Time to turn to blackfish
  |  First Published: July 2007

I’m confident that by the time you read this all the pelagic action will be well and truly over despite the whole season running late. The salmon shouldn’t be too far away but in the meantime we can turn attention to that reliable Winter stand-by – the luderick.

The tricky bit to blackfish fishing is in the control of the rig. Light floats, long drops, wind-resistant baits and lots of sinkers add up to a rig that demands constant attention. There are two ways to go and they both have their good and bad points.

You can opt for the running float rig consisting of a standard long-stemmed blackfish float is free to run on the line. It’s stopped a certain distance from the hook by a split shot and stopped from running all the way up the line by a ‘stopper’.

The stopper can be a piece of light string tied to the line or any one of a number of commercially produced rubber stoppers. The main criterion for a stopper is that it clamps tightly enough to the main line to stop the float sliding any further than you want it to, but still must be loose enough that it can be moved up or down to change the depth of the drop.

A stopper must also be able to be wound through the rod guides, sometimes even onto the reel, and cast back out again without snagging.

The main advantages of this rig is that the length of the drop from the rod tip can be as short as 60cm and the maximum depth of the drop below the float is almost infinite. This makes it an easy rig to cast. The disadvantage is that it is prone to tangling because the wind-resistant bait is very close to the float during the cast.

The alternative rig employs a fixed float. A split shot clamped above and below the float restricts its movement up or down the line. This means that the float is fixed on the line at the full depth you are fishing.

The problem with this rig is that if you are fishing deep, let’s say at 3m or more, you will have that 3m of line hanging down from the rod tip. As you would imagine, this can be difficult to handle.

The big advantage with this rig is that is much less prone to tangling during the cast because the bait is so far from the float. This is the method I use most often.

Obviously, if you are fishing more than about 4m then this rig is not applicable, but this does not occur very often.


Weighting of the float is critical. Most floats consist of a thin stem with a streamlined float of either cork or foam about two-thirds of the way up the stem. The float must be weighted so that the buoyant section is under water, leaving just the one-third or less of the stem showing. The float is weighted with split shot, running sinkers and strip lead around the stem of the float or down the line, or a combination of all of these.

Conditions dictate the size and weight of the float you use. In windy, rough weather you will need a big heavy float and in calm conditions, the smaller the float the better. A quill float makes an ideal still-water float.

Rods used for blackfish are long and soft for a number of reasons. They are long because of the need to handle the long drop often used under the float as described above.

The extra length also helps to lift the belly out of the line when you go to strike. ‘Belly’ refers to an arc in the line between the rod tip and the float, often created by a cross current or wind. On a long drift, the belly can become so severe that the strike only serves to lift out the belly and sometimes never reaches the float.

The rod must be soft because the blackfish's mouth and the hooks used are both small. A stiff rod would pull the hook clean out of the fish’s mouth. The long rod offers the cushion needed to prevent this happening during the hooked luderick’s strong lunges.

The choice of reel is up to you. I’ve seen threadlines, baitcasters and centrepins used successfully.

Centrepins are still used on a traditional basis, rather than on their practicality. If you opt for a centrepin then go for a sidecast such as those made by Alvey. I use threadlines because they offer open-face casting, a fast retrieve (important when picking up belly before striking) and the ability to feed line smoothly to the float to allow it to drift unhindered.

For the smaller river blackfish, 3kg line and a No 8 or No 10 hook will suffice. The big ocean bronzies will require heavier tackle. A No 6 hook would be more appropriate along with a 4kg to 6kg line.


If you fish for blackfish in the harbour for long enough you will no doubt encounter the mighty surgeon fish. They are taken using the same methods as luderick but you might consider upping the tackle a bit if you intend to fish specifically for surgeon, which as I have mentioned in previous columns, are location-specific.

Surgeons are nowhere near as abundant or widespread as luderick but they obviously do mix. Deep bridge and jetty pylons are prime locations, as are along deep reef edges in selected locations in the lower Harbour.

When prospecting for them I strongly recommend fishing a cabbage bait close to the bottom (as well as your standard float rig) off a paternoster rig as Surgeons are caught in water as shallow as 3m but are much more common in 6m to 12m.

Given that we rarely present weed baits in these sort of depths, it’s not surprising that surgeon fish are an uncommon capture for recreational fishos.

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