Be cool, stay in schools
  |  First Published: November 2016

After a short, mild winter, the warm water is well on its way with the harbour already recording 19°C. This has brought an early run of surface fish including kings, salmon and bonito. Luderick are still on the bite with some big fish hanging around the lower harbour washes. They’re ravenous for big cabbage weed baits and there are a few good surgeon fish among them, so make sure your tackle is up to scratch.

Kings were present in the harbour right through winter this year, and with good numbers massing on the close offshore reefs it’s shaping up for a good season. You’ll see lots of smaller kings on the surface this month, but the bigger kingies mostly hold from mid water down – this is a good place to present your bait.

High tide and the first two hours of the run-out, early morning and late afternoon is when you will find them really feeding. That’s also a good time to catch squid. Kings are easily turned on and off again if you know what buttons to push. The worst thing you can do is keep presenting something that has been rejected, and in the same manner. A school of following kings can be turned into a school of taking kings by something as simple as changing the presentation angle.

This applies to lures and bait. If they follow a lure or show interest in a bait more than three times without taking it, don’t present it again. They’re the exact opposite to barra in this sense. Barra can be teased into striking whereas kings can be teased out of striking. They’re stubborn bastards and the more you shove it in their face, the more they’ll reject it. Change lure size, let it sink, change the presentation angle or best of all go away, try another spot and come back in half an hour.

Big kingies like whole live squid but small ones don’t. Big kingies will just as happily take a squid head. By using a squid head, you’ll get lots of big and small kingies. If you use live squid you’ll get fewer fish, but they’ll be bigger on average. A whole squid gut is not only exceptionally good bait, but it’s also the best berley you can use for kings. It’s all about the guts. Use the guts and especially the ink to entice the fish. You can burst the ink sac before you send the bait down or you can let the first king burst it for you. The gut is always the first bait to go, which must mean it’s the best bait.

Strips of squid cut from the tube are good baits too, particularly after the guts and heads have got the school in a frenzy. Rub it all in ink. Fish with your reel in gear and with your normal fighting drag. Don’t feed kingies any line when they take your bait. When you feel the take, lower the rod down and move with the fish. Once the rod reaches the water, it’s time to strike.

Salmon and bonito have shown up in good numbers. Trolling lures is a great way of finding salmon. Trolling the headlands, particularly north, south and middle heads is the preferred option when the fish or baitfish can’t be visually or electronically located in open water. With their highly mobile nature, salmon can be expected to turn up anywhere. We’ve even caught them as far upstream as Bantry Bay in Middle Harbour. In fact, strong concentrations of baitfish have been known to lead them well up into the mangrove country, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

Trolling is best with minnow style lures. Metal baitfish profiles and skirted type lures like Christmas trees are good when the fish are high up in the water. Those types of lures will ride high at the trolling speeds required for pelagics, 4-8 knots. Minnows offer deep diving capabilities or at least reliable depth control.

A trolling pattern must be established in order to locate the concentrations of fish. This usually involves a close run first and then moving a little bit wider on each run after that. Troll both directions on each run because it’s common to find fish biting in one direction and not the other. Keep an eye on your sounder for baitfish concentrations and other boats trolling to see where and what they’re catching (and so you don’t run into them), birds working the surface, current lines, gnarly waves, bommies and more.

Salmon regularly work bait on the surface. At these times they can be visually located, often kilometres away, by looking for the accompanying flocks of seabirds cashing in on the leftover baitfish. Not every surface feeding school has birds, but they can be visually located just by looking for the surface disturbance. Obviously good sea conditions make the job a lot easier. There are times when the erupting schools will be heard before they are seen.

When the time comes to approach the school, there’s a few things to keep in mind. Don’t charge right up to the feeding school, as this will almost certainly put them down. There are exceptions to this, where a rapid approach is essential. At certain times they’ll feed in very short bursts and if you’re not there quick, you’ll miss your shot. You must approach fast but keep your distance. The obvious distance to pull up is at the extremities of your personal casting range.

You’ll probably be sharing the school with many other boats, especially on weekends, so keep your wits about you in respect to navigation. Whatever you do, don’t go charging through the middle of the school as it will put the school down and attract plenty of verbal abuse your way from the other boats.

As frenzied as these feeding sprees often get, fish will not tolerate a boat being driven straight through the school. This is a situation I confront every weekend on the harbour. Three or four boats will approach the outskirts of a school slowly and quietly. In the process of being rewarded for their stealth, from out of nowhere some clown will go powering right through the middle, putting the fish down immediately. If you power through a gathering of any type of animal, except maybe sheep, they’ll scatter. Why would fish be any different? Get just within casting distance as quickly as possible and let fly. Speed is the essence in this situation.

You must consider your boat shadow – this will put fear into your school long before the engine noise does. Shadows are the early warning sign of a large predator where engine noise is unfamiliar and fish have proven to be to be far warier of dangers that they are familiar with. The basic rule is to never get between the sun and the fish. The lower the sun is in the sky, the more this applies. Try to anticipate the direction that the fish are moving and be sure not to put your boat in their path. In windy conditions you can use the wind to make a quiet approach. Position your drift to take you alongside the school and not over the top of it.

It’s been a solid bonito season with good-sized fish mixed in with the surface feeding salmon schools. You can visually pick the two apart by the way they hit the surface chasing baitfish. Salmon and kings feed across the surface, leaving subdued boils, whereas bonito and tailor dart up from below with a burst of speed that leaves a ‘rooster tail’ of water showering high into the air.

Bonnies are generally less fussy on lure size than salmon, but on rare occasions can be difficult to tempt. They make great salted bait. With a little care and a feisty dipping sauce, fish sauce with a hot chilli chopped through it, they are great tucker. As sashimi, they have a reputation for causing stomach upsets. You’ll rarely find them completely raw in Japanese restaurants. To counter this problem, they’re nearly always served tataki style. All exposed surfaces are cooked very briefly on a searing hot plate and then plunged immediately into iced water. The steak is then thinly sliced into traditional sashimi sized pieces.

Fish OutTa water new location

Northern Beach’s long standing tackle shop, Fish Outta Water, has moved from its old location at Manly Vale to 533 Pittwater Road, Brookvale. FOW had its origins in the iconic Harbord Tackle store, started in the late 80s and well known for its international mail order catalogue, before being bought by Dan Kennedy and moved to a much larger two-storey ‘lodge’ style shop at Manly Vale, where they remained for the last 17 years. In one form or another, they’ve been providing Northern Beach’s fishos with quality tackle and service for over three decades. Dan and staff have built up a solid, loyal client base that won’t need encouraging to follow them to the new location.


A thumping harbour luderick.


Bonito respond well to both trolled and cast lures.


If you’re after big luderick then large fresh cabbage weed baits are a must.


A solid early season kingfish.

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