Dig deep, sea for yourself
  |  First Published: September 2016

The snapper are just about finished in the closer reefs, now that the cuttlies have finished spawning. The odd cuttlefish may still be around, but with their departure goes the snapper.

A few bigger fish will remain around the bommies, islands and washes, but they will be picked off in coming weeks by the lucky angler fishing for other species, or those in the know who target them in these areas. Evenings are now the time to chase bigger fish, and the best time is the new moon, when it’s black during the night. Some fish will be rippers up to that magic 10kg mark, so be prepared for a big run.

Most fish have moved into deeper water, so it’s back to drifting plastics over deeper reefs, working the sounder and looking for schools of baitfish they may be targeting. Some pretty good catches will come in the next few months using this tactic. As a general rule, when you find one, you find a few. The big reef system around the rise of Wollongong Reef is always popular, as is the system out around Bandit. The smaller reefs and patches of hard ground south of Wollongong are good producers as well.

Reefs off Windang, Minnamurra, and Kiama are all worth a look with the sounder. Even if you pick up just one fish, it’s worth the drift over. If in doubt, head to the hump off Stanwell Park, and mix it with the boat from Port Hacking. If this fails, you’ll run into schools of pelagics chasing down baitfish on the surface. Most are big salmon and rat kings, swimming shoulder to shoulder, picking off hapless baitfish.

When they’re in this mood, they can be tough to interest with your lures. Small lures and light lines usually score the most strikes, but a big popper ripped through the school can often bring them onto bigger lures. The added attraction of the noise will get any deeper kings up and onto the popper.

Alternatively, a live yellowtail cast into the school can get some action on bigger salmon and kings lurking beneath. Trevally are usually moving with these schools, so small plastics worked back under the schools will pick them off. If you let your metal lures drop down below the school, chances are you won’t get it back. There are barracouta starting to show, and when they arrive in any numbers they can put a hole in the lure collection quickly. It’s best to move when you encountered them.

Some of the better schools have been up off the national park, north of Stanwell Park. If the fish are moving fast across the surface, with a few terns in attendance but no seagull hordes, they are probably striped tuna. If you’re out a bit further, maybe it’s a stray yellowfin or two. Sometimes, just keeping up is a job in itself, let alone getting a cast in front of a moving school.

Rather than chase fish around, try casting pilchards on ganged hooks into the washes all along the coast, for plenty of salmon, trevally, tailor and even one of those thumping big snapper. Any wash with a bit of depth is worth a cast. Catches of flathead are on the increase and the usual spots off Stanwell Park, Port Kembla and Windang have produced some fair catches lately. These should improve over the coming weeks as the water warms a little.

There are some nice pigfish and a few mowies for the bottom bashers as well, along with the ever present sweep. Further out around the shelf, there have been reports of a few albacore and yellowfin on the move, but they’re patchy. Most fish are being picked up on the troll, then a pilchard trail set up while fighting the fish to bring the school up under the boat.

Bluefin and some sizable yellowfin made a brief appearance a few weeks back, but didn’t seem to move up around this neck of the woods for any length of time. When they did show off Kiama and Shellharbour, it was only for a few days. Then the weather and currents put an end to it. Some notable captures were made in those few days, for a lucky few just the same. You never know when they’ll show up again this month.

If you miss the tuna, there are plenty of gemfish around Kiama Canyons and a few blue-eye as well, if the current isn’t going too hard and you don’t mind the long drop. On the stones, there are trevally and the odd bream, for those using pilchard pieces and prawns for bait. Add a little bread or bran berley with a few pilly pieces mixed in for better results.

The deeper rock spots, like Kiama and the south side of Bass Point, are providing better catches. Salmon and tailor are grabbing pilchards on ganged hooks off the deeper ledges in the early morning and evening. The odd king follows up hooked salmon down around Kiama way too, so a live yakka or pike fished close in very early could score the goods.

Drummer are still about in fair numbers. Cunje and prawns prove to be their undoing, and most rock spots with a descent bit of white water are worth a try. Some nice fish over 2kg have been landed with some bigger ones lost.

Blackfish are a bit scarce at the moment, and only the hardcore fishers are watching their floats at the moment. Good green weed is hard to find, and anglers are opting to use cabbage weed, scraped from the lower rock platforms.

The beaches are not quiet, but lacking variety. Decent salmon and tailor are on most strips of sand with a good gutter at high tide. Pilchards are hard to go past for bait, but just about any fish bait will do the job at the moment. School mulloway are floating about for those putting in the time with good quality fresh bait. It can still get chilly in the evenings, and the water is cold, so wear the winter woollies and waders.

It can be difficult beach fishing in Illawarra, as so many beaches without surf clubs are dog off-leash areas. To dog owners, this means let them run amuck and do as they please. It’s a tragedy – bait stolen, gear peed on and my cameras covered in sand, then being jumped on by some large and intimidating type of dog.

Most owners think it’s wonderful, but only the odd responsible owner keeps their animals under control when passing. I had one nip in from behind me and grab bait I had just put on the hook. I was standing up when several hundred dollars worth of rod and reel went dragging through the sand until I got a foot on it. I thought a solid staffie would fight harder than that! The owner was irate, but he was 100m down the beach and not in control of his animal. Luckily the hook came out, just on dark too. Any earlier and it’s impossible to fish, as everything is destroyed by dogs.

I now spray good old powerful household ammonia on the sand around my gear. Dogs hate it with their sensitive noses, but you must be careful not to get it on your bait, clothes or gear. Fish don’t like it either. In the estuaries, it’s quiet with a few bream around the bridges and rock walls, a few flathead will stir at the end of the month and get better as we progress through spring.

Good luck.


There are some nice blue-eye mixed with the gemmies, deep near the canyons at Kiama.


Now's the time to head to deeper waters and chase snapper on plastics. This is an average catch and it nearly swallowed the lot.


A few bluefin showed up earlier. Brett McGregor was one of the lucky ones with this 90kg fish from Shell Harbour.

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