Look to the shelf for tasty treats
  |  First Published: August 2015

In the 1980s you could count on 1 hand the anglers who had caught a blueye trevalla or hapuka on rod and reel in the deep waters of the continental shelf. Professional dropliners caught these and many other ooglies of the deep, but this part of the recreational anglers’ expertise was sadly lacking.

Kiama Canyons was one of the spots where a few locals rode their luck and techniques to drop down 3, 4 and more football fields deep and wait for a bite — that is if the current didn't get hold of the thick nylon and drag the baits away from the strike zone before they even got there.

When a bite did come, it was 15 to 20 minutes of solid winding and pumping where many a lesser reel exploded from the pressure buildup of stretched nylon coming onto a spool and exerting massive inward and sideways strain as it tried to shrink back to its normal diameter.

A few anglers almost exploded too, as their arms would cramp from the constant winding of the heavy weights after a few drops. If they were lucky and got a bite and ultimately a fish half way up, it would then shoot to the top and float after it filled with air, not being able to depressurise after being pulled from the depths at a quicker speed than it could handle. This often concluded with a big mako cruising in and taking the fish anyway.

These days there are purpose-built electric reels, and with braids that are thinner for their breaking strain than mono creating less drag and virtually zero stretch, it has become so much easier to get down and stay down in the zone. Consequently, some pretty extraordinary catches have been made over the past few years.

It is now commonplace for anglers to head out to their favourite deep underwater canyons and walls and accurately drop their baits just where they want them with the aid of electronics, and score good fish on most trips.

The only thing that hasn't changed is the big makos still get their share!

August is a good time to have a look, as many boats head out chasing yellowfin and albacore. If it is a bit slow, drop a line down to take home a feed, or just chase the deepwater species themselves. There isn't any sport in it, but for pure taste it is hard to beat a piece of trevalla.

Just be aware that it is still westerly time and winds that calm the ocean so nicely in close in August can generate very quickly at this time of year. They get big, up to and well over 50kts, catching small and larger vessels off guard with potentially dangerous consequences. We had a 50kt plus blow come though in June that caught a lot of anglers out and some had to be rescued, so watch the weather and don't take chances.

There have been some albacore to 10kg about, and a few yellowfin to 30, with the odd bigger fish along the shelf, but as yet nothing to get too excited about. There have been a few bluefin captures, but they have been way offshore. Some boats I have heard of have been operating 85nm out. That's a long way in a small boat if you run into strife.

Back closer to shore, the salmon have been on the move, working in schools on the surface all along the coast. They are feeding on small clear baitfish at this time of the year, so very small lures and light lines are needed to be successful.

They are excellent fun, but not as fast as the striped tuna that are about at the moment as well. They show up at this time each year and are usually extra large models for the species and really go on light tackle. The seagulls will show you where the salmon are, while the terns moving fast over a school will show the way to the stripies.

Working the washes with pilchards on ganged hooks is another way to get a few salmon, with tailor, bream, trevally and even snapper getting in on the act. Don't bother if the westerlies are blowing and the water is gin clear, as the results will be pretty ordinary — you need some white water.

Snapper are still on the chew as the cuttlefish spawning run still has a few weeks to run, but will taper off towards the end of the month. Good reds to 6kg are over all the northern reefs and most of the other spots along the Illawarra coastline.

Put the anchor down and berley them to you, chase the cuttlies and cast at the floaters, or just drift around with plastics. It all seems to be working to 1 degree or another at the moment.

Berley is attracting plenty of trevally, particularly over the shallow reefs and near the bommies and islands, while the plastics are getting lots of Sergeant Baker and rock cod.

For the bottom bouncers there are plenty of nice little snapper and a few big ones grabbing baits on the bottom, while the flatties are quiet, with only a few fish finding the energy to grab a bait as it passes by.

Kingies have made a bit of an appearance on the deeper reefs, grabbing knife jigs and live baits. Some have been nice fish to 10kg, but they are here today and gone tomorrow. They should get better next month. Just beware of the dreaded barracouta, as the bigger ones can cut through leaders with those razor teeth and easily taking the jigs with them. Throw in leatherjackets and it can be an expensive few drops before you move on.

On the rocks the fishing is not that great, with westerlies leaving the water crystal clear or a ground swell making it dangerous. If you can get some consistency, there are plenty of salmon on the deeper ledges down south around Kiama, with ganged pilchards scoring most fish. A bit of berley will lure in any bream and trevally in the vicinity, while casting lightly weighted prawns into the washes will get more of the same as well as smoking big drummer — both black and silver.

About the only thing that pulls harder than a big silver is a groper. They are about too, and don't mind the clear water. They taste good, whereas the fillets off a silver drummer would carve up into a nice pair of thongs — they are that tough. A quick pic and back into the drink with them.

On the beaches it is not too bad, with quite a few school mulloway getting along this winter. The odd bigger fish is being caught, but the majority are 5-7kg, which is better than a poke in the eye.

Salmon, as always, are the mainstay at this time of the year, with good numbers of winter bream getting into the gutters as well. Some very good sized tailor have been popping up here and there along the beaches, but they just seem to be random schools, with fish to 3kg grabbing fresh mulloway baits and not so much pillies. The bigger fish get a little more selective it seems.

In the estuaries it is still very quiet, with the feeder streams to the lake producing some nice bream if you work the snags with unweighted peeled prawns. Lures don't seem to be getting many results, except in the lake proper where the water may be a tad warmer.

The odd mulloway has been spotted around the bridge and along the front of the lake breakwalls, as have a few salmon and tailor.

Minnamurra has a few resident bream around the bridges if you can outsmart them, while there are salmon about the entrance on the top of the tide during the evenings.

If all else fails, you could chase few calamari squid around the place, as they seem to be in good numbers over the kelp beds close to shore and in the harbours during the evenings.

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