The Harbour is going nuts
  |  First Published: April 2015

Over the years, Easter has etched itself in my mind for 2 things; atrocious weather or superb fishing. Before I owned a boat, I spent many years on the rocks fishing for game fish and rock species. Easter either went 2 ways — a complete write-off as wild seas and rain swept the platforms, or phenomenal fishing sessions. These usually provided the year’s highlights, to the extent that the rest of the year would be spent fishing in anticipation of next Easter or reminiscing over the Past one.

The fishing around this time of year is no different in the Harbour, except that unlike rock fishing, anglers have greater access to these waters in bad weather.

This peak period occurring at Easter every year is more than just coincidence. Water temperatures are at their height, activating an abundance of species. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21. This year it’s April 5.

So 2 days before the full moon and 3 days after, along with a similar period around the new moon (according to my fishing diary), have produced the best catches on any given month. If you have a look at the tides around these times, you'll notice that they are always early to mid-morning highs. They are the best tides you'll get — especially for estuary fishing.

Things are already going nuts in Sydney Harbour, especially with pelagic species. The lower reaches have been invaded with phenomenal quantities of whitebait, triggering 1 of the most extensive predatory feeding frenzies I've seen in many years. Bonito, kingies, tailor, mac tuna, frigates and salmon are all in on the act, terrorising the poor baitfish relentlessly from sunrise right through to sunset. The baitfish are exceptionally small, so matching the hatch is difficult. Very small chrome metal lures, preferably less than 5cm, will usually do the trick.

As frenzied as these feeding sprees often get, the fish will not tolerate a boat being driven straight through them. Regardless, this is a situation I confront every weekend on the Harbour. Some 3 or 4 boats will approach the outskirts of a school slowly and quietly, and will be in the process of being rewarded for their stealth, when from out of nowhere a clown will go powering right through the middle, putting the fish down immediately. If you power through a gathering of any type of animal (except maybe sheep) they will scatter, so why do these morons think that fish are going to be any different?

The Harbour is also fishing exceptionally well for bream and flathead. Sow and Pigs Reef, North Harbour and the inner area of North Head have all been fishing well for bream. The flatties are coming off the usual drifts between North and South Head, around Rose Bay, and the stretch between Balmoral and the Spit Bridge. The dropoffs along the back of the various bays in Middle Harbour are producing the bigger flatties.

Thanks to some very warm currents, the samsonfish and amberjack action has been sensational. We caught a Fishabout PB samson of 7kg recently. Anyone who has experienced the normal run of 2kg samsons usually on offer in Sydney will know how outstanding this fish is. April is usually the peak month for tropical visitors.

The hardest to pick apart are amberjack and kingies, because even as juveniles they are similar in colouration and body shape. If you have a king and an amberjack side by side, it’s quite obvious. Amberjack are rounder and fuller over the top of the head, and have a slightly bigger and more forward eye. They are generally darker in colouration and have a distinct yellow band running the length of their body. The tail of the amberjack is brown.

Samsonfish, as juveniles, are very distinct and couldn’t possibly be confused with kings or amberjack. They are very ‘giant trevally’ shaped and the colouration is a blotchy mix of brown, yellow and white. According to Grant’s Guide to Fishes, they have red teeth, although on the juveniles that is only just apparent.

There has always been a bit of confusion regarding distinguishing between kings, amberjack and samsonfish, mainly because juvenile samsons look very different to adult samsons, and none of the text books I referred to mentioned this. The books say that samsons and amberjack are very similar, which is true when they are big. So when someone catches a small samson and it looks nothing like an amberjack, the ID problems start. Secondly, juvenile samsons vary dramatically in colouration between life and death. When a samson is dead, it becomes a very uniform yellowish/amber, similar in colour to a dead amberjack!

Of course, you can’t go wrong with fin counts, but that’s way too boring to go into here. If you are really interested in that, buy a good ID book.

Ambers and samsons used to be too rare in Sydney Harbour to target specifically, but over the last 10 years they have become progressively more common, to the point that they are now a viable target. If you really want to catch 1, then the only advice I can give you is to fish for kingies and sooner or later 1 will show up. Just like kingies, they are all suckers for fresh squid and respond to the same techniques. The only other thing I can suggest is to fish when the water is at its warmest — so now.

The offshore fishing out of Sydney this season is worthy of mention, despite this being primarily a Sydney Harbour column. The run of small black marlin and XL mahimahi has been phenomenal, thanks to an extra warm and close EAC. Temperatures peaked at 27 degrees offshore, and we even had up to 25 in the harbour. Small blacks were being caught within sight of South Head lighthouse! Some boats were experiencing up to 15 hookups a day.

I did a day offshore with my neighbour and though marlin were not our target, their abundance was obvious by the numbers of free jumpers and swimmers that we saw. The water was purple and the mahis were thick. We caught over 20 off 1 trap buoy, including a thumper bull. Offshore is generally not my forte, but the trip highlighted that when Sydney fires up, it can be as good as anywhere on the east coast.


That 27 degree water off Sydney has been flooding the inshore area with big mahimahi and black marlin.


A happy chappy with an example of the sort of king that should hang around well into April (although not this one specifically).


A quality Harbour samson — more common than they once were.

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