Thank goodness for mackerel, otherwise game fishers on the Coffs coast would probably be thinking about selling their boats by now.
Aside from a spectacular early run of juvenile black marlin inshore, which was killed off by two substantial weather events, overall the continental shelf marlin scene has been one of green water and un-forecast breezes opposing a pumping southbound current.
This makes the shelf nearly impossible to fish, especially if you’re in a small boat.
Then, when the conditions are good, billfish and the once-reliable mahi mahi have been few and far between.
It seems to be the way, though; Nature abhors a vacuum, so when the black marlin are thick, the stripes and blues are scarce, and vice-versa. We rarely seem to get good numbers of all three.
Consequently, the spotted and Spanish mackerel have proven to be real life-savers.
And you can’t complain about the quality, either. This season, the ‘bar-ees’ start at about 12kg with a few up around 20kg and one coming into the co-op from down Nambucca way topped the magical 25kg.
The spotties are 3kg-5kg, so they’re all top fish in anyone’s language.
Live bait, in the form of slimy mackerel, is easy to procure one day, then hard (or impossible) the next, which is a bit like the mackerel, really — on the bite today and uncooperative tomorrow.
The secret, then, is to acquire a two-day leave pass!
A tide change definitely sees a spike in activity, from Moonee to Bundagen, as well as Split, McCauleys and Bullocky in between all firing on different days.
Just be prepared to dash about like a mad thing to find where the fish are.
South Solitary is always worth a look, too, and is still holding rat packs of 8kg-12kg wahoo, jellybean yellowfin tuna and mack tuna, so a couple of hours trolling baits or deep-divers on wire represents time well spent.
If you arrive there and find the water blue and the current running hard south, don’t stray too far from the rods!
Mixed with the mackerel are some chunky longtail tuna, and cobia can always be found shadowing the bait schools, especially if a livie is dropped down deep.
As a fallback when the slimies vanish and you can snare only yellowtail (which certainly do get eaten, but don’t troll as well), keep an eye out for small tuna like frigates, mack tuna and bonito.
Live-baited on the spot or rigged with a chin weight and a gang of hooks, these are more likely to produce Spaniards than spotties, and big specimens too.
If using chin weights, Gamakatsu’s enduring chemically-sharpened SL12 saltwater fly hooks in 10/0, linked by a swivel and topped off by a soft lumo bead for added security, are the modern-day hooks of choice.
The tail hook can be left swinging free underneath or you can run a chemically-sharpened treble beyond the tail on some heavyish single-strand wire.
Fresh bait isn’t the best bait in this instance, though; the tuna will be too stiff to get that enticing shuffle going, so they benefit dramatically from a day in the fridge — or freezing and then thawing.
So basically, at the moment if you’ve run out of patience with marlin, go have some fun inshore and catch a feed, because the multiple marlin bites of a few months ago are but a memory.
Here’s hoping, then, that the striped marlin put in a long-overdue appearance during Winter.Reads: 4425