Affordable fishing pays its way
At last, a summer holiday with which to cast away and thereafter start a lifetime of fishing adventure. But another big reason to gear up big this summer is the low cost of tackle. Thanks to the strong Aussie dollar, the latest whizz-bang fishing gear can be bought for a ditty.
What’s more, as the big brands have taken on local rod designers and tackle consultants, the budget stuff is no longer rubbish. Whereas success was once left to the salesperson to team this rod with that reel, today’s fishing outfits are pre-paired at factory level.
Thankfully, you no longer need to be built like Hulk Hogan to hold a solid-glass Stephen Howard Deluxe telegraph pole. Today’s light but strong new-age tackle makes fishing more enjoyable for everyone from small fry to Dolly Dyers.
Hit the tackle stores and you’ll find racks of friendly flick sticks for kids, pink rods for girls, and super surf rods for dads who like nothing better than watching the waves role in from afar while perched on a cooler.
Of course, you’ll need a fishing licence as well – the constabulary are unforgiving during peak season – and do avoid the vast areas of marine parks that attempt to displace the hapless holiday angler these days.
But for all the hurdles, fishing remains the last bastion of freedom. Cast a line and let your worries drift asunder. Get the whole family geared up and go fishing this summer. We’re betting the fresh fillets that feed the family will pay for your new gear in no time.
It’s been said by a cursed few that angling is like watching paint dry. But when fortunes change the excitement is palpable. Such has been the buzz in recent weeks as the fish are snapping, the prawns and crabs are running, and the angling grapevine hit overdrive.
Buoyed by fair weather and warm water, offshore anglers also found big game fish from Port Stephens to Sydney. Although the water temperature in close has been cool, things are still running hot out wide.
As if to prove as much, my mobile phone has been chiming on weekends with text messages left behind just minutes after fish have hit the deck. Game fishers have been scoring striped marlin to 85kg and dolphin fish to 15kg.
According to my records, we’re (over)due for one of those one-in-10-year game fishing seasons where the marlin are leaping within cooee of the coast. Given the forecasts for a La Nina year, with warm ocean currents, it’s entirely possible this is the golden year for game fish. Keep an ear to the ground.
Inspectors on holidays
It might be holiday time but when was the last time you encountered a fisheries inspector? I’m betting you’re like most regular anglers and haven’t seen the boys in beige or blue or, upon further investigation, their also appears to be a green outfit.
It’s no fault of their own, mind you, but evidence of one of the most under-resourced departments in NSW government today. As such, illegal fishing continues on a huge (ahem) scale due as much to ignorance as ill-intentioned crime.
There are now big health consequences that could come back and bite our lax state government one day. As evidenced by a recent harbour fishing survey, migrants with English as a second language are taking tens of thousands of undersized fish from west of the Harbour Bridge. The fish are riddled with cancer-causing dioxins.
But one doesn’t need to look far on any popular NSW waterway on a sunny Sunday to find undersized fish in the bucket. Of course, even greater fisheries crime is perpetrated by crims and organised syndicates under the cover of darkness.
Last year, thousands of Sydney rock oysters and mud crabs were stolen off NSW north coast farms from Wallis Lake to Wooli in the lead up to Christmas. And, at this time of year as seafood prices skyrocket, abalone poaching and lobster looting become big business.
As stated by the Australian Fisheries National Compliance Strategy 2010-2015, successful fisheries management depends heavily on achieving optimal compliance among stakeholder groups. More inspectors are needed, as much as an effective deterrent as education on the ground.
Meanwhile, take it upon yourself to fish within size and bag limits and be a model angler. Report illegal fishing to Fisheries Watch, phone 1800 043 536. But don’t hold your breath for the public service to jump to attention.
David Lockwood’s Guide to Fishing – January
“The forecast is for an El Nino year, a long hot summer, with very little rain. A lot of fish will push well upstream, so don’t be afraid to look for kingfish and jewfish in upper Middle Harbour, Cowan Creek and so on.”
How times change! That was last year’s January fishing forecast. This year, we’re facing the complete opposite. A land of drought and flooding rains, indeed. Forget the upper reaches and fish the estuary mouths instead. And do gear-up big for the top-end predators feasting on the abundant small fry, crabs, prawns, and squid.
In fact, prawn experts say the wet winter and ensuing La Nina rains will make this a boom season for amateurs anglers. Even the day netters have been landing huge hauls of prawns in Tuggerah Lakes, while Windang on the South Coast (like a lot of local lakes) is turning out catches of up to 2kg.
And with the coastal lakes and lagoons all open to the sea, you can let the prawn run or swim into your nets rather than needing to chase them off the sandflats. Rich pickings and somewhat akin to shooting fish in a barrel.
Our friends at Narrabeen Bait have been reporting good prawns in the suburban lake. If not enough for lunch then use them live to snag a big flathead or bream. The former are firing in all estuaries right now. Where there are prawns, fish are sure to follow.
The beaches north and south of Sydney have bream and whiting taking live worms. But several lucky anglers have been dining out on jewfish after landing specimens to 15kg in recent weeks. By the time you read this, I would expect a lot more sharks, too.
Surface fish have been abundant, with Aussie salmon, tailor and bonito easy game and perfect for the home-built hot smoker. We also hear of an odd big kingfish falling for white Sluggo lures worked under the schools of feeding fish. Fresh squid have tempted good kings from Middle Harbour where the water has been warmest.
Hawkesbury guide Ron Osman has been braining the jewfish. In one session, his crew boated six jewies from 5-8kg and threw back a bunch of 3-4kg in one of the hottest bites of the season.
Although the crabs have been laying low after the flush of fresh water from the flooded Colo, they have been crawling into traps elsewhere. Unscrupulous commercial fishers were caught flouting the fisheries rules in an effort to cash in on the bounty.
A 33-year-old commercial fisher and a 42-year-old were facing charges for setting illegal fish traps and interfering with set fishing gear in the Wallis Lake area. The lure for these blokes was making a quick buck (pun intended) from the lucrative mud crab fishery.
The average market price for mud crabs at the time of the bust was $42 a kilogram and rising. Recreational fishers also need to be aware of changes to crab-trap rules this summer. See www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries/recreational/regulations.
Meantime, Scott Thorrington has kept on tangling with kingfish on the deep reefs, but the water temperature has been patchy in keeping with La Nina’s typically strong onshore winds that turn the cold bottom layers over.
Game fishers faired better off Sydney in a 21C current holding striped marlin, and dolphin fish or mahi mahi will continue to take up station around the fish-aggregating devices.
One of two things could happen as this season unfolds: either we’re in for a bumper game fishing season with super hot water and sub-tropical species swimming to our door; or the impossible La Nina weather will make offshore angling nigh impossible.
But no matter what the weather, you will find rich pickings in the estuaries and protected beach corners this year. Jewfish, flathead, whiting, prawns and crabs, maybe a few cobia, spotted mackerel and pearl perch, too. La Nina seasons are always hot fishing.
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Fishing 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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