A subdued swell gradually lifted the boat as we made our final exit out of Middle Harbour and onto Sydney Harbour’s lower reaches. As we rounded Grotto Point we went from the relatively tranquil estuarine environment of Middle Harbour straight into near enough to full ocean conditions. A whole new ball game!
Sydney heads are wide and deep and at times these lower reaches cop the full brunt of the ocean’s swell. A heavy blow from the south will whip up a chop that can compromise the safety of even the sturdiest of trailer boats.
August can be one of the harder times and I'm warning you about the possibility of some quite serious conditions. Most of the time though the lower harbour is a pleasure to be on in a boat even as small as 12ft.
The period from August to October is certainly a time for mixed bags. The lower reaches are generally more productive at this time of year as the shallower upper reaches chill right down.
Luderick make an upstream spawning migration during the colder months. Luderick are primarily a vegetarian, but having said that there are times when they will be found feeding exclusively on squirt worms. I've also caught them on yabbies and peeled prawns aimed at bream and have even heard of a few being caught on lures.
Weed is the bait to use most of the time. In the lower reaches of the harbour cabbage or the fine hair weed found on ocean rocks is the go. For the upper reaches Parramatta weed is the better choice, which can be found in the mangroves or storm water drains of the upper harbour. Parramatta weed can be scarce at times so the fine hair weed of the ocean rocks is a fair alternative. Berley helps immensely and finely chopped weed mixed with sand is the way to go.
They are a fairly abundant species and can be located throughout the system from the salt water limits to the heads. Prime luderick haunts include deepwater rocky points particularly where an eddy exists, around jetty and bridge pylons, over ribbon weed beds and in the lower reaches around the deep water rocky foreshores particularly where there's a bit of weed and a bit of wash.
Long rods of at least 9ft are essential as is a floating line. Choice of reel is either a threadline or centrepin – I prefer threadline. Centrepin reels are still popular based on tradition rather than practicality. A reasonable compromise would be a side cast centrepin but I'll still opt for the eggbeater.
The biggest problem I see amongst estuary Luderick fishos is a tendency towards over sized floats. Keep them small and light. The old quills are hard to beat as are some of the course fishing floats that are relatively new to the market. Finish off the rig with a number 8-10 sneck hook on a 4kg mono leader, and enough lead to render the float near neutral buoyancy.
Drummer are also primarily vegetarians. That being sais they will gobble down a piece of peeled prawn or cunjevoi at times. You will find them in abundance off all the deep rocky shores along the harbour’s Sound. Wash fishing from the shore or boat can be very productive for drummer using bread baits. The fish are berleyed up with bread and then fished for with bread baits suspended under small bobby corks or, if conditions allow, unweighted.
Working a mix of bread baits and peeled prawn can result in a surprising number of species being including groper, drummer, luderick, bream and trevally. Just keep in mind that it can be a dangerous activity both from the shore or boat and you need to keep a good eye on the waves.
The blacks are very good to eat and the silvers are edible with a bit of work and tricky cooking.
John dory are another late winter inhabitant of Sydney Harbour’s lower reaches. They love deep still water so the deep bays out of the main current are the sort of areas to start looking. Distribution through the harbour depends largely on rainfall. They won’t go into murky or fresh water so I would imagine Gladesville on the harbour and Bantry Bay on middle harbour would be about their limits. North harbour, Bantry Bay, Rose Bay and most of the jetties east of the harbour bridge are prime spots.
Live baits are essential. The best include mado, sweep and yakkas. I was fishing off the Mosman Jetty a long time ago when I hooked a dumped telephone, and minutes later landed a dory. The sad thing was that there was very little difference between the fight of the two. So tackle for dory doesn’t have to be very sophisticated.
I fish a basic six kilo threadline rod and reel outfit. Suspend the livey about two metres above the bottom, either straight up and down under the boat or under a float if you’re shore based. An ultra sharp octopus style hook in 4\0 or 6\0, depending on the size of the bait, is the most important part of your dory rig.
Trevally is another late winter species that share a similar habitat to the dory. They like deep clear water but unlike the dory they don't mind a bit of flow. Another big difference is in the fight – the trevally would pull a string of six dory backwards.
There’s a big concentration of them in the lower harbour for most of winter and spring. They will stray upstream in dry weather and are often encountered by bream anglers in the mangrove areas. Sow and Pigs reefs and north harbour are renowned trevally grounds.
Berley and yellowtail will send them nuts. Reel drags need to be well in tune and sharp hooks are a must. I use a bait holder pattern in either sizes 2-4. Despite the trevally’s fighting ability, light lines are a must. Four kilo is ample and any heavier than this will see too many pulled hooks as their mouths tend to be a bit soft.
Once a berley trail is established, soft baits like peeled prawns, cubes of skinned and filleted yellowtail, nippers and pilchard fillets are floated down the trail unweighted. If it's windy or the currents are exceptionally strong, then add a little bit of lead.
Trevally don't freeze too well but bled and iced immediately they make a quality feed.
Salmon can be caught all year round but as things begin to warm up a bit in September the salmon will start to school up in big numbers. They respond well to live bait, trolling or lure casting and are easily detected as they turn the surface to foam as they hack into the baitfish. Look for the flocks of wheeling screeching seagulls and terns.
The most critical aspect to catching salmon is matching the hatch. Start off with a metal slug type lure of about four inches and work your way down in size until you find what they are feeding on. Cast the lure along the edge of the school and retrieve at a medium to fast pace. Salmon are one of the Harbour’s most spectacular sport fish and one of the worst eating. Bled immediately and iced down they make excellent dog food. Alternatively they can be released and caught again next season.
Tailor are renowned as a winter fish but I believe that their peak is around late October to early November when they school up and go nuts on the influx of summer pilchards. Tailor are in the harbour all year and the main difference in winter is that they rarely feed on the surface and are bigger. You can still take them on deep diving lures early in the morning or on live baits fished in the deep holes but if you want some whoppers try night fishing around Sow and Pigs Reef and the shipping channels.Reads: 911