January always seems to be able to produce some surprises for those who put in the time. Maybe it’s the warm water in close or the amount of baitfish around.
A couple of years back I fished land-based game every chance I got and on many occasions we were astounded at what we saw and sometimes captured.
There are usually a lot of slimy mackerel and yellowtail around and garfish are usually abundant. I don’t think there are many fish that don’t like a good feed of garfish and I know snapper, cobia and kingfish absolutely love them. Many Newcastle anglers will remember the year the mackerel showed up and hung around North Reef for a week or so. All of them were full of garfish.
Another January, shark mackerel showed under the boat and we managed one fish from a school of around 50, cruising along with tailor and early longtail tuna.
So this month and the next couple provide prime time and every chance I get I will be fishing somewhere.
It’s not only the warm-water speedsters. Estuary fish such as flathead, whiting, bream, flounder and jewfish come to life with all the bait activity in the water.
We had some great rain in late November and a number of jewfish moved into Newcastle Harbour and the diehards put in the time and were rewarded with fish of around 10kg to 15kg.
A handy hint is to use the bait the fish are looking for. A prawn peeled to the tail drifting with as little weight as possible is a sure thing for bream at night or whiting during the day. A beach worm or bloodworm is tops for whiting drifting along sandbanks and sometimes even a flounder or a flathead may grab it.
A small live mullet is best for flathead but the big lizards love garfish, which are one of the hardest baits to keep alive for some time in bait tanks. So if you get onto the gar, quickly put one out under a pre-rigged float set-up.
Slimy mackerel also are great attractors of big, hungry fish and can be set out live on the surface or weighted down over reefy country.
While livies are great, they’re not always the way to go. At times mates have outfished everyone on the boat with pilchards. A well-rigged pilchard in a berley trail will often take a number of ‘rubbish’ fish at first but then in come the snapper, flathead, school jewfish, teraglin and nannygai while all the livebaits have been left alone.
A friend and I went out to spin for flathead after some recent rain, thinking the water would be discoloured enough to have them on the hunt. But we were surprised to find the water was crystal clear so we travelled down the estuary to where it got a bit dirty and straight away started catching flathead. The water colour made the difference.
After rain dirty water flowing from the Hunter River can be seen way out to sea and fishing along this plume has resulted in many anglers cheering with success.
Garfish are one of the very best baits. Alive, they take anything from cobia, kingfish, large tailor, snapper and tuna and as cut bait will take nearly anything that swims. They are easy to catch on a light line with a float, No 12 hook and a bit of moistened bread – perfect for the kids.
Not all fish have to be huge to put a smile on a child’s face. From a canoe this flathead gave a good fight on very light gear on a Parker jointed shallow-diving lure.Reads: 1791