Find the bait balls
  |  First Published: July 2016

Over the last month, anglers along our part of the coast has once again seen some pretty patchy fishing. The quiet days see the whole river system closed down and hard to get a bite, whilst the good days see fish almost jumping into the boat. I suppose it’s that time of the year when the water temperature is dropping and a new set of predators are starting to show up.

Along Pittwater there are still kingfish, tailor, flathead, trevally, bream and salmon being caught when schools of small yellowtail are located on the sounder. The deeper water along Pittwater still has some small mulloway actively hunting on the change the tide.

The key to targeting any of these species has been to cover ground and use fresh caught bait. There are days when the larger predators will eat prawns or frozen squid, but to give yourself the best chance at tangling with one of these fish it’s best to catch some live bait first.

For those that want to target kingfish along Pittwater, I have some good news. The kingies seem to be eating small yellowtail as well as small live squid. This means that instead of spending a couple of hours catching squid, you can head out to West Head and catch some small yellowtail. I do suggest that you cover your bases and collect both though.

Squid at this time of the year can be harder to find than in the warmer months. The bigger breeder calamari squid are normally located around the weed beds or rocky areas with weed. If you do catch one of these larger squid, don’t be scared to whack it on the downrigger to see if you can tempt one of the larger kingfish that are lurking along the river.

In previous years, I have found that these larger kingfish prefer to eat small cuttlefish that are found along the rocky shoreline of Pittwater. These tiny little ink machines don’t last long when a school of hungry kingfish has been found. The funny thing is that most of these small cuttlefish tend to pull the bigger fish out of the schools.

As mentioned previously, the better all-round bait if you are going to use squid seems to be the smaller ones. These small squid are hard to find along Pittwater, but if you venture out into Broken Bay you may have some better luck with finding arrow squid around Lion Island and smaller calamari squid around Barrenjoey Head.

The jigs to use seem to be either the flashy hardbodied jigs or the natural colours with the cloth covered jigs. Along Pittwater the best size to use has been 2.5, but when fishing out in Broken Bay the larger 3.5 jigs are working well for the aggressive arrow squid, but the 2.5 jigs are working better for the southern calamari squid.

The areas to target kingfish along Pittwater are varying from day to day with some days not seeing any action at all on the surface. So this means that you must cover ground to find baitfish that are balled up.

If the baitfish are balled up and appear as a soccer ball shape on your sounder, then they are under attack by larger predators. If you find baitfish schools that are spread out on the sounder, you will usually find that unless you are targeting species on the bottom, you won’t have much luck. The bays that have been producing kingfish are Careel Bay, Towlers Bay, The Basin, along the river around Scotland Island and amongst the moorings at Clareville.

For those of you who are chasing flathead, bream and trevally, berley around structure and use light lines. If the water is clear and clean, use fluorocarbon traces, but if the water is dirty or full of particles you may be better off just using your normal light leaders. Be prepared to move around a fair bit if you are not finding fish.

Hairtail have shown up along the Cowan Creek River system, and if you can withstand the cold foggy nights you should have some fun. These toothy chrome bars can be a lot of fun the catch, especially when using lighter tackle. There are many ways to catch hairtail and with each passing year new techniques emerge.

At the moment, hairtail are not thick along the river but when an area with them has been found there seems to be a steady bite. The baits to use are small live yellowtail that can normally be caught while at anchor and berleying. Pilchards and pilchard fillets floated down the berley trail will also see a few fish caught.

If you wish to try something different, you can use lures and soft plastics to catch hairtail. Flutter jigs or barra spoons are my favourite lures to catch hairtail. These jigs are designed to flutter through the water column and once the lures hit the butter zone they can be kept there by just raising the rod to lift the lure and then letting it flutter back down into the strike zone again. Soft plastics can also be used in this manner with great results as well.

Remember to take with you some green glow lights, but don’t put them on all of the baits you send out. Also, it may be worth putting out a mulloway bait while you are trying to catch hairtail. There are a lot of school mulloway encountered around the schools of yellowtail along the bays and in the deeper holes.

The areas to try are Waratah Bay, Illawong Bay and Jerusalem Bay. I am sure there will be schools along Smiths Creek as well. If you see schools are small tailor there has been hairtail under these schools as well.

Offshore on the reefs we have been finding nice snapper, lots of trag and decent flathead. There has been quite a good bite in water depths of 60-90m with quite a variety of fish.

Around the edges of the reef where it drops onto sand or gravel, there have been good schools of baitfish and the predators have been close by. Areas that we have been finding quality fish are the ordinance grounds, the trap grounds off the Central Coast, the Esmeralda Wreck and the Container Ground. All types of bait have been working very well including micro-jigs and soft plastics when the current allows.

When fishing this deeper water, to increase your chances of fish finding your bait, try rigging your paternoster rig with red lumo beads. I have found over the last six months of reef fishing that by using these lumo beads, you can attract fish to those baits. On many occasions, I will put one of these beads above the top hook and a fish will be caught on this hook, yet there will be baits left on the hooks below.

I hope this report sees you grabbing some warm clothing, the family or friends and getting out on the water to enjoy our wonderful part of the coast.

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