A spectacular time to be offshore
  |  First Published: January 2015

This has to be one of my favourite times of the year for fishing. The mackerel are on the inshore reefs, the marlin are on the wider grounds, the jacks and trevally are well and truly hitting surface lures, not to mention the bass on cicada patterns, and best of all the holiday crowds have finally disappeared. This allows us serious fishermen a bit more peace and quiet on the water, not to mention less crowded boat ramps!

The majority of offshore fishos this month will be chasing Spanish mackerel on the inshore reefs, and while they can be caught trolling lures, the most successful way to pin a few of these tasty table fish is by slow trolling live baits. I often start the session towing a few Laser Pros in an assortment of sizes before we get to the bait grounds, as mackerel can be very picky when it comes to matching the size of the bait. Consequently, towing a variety of sizes can determine what they are eating, be it small slimy mackerel or large bonito. These lures are sent out without wire, just relying on their length to prevent bite-offs.

Once at the bait grounds, we try and locate the schools of slimy mackerel, as these are a superior bait to yellowtail, which will often sit out the back of the boat unmolested when every slimy that enters the water gets chomped. While one of the crew is jigging for slimies, another will be up the front high speed spinning a metal lure in the hope of pinning a bonito or tailor. These bigger baits commonly attract the really big mackerel beyond the school-sized 6-10kg fish commonly encountered on slimies.

Once we have enough livies, a pair of 10kg rods are used to troll them at a very slow walking pace around structure and any bait schools in the area. One rod has a heavy sinker above the trace to allow the bait to get down a bit deeper, and the other is unweighted to keep it on the surface. Both baits are positioned 30-40m behind the boat, as mackerel can be boat shy.

The rig is very simple, and consists of a 5/0 Gamakatsu Octopus in the bait’s nose and a 3/0 stinger treble in the tail. A short length of 60lb single strand wire is used to connect the 2 hooks, with a 10cm section attached to a small swivel forward of the lead hook to prevent bite-offs. The reefs off Lennox Point, Flat Rock, North and South Riordans, and the Mackerel Boulder consistently produce this month.

Once you’ve caught a couple of mackerel for a feed and the sun has risen sufficiently to put them off the bite, it’s time to head wide and look for something else. Depending on our mood on the day and the amount of livies we have left, we often spend a few hours slow trolling them along the length of the 32 and 42 fathom reefs. This has resulted in quite a few decent sized black marlin this year and some big bull mahimahi. We rig these on 6m of 150lb Jinkai leader with an 8/0 circle hook, and the bait bridle rigged with a rubber band through the nose.

Unlike mackerel fishing, these live baits are fished in free spool with just enough ratchet on to prevent an overrun. The bite of a marlin is quite slow and gradually increases in speed as it swims away, and from there it’s a relatively simple matter of pushing the drag to strike and waiting until that circle hook finds a place in the corner of the jaw before all hell breaks loose.

We have been running two 15kg outfits behind the boat, but after some gruelling battles on fish estimated to be well over 100kg, we are thinking of changing up to 24kg.

Often the current is racing out wide this time of year, but if it slows down it’s always worth dropping a jig or live bait down on one of the pinnacles. There have been some really big kingfish lost by the jigging crowd lately.

The estuary has been fishing well. There has been plenty of quality whiting up around the Pimlico stretch of the river and these tasty little morsels are being caught on the usual baits of worms and yabbies. Surface lures are also producing the goods, and I have been having great success on the Berkley 3B Scum Dogs in the larger 68mm size. Unlike a lot of brands, the required walk-the-dog action is very easy to create with these lures.

While whiting fishing, don’t forget to drop the dillies out, as there has been lot of blue swimmer crabs in the river, and while not as large as their cousins the mud crab, I think they taste a lot sweeter. A handy approach when fishing for whiting and blue swimmers is to try a couple of night sessions. The bigger whiting are a lot more aggressive at night, especially around the dark of the moon when the prawns run, and there always seems to be more crabs around too.

This month is also when the surface action really starts to fire up for the local trevally and mangrove jack population. Early morning or late afternoon is the time to target these species, and look for any back eddies out of the main current flow, with rock walls, bridge pylons, and boat pontoons being prime holding structure. Nervous herring or mullet on the surface is also an excellent sign.

As far as lure choice is concerned, a lot of people use the Lucky Craft G Splash, but for my money you can’t go past the Halco Rooster Popper. It throws out a lot of water and a loud bloop, and the size 60 perfectly imitates a small mullet or herring. It’s also much cheaper and Australian-owned. Stickbaits also work well when the water is calm, and once again Berkley 3B Scum Dog is my preferred lure.

For the rock fishers, the warm water flowing down our coast brings with it loads of giant trevally and tailor for the high speed spin brigade, but also presents some rare opportunities to catch tuna and mackerel from the stones. This can be done from only a few select local headlands, including South Wall, The Iron Peg and the rock platforms of Broken Head. Depending on the tide and swell conditions, the best method involves high speed spinning metals, pencil poppers and big hardbodies such as the new Rapala XXX-Rap Cast. I particularly like the Halco C Gar, as it imitates a garfish very well.

Always have a live bait rod rigged with a balloon and some wire, so if you manage to catch a small tailor or bonito these can be drifted out to just beyond the wash line. If looking for tuna, a prime bait is a live garfish rigged on a 60lb mono trace and a very small bobby cork. With bread berley, these can be caught at your feet at any time of the day using a size 10 bait jig under a float, baiting the hooks with dough or small pieces of prawn.

Enjoy the fishing this month and if you see me out on the water, don’t hesitate to say hi. I love helping anglers catch more fish and you might even be able to teach me a thing or two as well!

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