The Holiday season has been fantastic for the majority of fish species in the area. Usually estuaries start to slow a little as we get smashed by a few of the hotter windless days.
The end of last year was a bit different to normal as reports of quality fish just keep coming. There are so many techniques that one or another is going to produce at some stage. As I learn more about plastics my fishing style has evolved and I now use parts of the system that were near impossible to work with old bibbed lures or very hard to fish with baits due to structure or current.
Part of the evolution is the use of better quality fish finding equipment that you know are telling the truth, something you were never sure of before the structure scan technology became available. The ability to see fish either side of the boat and the type of structure holding them makes it much easier to find other spots that should work, even if it is at different stages in the tides or moon phases. Time spent watching the fish finder as you poke along in the estuaries or offshore is never wasted.
We have had lots of storms leading into January without huge volumes of rain. This has meant that The Fitzroy hasn’t had a big fresh flow and has left the bay in top shape. The water clarity and salinity levels have been perfect for the schools of bait and the stacks of pelagics following them. The mackerel have been in some quantity every time the conditions are right. The closer spots are worth a shot on the foggy morning before the northeasters get up. Pillies are always the top bait but lures will out fish them when a solid bite is happening.
In recent weeks there have been quite a few extra large golden snapper (fingermark) taken in local waters. Most of the guys returning with a feed have worked out how to jig plastics around large structures like wrecks in depths of water between 14-22m. A couple of the big fingermark caught have topped 800mm easily. These are a very slow growing fish that take many years to even get to legal let alone trophy size. It has been proven that almost all fingermark caught and released in water more than 10m will die. The saving grace is that it is very hard to catch them in any numbers and you won’t find a throwback fingermark in offshore waters in this area. The go is to catch a couple then move away and target something else.
When you plan on bait fishing, don’t leave home without your berley. The majority of fish are attracted to berley in one way or another. Some fish such as mackerel, bream etc. get the senses going with the scent of blood or fresh chopped victim, while others are like barramundi are drawn in by the baitfish and activity attracted by the smells and tastes. The prime example of this is the growing use of coloured lights as night fads. Nothing eats the light, but baitfish and squid are attracted strongly to the light and all the things you want to catch come in looking for an easy meal.
There are a few flathead, bream, whiting, salmon and queenies around the local estuaries at present. The majority of the queenfish have been quite small in places like Corio Bay but the fish around the islands and the headlands have been fairly big to around 5-6kg. One of the locals casting poppers at Corio Heads landed a 1.2m queeny, which weighed 12kg and his trophy fish photo didn’t turn out. He did release the queeny after the brilliant fight because “it was such a good fight [he] wouldn’t mind catching it again”.
Swallowtail dart, another skinny fish have increased in numbers along the beaches over the school holidays. Reports came in from plenty of the beach fishers of midsize dart at most of the frothy gutter edges heading up Farnborough Beach. Dart will take plenty of different baits from prawn to beach worms and yabbies. A lightly weighted rig with a long trace is optimal and often they will grab baits meant for whiting.
Dart will take small lures and flashas readily if you don’t have bait. You don’t get a lot of meat off a dart, although it is pretty tasty. Dart are a great fish for kids for a couple of reasons. They are easy to catch when they are around and they fight very well for their size. Due to the locations they are caught, they have little choice but to be clean fighters and you won’t lose any tackle under normal circumstances.
A young local angler, Deakin Smithwick, caught what appears to be a great pompano at Farnborough Beach. His Dad Jason thinking it was a bit different to permit (snub-nosed dart) that he had caught before decided to look it up on the net. He came to the conclusion that the fish was a great or Florida pompano, not a permit. These two fish are very similar and you could be forgiven for getting the ID wrong. The main difference is the length of the dorsal and anal fins, which are much longer on a permit. The body is also deeper for length ratio on a permit. There are other small differences such as colours near the anal fin but the first identification points are good enough for me. On going through a number of permit photos over the years it seems there could be two different fish both called permit and snub-nosed dart. If anyone has a thought on this please send me an email to --e-mail address hidden-- .
This bit of rain has helped the prawn fry develop over the month and some of the local prawn spots are worth taking the cast net down for a throw. Though they haven’t reached any decent size for eating they are bait size for whiting and bream. If you are targeting something bigger, try threading 3-4 pinned sideways through the body on the second joint from the tail. This gives them the appearance of movement even after they are long dead.
I have mentioned small marlin quite a few times over the last year and they continue to be present. One of the local charter companies has been targeting them for a while now with plenty of success. Although we haven’t seen the big fish at the well-known marlin hotspots we just might have a developing fishery for the average angler to score a marlin without all the expense of doing a full-blown marlin trip. These small marlin have been taking pilchards and fast trolled skirts.
Reef fish have been in good form in recent weeks with catches in very close. Several locals have been landing reasonable red emperor in as little as 24m. The average fisher thinks that reds and nannies hang around the big structures and because of this they often miss out on the quality fish. Red fish prefer the rubble and fern patches away from the main structure. Many times over the years we have hooked our biggest reds with very little showing on the sounder. Look for bait schools too, because the big predators won’t be very far away.
Coral trout, red-throat emperor, parrot, hussar, nannies and jobfish are all available at the moment in surprisingly shallow water.
I hope you had a great Christmas and all the best for the New Year.Reads: 566