In between seasons
  |  First Published: December 2007

Port Stephens is in between seasons at the moment. The blue water of the East Australian Current is slowly trickling down from the north but, as always, can change dramatically depending on constant north-east winds which tend to push any warm water offshore.

The water temperature inside the bay has finally warmed, turning on many estuary species.

I enjoy nothing better than an early morning or late afternoon throwing soft plastics or surface poppers around the estuary, especially with daylight saving allowing an extra couple of hours on the water after work.

Bream are very active, especially when it comes to eating lures off the surface. Admittedly, the strike rate can be sometimes pretty average but the visual aspects of this type of fishing are spectacular.

Smaller cup-faced poppers are by far the most effective. The constant blooping sound of the lure as it’s being worked over likely-looking real estate is irresistible to a big blue-lipped bream or, for that matter, many other species. Don’t be surprised if a kidney-slapping sand whiting or big dusky flathead decides to smash your surface offering.

Speaking of flathead, so far our season has been exceptional. Some big breeding females have been caught and, thankfully, released in many locations throughout the Port.

As Summer progresses many flathead tend move in the lower reaches of the bay. Soldiers Point, Corlette, Shoal Bay and Tilligerry Creek are regarded as prime locations with shallow sand flats adjoined by weed beds and rocky outcrops where duskies lie ready to ambush the bait fish that gather at high tide.

These days soft plastics seem to have taken over from traditional bait for flathead although a frog-mouthed pilchard or garfish rigged, on a set of ganged hooks and slowly retrieved just above the bottom, is still a very effective technique.

It’s also heart-in-mouth stuff so always keep an eye on your bait because sometimes a big dusky will follow it right to your feet before opening its bucket mouth and devouring the lot.


Jewfish catches in the bay have been very consistent over the past month. The size hasn’t been spectacular but their numbers have been very good. Most fish have been caught using fresh or live baits such as squid, live slimy mackerel and herring, although some anglers have been successful with soft plastics especially around the new and old bridges at Karuah.

It’s worth noting that not all jewfish are caught during twilight hours; many switched-on anglers know that certain tides and times of the day will produce bites, so don’t be afraid to experiment in the middle of the day.

All of Port Stephens’ beaches have been loaded with beautiful silvery sand whiting. From the scenic Fingal Bay right down to Stockton, or ‘Big Beach’ as locals call it, have healthy populations.

But you’re not in the game unless you have a supply of live beach worms. I know that pipis and nippers will also do the job but it seems a live worm is irresistible. Duffy’s Bait and Tackle at Salamander Bay always has good supply of fresh beach worms but it’s advisable to give him a call on 02 4982 0711 to lay-by an order because the demand is huge.

Big Beach has always been regarded as one of the State’s prime jewfish spots and since the Hunter River flooded back in Winter the action has been getting better and better. Reports of multiple fish being caught during the night are common and although they’re mainly schoolies, no one is complaining.

The Huts, about half-way along the beach, regularly produce fish and this area always has the better-looking gutters.

Rock fishing at this time of year can be a little hit-and-miss. Traditional Winter species such as drummer and luderick can be caught, especially after a good southerly.

But my rock fishing at this time of year has always revolved around snapper. I like to experiment with floating baits and paternoster rigs, depending on the location. A big snapper finds it hard to resist a fresh squid head or a fillet of salted bonito or slimy fillet wafting around the wash.

The game fishing season is just around the corner but at the moment it can be a long day between hook-ups, although the odd striped marlin and yellowfin tuna has been found on the edge of the continental shelf.


The East Australian Current can be frustrating because one day it can hold plenty of fish and bait and then everything disappears and green, cold water prevails.

There are encouraging signs further inshore as an early run of mahi mahi have been caught around the fish traps in 40 fathoms east of Little Island now and then.

Big kingfish are always ready to ambush a live squid. One recent capture of a kingie around the islands was an impressive 28kg. Apparently the big hoodlum didn’t know it was hooked and simply swam along the edge of a nearby beach with two others following it around. It was lucky for the anglers and unlucky for the kingie.

And it seems our leatherjacket plague just won’t go away. It’s been very frustrating for those trying to fish the deeper reefs for snapper, trag and bar cod, only to have multiple hook and sinkers snipped off before they even reach bottom. The only consolation if you manage to hook a few of these leatherjackets is their superb white flesh.

From now until mid-Autumn the waters of Port Stephens will come alive with array of species with the fishing getting better day by day. So stay tuned for some exciting reports over the next few months.

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