Don’t skimp on bait
  |  First Published: May 2014

We are into that stage of the year when fishing is either red hot or as cold as ice. May can be one of the hardest times to pick what to target when you get the chance to get out and wet a line, as we all know water temperatures and current strengths really determine the factor on what is around. Since we are going into the cooler months from here on in, most fishing will be had right on the coast, beaches, rock shelfs and local close reefs.

Drummer, luderick, groper, trevally, leatherjackets, nannygai, morwong, school kingfish and all the winter species are taking up residence on most local Hunter reefs. All can be caught from the rocks and very close inshore also. Some anglers look at some of these species as second rate or not the best eating or sport, but drummer and leatherjackets can be just fine on the plate. Even trevally, leatherjackets and school kingfish can be spiced up on the barbecue for a hellava great feed, and almost any fish can be turned into a fish curry. When I talk to fishermen who have a bit of dislike for some of these winter fish, I usually tell them a recipe or two, and later they come back to me with feedback on how good the fish tasted.


Bream, tailor, salmon and the odd mulloway should be lingering around at the moment. Look for the deep gutters and holes close in. It’s also important to try to keep your bait natural and fresh. This is one of the most important factors in getting bites and hook-ups. Pipis are one of the easiest baits to fish with for bream and they are right under your feet.

Pilchards can be put in an icebox for the tailor, salmon and mulloway, but they have to be in good condition. I see a lot of anglers who buy a block of pilchards then refreeze it over and over again wondering why it’s flying off the hook or they’re not getting bites. A good idea is to separate the block into smaller bags, just enough to cover the day’s fishing. Then if you have any left, salt them down in a salt brine and you can use them once more. This toughens them up and they stay on the hook a lot better.

As they days get cooler, groper and luderick feed in very close, as do drummer. These weed and crustacean feeding fish can be great sport. Fishing for them can involve a bit of messing around getting fresh weed and crabs, but it’s usually worth the effort through the next few months.

Crabs around Newcastle aren’t as thick as they used to be and you usually have to spend some time collecting them. Take the kids along the platforms around Merewether and you can spend a few hours of looking in the aquarium-like rock pools and collect bait at the same time. Nobbys break wall and Stockton break wall on the seaside give up huge drummer and groper at times. A long handled net and the right strength gear is essential, and if you haven’t tried and taken a big groper it is a real buzz locked up to something that feels like it’s going to pull you into the water. Unfortunately the roughest days can be the best fishing days for these species, so care has to be taken.

I am not going to say this month will have great fishing, because traditionally it turns on and off like a tap. However, if you do happen to pick the day the fishing can still be great. The boat ramps are quiet, you have most areas of good reefs to yourself and the water is usually calm. Fishing lighter without a lot of lead can help through winter if the current is in your favour. If it’s running a bit stronger it can disperse a berley trail a long way and have fish move into you from a longer distance. Adapting to what is happening on any given day can show who can really fish and who is just there hoping! Sit back, take in the water clarity, where waves are working a corner, where washes are hard hitting, knocking off pieces of cunje, crabs and weed.

Keep an eye out for bait schools – whitebait and yellowtail are around all winter, as are schooling small mullet. They make great bait if you want to sit back and spend a bit of time trapping them or catching them on light gear with small hooks and bread. Herring schools can turn up in cool weather and in my diary May is a month they can show up in huge schools. I have seen mack tuna crash into these like they were the last feed they were ever going to get.

So don’t pack the gear away, because there are still lots of places and different species you can start chasing from now until next summer season.

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