Prime time offshore
  |  First Published: December 2008

December is a fantastic time to fish Port Stephens. The offshore waters are slowly warming, which means pelagic species won’t be too far away, beach fishing can be spectacular and rewarding and the estuary system comes alive.

Those who enjoy offshore fishing will find all manner of species can be targeted, from the inshore islands to the continental shelf.

Trag and jewfish have taken up residence on the close reefs, such as The 21 the Inner V and Outer V and the Big Gibber, to north of Broughton Island.

After dark is prime time to target these species and if your trip coincides with the beginning or towards the tail end of the full moon then you’re in with a good chance.

On the flip side, I have had some great fishing during the day especially for trag. It is important to use fresh bait and nothing beats live slimy mackerel.

Drifting or anchoring over the same areas can offer some great pan-size snapper. Simple paternoster rigs seem to be the most effective way of targeting these fish but if the current isn’t running, try a little berley and simply float down some lightly weighted baits.

Drifting the sand in 40m to 50m will produce some fantastic sand flathead. These tasty fish can make a bad day’s fishing into reasonable one and are always a reliable catch.

Closer around the islands, tailor and bonito are hunting the washes and will be eager to grab lures and baits like ganged pilchards.

My 9-weight fly rod always gets a work-out at this time of year with bonito and the odd rat kingfish offering spectacular action on the long wand. Small Flashy Profiles, white Clousers and Deceiver patterns are all excellent flies and readily available at tackle shops.

If you’re after bigger kingies then live squid are the go. Slowly trolled around the washes or headlands or simply drifted under a balloon while at anchor, it shouldn’t be long before a big hoodlum finds your tasty offering.

The biggest challenge is stopping big kingies before they manage to wipe you out on the edge of the reef. Traditionally, this time of year we see the start of the big kingies in close and as the water warms towards late Summer, the hoodlums will really start to fire.

The edge of the continental shelf is really shaping up, with plenty of bait and already good numbers of striped marlin being tagged. Among the stripes are the odd blue and black marlin so hopefully it will all come together and our game fishing season will be in good shape for the months ahead.

Inshore water in around 40 to 50 fathoms has also produced the odd black marlin and plenty of juvenile mahi mahi, an encouraging sign for trailer-boat anglers.


Inside the Port has been exceptional. Plenty of flathead continue to be the main target for estuary anglers.

I have managed to come across some great fish well over 70cm with most falling to soft plastics. Tilligerry Creek has been a standout, with plenty of flathead lying in the shallows and adjacent to the oyster leases.

Now that the water temperature has risen to around 22° or more in most parts, surface lure activity is in full swing. As with last year’s craze, big sand whiting have been the major target and small, translucent, cupped-face poppers seem to be on their menu.

Bream are also eager to attack surface lures and it seems those humid afternoons when storms are approaching always bring on the best surface action for bream.

Speaking of bream, don’t forget to watch the first round of the AFC series, filmed recently in Port Stephens. With any luck a round of the ABT might be on the cards some time.

Beach fishing has always been a summer pastime for many anglers and right now plenty of sand whiting are willing to snaffle a live worm on all the beaches around the Port. Birubi, Samurai and Kingsley beaches are all worth targeting and all have good populations of sand whiting.

Mulloway have also been targeted with success, especially after dark, and there’s no better place to do so than Stockton Beach. Those gutters half-way down and even farther south towards the Signa wreck always produce better numbers and size.

Fresh baits are the key and you can’t go past fresh tailor fillets or squid. Just a few years ago I had great time in December targeting jewies off the beach with my best night resulting in 14 mulloway from 3kg to 12kg. It was exceptional and I haven’t had a better night since but the signs are there that maybe this month it may happen again.

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