Okay, it’s time to get serious. Yes, we had the now annual bluefin run in winter for a week or so, then a few yellowfin showed up for a short time a month or so later, but since then it has been pretty lean pickings game fish-wise in this neck of the woods. The bluefin and yellowfin action was way beyond the capabilities of most trailer boats anyway, but now it’s a new year and with it comes the big push of warm water we look forward to.
With that push the marlin, mahimahi, wahoo, yellowfin tuna, mac tuna and a host of others could arrive on any given day. It just gets better as the weeks progress; the temperature rises further and the currents push in close so everyone can have a crack at these sensational sporting fish.
The current and the bait that comes with it really gets the kingfish going too, and the harder it runs the better they like it. The various islands, Bellambi, Bass Point and Rangoon are prime spots in close, with Wollongong Reef and Bandit a bit further out producing the goods. Live baits are the way to go in shallow, and livies and knife jigs work on the deeper reefs.
For the biggest fish, live frigate mackerel just can't be beaten, and they should appear any time now. They can be hard to catch though, as they only take very small flies and lures, but the time taken to secure a live frigate almost always pays off with a big fish eating it.
Further out, the FADs have already had a few mahimahi show up, with some bigger fish too, but they are not yet consistent. Over the coming weeks that will all change, as they take up residence around the buoys in numbers as the water gets hotter and the current stronger.
Mahimahi to larger predators are just bait, so there will be a few marlin lurking around the FADs as well, picking off a feed as needed. Large live baits score the biggest mahimahi, but also attract the attention of any marlin in the area, so don't be surprised if that next jumper has a bill on it.
Later in the month is generally better for marlin, with the Australia Day weekend signalling the main run. With the little blacks caught in November up around Hervey Bay, all bodes well for a good season this year.
For best results, Bandit, Wollongong Reef and the south eastern grounds off Shellharbour are the prime spots when huge schools of slimy mackerel gather and start milling about on the surface. This is fast food for marlin and they gather in numbers for an easy feast.
Further out, Trap Reef always holds good fish, with more striped marlin encountered in the deeper water. Wider than this is a lottery, and where you find the bait you will find the fish. The bait may just be a small school of striped tuna feeding on the surface, but this situation is always worth a slow troll with a live mackerel or one of the tuna if you can catch one.
Small yellowfin tuna will be about as well, so don't be surprised when that Christmas Tree or small plastic skirt meant for a stripie gets hit and runs a bit harder and longer, as fish to 30kg are not uncommon at this time of the year.
Later in the month when the warm water turns to hot, we could see anything from wahoo to cobia, so expect the unexpected.
Closer to shore, often right in on the headlands and the backs of the beaches, the salmon, frigate mackerel, mac tuna, bonito, trevally, small kings and tailor will be boiling on the surface, chewing into the tonnes of bait as it comes down the coast. Casting small lures into this mess is fun and rewarding, and can often turn up a few nice kings as well as good-sized snapper that move with the schools in the shallower water. A large plastic cast into the melee and worked deep could do the trick, but most of the time it will be salmon as they work top to bottom.
Some nice snapper have been picked up drifting the deeper reefs with both bait and plastics in 40m or more of water, but the current has been a bit heavy so larger jigheads will be required.
Over the sand, the flathead have really kicked into gear along the coast, with some very nice fish better than 50cm coming in of late — and lots of them. Throw in some good mowies, piggies, Samsonfish, kings and all the other assorted bottom dwellers and there is plenty about for the drifter.
The rocks really hit their straps this month as the pelagics come out to play. We could see a few more guys on the local deep ledges trying for marlin or big kings, as the Jervis Bay peninsula has had its access to the prime LBG ledges severely restricted this year. It was only a matter of time as filthy grubs left everything from rubbish to human waste on the ledges, turning them into a septic cesspit. Not all of the anglers were responsible for this of course, but from my observations most that camped out on the ledges held little regard for the environment.
So with that in mind it could get a bit more crowded, but with a few more baits in the water we might just see some better than average fish taken locally. We know they are here, just not targeted as much as further south.
Live yellowtail and mackerel will score kings, salmon, bonito, mac tuna and marlin. While you are waiting for that run, you can toss lures about for most of those species, and add frigates and trevally. Live frigates make great big king and marlin baits, or berley the washes for bream, trevally, the odd snapper and a few nice drummer.
On the beaches it is more of the same with all species on offer right along the coast. Whiting are now in the gutters, with fresh beachworms really the only way for a good catch. Salmon like worms too, as do bream, dart and flathead.
Big plastics fished in the deeper gutters late in the evening are accounting for a few smaller mulloway and some big flathead, while one of those fresh whiting frames (including the head) fished later in the evening will bring undone any larger mulloway that are about. The biggest tides are always in the mornings in summer, so pick the largest you can find just on dark to maximise your chance of that big fish.
If you don't want to work that hard, there are still heaps of salmon, tailor, flathead and bream ready to grab a pilchard in gutters on most beaches.
One thing for visitors to take into consideration on the beaches over summer is that quite a few are dog off-leash areas and most of these are the better fishing spots. Some of the owners are responsible, but the majority are not, allowing their wonderful hounds to piddle all over your gear, steal your bait, drag your bags, buckets and packs over the beach, and jump all over you when you are fishing or cutting bait.
I even had one grab my rod and drag it and the reel through the sand, yet the owner wondered why I became abusive. Being bailed up by a bull mastiff is not a pleasant experience either.
It doesn't matter what time you are there, be it early morning or late in the evening, they will be present, so be warned. Keep all baited hooks well covered and out of the way, as the dogs will sniff them out and even snatch them out of your hand from behind when baiting up. I avoid these beaches unless it is really blowing or raining; this seems to keep them a bit quiet on these occasions.
In the estuaries, it doesn't get much better, with the prawns in full swing, plenty of blue swimmer crabs, and flathead and bream lining up to grab live prawns and plastics throughout the lake and Minnamurra.
Around the bridges is where the bream have been, with the flatties just about everywhere. Throw in a few salmon around the entrances to both waterways, and try for school mulloway around the bridge pylons and the breakwalls at the entrance to the lake on live baits and plastics. On the shallow flats, the whiting are taking nippers and worms, and on quiet days poppers can make it interesting.
Don't forget the Wollongong Sportfishing Club’s annual Lake Illawarra Family Flathead Classic in January either; there are loads of great prizes for all the family.
So it’s all systems go for the next few months. Good luck!
The warm water brings in sharks as well as more desirable pelagics. This hammerhead chased the bait right up to the boat and then didn't want to leave.
Lots of little tropical yellowfin mingle with the striped tuna at this time of year, making trolling for them a bit of a lottery.
Small marlin are notorious for their wild aerobatics, with this one almost coming into the boat during one of its leaping frenzies.Reads: 1336