Wings, fins and other things
We landed a couple of fat flathead on prawn-imitation lures in Brisbane Water the other day. Nothing unusual about that. But upon filleting the fish, I made an effort to keep the wings.
Unlike the homogenised flathead fillets sold for more than $40 a kilo by your fishmonger, ours had skin, bones and separate wing sections. Fish skin, it should be noted, has higher levels of certain vitamins like riboflavin than the flesh. And my kids love it.
Okay, so you need to pick out the bones. However, flathead bones are pretty big and easy to find. No problem for a seasoned fish eater. Now for the wings. Soused in Japanese flavourings, salted and grilled, they were the highlight of the meal.
In today’s sanitised world, a lot of great parts of the fish are wasted. I’ve eaten throat latches from a barramundi by the bagful, bought off commercial fishers in Princess Charlotte Bay, and thought them just scrumptious.
Crispy fish fins are a treat, the flesh of fish cheeks is like scallop and reserved for the guest of honour, and flathead roe is delicious. My closest fishing companion bemoaned the directions in a recipe that said discard skin and bone from a tin of salmon.
However, bones in tinned fish are delicious and a great source of calcium. My kids’ favourite part of the sardines is the “wormies” – those little white backbones with a crunchy texture.
So think about using the whole fish rather than processing just white, boneless fillets. Try Malaysian fish head curry, make a good rich fish stock, and fry skin and cut it in strips to garnish a Thai crispy fish-salad.
Salt small yellowtail and fry till they’re brown. Eat with chilli sauce. Throw a mixed bunch of fish in together to make a bouillabaisse. And add the wings of fish to a bowl of dashi and garnish with spring onion for a Japanese soup starter.
Experiment and think beyond the boneless, skinless fillet.
With summer comes talk of sharks. Sydney is rife with a wide range of them, from harmless Port Jacksons to worrisome whalers and even Great Whites.
But I’ve never heard of anyone catching the protected grey nurse. Setline commercial fishers encounter them, but contrary to green groups anglers rarely if ever do.
It’s partly for that reason that NSW DPI has just announced amendments to its critical habitat sites at Green Island at South West Rocks and Magic Point at Maroubra. Anglers will be able to fish within 50 metres of the mainland shore.
With that cleared up, it’s time to talk about the sharks we do catch off Sydney. In the heavyweight stakes, game fishers regularly encounter tigers that can weigh more than 500kg.
Mako sharks abound in the cooler months, with specimens above 200kg not uncommon, while Great Whites sniff about berley trails and follow sick whales. They are protected, of course.
Closer in, hammerheads, whalers and bull sharks are common in Sydney. Beach fishers chasing jewfish encounter plenty of sharks after dark, as do Sydney Harbour and Hawkesbury anglers.
Given the number of pups landed in Broken Bay, around Lion Island and upriver in the Hawkesbury, the waterway is something of a shark-breeding ground.
Sharks frequent estuary and river mouths. Read the summer Shark Smart tips to reduce your risk of attack – or improve your rate of catching one – at www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries/info/sharksmart.
When the tailor are running at their spawning ground off Fraser Island, anglers stand shoulder to shoulder with bent rods along the beach. But back in Sydney, the prized fish remains a mere shadow of its former self.
In the good old days, vast tailor schools would descend on Sydney Harbour each November and December. The fish were decent-sized, about 0.5-1kg each, and highly ferocious of course.
The old timers would troll around and around in their timber chuggers, lines on rubber springers, and catch tailor hand over fist. A few feathers lashed to a hook worked well enough.
But the tailor you get here now tend to be mere choppers below the 30cm size limit. One wonders where the rippling schools of bigger ones have gone.
According to the latest Statewide Recreational Fishing report in Queensland, anglers accounted for 344,000 tailor from 2010-2011. This outweighed the commercial catch.
The Australian record for a tailor is 12.1kg, with the biggest specimens from an altogether different stock around Shark Bay in WA. Closer to home, you’ll catch the best tailor by trolling minnow lures around the washy headlands at dawn and dusk
Bled and kept on ice, tailor make good tucker when fresh. Salt and a griller are all you need. But hot smoking produces even tastier results. Here’s hoping for some decent tailor in weeks to come.
David Lockwood’s Guide to Fishing – January
The high season, the holiday season and the silly season. But most definitely it’s the fishing season. More fish are caught in January than any other month, as anglers stand shoulder to shoulder and cast their lines in anticipation.
Unless they are committing suicide, the key to catching fish during the school holidays is to avoid the mob mentality. Think like a fish instead. That means making the effort to fish at dawn and dusk, to gather your bait and prepare tackle in the heat of the day, and to get off the beaten track.
With more time on your hands, you can explore new waterways, reefs and coastline. Use Google satellite imagery to view the backwaters and bays and find boat-only accessible flats and fisheries
Try your hand at prawning at night, crabbing by day and night, and set a lobster pot in the kelp beds near underwater caves. Squiding is another rewarding alternative. Fishwise, nothing beats catching flathead in summer.
You can use live small fish for flathead bait, but the latest soft-plastic lures are more convenient. Use prawn-imitation models, for that’s what’s in season, and bounce your lures over the flats and sandy drop-offs.
The falling tide is the best time, as that’s when the flathead are lying in ambush awaiting prawns and small fish to swim back from the flats into deeper water. The same can be said of whiting, which will jump on a popper lure worked over the flats, as well as slurp down a nipper or worm.
Beach fishing in January deserves your attention, too. The top of the flood tide is best.
Find a gutter or hole within casting distance and use a two-rod approach. Lob half a mullet fillet out yonder on your heavy rod for a jewfish, tailor or salmon. Cast in close to shore with the flick stick and a live worm bait for whiting, bream and dart.
Those with boats enjoy even more options. Upstream in the freshwater reaches of coastal rivers will be some scrappy Aussie bass. Once the cicadas are singing, the bass are biting. Use surface lures in low light and deep divers in the middle of the day.
Paddle craft are the best transport in the tight, overgrown reaches and creeks.
Night vigils lower down can be rewarding for jewfish. The hot spots are in the lights of bridges, where squid and baitfish gather. All the better if there’s an eddy during the falling tide, where the jewfish can hold station with a minimum of effort as the food gathers above. Soft plastic lures can work in this very situation.
The advancing warm ocean current flooding into the estuary mouths is another happy hunting ground. But instead of demersal species, fish for the pelagics or travelling surface fish.
Kingfish will be common should you arm yourself with some fresh or live squid for bait. On the troll, bonito and tailor will be jumping onto your deep-diving lures. Out further, things get even more interesting.
January is the start of the game fishing season in ports as far south as Bermagui. Every year, striped marlin are taken. This year, however, there’s been an exceptional run of small black marlin along the Queensland coast. The last time we saw this was in another post-La Nina summer.
Should the East Australian Current do the right thing and not eddy and miss Sydney, it’s a good bet the black marlin will arrive. The famous sporting fish aren’t averse to hunting in quite close to the coast and in the last red-hot season, your writer caught marlin less than a kilometre off Barrenjoey.
The much-celebrated summer arrival is the dolphin fish or mahi mahi. Great sport and eating, the mahi mahi are found around the fish aggregating devices or FADs in the deepest water. Lob a live slimy mackerel at the FADs at first light and hold on. FAD locations at http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries/recreational/saltwater/fads/map.
Last but not least, January sees a spike in boating accidents due to the number of people on the water. Maritime authorities have launched a whole new lifejacket campaign. A lifejacket never ruined a day on the water. See www.lifejacketwearit.com.au/.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fishing Key —
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.
Drift with whitebait or frog-mouthed pilchards hooked through the head and bounced along the sandy bottom. Glue reflective tape to the sinker for added flash and appeal. Early morning sessions to avoid boat traffic is best.
The jewel in the crown for estuary fishers. Choose a deep hole next to some hard reef or a bridge pylon, berley with chopped pilchard pieces, and suspend whole pilchard baits, live baits or squid strips a metre off the bottom. Best during the last of the flood tide and at dusk. Patience needed.
Fish the deep shores or around the channel markers with live squid or strips of fresh squid. Set one bait a few metres off the bottom, another mid-water with a small ball sinker and drift another slowly down the berley trail. Medium-weight 8-10kg tackle and 4/0 hook. Fish must be 60cm to be legal.
The Fonz had one, as did Elvis, and Arnie. The uniform of every hirsute bikie in Sydney, leatherjackets are also a salvation when the winds blows and the weather turns nasty.
Dangle a peeled prawn bait on a size 8 long-shank hook around the wharves, the kelp beds and reefs in the harbour. If all else fails, try the cloak room of the Skull and Cross Bones hotel in Milperra.
Now is a great time to sharpen the hooks and head to the 40-metre reefs in search of snapper. As the current slows, the 120-metre reefs are also fishable. Either way, snapper tend to include fish in the 2-4kg range. Think big and arm yourself with 10kg tackle, fish a whole pilchard on a 4/0 hook, and you will land the big reds.
An aggressive schooling fish named for its ability to slash whatever poor fish crosses its path to ribbons, the tailor is an easy fish to catch. Troll or toss a silvery lure around the schools of fish seen jumping in the harbour in winter, cast a pilchard bait from the shores, or soak whole pilchards under the full moon and during the flood tide at Sow and Pigs or below The Spit bridge.
Tun Striped, Mackerel and Bonito
If it’s sportsfishing you want go chase the schools of small tuna zipping about the heads at first light. Best with a boat, stealthy approach, 4kg tackle and some silver lures. Or try the fly rod. Bonito can be taken by trolling minnow lures.
A shy and retiring fish by day, but a pussycat at night. Insomniacs make the best whiting fishers in the harbour. Use live worms and fish over the flats or off the beaches. Those areas with lights such as Manly and Balmoral are most productive.