This is the best month of the year for fishing in the Illawarra but I have to admit I don’t spend all of March locally because it is also the best month of the year to fish on the Mid North Coast and I always spend a bit of time up there, too.
But plenty of great fish seem to find their way down to our coast, riding the warm currents down from the tropics.
Most of the species encountered on the Mid North Coast could be present on any day locally, so you just never know what will grab your offering at this time of year.
Offshore is sensational with black, blue and striped marlin available from the inshore reefs off Wollongong, Shellharbour and up at Bandit and to the continental shelf and beyond.
Trolling lures and live baits score billfish but it is the by-catch that really catches the imagination over the coming weeks.
Wahoo will be the main by-catch when trolling lures and big mahi mahi often grab slow-trolled live baits in the deep water.
Then there may be the dream-come-true situation when you find floating debris with its own little ecosystem of those grey pelagic leatherjackets, almaco jacks, small kingfish and heaps of mahi mahi of all sizes.
Throw in a few striped tuna and small yellowfin and you have the makings of a good day out.
The apex predators, sharks or marlin but rarely both, will be aiming for an easy feed of any smaller fish in the system that becomes less than diligent.
Usually the first small dolly or tuna goes straight back out on the big outfit while you play with the others and it often gets eaten. What eats it will be interesting and entertaining.
In closer, the odd good cobia and always a few smaller fish will hang with the yellowtail kings and if you cop a few bite-offs on floating snapper baits over your favourite shallow reef, try a short trace of light wire because spotted and Spanish mackerel have become numerous over the past few years.
Sadly, gone are the days when March was the time of the yellowfin tuna on the Illawarra, with schools of fish from the shelf back to the beaches. Yellowfin could be seen leaping out of the water chasing garfish and sauries and half a dozen fish in the cube trail was not out of the question.
Whether longliners taking all the bigger fish or purse-seiner super-ships wiping out the juveniles is to blame, they’ve just stopped coming.
For some fun there are still plenty of bonito, salmon and small kings churning up the surface, just keep an eye out for the birds and splashes.
Bigger kings will be in attendance so keep a live bait handy to cast into the schools. For surer results, work the known spots like Bellambi Bommie, the islands and Bass Point early in the morning with live slimies or yakkas. For the bigger fish, try a live frigate mackerel.
Downrigged live squid also work great but I would much rather eat a calamari than waste it on a king.
Snapper are becoming more reliable over the deeper reefs and gravel patches and a few bigger fish move into the shallows, getting ready for the full moon in April.
Fishing for snapper can get tough with all those little whaler sharks looking for an easy feed in the berley trail. You can expect all sorts of other critters in the berley with rainbow runners, amberjacks, samson fish, trevally and teraglin all keen for a look this month.
Flatties are keeping the drifters busy with good catches everywhere and small snapper are appearing over the reefs. Pearl perch and the odd sweetlip have been caught as well so you never know what you might drag up.
The beaches have plenty of whiting and some dart. On Port Kembla and Warilla beaches they are in just about every gutter.
Flathead are in good numbers on plastics and bait with a bream as well. Salmon and tailor are on most beaches during the evenings.
On dark, mulloway are taking fresh slabs of slimy mackerel or frigate but little whalers are pests in all the deep gutters.
The rocks are going off as well with all types of pelagics patrolling the edges of the washes.
A live frigate put out off the deeper southern platforms on daybreak is a good way to bag a king. Bombo, Cathedral rocks, Blowhole Point and Marsdens are good places, as are Windang island and Hill 60.
Smaller kings are keen on live slimies and yakkas but big salmon can be a nuisance.
Frigates, mackerel tuna, bonito, salmon and small kings are taking small chrome lures and flies below bobby corks. Pilchards under bobby corks are accounting for plenty of salmon and bonito.
Later this month, the first of the longtail tuna should come through off the deeper ledges. Try live yakkas or slimies if you can keep them from the salmon and bonito.
In the harbours, there’s great fun spinning for frigates on small metal lures.
Bream are picking up in numbers in the washes along with a few trevally while the blackfish will gain in numbers later in the month and if we have any storm seas the harbours will hold a lot of fish.
The estuaries are still on fire with heaps of flathead in Lake Illawarra and Minnamurra along with bream, chopper tailor and heaps of garfish.
Around the edges of the ribbon weed there are schools of blackfish but you’ll need to get some good weed and berley for them.
On the sand flats, particularly down around the entrance, whiting are going well on worms and nippers.
If you spend the time to get them, live prawns are the killer bait for bream and big whiting during the evenings in both systems. Drift them under a float around the bridge pylons on a run-out tide and you never know what you might hook.Reads: 1452