Fishing in the Harbour has improved dramatically with quality kingfish and surface fish flooding in with some very warm water.
We haven’t seen the usual swarm of juvenile kingfish that feed on top but bonito, salmon, tailor and mackerel tuna have been abundant.
They haven’t been easy, though, because they are feeding on baitfish so tiny that even the fly fishers have been struggling.
If you find a school working the surface one of the first indicators as to the bait size is whether or not there are birds in attendance.
If the bait is really tiny then there is nothing to interest the birds. Fish tend to swallow the tiny bait whole, leaving nothing for the birds.
Bigger bait leaves more scraps and stunned, disoriented or wounded baitfish. Large bait also tends to flee, often jumping out of the water, giving the seabirds a chance to snatch a feed.
Try a few different lures in the smallest sizes you can cast.
Little metals are first choice as they allow a quick presentation. Keep your rod tip low so the lure doesn’t blow out of the water on the fast retrieves required.
If your first presentations don’t draw a strike then try letting the next few sink well below the school.
Sometimes there will be two or even three species in the mix. You might be seeing salmon on the surface but there could be bonito or trevally sitting a bit deeper.
If metals don’t work, try swapping to an unweighted soft stickbait. These will be harder to cast and require a slow, twitching retrieve but can often do the trick.
You might need to work a bit harder on your boat positioning so you are closer to the school and/or have the wind behind to assist your cast.
If this doesn’t work you are nearly out of options but, as a last ditch effort, try the sort of small popper you might throw at bream or whiting. If this fails then you are flogging a dead horse.
The other really frustrating thing about fish feeding on tiny prey is that they feed for many hours because it takes them a long time to get their fill. So you are taunted even further by having to watch them all day, knowing that you can’t catch them.
Conversely, if they are on big baitfish then make the most of it because the feeding period will be much shorter.
There are heaps of mack tuna feeding on top in the lower Harbour. Apart from the fact that they are so fast that it’s hard to keep up with them, they are generally easy to catch.
Fortunately they are feeding on big baitfish. Try to anticipate the direction they are heading and intercept them, rather than trying to keep up with them.
They work a beat, so after a while they will reappear in the location you first found them.
Their feeding style relies on the bait balls staying tight, so once they have split them up with an attack they move on to the next school. The scattered bait will re-form when it has recovered. The tuna know this, hence the return visit.
They are awful cooked and average sashimi. I’ve been salting mine and vac-packing them for Winter bait. Buy a bag of pool salt from a pool shop and make a layer of salt, a layer of fillets, etc.
After two days, water down the salt so that it is still salty and rinse the fillets in this brine solution. Dry them and vacuum-bag them. They will be good for up to two years in the freezer using this method.
There are some great kingfish in the Harbour and they should stay until about May. Fish up to 120cm are being taken fairly regularly with 80s and 90s common.
They are not as widespread as they should be, with only a couple of spots near the Heads and a couple upstream producing, but this should improve in coming months.
Fresh squid is the key to success, with the guts outfishing even live squid.
DPI Fisheries has been conducting a radio tagging program on kingfish and mahi mahi to determine how oceanic variability along the east coast of Australia influences the movements and distributions of pelagic fish.
Fishabout Tours skipper Nick Martin, working with Al McGlashan and DPI Fisheries, put a whole heap of radio tags (acoustic telemetry devices for the nerds) into kings at Long Reef in November.
At least two of them, but most likely the whole school, turned up at North Head at the end of December.
I know this because my charter customers caught them. We unknowingly killed the first one and released the second. Researchers request that specially-tagged fish are not killed, good policy given that it costs about $1200 of Rec Trust money for every fish processed.
DPI needs to spend a few dollars protecting their investment by notifying the charter fishing industry about this project. It wouldn’t be hard; we are all licensed via DPI.
Apparently all the radio-tagged fish carry a standard Fisheries tag tipped with a short length of red shrink tape. The radio tag is in the gut cavity of the fish.
If you catch one, best let it go after taking a location and measurement and, of course, the tag number.
The research will benefit rec anglers long term. If you do keep the fish, retain the yellow external tag and the radio tag found in the gut cavity (they are worth $500).
Freeze the fish head and frame, preferably including gut contents, or freeze just the head and record the total length and record approximate GPS coordinates of the location of capture, then give Fisheries a call when you get a chance. They will send you a T-shirt.Reads: 1482