Cuttlies and ’couta
  |  First Published: July 2015

Fishing smack dab in the middle of winter has very few redeeming features except 1 — there are way fewer boats at the ramp in the early hours of a cold winter’s morning.

See, there are some positives to take out of this chilly, windy, miserable time of the year, but for the diehards there is always some hope. Even when the seas are massive and it’s windy and raining and you can't even launch a boat, you will find heaps of blackfish, drummer and bream packed into the protected harbours where it is fairly easy and safe fishing.

Getting weed for the blackfish is the difficult part, but if you are struggling the bream and drummer will still bite well on prawns, which are easy to acquire. It can get crowded at the prime spots like the harbours at Bellambi, Wollongong, Shellharbour and Kiama, but locations like the Boneyards at Minnamurra and Curracurrang in the Royal National Park are both good, safe spots in big seas that hold plenty of fish.

Then there is the flip side when the westerlies blow and the ocean is like a millpond for a while, allowing access to places you normally can't get to.

These are the spots that are usually cauldrons of wash and suds, but on these calm days you can safely fish places that haven't seen a baited line in ages. The fish are still there, if not a little toey in the conditions, but a little berley can change all that and get them right out in front of you for easy pickings. Just always be aware that a wave can come at any time, even in calm conditions, so don't let your guard down.

Groper are a target on these occasions, and can often be seem swimming around these lesser-fished spots in clear water.

For the most part though, the fishing will be a bit quiet, with the deepwater higher ledges probably the best bet for both safety and results.

Berley is the key again this month, and a bit of bread and pollard with some tuna oil mixed in will bring plenty of drummer, bream and trevally to your spot, while a big piece of cuttlefish cast out with no sinker and left to drift around is a good chance of scoring a solid snapper.

The ever-reliable salmon will fall for pilchards on ganged hooks cast and slowly retrieved on most platforms over the coming weeks. On the beaches it will be more salmon on whole pilchards and bream on pilchard pieces, but it will be cold, windy work on most mornings and evenings.

It will be even colder if you want to chase mulloway on the evening and late night high tides this month. It can be very rewarding, with most of the fish at this time of the year being larger mulloway rather than schoolies, but they are also fewer and further apart when it come to fish as well. Every big fish you get in July is well earned!

In the estuaries, it is even harder, with a few bream coming from where you find them, but they will be scattered. The edges of the weed beds around Primbee are worth a look, as are the tributaries to the lake. A paddle up Macquarie Rivulet or Mullet Creek tossing small hardbodies or plastics into the many snags could prove effective, or at the other end of the scale, do the same down around the bridge pylons at both the lake and Minnamurra, although the bream will be few and far between.

Offshore there is that yearly migration of cuttlefish to think about, and right now is prime time as they spawn and pop to the surface. Big snapper are in pursuit, trying to grab a mouthful of candle before any albatross arrive and clean the cuttlefish up in quick time.

The albert attacks tear pieces of flesh from the cuttlefish and a lot of it drifts down through the water column, making a natural berley stream. The snapper will be hanging around picking up the scraps.

Some of the best areas to fish are where there are 5 or 6 groups of birds chewing on cuttlies within a few hundred metres of each other. On these occasions there is no need for berley or to anchor up, unless the wind is too strong. Just lob a few unweighted cuttlefish baits out and slowly drift about. If there are any snapper in the area, and there will be, it won't take them long to find your baits.

While waiting, work a big plastic preferably in white.

The good thing is all this happens less than 2km from shore in most areas, and in less than 10m of water.

Anchoring and berleying over a chosen reef works well too, but the best fun is casting unweighted baits at the floating cuttlies and allowing them to sink down naturally with the bail arm open. When the line starts ripping off, just close the bail and hang on.

Plenty of fish from 6-9kg are taken this way each season, and it is a most exciting way to catch them.

It's not all snapper though, with any number of species hunting down the cuttlies for an easy feed. Some of the biggest hits and smashes will be from big groper who also love a feed of white flesh, when they grab a bait mid water and head for rough country. Most of the time you lose out, but on occasions you have a win and get a look at 1 of these big blue battleships.

Kingfish love cuttlie too, but they make short work of light gear.

Six kg line is pretty much standard and will stop most snapper, or you can go heavier, but the strike rate drops dramatically with each kg of line strength you go up.

Braid can also be detrimental to results, as most of the time you are in less than 10m of water and the fish can be very finicky around anything that is not clear or almost invisible.

There are plenty of other fish about, with mowies and pigfish on all the reefs, along with a few samsons and heaps of trevally. Your snapper berley will often be full of trevally, with just a few snapper most of the time.

One thing that can be an absolute pain at this time of the year is the dreaded barracouta. They can move in en-masse and cut off every line in seconds, and then hang around making it impossible to keep a hook in the water. It can become soul destroying when they bite the knots in your line as they move through the water while fighting a big fish. This has happened twice in the past 2 seasons, when I have had big snapper beaten just below the boat and a 'couta slashes through the line at the knot or hits a small piece of bait on the line. I am not fond of them at all.

Salmon are around the washes and bommies of most deeper headlands and the islands, and even an odd bonito is still about. Further out around the shelf, there have been a few yellowfin, but they could go off any time as we are at the whim of the currents. On that, the southern blues are on their way up the coast, but whether they get this far or not is again beyond our control.

One thing is for sure and if there is no food for them they will not come. Ever wondered what it would be like to wake up 1 day and all the Woolies, Coles and other supermarkets, corner shops and takeaways had suddenly gone? Yep, starvation for most.

That is what our fish stocks are looking at if they allow the super trawlers to rip out all of our baitfish, the slimies, redbait and scad, and sell it off overseas.

We have worked too hard to get the bluefin population back to a reasonable level to then starve them out, and the few yellowfin we see from time to time won't come if there is no food. If you think kingfish just hang around harbours and shallow reefs, then you will soon find that when the deepwater bait goes, so will the kings.

No food equals no fish. So write, call, email and annoy the hell out of your local politicians at state and federal levels, because when it is all sold as fishmeal to overseas buyers and the profits go overseas, all that will be left will be some fat cats with full wallets and us with nice boats and nothing to catch.

If every angler makes the effort, the pollies will soil their pants and take notice. It will be worth it.

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