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A chilling reality
  |  First Published: July 2012



There’s no escaping the fact that winter is now a chilly reality – yuck!

The water has cooled appreciably and out wide it has gone from a deep cobalt blue to an acceptable blue with a steely grey tinge. Given the time of year, it actually looks quite fishy, yet we would have been driving away from it in horror a few months back.

The water is still 21° to 24° but the blue marlin have pretty much vanished. We’re starting to see a few more Winter species like striped marlin, and increasing numbers of gannets and tuna birds kicking about.

It’s hard work getting up to go for a fish on these cold, dark mornings but some of the days have been just magnificent as a succession of fat high-pressure systems park themselves over the centre of Australia and drift slowly east.

Of course, by the time you read this we’ll almost certainly be back to the full Winter kit of ugh boots, tracky daks and a couple of jumpers as the sou’-westers really start to bite.

Given the favourable weather, a number of boats have been pulling overnighters in search of broadbill swordfish, setting a mix of live and dead baits at staggered depths. While Xiphias gladius has proven to be typically elusive, there have been enough mako sharks of varying sizes about to keep things interesting during the night.

The broadies are definitely out there, though. Rick Wilson on Carliv was bottom fishing the deadly depths in 200 fathoms for blue-eye and bar cod and came up trumps with the 6kg broadbill swordfish pictured hereabouts.

Although not a monster by broadbill standards, a broadie is a broadie at any size and that’s another box ticked on the target species list for Rick.

Also of note has been the number of juvenile swordfish turning up in the stomachs of the mahi mahi the longliners have been unloading. They are 15cm-20cm long, and given that broadbill can attain a weight of 20kg by the end of their first year, they must have been born in just the past few months. The big question is, of course where?

STRIPES

Crystal ball-gazing for a moment, the major Winter game fish activity will be from striped marlin and possibly yellowfin tuna. The great thing about the stripes is that they have a wide water temperature tolerance and are likely to be here right through Winter, thinning out only when it warms again in Spring.

The trick to finding them is locating the better water. This is where access to SST charts can pay off but there’s no substitute for time spent out there looking about, either.

There have been some great Winter marlin bites off Coffs over the years, especially when the pilchards and slimy mackerel aggregate just inside the continental shelf, but you can’t set your watch by them.

Some years it doesn’t happen at all, for reasons best known only to the fish.

If you like scratchy, bitey things, there are good numbers of whalers and hammerheads lurking around the reefs, especially down near the Bellinger River mouth. Drifting and berleying with live or dead baits rigged on wire is producing results. Better still, anchor up on an attractive patch of reef and have an each-way bet with some snapper thrown in.

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