Fishing conditions over the past couple of months at Port Stephens have been the worst I can recall. Persistent chilly west winds roaring up the harbour and mean seas belting the coastline have chased all but the hardiest indoors.
The Port is a huge expanse of water that is exposed particularly to the west wind and fishing off the beaches and the rocks was pretty much out of the question. Boating outside the heads virtually became non-existent as huge swells pounded the outer islands.
On the positive side is that the fishing was great when a keyhole of opportunity presented itself.
That is all behind us as we thankfully swing into the straight for the home run towards Summer.
Whiting have already arrived in excellent numbers so early in the season. Oddly enough, they have been here since mid-August. No one is complaining as the blue-nosed beauties cruise through the sandy shallows from Shoal Bay to Corlette.
A couple of great spots for the whole family to fish for whiting are the jetties at Shoal bay and Little Beach. These are safe, accessible and always provide the opportunity of catching a quality fish.
Bream in Port Stephens are like old friends; they are always there when everything else leaves. To put it in simple terms, the Port is alive with cracker bream to a frightening 1.8kg swimming through the oyster-encrusted mangroves and under every oyster rack.
The smarter ones have taken up residence inside the calm waters of the Nelson Bay Marina and spend their days snacking on the tidbits offered to them by the local trawlers. Prawns are the ideal bait because the fish have become conditioned to feeding on the prawns and prawn shells washed in from the Co-op or tossed in by tourists.
Recent reports suggest that the resident bream have been joined by kingfish, trevally and thumping flathead.
Further inside the Port, the feeder rivers, creeks and streams are bubbling with trumpeter whiting and blue swimmer crabs. Soldiers Point through Tilligerry Creek, Lemontree Passage and up to Karuah, the trumpeters and crabs are working overtime.
There is no better family day than in a boat drifting up and down the channels setting your witches’ hats and catching whiting while the crabs catch themselves.
The sea has settled, which is great news for the cobble-hoppers who target snapper, bream, drummer and tailor from the headlands between Fingal and Boatharbour.
Snapper are the prized species off the rocks and this is the time to get serious. Best baits include squid and salted tuna but it won’t be real long before someone reports catching a snapper off the rocks on a soft plastic.
Beach fishing from now until Easter is fantastic with the whiting already cruising behind the whitewater along with bream, tailor, flathead, early-season jewfish and, of course, our old mates the ‘fishcakes’ – salmon.
The beaches to rely on for results are Stockton, One Mile and Fingal with the best baits being worms, pilchards and strips of fresh mullet.
It’s the sensational fishing outside the heads that generally creates the greatest interest around town and it’s not surprising that snapper are the main topic of conversation lately. The recently established marine park has done absolutely nothing to dim the enthusiasm of snapper fishermen or reduce the results.
There are numerous deep and shallow reefs off Port Stephens that hold reddies, with none better than the rugged, rocky bottom off Fishermans Bay.
Snuggled under the cliffs between Birubi and Fingal, the tiny hamlet of Fishermans Bay is our best-kept secret. A steep, rugged track winds down to a small beach where, in certain calm conditions, small boats are pushed off trailers into the surf.
From here it is only a short distance to some of the best snapper grounds imaginable, easily identified by the cracking of swells on shallow reef. Better launching conditions are available just around the corner at Boatharbour Beach. Launching at either Fishermans or Boatharbour should not be attempted without some knowledge of conditions and a reliable 4WD vehicle.
Fingal is the hottest snapper spot north of Fishermans. Again, a comfortable beach-launching site is popular with the locals who push their tinnies into Kiddies Korner, the most southern corner of Fingal Beach.
If you aren’t keen to launch off the beach, the snapper grounds off Fingal can be reached by those who choose to leave from the boat ramps inside the Port, particularly Little Beach.
The wild country east of the Outer Light at Fingal is ideal snapper territory. Remember that there is a sanctuary zone around the southern half of Fingal Island.
There is no denying that the home of snapper in our corner of the world is Broughton Island. The best part about Broughton is that there are heaps of reefs all holding cracker reds so there is no need to crowd around any one spot.
The most popular spots are Cod Rock, the Sisters, North Island and The Gutz. All these hot spots appeared in the July issue of NSWFM. Boondelbah and Little islands are loading up with quality reds and are attractive to those who are not so keen to travel longer distances.
If, for some unknown reason, you come up empty over the reefs, head immediately to the wide expanses of deep sandy flats to target sand flathead on the drift. You can all but bet your bottom dollar that you will arrive home with a feed.
Ben Doolan with a typical Broughton Island giant red.
Flathead have appeared in healthy numbers, suggesting that this is going to be a cracker flathead Summer. Bill Croft with an early morning Corlette Flathead.Reads: 2176