Surface snapper and lightweight line-burners
  |  First Published: August 2013

Snapper are still the main priority for the first few weeks of August. With the cuttlefish breeding season in full swing, the reds will now be in absolute peak condition and taste like calamari on the plate.

Early morning westerlies make finding the floating cuttlies easy either by just looking for them barely protruding from the water or spotting a pack of albatross gorging on a floater. As always, stealth is the key for best results in shallow, clear water but sometimes the snapper just aren’t scared and will continue to rip into a cuttlie as you close in to casting range. These are good days!

You will catch more fish if you drop the anchor and berley one of the many shallow northern Illawarra reefs but it is not as much fun as working floating cuttlies.

Everything is eating cuttlefish at the moment, but for a change of diet, striped tuna are one of those fish that nothing can swim past and the big ones will show up in close over the coming weeks. Pound for pound these are one of the best sportfish in the ocean. No good as tucker but with one as bait you can catch almost any other saltwater species anywhere. Sport wise these guys will test you, just getting them to take a lure can be frustrating. This time of the year, they feed on tiny baitfish and will more often than not ignore anything over 30mm long that doesn’t closely resemble what they are feeding on. They can be fussier than the most finicky highland trout.

Just staying up with the school while they are travelling and feeding can also be a challenge as they hurtle along at high speed grabbing a bite as they go. The best chance of a hook up is when they find a school of bait and go crazy for a minute or so before heading off again at high speed. Regularly you have to anticipate their path and get ahead of them just to get close, and then when you hook one, they take off like a rocket. They smash yellowfin, northern bluefin, southern bluefin and mac tuna for speed, these fish don’t even hold a candle to the speed a striped tuna can generate! I suppose you have to be fast when everything in the ocean wants to eat you!

Now comes the challenge, fishing to me is not about catching, it is about the hunt to find the fish, then the presentation to get it to take your offering, then the fight on tackle that at least gives the fish an even or better than even chance at winning and swimming free. A feed is sometimes nice but you win enough times to accomplish that while having fun.

It is the mark of a good angler who can catch a solid striped tuna on 2kg tackle. You might say you can’t eat them, so why bother? It is simply because to catch them on light tackle you have to get everything right. You can’t eat bonefish, tarpon or permit either but don’t ask a fly fisher why they bother, but stripies will pull all of these guys backwards pound for pound.

To find them just look for the terns and seagulls hovering and diving over the travelling schools. Port Kembla break walls for some reason attract them this time of the year, as do the areas north of Bellambi and in the bay at Shellharbour and Kiama. While not as prolific as they used to be due to commercial pressure, they still come each year, with fish to 10kg not abundant but not out of the question either. For a test of your skills take the challenge and try stripies on light tackle.

If you just want bait, head out to the 50 fathom line dragging a few Xmas trees and you should find a few on the way out and back.

Then armed with a few you can work the washes around the islands and headlands with fresh cubes of tuna for some solid bream and trevally as well as the inevitable salmon that are really hitting their straps at the moment.

Schools of the sambos are mixing with the striped tuna in close and there are a few rat and barley legal kingies mixing with them as well. If you start copping a few bite-offs, which usually means the barracouta are about but they generally hang about in the deeper water over the reefs.

For the bottom bouncers, it is pretty dead apart from some decent snapper on the close in reefs, the flatties have been quiet, particularly with all the leatherjackets over the sand patches making life hard and gear losses regular. Bottom bashing further offshore around the Kiama canyons has gemfish and trevalla on the tooth but it is hard work without an electric reel. While chasing them, keep the pillies going over the side for a chance on the albacore and yellowfin hanging about. They’re not in great numbers but there is the odd school about and there is no better spot than the canyons.

On the beaches, things are very slow unless you like salmon, they are thick on most beaches throughout the day, but the best times as always are early morning and late evenings. Throw in a few nice greenback tailor up to 2kg and a bream or two and it is not a lost cause but it will be tough.

Off the rocks it is a different story, with more salmon hitting lures and pilchards, trevally and bream in the washes and off the deeper ledges if you throw in a bit of bread for berley to get them going. The main target in the washes will be the big drummer and with the prevailing westerly winds the ocean can be calm allowing you into some of the hard to get at places.

Bombo and around Cathedral Rocks is a gun area, as are all the platforms around the Kiama area. Bass Point, Windang Island and Port Kembla, particularly the break walls go well with Bellambi and up north the area between Wombarra and Coalcliff almost untouched because it is so hard to get to. A bag of royal red prawns or cunjevoi and some bread for berley and you will get fish. Take plenty of spare hooks, leader material and floats if you use them, because you are going to lose some big fish but hopefully get a few in as well.

Just remember though, no matter how calm the ocean is, never take it for granted as a wave a bit bigger than the norm can and will knock you over and take you into the drink. The water is cold and with shock you won’t last long so be careful.

In the estuaries it is hard going with only a few bream around the rocky edges. If you can get right up into the feeder creeks and use fresh prawns and work the snags, again you have a shot at a few bream. The hot water outlet at Tallawarra might be worth a look as well if the weather is bad. Good luck.

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