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Low, slow but tasty
  |  First Published: July 2011



While the fishing slows down a bit in the colder months, so do the boat traffic and the crowds.

Prevailing winds are generally offshore, which means that the rivers, bays and the Harbour are glass flat, making for very comfortable fishing conditions.

Summer game fish are replaced by superior eating fish like snapper, john dory, big whiting and bream, blackfish, flathead, leatherjackets and succulent calamari squid.

For the diehards still keen on a bit of sport fishing there are trevally – high-quality sashimi fish – surgeonfish (powerful weed eaters and delectable on the plate) and vast schools of salmon – fast-running, aerobatic game fish with table qualities best reserved for your mother-in-law.

Being cold-blooded, fishes’ metabolism is directly related to water temperature. So while there are still plenty of fish around in the cooler months, they will be harder to catch.

There are, however, a few things you can do to improve your chances when the water chills.

The upper reaches of most waterways will get much colder than the lower reaches. They are shallower and more influenced by land temperatures, whereas the lower reaches are influenced by the generally warmer ocean. So better fishing will be down around the lower reaches.

Start your day by fishing the shallower areas first. In Winter the water can become very clear and fish will not stay in the shallows long after sunrise.

Fish the shallows from an hour before sunrise to an hour after and then move to a deeper location. In the afternoon the reverse applies; move to the shallows on dusk.

Use only the best bait – ultra-fresh or live. Buy packet bait from outlets with a large bait turnover to decrease your chances of getting bait that has been sitting in the bottom of the freezer since Christmas.

Specialist bait outlets usually carry a supply of live yabbies prawns, nippers or worms and at this time of year they are well worth the investment.

Slimy mackerel and squid are prevalent through winter and make excellent cut or live bait.

Fish a variety of baits. You have to work hard to get a feed so sample the area to see what species are on the chew. It’s no good fishing exclusively for trevally, for example, with top quality peeled prawns if trevally are absent or shut down.

There could be six big dory cruising around down there, but they won't take a peeled prawn. Put out a spread of at least four different baits and ‘sample’ the area.

Berley is a good way to kick-start cold fish but be careful not to over feed them. A smell and an entree is all you want.

Good berleys include leftover fish frames (hopefully from your last catch) put through the berley pot and bran, chicken pellets and/or bread mixed with a bit of fish oil.

Concentrate your effort around the turn of the tides. Baitfish are forced to change their holding positions, which usually relate to eddies, when the tide changes. Predator fish take advantage of this move.

Keep moving about. If a spot hasn't produced in an hour or so, move to another. Fish are less inclined to move in cold water so it’s up to you to find them.

Make sure, though, that you are well set up in your favourite spot for the turn of the tide.

Marinas, with their growth-encrusted moorings and pylons and plenty of shade, make exceptionally good fish habitat. Those in the lower reaches near The Spit and Rushcutters Bay harbour a smorgasbord of species in Winter.

Other good Winter spots on lower Sydney Harbour include; Sow and Pigs Reef, Dobroyd Reef, Reef Beach and Shark Island.

WHITING IN WINTER

The word whiting traditionally conjures up images of sandy Summer beaches and clean estuary flats, daylight fishing and generally shallow water.

More recently, lure fishing for whiting over the flats, mostly with poppers, has become popular and effective.

All of this still holds true but if you are looking for trophy whiting then the opposite of all of the above is the key. All of the very biggest whiting I have encountered have been taken in the cooler months, in low light or night, over mud, well upstream and in deep water.

I did my estuary apprenticeship on Boambee Creek, just south of Coffs Harbour. There were oodles of whiting and the creek had produced many of the national records at the time.

Most of our fishing centred around Summer on the flats, in the day, in less than 5’ of water. We took plenty of good fish but by far the biggest were taken after dark, well upstream, on the mud, in deep water, while fishing for bream with nippers. We kids wrote them off as flukes.

I was visiting my mate Mango recently when he produced from the freezer a fish that, at first glance, I thought was a school jewie. It was a hideously large, black-headed, golden-bodied whiting.

I’m not describing a new species here, this is the colouration that big whiting take on under these conditions, similar to the difference between a bream caught in the surf and one up the back of an estuary.

Mango said it had indeed been taken after dark, on a mud bottom, in Winter and in 30’ well upstream of the Harbour Bridge. I’ve heard similar whiting coming from the deep water marinas and moorings at Chinamans Beach, Balmoral and North Harbour.

Best baits are consistently worms – blood or beach, although bloodworms are increasingly hard to purchase these days, with most tackle shops substituting tube for blood. Tube worms are good, too.

Whether fishing the deep water down lower on the Harbour or at Mango’s hot spots above the bridges, marinas and moorings seem to be a common theme.

These are generally in deep, still, sheltered waters with little current. It’s hard to know whether the whiting favour these conditions or if the structure has something to do with it. My guess is a little of both.

Best way to find out would be to fish a similar scenario, minus the moorings –something I haven’t had time to try yet.

As a little side thought, big jewfish often have big whiting in their stomachs. You can join the dots.

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