Blackfish or luderick are among the most prolific inshore and estuary species along the NSW coast. Although they are as common as fish like bream and accessible to anyone who lives along our coastal fringe, they don’t attract anywhere as much media attention as our other popular inshore fish.
Wind back the clock 30 years or so and things were very different. In fact, from about the 1930s to the 1980s, blackfish were right at the top of the list for many NSW and southern Queensland anglers.
Old fishing books and magazines devoted many pages to luderick angling techniques and tackle.
So what’s changed?
Probably the explosive rise in lure casting for bream, bass, flathead and many other species has left traditional bait-only species behind.
But let’s just think for a minute. Only a few years ago whiting were also largely considered a species mainly worth chasing with bait because they weren’t real lure-fishing targets. Since we’ve discovered how to consistently catch whiting on lures they’ve been elevated to the ‘cool’ list of species.
However, blackfish can also be caught with lures.
In places where they’re reasonably abundant, particularly through the cooler months, it’s quite common to pick up a few blackfish on small lures aimed at bream.
I used to catch the occasional blackfish back in my earlier days of bream spinning but in recent times the encounters have become more frequent, thanks to many more small lures becoming available.
Blackfish seem to be particularly fond of small metal vibes or blades and from what I’ve seen, the 30mm Jazz Bokun and Ecogear ZX 30 are almost what you could call reliable blackfish lures.
A piece of metal is far removed from green weed but we must realise that blackfish really are omnivores and often like to feed on prawns, shrimp, worms, pink nippers and other tiny invertebrates.
Of course, soft plastics are reasonably effective options. I’ve caught blackfish on a range of small plastic grubs, paddletails and stickbaits but if I had to nominate just one to chase blackfish with it would be the little 2” Berkley Gulp Worm. Any colour will do but it’s hard to go past camo.
Blackfish on surface lures – is that possible?
Yes, I’ve now caught a few on the surface while chasing bream and whiting over shallow weed beds but at this stage it still seems like a bit of a fluke.
We must remember, though, that it wasn’t so long ago that any whiting we caught on a surface lure was also considered a bit fluky or out of the ordinary, so I wouldn’t entirely rule out people specifically chasing luderick with surface lures sometime in the future.
Many years ago some fly anglers tried tying up flies to represent weed or cabbage and found that fooling blackfish wasn’t overly difficult, providing the flies looked reasonably accurate.
Eventually I got around to trying it and also tied up my own flies to imitate small pieces of floating white bread.
Stimulated by some bread-based berley, blackfish around our coastal rocks don’t take long to zoom in and at times may turn up in numbers. The scent of bread really gets them keen and any bits floating on the surface get smashed as the fish become more aggressive.
A white fly tossed in and allowed to drift among the bread will also get smashed.
I tie these flies using white egg yarn spun over a size 6 hook. These flies sit on the surface for a while and then as they take up water they very slowly sink, but remain up towards the surface.
A school is spotted, a cast is laid out and in most cases a fish will race over to the fly. Some fish detect something is amiss and turn away, some just nip at the fly and a few simply smash it and run off.
Hooking them is never easy but when it all comes together, this is about as good as luderick fishing gets.
Relatively calm, sunny conditions and a good pair of polarised glasses help you spot fish and enable easier tracking of the small white fly in the water.
You really do have to see both fly and fish to make it all come together properly.
Sure, fly-fishing for blackfish may not be for everyone but it’s an interesting and challenging option.
A more conventional and easier way of catching luderick off the rocks is by berleying up with bread and then simply drifting a bread bait suspended under a float. It’s similar to fishing for them the traditional way, with weed or cabbage baits, but probably a lot easier for the average angler.
If you already own an outfit suited to luderick angling then that will be fine. If not, just a light sort of 7’-12’ rod with a medium threadline or small Alvey spooled up with 4kg-6kg line will be right for the job. Nylon mono is probably better if you want to keep things simple but when using braid it’s important to tie on a long mono leader and then fish a mono or fluorocarbon trace about a metre long. A rig diagram is shown hereabouts.
Fished under a float, in the same way as you would when drifting cabbage baits, white bread squeezed over a size 4 to 6 hook can be extremely effective if the fish are there and you’ve berleyed thoughtfully.
A key aspect of using bread baits off the rocks is to strategically berley in such a way so as to make the fish hungry without filling their bellies with berley so they won’t eat your bait.
At first, a few handfuls of mashed bread can be hurled in, just to start the ball rolling. After that, only tiny scraps of berley thrown in close to the base of the rocks will keep the fish active without allowing them to devour much of the berley. That’s where the bread bait comes in.
Regardless of which type of bait, for consistent success it pays to use the least visible leader you can get away with. Fine nylon mono leader catches plenty of fish but over the past couple of years fluorocarbon has become my first choice for luderick fishing.
Either way, the less a fish can detect a line attached to a bait, the more likely it is to try to eat the bait. The clearer the water, the more important this principle becomes.
On the other hand, it can be beneficial to use a brightly coloured main line when fishing rough or washy conditions off the rocks. This helps to keep track of the line between rod tip and float. Too much sag or “belly” in the line equals a poor hook-up rate. I use Sunline Fine Float line, which is a vivid yellow and is also designed to float, so it’s perfect for rock fishing.
When using such a boldly coloured line, though, it’s also a good idea to make your leaders or traces a bit longer so fish are less inclined to shy away from it. Once again, this is more important if the water is quite clear.
Most keen luderick anglers have their favourite floats, whether they be highly-sought red cedar stem floats or simple styrofoam bobby floats. I generally like a medium-sized running stem float for estuary and rock fishing but will use small bobby floats if drummer are on the cards because these cheaper floats don’t hurt when you lose one to a rampaging pig.
Stem floats are more easily pulled under when a fish takes the bait so are generally a better option when fishing estuaries, where blackfish are more timid than their ocean-dwelling cousins.
When fishing deeper or more turbulent water, a larger float that can support more sinker weight is practical because more weight may be required to hold the bait down where the fish are. Go too light and the bait may simply be swept around in the turbulence, well away from the fish.
It can pay to carry a few different types of floats and perhaps experiment a little.
Keep doing the same thing and you’ll probably just get the same results. If your results are good, stick with it but if you have the desire to improve then perhaps a different size or type of float could help.
A lot of force is placed on rigs and floats when you strike after the float darts down into the water. Bent or broken eyelets at the bottoms of floats are a common problem, caused by sinkers shooting up the line with the force of a strike.
Sinkers can also jam over swivels or knots and if two or more running sinkers are used the lead compacts, causing the hole in the sinker to close up.
When anything like that occurs, it may damage the line or knots. Lost floats, lost fish and time wasted rigging up again are the result.
Small shock absorbers placed above or below the sinkers help to minimise or eliminate this problem.
The simplest shock absorber comes in the form of those small rubber lumo beads available at most tackle shops. Bicycle tyre valve rubber can also be cut into small lengths and makes an even more effective absorber. A 2cm length of rubber tube is about right in most cases.
On each side of the lumo bead or valve rubber, another small plastic bead will then prevent the rubber from jamming over a swivel or float eyelet.
I used to cut mine from electrical wire. Having a sparky as a brother means no shortage of the stuff for me but those little red beads you can buy at most tackle stores will do the trick.
The same type of beads are also used between the float stopper and the top eyelet of a float to help prevent the stopper jamming.
This may sound like a bit of stuffing around for chasing boring old blackfish but it really does make the whole fishing experience much more streamlined and efficient.
Legendary Australian reel manufacturer Alvey has designed plenty of specialist blackfish reels and although there are several great models in the range, my tried and trusted favourite is the 475 A5E. This is a very robust reel which is great for rock fishing and, being a sidecast model, it is also beneficial if longer casts are required to reach a distant patch of reef or a bommie.
More recently, Alvey have designed and released a much more upmarket traditional style centrepin reel. The CNC-machined aluminium 475 CP is pretty much at the top of the tree as far as blackfish reels go and will appeal to those who really enjoy their fishing from the rocks or in calmer estuary spots.
The very best aspect of these reels is that they easily allow line to be wound back and forth, to keep in perfect contact with your float. They are so free-running that just the slightest touch of the spool enables extremely precise line control. Current or wave action will also draw line from the spool at a perfect rate, so as not to interfere with the float’s natural movement.
If you haven’t tried one for luderick fishing I must warn that they aren’t the easiest reel in the world to use at first and line will occasionally slip behind the spool on some models. Minor teething problems aside, once you get used to an Alvey blackfish reel, there’s no going back!Reads: 10733