A fishing explosion
  |  First Published: February 2014

Unseasonal 22.5ºC water and wall-to-wall pencil slimies is a recipe for a fishing explosion here in Sydney. The huge nutrient load, courtesy of 2 very wet years, is finally paying off. I can safely say that I have never seen anything even close to the current slimy mackerel mass out there right now.

The rat kings are swarming at the moment and by the time you read this the big fellas should be around too. Flatties have been around in good numbers with some quality fish up to 90cm turning up around north harbour.

Flatties are well distributed right throughout the harbour from the uppermost reaches to the heads. The lower reaches around the heads are dominated by the smaller sand flathead commonly encountered offshore, with the occasional dusky thrown in especially when using larger live baits.

Upstream is the exclusive domain of the dusky. Despite growing to considerably larger sizes this fish is comfortable in as little as 1ft of water.

Flatties have a reputation as being a poor sportfish. This holds true when you’re using bait fishing techniques, but can be totally disregarded when you’re targeting them with lures.

The skill, thrill and anticipation involved in hunting flatties on lures is little different from that of other predatory species, including the tropical glamour fish. Although the fight from a lure-caught flathead bears little resemblance to that of the northern mangrove inhabitants it is a huge improvement to that of a flathead caught on bait. In the clearer water that’s often found in the upper reaches of Middle Harbour and Lane Cove River there's the added appeal of the visual thrill of seeing the hooked fish in action.

Some of the best areas in the harbour to lure fish for flatties include the shallows of Rose Bay, the upper reaches of Middle Harbour, North Harbor, the entire length of Lane Cove River, Iron Cove and the Parramatta River from Gladesville bridge upstream.

The best times to work these areas are the 2 hours before low tide and 1 hour after it starts to come back in. It’s even better if this tide occurs in the early morning or late afternoon.

Flathead congregate around channel edges, rock bars, weed banks and sand\mud bank drop-offs. Any area where water is channeled off mangrove stands or flats on a falling tide is well worth a throw.

A single handed spinning or light baitcasting outfit loaded with 3-4kg line will handle any flathead, provided you use a more substantial trace of about 10kg.

Flathead will hit almost anything that swims past their face. With the emphasis on presenting the lure close to the fish, depth capabilities are the major consideration when choosing a lure for flatties.

Considering you will be fishing depths ranging from 1-15ft you'll need quite a large selection of lures should you opt for diving minnow style lures.

A more versatile and possibly more effective option is to carry 2 types of soft plastic lures. For the shallows (1-4ft) you’ll find that stickbaits like the Berkley Drop Shot Minnow or Slug-Gos are deadly on flatties, especially around weed. To cover all depths it’s hard to go past a soft plastic on a jighead.

We’ve been catching a lot of blue groper as a by-catch of kingie fishing. Most of our king fishing involves fishing on the reef contours where the reef meets the sand using fresh squid suspended a few meters off the bottom. The groper have been nailing these baits and I can’t help wondering how successful this technique might be if we substituted the squid for a red crab.

It seems that the kings are getting bigger every year. We are now regularly landing fish around the 1m mark with some considerably bigger fish getting in on the act occasionally.

Hooking one of these big fish is the easy bit; actually landing one around the heavy structure where they are often found is another matter.

Success rates seem to be linked more to technique than to a tackle upgrade. Going up in line class creates a number of problems including difficulties in delivering baits or lures, and a decrease in interest from the fish due the obvious distraction of heavy traces. Heavy gelspun lines are a poor defense around barnacle-encrusted structure, despite allowing better presentations than mono of the same class. Furthermore, heavy line and drag settings are detrimental to the technique that best suits landing big kings.

Working on the theory that the harder you pull the harder the kings pull, I’ve found it best to go fairly lightly until the fish is clear of the cover. Some fish charge straight into the cover regardless of what you do, and I don’t think that there’s a thing you can do about that. But in general I’ve found that leading fish away from cover gently is a lot more productive than going hammer and tongs.

Once you are confident that the fish is either tired or too far from the cover to get back, it’s time to move the boat quickly towards him. From here on keep the boat directly above the fish. The greater the angle of the line is from the boat, the greater the chance the fish has of clipping it across the top of bottom structure. Furthermore, being directly above the fish means that for him to make any ground downwards toward bottom structure he’ll have to take drag, expending more energy. Low line angles created by the fish being away from the boat mean that the fish needs only to swim sideways to make ground towards cover, without having to take drag.

In the case where you have led the fish gently away from cover, wait until you feel you are a safe distance from the cover and then go hard. But before you get stuck into it, ensure that you place the boat between the fish and the cover to encourage the fish to swim away from the boat and hence away from the cover.

All this is much easier if you are drifting but it can be achieved at anchor providing your crew acts quickly

Once the fish is close to the boat, back the drag off a touch to compensate for the reduced stretch of a shorter line.

Presenting your bait in a way that draws the fish away from the cover has obvious benefits. You can do this by casting your bait so it lands very close to the structure and letting it sink, on a tight line, back towards the boat. This encourages the king to chase the bait out of the structure.

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