Get that Grand Slam
  |  First Published: March 2014

With 25 to 27 degree water flowing past Coffs Harbour at present, it’s been a cornucopia of game fishing targets here in early summer. All three marlin species are figuring in offshore reports, along with mahi mahi, wahoo and yellowfin tuna. Really, the only species yet to call in is sailfish, and you can bet on a couple of them materialising around South Solitary later in the season.

Last year, the little blacks were well inshore; this year, there appear to be greater numbers in the 40-75 fathom area, which is also where the water is better and the greatest amount of bait is holding. There’s a greater size range this time too – cheeky 20kg rats that are full of grand ideas (like attempting to eat 14” blue marlin lures), to chunky teens of 50-80kg all mixed in together.

To compound things, blue marlin have been conducting raids into water as shallow as 70 fathoms, resulting in some epic battles on light tackle, some won, some lost.

The blues are definitely on in good numbers and, after a slow previous summer, it’s great to have them back. It’s certainly worth putting time in around the shelf and beyond with the big guns out, as one fish that tailed across charter boat Black and Blue’s wake and missed the lure was estimated at 4m in length, which puts it way up there. The rest are 90-180kg in size, and are going hard.

Surprisingly, there has been a good smattering of yellowfin tuna along the shelf line as well. These aren’t the 5kg rats found up at the light at this time of year, but 15-25kg fish. Not everybody’s catching them, but there have been enough double and even triple hook-ups to make it worthwhile running one lure smaller than the usual blue marlin fare in the spread — either a deep diver, or a jethead off the shotty.

Over the years, countless boats have had two legs of the much sought-after game fishing Grand Slam (black, blue and striped all in one day), but the third has usually proven elusive. While not unheard of at this time of year (or in such warm water), a few striped marlin are still lingering inside the shelf line, infuriating anglers with their fussy eating habits. This frustration is compounded when you’ve caught your black and blue, and just need that striped!

The inshore fish traps, the FAD and the wave recorder have been holding plenty of mahi mahi — mostly small, but the early birds with a tank full of live slimies score the better models before boat traffic and divers shut them down. Out wide they’re a little more hit and miss, but the quality is excellent, with fish ranging in size from 10-20kg.

Black and Blue even sat’ tagged a 1.3m female back in January, so we wait with interest to see where ‘Gertrude’ has travelled once the tag detaches.

There is the odd wahoo to 24kg about too, although they’re harder to specifically target. Still, they are always welcome bycatch — unless they’ve given that favoured skirted lure a buzz cut.

While only early in the season, the rest of the razor gang have been pulling their usual tricks, biting today and not tomorrow, but some cracker spotties to 8kg continue to be landed. Bait is pretty easy to come by, although it does require some perseverance to find slimies rather than yellowtail. And if the mackerel don’t find those bridled live baits, there’s any number of hammerheads about. Just bear in mind that unless you’re extra certain of the actual species, don’t be tempted to keep one for hammer and chips, okay?

It’s been an exceptionally dry six months here on the Coffs coast, which has contributed to the spectacular game fishing of late. For better or for worse, we’re well overdue for a big dump of rain, so let’s just hope it doesn’t arrive all in one day. That does nobody any good and sends those bluewater pelagics we love chasing off to bluer pastures.

More next month!


Dean Szabo hooked up on 24kg to a 180kg blue marlin that completely emptied the reel on its first spectacular run.


This is the trouble with big blues on 24kg tackle — they just won’t be led!


Adam Allaway with his first blue marlin about to be released, caught from the charter boat Better Than Vegas in 650 fathoms off Coffs Harbour.


Matt English shakes bills with his first marlin, caught form his dad’s boat Better Than Vegas.

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