Fish Fest for 2012
Summer. ’Tis the season for (d)angling. Everybody, it seems, is soaking a bait or lure. But apart from the mozzies, midges and odd march fly, nothing much is biting. Time for some high-season fishing strategies.
With many more fishers wetting a line, you need to think outside your comfort zone. Dawn or dusk is best but those grey La Nina days we have been experiencing are also a boon. Under the cover of low light, the fish bite longer.
Tides are important but not as much as the time of day. Plan ahead and mark those mornings where daybreak coincides with the last few hours of the flood tide. Fish through to the first few hours of falling tide.
Offshore game fishers generally find slack water is best. Large shoals of baitfish often rise to the surface and put following predators within reach.
Low tide is an opportune time to gather bait, but if you want to fish then concentrate on the deep holes rather than the flats.
Eddies are natural feeding grounds, so bridges and their pylons are hot spots. If there are bright lights, try fishing at night sans crowds for jewfish.
Fish as light as you dare and use chemically sharpened hooks imbedded in the freshest of baits. But also employ a two-rod approach and set a live bait on heavy tackle for bigger fish.
Don’t sit idle unless idling is your motive for heading outdoors. Berley, cast and retrieve lures, move to a new location if nothing much is happening. Explore upriver or try some new grounds in your spare time.
Think about crustaceans. Crabs, lobsters and prawns abound in summer. Depending on your location, the hunter-gatherer may also find mussels, oysters and abalone (subject to restrictions).
Above all, stay safe, fish sustainably and take your litter with you. If all else fails, hit the local co-op in a fishy coastal town and enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labour.
Tag and Brag
No longer deemed great white hunters from a bygone age, today’s game fishers embrace conservation and fund cutting-edge research to shore up their future. Take the Great Marlin Race.
Initiated for the 50th Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament in 2009, the Great Marlin Race inspired competing crews to buy satellite tags that they subsequently planted in the flanks of blue marlin.
The fish were released and the tags floated free after a pre-determined period of 120 to 180 days. It’s then that scientists could assess the data sent back to their computers, things like distance travelled, depth reached and water temperature.
The winning team – that is, with the longest migrating marlin – received free entry into next year’s tournament. The event worked so well that other major marlin-fishing tournaments soon embraced the idea.
The 25th Lizard Island International Game Fishing Tournament held in October saw game-fishing enthusiast Peter Teacle sponsor five satellite tags. Three of those have now broken free with some very interesting results.
One tag popped up from a 410kg black marlin that travelled an amazing 2,739nm in 86 days to a point 127nm east of Phoenix Island in the Central Pacific. Follow the action at greatmarlinrace.org.
Of course, the NSW Game Fish Tagging Program remains the biggest fish-tagging program in the world. Since its inception in 1973, more than 361,000 tag cards have been returned and over 6,800 fish recaptured.
Among the standout journeys was a black marlin that swum from Western Australia to India. Read about more recaptures at www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries/recreational/saltwater/gamefish-tagging.
You don’t have to travel to Cairns to catch a marlin. The prized fighting fish are leaping off Sydney right now and, by all reports, it’s shaping up to be the best big-city marlin bite in years.
The happy hunting ground for black and striped marlin is the 160-200 metre depths, about 30 kilometres straight off North Head, while the more oceanic blue marlin are in good numbers around the 300 metre mark.
The only challenge is the weather. La Nina years are notorious for onshore winds and you’ll struggle to keep your breakfast down.
As evidenced by a snappy crew rescue from a sinking boat off Sydney during the holiday season (see story page 63), it’s imperative to carry the requisite safety gear. Keep your life jackets and Emergency Radio Indicator Beacon (EPIRB) close, log in and off with Marine Rescue, and be weather-wise.
But find a fair-weather window, sally forth, and you will break your marlin duck. Blue marlin are snapping off Coffs and Port Macquarie, where the Golden Lure tournament held last month was a success, while striped marlin have appeared off Bermagui. So it’s pretty much border-to-border marlin.
Off Sydney, Captain Brett Thomas from charterboat Gorilla raised two blue marlin last month, with angler David Denneen tagging a beauty 120kg on 15kg tackle.
Robert Curry on Marquis raised 10 marlin and caught two on New Year’s Day, while game boat Loose Crew run by William Kozma had a hot day tagging six off Long Reef. The marlin bonanza was still happening at the time of writing.
David Lockwood’s Guide to Fishing – February
February normally sees an influx of really warm water off Sydney and ports to the south like Jervis Bay. It’s that current which delivers exotics like wahoo, big dolphin fish, and oodles of marlin, while the reefs grounds gain Samson fish and amberjack, with pearl perch down to at least the Central Coast.
In a really hot year I’ve even heard of anglers catching mangrove jacks off Long Reef and in Manly Lagoon, and I’ve caught and released giant herring in Bayview Lagoon within the namesake golf course.
But while black and striped marlin are the common tourists offshore, this summer is shaping up to be a cracker on the more erratic blues. And there’s been some exceptional fish among them. So gear up with the elephant guns and think big.
At the time of writing, small dolphin fish were holding around the public fish-aggregating devices (FADs), but there are much bigger specimens under the private FADs in deeper water. And as I pen this I’ve just got word of a wahoo and some small yellowfin being landed off Sydney.
The offshore table fish are easy pickings, with flathead and morwong on the gravel drifts. Kingfish and kissing cousins, Samson fish and amberjack that are right on cue, are around the inshore reefs and headlands
Trolling skirted lures and minnows is producing striped tuna in 30 fathoms and bonito around the washes. Aussie salmon schools are across Broken Bay, along with some flighty frigate mackerel.
Pittwater has tailor chasing sprats and this writer’s lures. In fact I’ll go so far as to say this is the best chopper tailor season for many years. Hopefully they grow up and return 10 times the size next season.
Newport seems to be the happy hunting ground for keeper tailor, with bream and flathead lurking beneath the feeding schools.
The whiting finally arrived on the beaches last month. I saw good numbers of school-sized fish in Terrigal Haven, where two tame giant black rays made the diving even more interesting.
The Hawkesbury has been tough this summer – the relentless trawlers, gill netters and trappers don’t help – but things will improve in February. I have first-hand accounts of some decent jewfish about the lower reaches and expect the flathead and crabs to hit their straps.
In Brisbane Water there are some decent whiting and bream over the flats at high tide. Fish in 30cm of water using small poppers at dawn and you’ll have a ball. The prawns should be running this month, too.
Sydney Harbour, Botany Bay and Port Hacking have been turning on flathead for the soft-plastic lure brigade. The summer-time kingfish are lying low and I’m starting to think this is a seasonal aberration for the fish. They seem to have swum south.
Of course, February is the last month of summer. But in terms of summer fishing, it ranks first. The weather can be wild, what with lots of southerly busters and rain, but it’s not by chance that the Interclub game-fishing tournament is held this month in Port Stephens.
Meantime, the bread-and-butter danglers will find less crowds than the holiday high season though there will most certainly be anglers about. Apply the strategies overleaf and you will find many more fish this month. Oh, and a few sharks too.
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. 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.
DF Dolphin fish
Head to the fish aggregating devices (FADS) off Sydney – locations found at www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries/ recreational/saltwater-fishing/fads/locations – at dawn or fish into the dusk to beat the crowds. Cast live baits at the FADs for the biggest dolphin fish. Smaller specimens fall for pilchard baits, lures and saltwater flies. Great sport and, when kept on ice, delicious eating.
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 your boat.
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.
In a good season with warm water, marlin 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.
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.
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.