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Boom times are here for the Hunter coast
  |  First Published: March 2015



Well here we are again, the very best period to fish in this region. March through to the middle of April sees many factors combining on the Hunter Coast to make it the place to be.

It’s drying time for the oyster trays in our estuaries. During late February they are taken from the racks and the Pacific oysters are dried off, which then open and die. The trays are then put back into the water and the bream stuff themselves silly on the dried Pacifics, leaving the Sydney rock oysters to grow on.

The bream feed and fatten up for their long spawning run up north, and some of the biggest females are taken during March. Then, as April arrives, the smaller girls pack up and move on in droves, so lurking large females are targeted. Some can be around 2kg easy, and they usually move up into the top part of the estuaries, making them great targets on both lures and bait. Sometimes it’s hard going and a little exploring has to be done, as these big fish can be loners or just holding in very small schools. If you do hit the jackpot, really huge bream can be taken.

Bream aside for a moment, the flathead love March also, as the waters are very warm and any amount of whitebait, sprats, small pilchards, baby whiting, herring and small mullet are moving in the shallows. They are ambushed by the flathead on sandbars and in currents that hit and bounce around breakwalls, or rocks that filter the water around them.

Live baiting and being in tune with what is swimming about can make for your fishing better. Just match the lures to the same size and colour of what is in the estuaries and throughout March you can catch some great flathead. Try over muddy and sandy banks, but keep an eye out at the boat ramp or clear shallows to see what bait is thickest on the day, or in what area, as sometimes a matter of 10km can make all the difference.

A good example of this was demonstrated by a mad keen fisho who doesn’t want to be named, but fishes Ash Island on the Hunter River, from one side to the other. On some days he sees amazing amounts of small mullet, so he reflects upon this and uses blue and silver and black and silver hardbodies and soft plastics, exactly the same size as the fish swimming around the shoreline.

Then, on other days, he sees herring, so he swaps to small chrome or reflective lures. Other times he spots prawns all over the place, so he finds a match for them too. I can tell you he catches a lot of flathead and bream, and occasionally knocks off a few mulloway on light gear as well.

Whiting are still around in great numbers, although they will thin out as April arrives. There is nothing better than bait for these easily caught fish. I know the craze of getting them on poppers and other lures is great fun, but the patience you need for this type of fishing is something I know I haven’t got. Some of my mates fish constantly with small poppers on the lightest braid and do quite well, but since I love eating whiting, I take the easy way out and shoot over to a gutter or hole on the beach with a handful of worms and usually have my limit within a few hours. It’s probably not the most sporting way, but when you love eating a certain fish, well I just go and get them.

Both sand and bloodworms work as well as each other, and as a secondary bait pipis would have to rank way up there too.

Around Horseshoe Beach and the sandflats just west of Stockton Bridge are other places worth fishing if you’re looking for whiting this month.

Offshore, an unusual number of mahimahi have taken up residence on the 2 FADs placed out there by Fisheries. They also have a load of just legal kingfish underneath, so if you can get out to them through the week when there’s less boating traffic you should be able to either troll, cast or jig some up.

Take some live bait and do wider circles, trolling them around the area and you may end up attached to one of the small black marlin that have been sweeping in under the FADS and grabbing slimy mackerel and small bonito.

Bottom bouncing has been good on both the close reefs and the wider shots. A lot of table size squire, red morwong and nannygai, as well as teraglin, have shown up in catches, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the game isn’t the same for another month.

With the warm waters lapping the coast right now, expect some unusual catches turning up, such as small spotted mackerel, which hang in amongst the bonito schools at times. The longtails haven’t shown up just yet, but this could change in March. Land based game fishermen have been trying for them with no luck, catching kingfish and sharks instead. This usually cuts up their gear pretty bad, so if you get the time I would instead pack the boat and get out there before the season is over.

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Whiting on lures or bait are easy to target in March. They will take lures if you have the patience to try for them, but worms and pipis are a much better option if you like eating the chicken of the sea.

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A small mullet ready for a swim on a bend in the Hunter River, in the hope of hooking a good flathead or mulloway.

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Bream like these are about in great numbers during March before the spawn run. Try the top parts of the estuaries where they school up ready to hit the coast.

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A lure that resembles a small baitfish can be a godsend when targeting fussy fish.

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