Cuttling to the chase
  |  First Published: July 2014

We all love the ocean. We ride her waves and skim across her surface, we chase the creatures that live within and admire her for her beauty. But she is an unpredictable creature that uses her beauty and charm to captivate and mesmerise to our detriment. Even those who know her and treat her with the utmost respect can fall to her power.

Her power was present in early May when three anglers were swept into the ocean at Seal rocks. Two were rescued with the third not making it back to shore.

The third man was a friend of mine and a friend of many, a father and a husband, a brother and a son.

He loved fishing with a passion, particularly from the stones where he dominated all species. He was an exceptional angler; his kingfish and snapper feats were legend around his favoured haunts, the mighty ledges of Jervis Bay.

He was also a true gentleman whose enthusiasm was infectious, and he would never hesitate passing on his hard-earned knowledge to any who wished to know. There was not a person who wasn't better off for knowing him.

I will miss our chats on the rocks, at the van and around the cleaning tables at Currarong over a quiet woody or two. The ledges of JB just won't seem the same. Till we meet again, tight lines Pete.


You know it will soon be time when you see those big, majestic albatross skimming the ocean surface just off the coast on a cold winter morning, with the fresh southwester keeping them aloft as they surf the updraught of the rolling Tasman swell. They have come a long way for only one reason: to get fat on the dying cuttlefish floating to the surface after spawning.

Under the ocean there is another traveller that knows it's time and has come a long way for exactly the same reason. Schools of hungry snapper have arrived on the close shallow reefs to gorge on the cuttlies, often competing with the albatross for the soft white flesh. You can see the reds with a good sounder in either schools or single large fish and with stealth, cast 100-150mm white soft plastics in the area and slowly roll them back for some smashing takes. Or you could just work the floating cuttlefish, casting unweighted baits of cuttlefish flesh close and letting them sink down to the waiting snapper.

It often doesn't take long for a take, as the reds can be right up under the cuttlefish – sometimes thrashing the surface as they drive down with that large tail, tearing pieces off the carcass. At odd times the whole school can come up under a cuttlefish and make the water orange. This generally happens mid-week when water traffic is minimal and the ocean is quiet.

This time of year is when the silent, stealthy kayak fishos come into their own. With the fish so close to shore over the shallow reefs in less than 10m of water, the yak anglers don't have far to paddle. They can get right on top of the fish without the reds being any the wiser, working their baits and lures with devastating effect.

Most of the action happens north of Wollongong right up to Port Hacking, with the southern areas of the Illawarra getting their fair share too as the cuttlies will gather over most of the local offshore reef systems.


Snapper are not the only species taking advantage of the feast with everything zeroing in on the pieces left by the feeding albatross. All manner of undesirables like parrotfish, leatherjackets, sweep and sergeant baker will take a swipe at your plastics and devour your baits as fast as they hit the water.

On the flip side, bream, groper, kings and trevally love a feed too and are regulars on cuttlefish baits meant for snapper.

It will only last until about mid August so take advantage of any chance you can to get out on the water and have a crack at them.

It's not all snapper and, as mentioned, there are still some other species around worth a look. We all know kings love squid, but a big cuttlefish candle rigged so it doesn't spin and slow trolled on a downrigger can be deadly for any kings that might be about.

Groper still favour crabs but will grab a bit of cuttley as well, while in close the washes have some very nice bream and you won't guess what bait is the best at the moment.

On some days the trevally will be thick in the berley trail but pilchard pieces will work best, which is a change. Pillies will work well cast into the washes around the islands and bommies for the ever-present salmon and a few tailor.

If you like to aim bigger, the southern bluefin should be making an appearance at any time. They were a bit quiet last year for the first time in several years but the Victorian season has been terrific so far so let's hope the SBTs come this far again this year. They are often a long way out but can come in around the Kiama canyons, which is still a long way if the wind comes up.

There have been a few yellowfin tuna out wide so they may make a trip wide worthwhile, and the albacore should start showing in better numbers towards the end of the month with only patchy schools reported so far.

You can always drop a bait down on the canyons for gemfish, blue-eye trevalla or hapuka if the current has backed off.

Back in close, the bottom bouncers will score plenty of leatherjackets if they use a small long shanked hook. However, doing so means you’ll risk missing a descent snapper when the hook straightens on the bigger fish.

Most of the flatties are tucked up in the sand for the winter, but some nice morwong are over most of the gravel beds with plenty of pigfish coming in to compensate for the flats, as well as the good supply of snapper from pan-size up to trophy fish.


On the rocks this is another month to try for a big snapper off one of the deeper ledges along the coast, but for goodness sake be careful as the winter swell can be particularly deceptive and dangerous.

Salmon are around in good numbers as always, while the suds hold some very solid drummer and even they are partial to cuttlefish, particularly the bigger ones.

If it gets rough, as it can in mid-winter, the bays and harbours will be full of blackfish and bream, so places like Cathedral rocks and other protected bays will all fish well.

On the beaches it can be feast or famine with some big mulloway coming in over the month of July, but they are mainly taken by the diehards who really work to get them. Cuttlefish is as good a bait as any this month but if you don't have a boat they can be hard to come by, as most cuttlies get blown out to sea by the prevailing south westerlies.

However, if a southeaster blows up get down to the beach early as the cuttlies will be washed ashore and quickly gathered by eager anglers for fresh bait or to be frozen for later use. Have a cast with a fresh piece as the snapper will follow the cuttlies right into the surf zone where there is a bit of reef around, like some of the northern beaches, and there is nothing better than a big red off the beach.

The feast will be if a school of salmon or tailor move into your gutter. It can be pandemonium for a while as every bait gets eaten very quickly, and some of the salmon are over 4kg so they put up a good account of themselves. Throw in a few big winter bream and the odd big whiting if you can get any worms, and it’s still worth a look – just remember to wear your thermals.

In the estuaries it is very quiet with a few bream in the feeder streams on peeled prawns and some around the bridges in the deeper water but not a lot else. Good luck!

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