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Early birds catch the fish
  |  First Published: December 2014



It’s funny how you can look back on each year and nominate a species that was the highlight. In 2004, the cobia were so thick they were being caught from the breakwall and rocks with regular certainty. In 2012, catching pigs from the stones was a day-and-night, as-many-as-you-wanted affair. Last year it was the cicada/bream surface bite, and I think 2015 might be the year of the blue swimmer crab. It’s an early call, but I’m already sick of eating them!

The changes to the NSW DPI Fisheries regulations that has allowed licensed anglers to legally set 2 crab traps and 4 witches hats or hoop nets is the best news for those that love the sweet meat of crabs with a coldie of a summer’s afternoon. The blue swimmers have been thick and the occasional mud crab is possible from the lake, especially in the area of The Step and expanses of weed flats. If you specifically want mud crabs, set your traps in the river areas of the system, but don’t be surprised if you get a mix of blue swimmers in with them.

We do need more rain than we have had, as this will help flush some of the swimmers currently holed up in the rivers back down to the lake area. Most of the crabs I’ve been getting are males and there is enough that I can discriminate and release all the females — berried or not.

The trumpeter whiting have copped another hiding this season, but the good news is there are still plenty of big sand whiting getting around. Live beach worms are best, followed by yabbies on a number 1 hook and a light running ball sinker rig. The best time for the whiting is on the run-out tide, in the early morning, before the boat traffic starts. If you’re lucky enough to hit a slack tide early morning, or in the dark for that matter, the bridge will fish well. Whiting often congregate around the pylons and the holes the tidal flow scours out.

There have been a lot of legal and undersized flathead along the edges of the channels and drains around the ends of the islands. It’s just a matter of casting baits or lures to the shallows and bouncing them back to the boat to get the results. Where there is current along the channel dropoffs, it is simply a matter of casting up current and drifting a bait or lure back with the flow. If you want to escape the crowds, move further up into the lake or tributaries where you’ll find a lot more small fish, but it’s possible to scratch out a feed.

Prawning has been quite good on the dark and while the numbers are not what they were last season, the size of some of the prawns is fair compensation. The pre-Christmas dark saw a lot of anglers trying for a cheap seafood platter, and from all accounts it went well for most. Just a hint; you’ll catch more blue swimmers if you set your traps during the new moon period, because the crabs are far more active during this time. Remember, too, you can’t set any crab traps or nets in the boundary of Hell’s Gate to the Tuncurry ramp, and from the eastern end of Godwin Island and Barclay’s Oysters. This is due to high traffic and tidal flow.

Offshore has produced differing reports, with some boats fishing the FAD catching some metre-plus mahimahi, and sand flathead helping to fill out the bags of others. There are some big kings lurking, and they have even been encountered from the breakwall. There has also been big mulloway of20-30kg taken from the wall on 9” paddle tail plastics over the last 2 months, so there must be some good feed in the area. It’s encouraging to see big fish landed, and even a few released.

Forget trying to drift fish the breakwall from a boat this month. And with the numbers of visitors (and locals) littered along the wall, it can be difficult to even find a suitable rock to fish from. Bream, blackfish and small choppers make up the general catch, with the odd flathead and leatherjacket if you’re lucky.

It’s not often that I hope for rain, lots of rain, but the freshwater scene is a little dire. The fresh sections of the river have dropped to the lowest I’ve seen in 14 years. When the Manning is at a trickle over 100m of gravel bed, it is desperate. It restricts fish movement and the water warms to dangerous levels in some pools, to the degree that you can find semi-cooked shrimp close to the bank. The deeper pools will hold the fish, and by fishing deep in the middle of the river you’ll find them as they look for cooler water.

For my money, I’ll be concentrating on blue swimmers and surface bream this month, and maybe adding a few flattie fillets. Set the traps, go for a fish, and pick them up on the way home — it’s too easy to scratch a feed in January.

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If you can find deep pools in the rivers, you’ll find quality bass. There is a lot of canoe or ’yak dragging in between though.

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A Berkley Scum Dog bass taken in the early hours of the morning. It’s the best time to target surface fish, as they become more active as the night drains the heat from the water.

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The underside of a male blue swimmer (top) and a female (bottom) shows the narrow tail flap of the male, and wide tail of the female that she uses to cradle her eggs when in berry.

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The correct way to measure crabs in NSW — front to back of carapace. This one’s coming home for a warm bath.

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