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Hoping for a Christmas feast
  |  First Published: December 2015



It can be feast or famine during December, with the ocean starting to get a good push towards the south as the East Australian current starts to really get going.

The warm water brings with it all those speedsters we love to chase. However, the early run pushes that cold water up from down deep so we can have 23°C water one day and 15°C the next, shutting down everything before the next lot of warm water takes the cold away again. This can make it tricky, but the good days are usually very good with all manner of pelagics eager to smash a bait or lure. It makes for some great memories, and when the water goes cold again we seem to forget about those days anyway so a bit of hit-and-miss is tolerable.

The small mahimahi won't be around in numbers for a while yet but the ones that have been caught have been good fish. Most have been grabbing lures intended for marlin, but a few have been taken around the FADs and floating debris.

Yellowfin tuna have been a bit hit-and-miss as well so far, with the majority of better fish coming from so far out you will need to get your passport stamped before coming home. The first week in December used to be when large numbers of jumbos hit the local shallow reefs like Wollongong and Bandit, and the odd one or two still do from year to year.

Instincts built up over generations are hard to ignore but there are so few inshore fish now it is just a fluke if you hook one randomly. However, you still hear of one popping into a snapper angler’s berley stream and grabbing a pillie before giving the angler the run of a lifetime just before all the line disappears.

Black marlin shouldn’t be too far away now but as always it is in the laps of the currents. There have been some quality striped marlin about out on the shelf and even in as far as the 50 fathom line for some weeks now but the warmer water should bring the blacks. The middle of January is when they usually hit their straps but some seasons they come on early. Let's hope this is one of them.

Kings are still a bit hit-and-miss on all the local reefs so you will have to work hard to get decent results. It’s much the same as last month with a few fish in the 10-15kg range, but a lot of water has to be covered to get them. Smaller legal-sized fish seem to be a little more accommodating, with undersized rats more prolific. It’s strange that they’ve gotten more and better fish to the north and south of the Illawarra region for the past few years, while we can expect just a few good days over the season if we are lucky, with very little consistency.

Schools of striped tuna are popping up along the coast so a bit of fun bait gathering can be had on the fiery little speedsters. However, the one fish you can truly rely on is the salmon. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea but, pound for pound, they’re one of the best sportfish in the country and they are readily available all along the coast on most days. The only thing they lack is high regard in the culinary department, but I still haven’t met anyone who can pass by chilli and garlic Aussie salmon fish cakes.

The islands off Port Kembla, Bass Point and almost every headland with a bit of wash around it and deeper water will hold salmon. Ganged pilchards, small live yellowtail and lures of many types all take fish.

BOTTOM BOUNCING

Snapper are a bit hit-and-miss, with the rapid changes to water temperature and current. While the bigger fish can be loners they are mostly found in schools, so whether you’re fishing plastics or hitting the berley you will either score well or come up donuts. With the fish holding in the 30-50m depth range at the moment, the current will play a big part in your success.

For the bottom bouncers it’s good news with good quality flathead in numbers over just about all the sand patches off the coast. The northern areas up around Stanwell Park and further north seem to be the best areas, but they will cop a bit of a hiding just prior to Christmas when the pros move in and vacuum the place. This is where a good sounder comes in handy so you can drift along the edges of the reef where they keep the nets at a distance, so a few fish remain there out of harm’s way.

Over the reefs and gravel there are some excellent mowies on the move, with quite a few pigfish about as is usual at this time of the year. Leatherjackets are still around in abundance in some places but not others, so depending on your feelings for the humble ‘jackets you will be happy or disappointed when you find them.

Small snapper are fairly plentiful over the reefs as well, with the deeper reefs providing more fish.

ROCK AND BEACH

On the rocks it will just get better as the weeks progress. The winter species will slow right down but with the cool water still popping up this month the drummer and bream will be an option in the washes all along the coast.

When it does get consistently warm we will have a few more options with bonito, salmon, tailor and plenty of smaller kings on offer on the deeper ledges down around the Kiama area. The breakwaters at Port Kembla are also worth a look the morning after a northeast blow. Then it won't be long before the frigates arrive and that is when the action really starts, with big kings loving frigates, and marlin not too far away for the dedicated LBG anglers. Throw in a few hammerheads and whalers and there will be enough action to keep you on your toes.

On the beaches it is good times with the warmer water making it bearable to spend all that time with your feet in the drink. Bigger mulloway will be the target this month, because it’s around Christmas when the bigger fish seem to hit their straps (there will be plenty of smaller fish in between the whoppers as well). Any local beach with a good deep gutter is worth a throw after dark, with fish of 25kg+ not uncommon. You won't hear much about them until a few weeks later from the diehards, who keep the mulloway’s arrival quiet so they can avoid the crowds when the word gets out.

Or you will hear about them when a young knucklehead happens to catch one and plasters themselves and their fish all over social media. They then can't understand why they can't get toehold on their spot the next evening, and their information source from the regulars dries up. They’ll learn!

Salmon are plentiful over all the beaches, with worms and pilchards doing the trick. The whiting are just getting better, with all the beaches now holding some good fish in good numbers. The beaches around the lake are the best, with Windang and Port producing plenty. The odd dart is starting to show as well as the water warms, and flathead are now a common bycatch or worth targeting with plastics.

Bream are about in the gutters along the edges of the rocks, and some solid tailor have been hitting pilchards just on dark on most beaches.

The lake and Minnamurra are really getting going now with flathead all over the place, and some good ones too over the 70cm mark. Whiting are on all the shallow flats grabbing nippers and worms, and if it is quiet poppers are getting some as well.

Bream are in the deeper parts around the bridges during the evenings and it’s worth a throw with plastics for a mulloway around Windang, but they are irregular at best; if you manage to get one, well done! Chopper tailor are a nuisance but fun for the kids as they are thick around the drop into the lake. A few big blackfish are picking up worms and weed.

Good fishing and have a Merry Christmas!

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