using whitebait, bluebait or small pilchards strung on a gang of three 2/0 hooks (hooks for ganging are sold by all good tackle shops).
Use a sinker about the size of your thumbnail to ensure the bait bounces across the bottom as your boat drifts lazily about. And have a landing net ready for the head-shaking flathead. With a net, they will soon come over the side. Without it, you’ll lose more boatside than you land.
The grey skies and showers have actually been assisting anglers. Many fish drop their guard and bite freely all through the day in low-light conditions. And without the fair-weather anglers, there’s more than enough to go around this summer. It’s a real fish frenzy.

fishDavid Lockwood’s Guide to Fishing – February

In so many ways, this has been an exceptional summer, not least because of the strong La Nina, ensuing onshore winds and flooding rains. Not least because, well, we’re seeing more of many fish than we have in decades. The ocean, the harbour, the bays and rivers are, quite simply, alive and kicking.
Above all, it’s been an exceptional season for bonito, with the scrappy little tuna jumping on lines and lures like there’s no tomorrow. And commercial fishers have been pulling in teraglin and snapper by the hundreds of kilos right along the coast. Their abundance underscores the fecund nature of fish given the right conditions.
Out wide from Coffs Harbour, there’s been warm azure water with good numbers of 10-12kg dolphin fish, yellowfin tuna from jellybean to 25kg size, and a few marlin when you luck upon them. With the current running at three knots, the game fish are on the move and, as you head south away from the wet, the mood in most coastal communities improves.
Great Lakes Tackle said every holidaymaker in Australia must have descended on the town last month, with bumper-to-bumper traffic but oodles of fish and crustaceans to go around. Catches of up to 10 litres of prawns, and bundles of blue swimmers and mud crabs kept crustacean-eaters happy.
So it continues right down the coast this month. But besides prawns and crabs, flathead are also omnipresent in our estuaries. Those restless anglers prone to hiking the shores and casting lures will do best. Use soft-plastic prawn imitations where small creeks and water courses flow over the sandflats. Flathead are ambush predators attracted by the mullet, prawns and so on that feed near the freshwater.
Jewfish are another species that will be snapping this month. Hawkesbury guide Ron Osman says this jewfish season is a beauty with oodles of little fish but also some keepers in the 3-4kg range and a sprinkling of bigger fish to 7kg. We’re quietly confident even bigger jewfish will be patrolling the beaches. Soak a whole whiting after dark, after the grommets have headed home, and hold on.
Harbour, bay and estuary mouths are alive with surface action, with oodles of tailor, Aussie salmon, bonito and mainly rat kingfish. Some big sharks have been spotted in the harbour and as far upstream as Darling Harbour. February is a bad month for sharks, so take care swimming under the oft-grey skies.
Offshore, Long Reef locals have been taking snapper to 6kg, teraglin in the middle of the day, and kingfish to 95cm on the reefs. The drifts are producing snapper and flathead. Snapper are also snapping at The Hump off Stanwell Park. But expect smaller pan-sized snapper reddies as the water temperature increases this month.
“It’s been the best year in a decade for holiday anglers, with fish jumping on lines, and anglers pushing through the door to buy more and more tackle,” said Curly from Narrabeen Bait, before adding that the bounty of bonito in Pittwater have driven lure sales to hitherto new heights.
But if you want something truly big then head offshore. Traditionally, February is a better month than the last for weather. That said, it’s also known for its low-pressure bombs and rain. So pick the windows of fair winds and following seas and sally forth.
The Interclub Game Fishing Tournament off Port Stephens later this month will be fascinating. As long as the boats can get out, there will be game fish to be had. Expect black and striped marlin, perhaps more of the former, wahoo, big mahi mahi, even sailfish and cobia. Hot-water species should prevail during the La Nina.
Trolling in 200 metres, just over The Shelf, Captain Aslanian scored a huge bull dolphin fish that weighed 22kg and a black marlin around 120kg straight off Sydney. There are also plenty of dorado or dolphin fish around the city fish traps and fish-aggregation devices or FADS.
“There are marlin in 70 fathoms off Terrigal,” says professional skipper Scott Thorrington, adding that the floods are likely to send rafts of debris our way. “I’ll be driving from the tower keeping an eye out for the next few months,” he said.

Fishing Key Sydney February 2011Fishing Key —

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 you boat.
L   Leatherjackets
Found around kelp beds and foraging off wharf pylons, retaining walls and other submerged structures. Easy to catch with a long-shanked hook topped with peeled prawn or try using the flesh from mussels gathered at the fishing grounds.
MAR   Marlin
February is peak season for small black marlin that, in a good season with warm water, pass just a few hundred metres from shore. Troll a staggered spread of assorted small 15cm-long skirted lures at 7-8 knots from 40 metres to 120 metres of water, concentrating around the bait schools, birdlife and current lines. Striped marlin join in the party, along with dolphin fish and sometimes wahoo out wide. And the game fishing is even more fun when you can see the city clear as day.
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 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.