Winter fishing on Sydney Harbour can be some of the best of the year, and the last few weeks have been no exception. Apart from catching a string of metre plus kingfish in Sydney Harbour I spent a week fishing way out in the tropical waters of the Arafura Sea. It’s just gone from one high to the next. Gear has been tested, resolutions made, dreams crushed and then filled. But what didn’t change is that being on the water, no matter the heat, the cold, wind, rain or shine, is always awesome.
Sydney Harbour continues to tick the boxes with some pretty awesome and consistent winter fishing. The water is clear and cold and the classic wash-fishing we wait nine months for is really on fire. Drummer, grouper, bream, trevally and the all the other usual wash-residents have all been in good numbers and of good size. They pull hard and offer some of the best all round sportfishing potential. Loads of bread burly and peeled prawn (fussy buggers) on a rising tide will almost certainly get you a bite. Just don’t give these fish an inch or you’ll spend all day redoing rigs. It’s such an underrated fishery and drummer especially can offer a pound for pound fight that will rival any kingfish. But be aware these are generally resident fish and can feel fishing pressure easily so catch and release is a great idea.
Just out of the wash the humble luderick have been having a bumper year. Having been one of the most underrated fish in the ocean for so long (except by the most die hard fisher-fans) blackfish have become increasing popular as a target-fly species. You can dismiss all the technical specialty rigs and techniques and simply cast a simple green weed fly in front of a feeding fish for a sight take, or under an indicator for a more relaxing experience. Either way the fight is great and there’s plenty there to be caught once you get the knack – unlike true saltwater fly fishing where you need a very good cast to make the most of the chances, any half competent trouty can clean up on blackfish. Oh, did I mention that blackfish fillets baked in foil with some olive oil, herbs, and salt and pepper are unreal?
Squid have made a return after a long break. The cold clear water has brought us some extra large southern green-eye calamari we can see stalking schools of bait in deeper water. There’s plenty of arrow squid and cuttlefish to be found out there too. Classic colours like pink and natural in sizes 1.5 for cuttle fish and bigger than 2.5 for squid have been working a treat. Also buy a decent jig! Squid will attack almost anything when they are in eat mode but trying to temp a wary squid onto a jig that rockets to the bottom is going to be a lot harder on the cheap and nasty jig. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen squid avoid the barbs while attacking the head of the jig only, but using quality increases your chances significantly. Speak to the guys at Compleat Angler Sydney for all the advice you need on this and other tackle and bait.
Kingfish, although not in large numbers are definitely and officially huge! We landed one fish that had been tagged and released last year in middle harbour at 93cm and released 354 days later at 106cm at the Harbour bridge. The spots are different but the choice baits and techniques the same. And it’s all about fresh or live squid and cuttlefish for the biggest bites. But like fishing in general there’s always the exceptions. With big fish taking a week old frozen strip…go figure. They are definitely fatter fish this year and pulling harder too.
On the fly.
Fly fishing for salmon has been pretty painful and how I yearn for a school that would just stay up for a few extra casts… we seem to have skipped the large North Head schools and instead we have small groups of fish up and down all over the place. They range in size and numbers but generally show up on the run out tides. Fly choice depends on the day, their mood and how many boats have just driven through them. Start small and white, and go from there.
Dundee Beach, NT.
Now for something completely different, I managed to escape the cold of a Sydney winter for a quick trip to Dundee Beach in the NT, to fish the Arafura Sea. We were spoilt with weather and hosts! Flat calm seas, low winds, morning high tides and best of all Anglers Choice Fishing Safaris.
These guys really know how to host a fishing holiday. The quality of service is five star and everything else that goes along with it. We were lucky enough to have there head guide Dave taking us out for 3 days.
In a fishery that could sell itself, he made the experience one never to forget. The first time we jumped into the custom built seven meter centre console driven by twin Yamahas, Captain Dave gave us a rough plan of what we could expect, and true to his word he had us all on to good size barramundi, threadfin salmon and my fave, black bream, by lunch…
I made things harder by insisting on fly fishing and Dave went out of his way to make sure I got a good shot at some great fish. He knew his stuff and we were all excited for day two.
The next day we hit the water early and had planned for one more shot at the Barra while waiting on mud crap traps to produce before heading out to the blue water. There were a few questionable looks by some on the boat when Dave said an hour was more than enough to get a couple of crabs… but like the previous day true to his word after an hour we had seven extra large mud crabs in the boat.
We set off to a sandy shoal way offshore to catch the waiting queenfish on the flats. In less than a meter of water fish over a metre long chased bait fish and lures with a vengeance. I wish I could say the same for my flies but after a fair struggle I finally boated a medium size queenfish. Although outdone in size by the spin guys it was a magical moment.
But there were more dreams to deliver. As the tide slowed we headed out further into deeper and bluer water. Dave had every mark under the sun after 14 years of guiding these waters and when we stopped right on top of a bait school the boat was buzzing! It wasn’t long before the rods were bending and Spanish mackerel after Spanish mackerel were pulled on board before been “taxed by the men in grey suits”, who turned out to be extra large hammerhead, lemon, and bull sharks. I almost landed a 25 kg plus fish only to be bitten in half right at the gunnel (the fish not me). Dave did tell me to stop playing with the fish and get it in! fortunately I got the top half in which was still enough to feed the whole beach house. Fish after fish buckled the rods and Gaz almost lost a Saltiga to the big blue when the butt section snapped in the rod holder! Luckily he was there to catch the rod! We arrived back at the ramp well after dark that night with beaming smiles on our faces, and to top it all off a perfectly cooked steak just plated as we got back to the beach house.
Our final day was a long run out to 45 meters of water. Two hours from the boat ramp the water was deep blue, 28 degrees and beaming with life. Schools of jelly bean long tail tuna, flying fish gliding above the surface with school mackerel leaping meters into the air to get a feed, sharks of all variety, sea snakes, and the spectacle of blue swimmer crabs moving across the surface just waiting to be devoured.
We bottom bashed and straight away we ticked off the bucket list species, coral trout, red emperor, sweet lip, trevally and big grouper. And at each spot we would fish Dave would expertly call the likely species and how long we had before the sharks would move in.
I never get bored of seeing sharks they truly are awesome creatures, but they can be a real pain when trying to land a nice fish. Dave again blew our minds with theories of shark behaviour and tricks to avoid turning a patch in to shark city. I was in awe of the complexity of fishing in these waters, there maybe an abundant amount of fish but add sharks, crocs, ocean hazards, water quality and 6 meter tides and you have to know your stuff to be a success out here. Luckily we were in good hands and it was with heavy heart we fished the last of the daylight for black jewfish. In a secret spot of about 15 meters depth we looked around trying to find the school on the side scan sonar. The tides was starting to move and we would only get one chance. We found the fish stacked up and with nervous anticipation we all dropped. With in seconds big Gaz was saying I can’t stop it….. unfortunately we didn’t get the fish that afternoon but it would still be an almighty farewell to what had been an amazing fishing experience.
I highly recommend Anglers Choice Fishing Safaris (not sponsored). Everything they did on land and on water was simply amazing. They say there’s a guide for every type of fisher person, but Dave went above and beyond everyday to look after us all. Just make sure you stop into complete angler in the city and ask Adam and Lynol what flies and lure to bring!