Not a bad billfish season
  |  First Published: July 2016

As we coast into winter, it’s interesting to look back on the game fishing season that was on the Coffs coast from the catch stats of the Solitary Islands Game Fishing Club. With a few weeks still to go at the time of writing, club members had tagged 99 marlin and weighed just one that came up tail-wrapped. The breakdown was quite an even spread, with 34 blues, 34 blacks and 31 stripes. Billfish-wise, this is the most successful year in the club’s young history.

The summer influx of black marlin were a touch bigger than past years, although there were still a few rats inshore. These proved an annoyance for mackerel trollers, who were often too lightly rigged to handle them. Some problem…

Blue marlin are the marque billfish species of the Coffs coast though, and the season was steady-steady without the crazy hot bites of 2015. As numbers thinned out in autumn, the size increased dramatically, with a few fish over 200kg tagged and more lost.

Numbers of striped marlin got the season underway in September and October, and then bobbed up again in late summer/early autumn, giving a few boats a shot at a coveted Grand Slam (a black, blue and a striped, or a sailfish, in one day). A number got two legs of the trifecta in but missed out on the third, although local charter boat Black N Blue did tick all the boxes in this regard.

The ever-reliable mahimahi that used to take the sting out of a marlin-less day were practically non-existent in 2015/16. However, the gap was admirably filled by hordes of wahoo that lobbed in early summer and were still about, albeit in reduced numbers, in late autumn. No real monsters were caught, but honest fish of 8-15kg meant freezers remained stocked. It was certainly the best wahoo bite Coffs has seen in a long time, possibly ever.

We ran a jethead lure off the shotgun ’rigger practically all season with the specific intent of catching a wahoo… which didn’t happen. It did, however, produce a couple of marlin, so who am I to complain!

Regarding other members of the razor gang, it was a corker of a year for Spanish and spotted mackerel yet again. The bite continued into the start of winter, although as always angling effort declines as the days get shorter and the mornings colder. That’s not to say the fish aren’t still present though. The late autumn fish weren’t a whole lot longer than the summer ones, but they were substantially deeper through the flanks and carrying a couple of extra kilos than when they first arrived in the state.

Their favourite food fish, the slimy mackerel, were abundant all season, with the Wide Bait Ground and other lesser-known spots holding bait much of the time. It always amazes me though, how you can sound around a reef pre-sunup and not see a single slimy patch, but once the sun gets over the horizon they’re marking in droves.

So now it’s winter and much of the effort switches to eating fish like snapper, teraglin and pearl perch. For the super dedicated, there are yellowfin tuna to be had, and striped marlin also, the only drawback being those incessant sou’ westers are often a lot stronger out on the shelf than they are along the coast.

With the current easing out wide and in light of the success in Tasmania, Victoria and on the NSW south coast, there’s going to be greater interest in deep dropping for broadbill swordfish this winter and spring. A few people have tried so far for no result, but given the substantial offshore canyons and steep dropoffs Coffs is blessed with, it’s really only a matter of time.

Photo courtesy of Tony Zann.

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