Tips on tackling salmon
  |  First Published: November 2014

Normally early spring is my least favourite time of year for fishing in the harbour, but this year has been exceptional. Kingfish showed up in good numbers very early, the flatfish bite is the best I have ever seen and salmon have flooded in with fury.

The best of the kings have been found on the many points through Middle Harbour and are taking both squid baits and small soft plastic jigs. They are averaging around 70cm with a few closer to 85cm showing up. There have also been some bigger fish down around north head. Squid have been generally pretty easy to catch around most of the lower harbour kelp beds.

Flathead and flounder continue to fire around north harbour and the close drifts around the heads. There are no really big fish but average size is solid at around 45-55cm, and there are stacks of them. Try drifting small gang rigged whitebait on the deeper beds or small plastic jigs in the shallows. North Harbour, Rose and Double bays are the pick of spots.


Salmon are prolific at the moment and the action should continue right through into the new year. As expected, the huge surface schools have been found around the heads. They can be a bit fussy but with perseverance they will nail a well presented lure of the right proportions.

More unusual is the smaller pods that have been found through the upper reaches of Middle Harbour. They have been working the larger baitfish in amongst the moorings as far up as Roseville ramp. Because they are feeding on bigger bait they have been easy to tempt with a lure. They have also been nailing our squid baits aimed at kings in deeper water.

To maximise your catch rates, here are a few general tips on tackling salmon.

Tips and tricks

Australian salmon have made a huge com back in the last few years since commercial pressure eased up on them. What they lack in eating quality they more than compensate for with their fighting ability. They will readily take lures and a wide range of dead and live baits. On the right gear I would rate them as one of Sydney Harbour’s top sportfish.

The one thing that sets them apart from the kingies, frigates, bonito and stripies is their spectacular aerial display. Once hooked they will leap repeatedly before settling into a prolonged fight. They've really got it in the stamina department, too.

The numbers and size of salmon frequenting the harbour over the last couple of years has increased dramatically but the real bonus is the extended season. Traditionally salmon would appear around September and usually disappear around the end of October. These days you'll find them going as strong as ever right through into the new year and sometimes even until Easter.

Of course, they don't go all day every day; they come and go just like every other fish. The only exception to this is when they first come into the harbour, and it’s with a vengeance. The feeding frenzies go on relentlessly day after day, regardless of the conditions. Later in the season, however, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern emerging. During the calm mornings the salmon are evident. You'll see them milling around just under the surface and very occasionally they bust up into a school of bait, but only for a very short time. Usually by the time you reach the school they are down again and it can become very frustrating.

About midday the northeaster starts to blow up which almost immediately kicks the salmon into gear. The harder it blows the harder they go.

Similarly, a southerly buster has the same effect. I was out with a charter client the other day when this situation arose. It was a perfect still morning and the plan was to get some squid and then try for kingies. While we were squidding I noticed the odd boil here and there, and even spotted a few salmon cruising around. As we cruised up the harbour towards the kingie grounds we were hit by a strong southerly buster. The water was turned to white caps almost immediately and with that the seagulls descended and the salmon exploded. It was an amazing experience. From Clifton Gardens, on one side of the harbour, to Watsons Bay on the other was wall-to-wall salmon. They were working a tide line and I can honestly say it was the most intense session I have ever experienced on salmon.

I used to do a lot of live baiting from the rocks and I distinctly remember that as soon as the weather turned foul the salmon would turn up. It’s something I shouldn't have remembered, because when the weather turned bad I should have cleared out off the rocks – but you do tend to push the limits further than you should when you are young.

Here's my theory. Salmon spend most of their time very close to the surface, much more so than most other pelagics. Most other pelagics regularly feed on the surface but travel deep, but salmon are different – they travel on the surface. You can see them, as can the spotter planes and beach haulers on the headlands. When the wind blows up the surface layer churns up and aerates quickly. With all that extra oxygen flowing through their veins, the salmon hit overdrive, similar to when I turn the aeration up in my fish tank the fish go nuts. It’s Mother Nature’s No-Doz.

My point is, keep an eye out for salmon when it blows up.


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