Fishing with David LockwoodDavid Lockwood 

Fishing Bans at Sydney wharves

By their very nature, anglers are a friendly and considerate bunch. But it’s the few bad apples who are giving us all a bad name.

Due to ongoing antisocial behaviour, fishing is now banned at three of Sydney’s 46 wharves. It’s also restricted during peak hour at a further three wharves, all of which are located west of the Harbour Bridge.

At Manly Wharf, there are also signs saying no fishing. But no mention of that is made in official dispatches … so go right ahead.

Officially, you can no longer wet a line off Cabarita, Taronga and Circular Quay wharves. The latter I can understand, what with all the ferry movements, but fishing bans at the former two wharves are a great loss for Sydney anglers.

In response to ongoing threatening behaviour to ferry staff, gross polluting and lighting of fires, Cabarita was closed to fishing last year. Those responsible might have a rod in one hand but they aren’t principled fishers or anglers. Just plain feral.

Fishing is now banned from 5am to 10am each at Abbotsford, Chiswick and Kissing point wharves to prevent confrontation with commuters. Okay, we can cop that.

But in my formative fishing years, Taronga Zoo Wharf was a real hot spot. As a kid fisher, I’d regularly catch big tailor and John dory from the eastern side, while men in floppy hats landed luderick off the southern end.

Presumably, the fishing ban at Taronga Wharf is to protect the tourists flocking to the zoo. One could slip up on a long-dead prawn. Or so the theory goes.

Meanwhile, new legislation announced last week will allow authorities to issue on-the-spot fines of $250 to miscreants misusing ferry wharves.

It’s a case of legislating for the lowest common denominator. And if the new powers fail to deliver positive results there may well be further fishing bans at Sydney’s wharves. Losers win.


Blue Marlin recapture

Introduced in 1973, the NSW Game Fish Tagging Program is the largest of its kind in the world. But it has taken ’til now for the first blue marlin to be recaptured in the state.

Scott Thorrington, a professional skipper who wets a line anywhere from Cairns to the Central Coast each year, has the distinction of being the first charter skipper to recapture a previously tagged blue marlin in NSW.

The blue marlin was hooked and brought to the boat off Port Stephens last month. After the tag was retrieved, it was determined the marlin was originally caught and released at the Ulladulla Canyons on April 11 last year.

In the near-40-year history of the tagging program, there have been just 20 or so recaptured blue marlin. The wide-ranging fish have been landed out in the vast central Pacific rather than along the Eastern Seaboard.

Interestingly, Thorrington landed several previously tagged striped marlin off Port Stephens this year. Those fish were at liberty for just a few days.

Thorrington’s personal best recapture was a 98cm kingfish caught off Terrigal seven years after it was released measuring just 60cm off Jervis Bay. It’s a record for a kingfish at liberty, until it made the fatal mistake of swimming north.


Spinning a Yarn

Fishermen’s tales. Aren’t they always about the one that got away? How is it that a foot-long silver flash below instantly morphs into something the size of a sea monster? And how many stingrays become giant mulloways back at the bar?

Of course, we would be all the poorer without the great fishing yarn. I’ll admit to spinning a few myself over the years. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise if some of us caught more fish in our dreams than the many hours we’ve struggled to keep our lunch down at sea.

But like the very art of angling, telling a gripping fish tale necessitates skill. You start with the jerk on the end of the line, the rod tracing a parabolic curve, the sound of line zinging over guides, as the ratchet on the reel lets out a wail.

Then comes the seesaw fight with the scrappy brawler that drags you barefoot over oyster-covered rocks. Your biceps ache. But after an inordinate length of time your resolve and determination, skill and aptitude, carry you across the line. The quarry lies beaten, barely flapping, begging for mercy.

Of course, Ernest Hemmingway knew how to write a classic fishing tale. But my favourite pen is the larrikin Lenny Lower:

“THEN there was the bait. A green prawn, weighing 180lb, including sinker, was cast off the rocks at Bondi and immediately swam off, taking with it the fisherman, his two companions, and the rocks. Crashing into the Malolo (which sank immediately), the bait continued, until finally it was taken by a groper, which was first thought to be Tasmania.”

Do practise spinning a fishing yarn. Even if it’s only for the amusement of your fellow fishers. Of course, the ’net is rife with them, though few are written well these days.


Marlin inside The Heads

Harbour guide Stuart Reid was anchored inside North Head last month waiting for the big one, a kingfish, to jump on his squid bait.

No such luck. So he started the outboard, weighed anchor and idled across to Dobroyd Point where he promptly found the kingfish.

But what was even more impressive was the estimated 70kg striped marlin he spotted basking on the surface at inner North Head. That is, in the Harbour Sound inside The Heads.

He threw baits at the marlin but no hook up was forthcoming. But Reid said it was well within reach of rock fishers at the Old Man’s Hat. Now imagine that!

fishDavid Lockwood’s Guide to Fishing – May

Okay, last month of Autumn. The final fling of the bait for many fair-weather fishers. And with the days noticeable shorter and the winds cooler, you’ll be more inclined to tuck up in bed than beat a path to the waterways at dawn.

But May below the water is more like, say, March above it. The water should be 20-21°C, which is warm enough to satisfy many summer species. At the same time, the winter fish will be arriving.

So consider May the best of both seasons. And without the big onshore winds, often balmy seas and light breezes, May is a great time to fish offshore. What’s more, the easing Eastern Australian Current allows you to plumb the depths for some tasty bottom fish in water deeper than 100 metres.

Head out to the sea mountain like Browns Mountain in May and, nothing surer, you will snag a feed. Although its 450 metres deep, necessitating the use of electric reels, strict bag limits keep anglers catches in check.

What do you catch on the sea mountains? May’s a top time for blue-eye cod, hapuka and gemfish, which appear to making a real comeback. On the surface, meanwhile, the yellowfin tuna might make a run.

Though the Autumn tuna run has been slack in recent years, many are expecting this to be a bumper season following the La Nina weather event and warmer than usual currents.

And for the really hardcore game fishers, May is a top time to try and find a big blue marlin. Find the tuna and you’ll find the marlin dining out.

Back in 120 metres, where a reef band runs along the coast, you’ll find kingfish, yellowfin tuna and a wide variety of reef fish down below. Anchored, an art in itself in waters this deep, you can fish for all three fish groups.

Casting my mind back like an old fisherman, I recall stellar Mays fishing one-up in the boat till well after dark, leaving the big snapper biting after bagging out. The 40 metre reefs are the happy hunting ground. Berley and you’ll be kept busy.

Anchor in the right spot, where reef meets sand, and you can catch flathead with a long cast, snapper with a drifting bait, trevally, bream and tarwhine, tailor and salmon up top, big squid, morwong, nannygai, pigfish, red rock cod and more. I’ve often scored mixed bags like that.

Closer in, surface fish including Aussie salmon, bonito, frigate mackerel and tailor are scattered around the harbour and bay mouths, with kingfish along the rocky drop offs and channel markers.

In fact, as I write this, I have some kingfish fillets in the fridge. And fellow anglers were ashore posing for photos with some of the big kingies they’d scored. Expect more of them this month. First, catch your own squid then sit it out with one dangling live on the hook.

That great fallback, the humble but tasty flathead, is in abundant supply. From the inshore drifts to the estuaries, flathead are jumping on baits and soft-plastic lures. Given the $45 a kilo asking price for fillets at the fishmongers, it pays to catch your own. Stockpile for winter.

Any number of big bream are about the estuaries, with luderick schooling in big numbers prior to their autumn (sea) run. So if the weather turns turtle think bream and/or luderick in the protected waterways this month.

Beach fishers have been taking big whiting, but those chasing jewfish stand their best chance around the bridge pylons. I have it on good authority that night sessions around the bridges over the Hunter are your best bet.

Farther afield, there are spotted and doubtless Spanish mackerel around South West Rocks, northern bluefin tuna off Port Stephens, and kingfish on the Central Coast reefs.
Among the trophy fish taken in last month’s Trailerboat Tournament at Port Stephens, which was fished by 986 anglers in 427 boats, were a 27.97kg cobia, 4.58kg flathead, 20.39kg kingfish, 8.25kg snapper and, get this, a 32.50kg jewfish.

They’re exception fish and, in May, you often catch a few less but bigger specimens. So think big or adopt a two-rod approach with an elephant gun for the trophy species and a light rod for the fickle fish. And keep an eye out for the migrating whales.


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Afloat Sydney Fishing Key May 2012Fishing 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

Boat-based drifting over sand and gravel shoals with whole pilchard baits set on the bottom. Estuary fishing with cut baits or lures spun over drop-offs fronting sandbanks on a falling tide. Hook size around 3/0.

LU Luderick

Herbivorous, with a taste for green weed, luderick are one of the most common fish in temperate estuaries. They inhabit deep rocky shores, sidle up to pylons and piers and school over seagrass beds. Suspend some green weed bait (collected from the rocks or around ocean pools) about three metres below a perfectly weighted float. Berley with chopped weed and sand. First hour of the run-out tide is best. Bleed the fish, fillet and skin them, and cook and serve as you do veal schnitzel.

M Mulloway

Live bait with yellowtail, slimy mackerel, pike or tailor, or dead bait with the same baitfish cut into fillets. Use 15 to 20 kg line on handcaster or powerful rod, and a rig comprising a large bean sinker fixed on a 24kg trace with a single 6/0 to 8/0 hook.

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.

TR Trevally

A soft-mouthed schooling fish that generally lays low in the water column. Use plenty of berley, light line and soft baits such as peeled prawn, tuna cubes or pilchard fillets. Drift the bait to the bottom on a 1/0 light-gauge hook. Go slow when fighting the fish or you will tear the hook from its mouth. Bleed and eat fresh.

YFT Yellowfin Tuna

One of the most sought-after of gamefish along the Eastern Seaboard, the yellowfin tuna has it all: a great fight, size, and top tucker. Typical school fish range from 10-25kg, with bigger specimens to 60kg not uncommon off Sydney and south coast towns. Troll lures to find the fish then cube with a trail of pilchards to bring them to your boat. Float a pilchard bait with a hook in it back down to the fish and hold on!