Time for chilling encounters
  |  First Published: July 2007

Untying ropes, pulling up anchors and tying fishing knots just aren’t the most pleasant things to do through the Winter, even with the best fingerless neoprene gloves. Trying to keep your hands from shivering long enough to thread a hook can get pretty tough – I hate Winter!.

Add some half-frozen pilchard or prawn slime, an undersized squire or bream with sharp spikes and you won’t feel the initial cut until there’s claret everywhere. Then wipe the mess on an expensive fishing jacket and suddenly that early morning call of the wild is just making you wild! All you can do is wait for the sun to climb over the horizon and to thaw you out. No wonder it’s easy to have the whole waterway to yourself at this crazy time.

On the other hand, the thermos full of hot coffee can be a saviour, thawing the hands a little to lift the rod from its holder and turn up the drag to set the hook – some Winter mornings before sunrise the fish turn on like at no other time.

Yes it’s hard to get up and face the chill factor but most of the keenest anglers do it and thoroughly deserve the often rich rewards.

This time of year westerlies can drive you crazy and the Hunter River can seems to run on the worst angles, facing directly into the unforgiving wind. It can be all roses going out with the wind at your back and it can be glassy within a few kilometres of the shore. It isn’t until you head into the wind on the way home that you face the steepest chop peaks, blended with the wakes of the large ships and tugs or a busy sea port. It can become a dangerous place to be in a small trailer boat.

However, the fishing can be fantastic for drummer, groper, large trevally, snapper, kingfish, bream, bug tailor – Winter can really offer some of the best fishing of the year.

You can find a lot happening on patches of reef, the close kelp grounds and around the rock walls which provide shelter from the wind. You will find tailor in the suds, drummer and groper under them and bream and snapper on the bottom.

Troll along the walls or cast in close and you can hook a lot of fish that use the washes to feed. The wind also creates a berley trail from the waves crashing along the walls, that’s why they fish so well. In a boat you are pulling the fish away from their rocky caverns and don’t need the long, powerful rod you would if you were fishing off the wall itself. Groper and drummer are masters at holing you.

Some fish may be a bit more lethargic in cold water but present an appealing bait and their mood can change in a second. I use squid or garfish in pieces for bream or whole for snapper, kings and jew. I float them in the washes around sunrise and sunset for larger tailor and even troll them slowly to produce fish that otherwise wouldn’t take a bait. Garfish and other baitfish mass along the coast in Winter so follow the bait pattern and you are a long way into cracking the code.

Craig Hain, of Belmont Marine Sports, says it’s been fairly quiet over the past few weeks but smatterings of bream have been a highlight for those willing to get out and face the cold morning.

Some schools of sizable tailor have been hanging off the coast and hopefully showing up along the rocks and beaches by the time you read this.

To find the tailor you can always walk across the backs of the salmon that are feeding freely in the area. A lot has been said about the numbers of these fish lately and it could be time to have some of the olden-day lure casting championships brought back to the beaches. There could a few prizes for the longest casts and so on. Kids all over would be interested and I would be keen to see one happen here in the Hunter. With a few tackle shops to lend a hand and there could be an instant annual competition.

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