Getting down to business
  |  First Published: December 2013

January is when we really get down to business; it’s the time we wait for impatiently all year. Christmas is nice but now the ocean will give us all the presents we wish for, like those hot water gamefish that will bless our coastal waters for the next few months.

The black marlin run can show up at any time from New Years Day on, and the action gets better with each passing week. Australia Day is always a special if you chase billies, with most of the offshore spots like Bandit, Wollongong Reef, the trap reef and beyond all producing fish. It is a bit of a lottery, with black, blue and striped marlin available on any given day.

Many anglers think marlin are the millionaire’s fish, but nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone can catch one. They are more common than you think and not always massive fish.

A 40-60kg black or striped marlin is really a pushover on average gear. All you need is a smooth drag and a bit of patience, and on most years there are plenty around given the right conditions.

The guys who get a lot of fish are well practiced and very proficient at targeting marlin but for that once-in-a-lifetime fish that most anglers dream of, it is not out of reach. They seem to pop up in the strangest places; all you have to do is have a livebait out at all times when you are fishing and the run will come.

We caught one last year in 6m of water right in the surf, it was only about 30kg but great unexpected fun. A few years back we got one of around 80kg in 8m of water, only 100m from the beach. You just never know when one will show up. We were looking for other fish but had that livie out just in case.

Just about anything will do for livebait, from mados to sweep, but a yellowtail or slimy mackerel would be preferred. If you really want a marlin, try the aforementioned reefs and slow troll your mackerel or yellowtail there, and success will come.

The good thing about chasing marlin in these spots is the bycatch. Yellowtail kings are always on the cards and usually good sized ones grab those mackerel and yellowtail marlin baits. Just remember to keep an eye on the sounder if you are working the bait schools. If you mark a few fish, drop a knife jig down and rip it back, even when you are slow trolling. The kings can’t resist that extra speed and angle.

For better results on the kings, try livebaits around the islands, the back of Bellambi reef, Bass Point and the humps. Some nice fish have been landed in these spots already.

Other bycatch on the marlin hunt are dolphinfish. The correct name for dolphinfish is mahi mahi but I am not Hawaiian so ‘dollies’ does me fine! The further out you go the more dollies you encounter, but they are in closer too at times, particularly when the current is running hard from the north. The FADs have already produced a few and it will only get better as the water gets warmer. As always, put out the big livebaits for the big dollies and don’t be too surprised if a marlin grabs a livie meant for a dolphinfish. Bycatch works both ways.

If you want to use a lot of fuel you could try dragging some plastic about the place, but the results will not be as good. You may also get abused by the guys slow trolling the bait schools if you scare them down with your noise, but there is that bycatch in the form of any yellowfin tuna or wahoo that may be about.

Most of the ‘fin at this time of the year will be under 30kg, with most just jellybeans. Still, they are fun and go well on the BBQ.

Usually the first sign that there wahoo are around is that your expensive lure has been bitten off. A little wire on the next lure will fix that.


Closer to shore there’s heaps of action from the smaller pelagics, with frigate mackerel and striped tuna working baitfish along the coast. As always there are plenty of salmon, bonito and a few legal kings in the mix to keep you busy casting lures into the boiling schools.

The stripies and frigates can be put to good use as there are some nice snapper in close around the reefs and shallow bommies, and more than enough little panners over the inshore reefs to keep you busy. Try 30m of water east of Seacliff bridge and keep your eye on the sounder for any fish. The evenings seem to be fishing the best, with a little bit of berley not going astray.

Small whalers and hammerheads can be a bit of a pain in the berley, but they can’t be helped. On the plus side, they fight well the little fellas are alright on the chew.

Flathead are back on the menu, with plenty over the sand patches. However, they have thinned out up north around Stanwell Park, with the Sydney-based trawlers putting the cutters through them after dark as happens every year at this time. Throw in patches of leatherjackets and it can get frustrating for recreational anglers.

If you drift onto the reefs there seem to be more samsonfish about at the moment, mixing with mowies and some nice pigfish as well. There may even be a few trag jew about, as they seem to have made a small appearance along the coast this year.


The rocks from now on are really worth a look, particularly the deeper ledges, as you just don’t know what will swim past next. The point at Cathedral Rocks, Kiama and Marsdens is well worth a look with livebaits for a marlin this month, as a couple are always hooked in January and February. Admittedly anglers do catch more just down the coast on the JB peninsula, but if everything falls into place you only need that one run for success.

Solid kings are patrolling the same ledges. An early morning livebait with squid or a freshly spun-up frigate mackerel just on daylight and you will be unlucky if you don’t get a run from a descent king.

If you use smaller live yellowtail, the salmon and bonito will give you a hard time stealing those precious baits. If you like chasing boneys and sambos, chrome lures and ganged pilchards will get you your share.

There are some nice bream in the washes and a few trevally mixed in around most of the headlands, and still the odd solid drummer if there has been a bit of a bump for a few days.

Just remember: if you are not familiar with the place and the rocks are wet and have barnacles on them, fish somewhere safer. You just can’t take the chance, but sadly I know some holidaymakers will.


A better spot to fish and great for the whole family is the beach at the moment. With a large variety of species available and warm water and sand on your toes, it doesn’t get any better than watching the sun come up over the surf on a warm summer morning.

Early in the morning and late in the evening is seeing plenty of salmon and some very solid tailor on most beaches with a good deep gutter. There are some big tides around early this month so work the top of the tide in the gutters for the salmon, tailor and jewies with freshbait.

On the bottom of the tide, work what is left of any deeper gutter with plastics for some nice flathead and the odd jewie, or use beachworms for the whiting and dart that are increasing in numbers and size every day. Throw in a few bream and it is all good on the beaches.


For more family fun hit the lake or Minnamurra for plenty of flathead action, they seem to be everywhere and range in size from throw back tiddlers to fish up to 70 cm. Don’t forget the Wollongong Sportfishing Club’s annual Family Flathead Classic in January, as there will be heaps of sections and prizes to be won.

Down at the entrance and over the eastern sand flats and main channel there are plenty of whiting willing to grab worms or small live prawns. If it is quiet, try little poppers over the flats for some fun.

The prawns will run this dark so head out with the kids and get a feed, some fresh bait and have some fun as well. There will be prawns all along the lake foreshore and down at the entrance. Just look for the lights.

Good luck!

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