Light at the end of the tunnel
  |  First Published: August 2014

The westerlies are still blowing and it’s cold but there is some light at the end of the tunnel, with a few warmer days towards the end of the month making life bearable. The pickings are a bit thin on most species but for a few there are plenty on offer. More on them later.


Let’s start with one fish that’s about all year and not that often targeted: groper. With the ocean calm during the westerlies there is no better time to have a look and see just how many groper there are on any given reef off the local coast. They seem to be everywhere these days and have a fearsome reputation of being a ‘knock down, all over in seconds’ fighter, leaving anglers with straightened hooks and broken lines.

The old timers’ liked the good old fashioned 100lb+ handlines and used to tie them around the rowlocks or the seat. Legend has it that a few seats were ripped from their mountings by a rampaging groper.

Legends are mostly that, and while the groper is built for power from spending its time among the rough and tumble of the reefs, bommies and breaking waves associated with such places, they are not a massive fish. A 15kg specimen is generally considered a whopper and it’s not really capable of pulling seats out of small boats. Still, if you take them on in a rough area with deep gutters and ledges and use sporting tackle you will get dusted up on a fairly regular basis by bigger fish.

The hard part about catching groper is getting bait and berley. Crabs are the only bait if you are making a serious effort and sea urchins are the only berley. But be careful not to fall foul of the law as you are allowed only 10 crabs each and a 10L bucket of urchins, and both of these can be hard to come by.

The crabs are best chased down at night in the freezing cold at low tide right on the water's edge. The big red crabs the number one bait but black crabs will do at a pinch. Just be very careful as you can't see the waves at night and it can be dangerous if you look for the crabs on open ocean rocks as a swim in August after dark is not a good thing.

Urchins have to be dived for these days. They are no longer available in this area in water you can stand up in, as they are favourite food among the islander community who hunt them tirelessly every weekend.

Once you have your bait and berley, pick your spot over a reef, usually in less than 10m of water. Crack a sea urchin so the juice comes out (but don't open it right up or the pickers will clean it up in seconds) and drop it over the side. Keep repeating this and watch for the groper to come around. It could take a few minutes or it could take an hour, but they will come. Then put a crab on and lower it down to the groper and watch it eat it. It really is that simple.

I use lines of up to 15kg depending on what I see swimming in the berley and rarely get dusted up, but it does happen. These fish go hard for 10m or so but after that if you are away from any big ledges it’s not long before they are up next to the boat. Groper taste great but they are also a beautiful fish so a quick picture and a release is always a good feeling.

Groper can be targeted when the sun is up and high overhead. That means the early morning can be devoted to snapper!


In the early part of the month the snapper will be around in large numbers chasing the cuttlefish that will still be spawning for a few weeks yet. As per last month you can pick and berley over just about any of the close reefs that have a cuttley or two floating around on it, or you can chase the floaters with unweighted cuttlefish baits or large white soft plastics. The choice is yours as all these methods are working well at the moment.

Plenty of snapper are in the 2-4kg range. There are also some bigger 6kg and better fish coming in, with heaps under the 2kg mark. They don't mind pilchards or yellowtail, which are good tucker in their own right with the candles the best bits but also the best bait.

Out on the deeper reefs like Bandit and Wollongong a few kingfish are starting to show. It’s about time because they have been scarce over the past 12 months in the Illawarra but quite prolific off Sydney, which by water isn’t that far away. Downrigged yellowtail and knife jigs are getting the best results.

Trevally are over most reefs and love a bit of berley. They have been showing up in the trails of those chasing snapper, and if the reds are a bit quiet the trevally keep things ticking along until something bigger comes along.

For a change of pace, casting unweighted, ganged pilchards into the washes around the bommies, headlands and islands is worth a try for plenty of salmon, tailor and a few nice snapper. If your baits are being picked off try casting pieces on a single hook back into the washes for bream and trevally.

Towards the end of the month the salmon should start schooling on the surface chasing the tiny baitfish as they arrive. They are great fun on light line using very small lead slugs and crystal eye type lures.

Also chasing the small bait will be the striped tuna that turn up during August, and as always there will be some big ones in the mix. At this time of the year it has been a long time since anything with any speed has been around so a bit of light line fun on these speedsters just whets the appetite for what is to come in late spring and summer.

Further offshore there have been a few a few larger speedsters about. They are a long way out for most anglers but for those with bigger boats a few yellowfin and albacore are around the canyons. Some bigger fish have been spotted even further out but for the most part the ‘fin have been up to 35kg and some of the better albies are up to 12kg.

Plenty of gemfish are down deep with a few nice trevalla for those with electric reels or strong arms.

In closer over the sand we’ve had fewer flathead reports, but the leatherjackets have made things tough so fewer anglers are chasing flatties anyway. Many believe it’s better to wait for the water to warm up a bit.


On the rocks it’s drummer time, with excellent fish all along the coast taking cabbage weed, royal red prawns and bread. A few blackfish are taking the cabbage as well.

Salmon are patrolling all the deeper ledges grabbing pillies while a bit of bread berley will attract trevally and bream. The southern rocks seem to be the best from Cathedral rocks down to Gerroa.

The big westerlies that come with August shut down just about all fishing when they howl through, then they are more often than not followed by the huge swell from the east coast lows that form offshore which also shut down all ocean fishing apart from the sheltered bays and harbours. However, when the sea backs off enough to get back on the rocks there will be some big snapper caught on many of the local ledges. As always, never take risks and always keep your eyes on the water and never fish the rocks alone in these conditions. Just use common sense.

On the beaches there are some good salmon about during the early mornings and the evenings along with a few nice tailor. The good news is the mulloway that showed in June (just like they should) have decided to hang around for a bit longer so there is still a chance of a nice fish up to 25kg.

In the lake it is quiet with a few bream in the feeder creeks and some around the hot water outlet at Tallawarra during the evenings on prawns.

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