Sneaky stripes are out there
  |  First Published: August 2013

Coffs Harbour’s all-too-brief blue marlin season has pretty much drawn to a close, to be replaced by a striped marlin season — we hope!

There have been enough stripies seen in recent weeks to establish that they are definitely here this winter — it’s now simply a matter of getting the weather on our side and enough boats out there chasing them to establish how many and where. As usual, bait is the key to the spangled line tanglers hanging around for any length of time. Pilchards, slimy mackerel and/or sauries are all good baits.

Striped marlin are infuriating fish to catch, as they make a big deal about showing themselves, swat lures with enthusiasm, but can’t seem to get their quite substantial mouths around a lure without messing it up. If you stay connected to half of what you raise on lures, you’re doing well. No wonder they’re so skinny!

Live baiting is a better option, but it’s hard to cover ground if the fish are sparse, so that leaves switch baiting. Two hookless lures run short, preferably soft heads like MoldCrafts, a bridled live bait in the tank and/or a dead slimy mackerel or garfish under a towel on the bait table and it’s a case of lookout fish. There’s not a striped marlin alive that can’t be caught on 24kg standup tackle, and once in around the jaw hinge, circle hooks rarely fall out, so sit back and enjoy the fun.

The trouble is though, that there are so many other fishing distractions at this time of year, namely snapper, pearl perch, teraglin and tuskfish. None of these fish require a trip miles out to sea or a massive fuel burn to find. You can tuck in close to the shoreline and have those bleak southwesters whistle overhead if need be, and still come home with a nice feed, if not tag flags flying.

If your marlin vibe is strong, going early when the wind is out of the southwest usually involves a fairly uncomfortable ride out and a sloppy first few hours. By mid-morning the sea is dropping out fast and the afternoons are often crackers.

A leisurely start, maybe a cappuccino before launching or throwing the ropes can help dodge the worst of it. You don’t necessarily have to go far to find a striped marlin at this time of year either, with grounds from 40-60 fathoms often being the most productive. In fact, during the Dave Irvine Memorial Snapper competition, there was a sizeable one sighted cruising across Bullocky and another tailing down sea at Bundagen.

The Spanish don’t seem to want to leave Coffs though, as evidenced by a couple of nice ones being caught (and lost) in the DIMSC. Pilchards aimed at snapper were still getting snipped off mono leaders in late June as well.

Speaking of pillies, one inshore school I drove over was 100m in diameter and 14 fathoms deep — that’s a lot of snapper bait and little wonder that the mackerel are still here! Of course, striped marlin won’t say no to a pilchard sandwich either.

Out between 50 fathoms and the shelf, the sauries are really stacking up, so much so that it’s like fishing Bermagui in autumn rather than Coffs in winter! These perpetually nervous pelagic baitfish must light one ciggie after the other and drink a lot of strong black coffee! But when absolutely everything in the ocean, from bonito to yellowfin tuna wants to eat you, you’d be a bit jittery and on edge too.

Of course, at this time of year, whatever unfolds on the game fishing front has a lot to do with the water quality and temperature. While out drifting near the wave recorder buoy in mid June, we were amazed to score two micro mahi mahi on soft plastics. Fair dinkum! The biggest was barely 40cm in length and, given the species incredible growth rate, it would have only been a month or two old. The water was a pretty good colour and 23.5ºC, so who knows what else might’ve been in it. A week later though, it was a winter green colour and the temperature had dropped a degree and a half.

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