What’s willing to bite with winter coming
  |  First Published: May 2017

The sun goes down early and gets up late this month and it can be cold at both times. Don’t let that stop you from hitting the beaches. We get some nice balmy days as well and these are even better to chase excellent whiting along one of our golden beaches in the Illawarra.

Beach worms are the way to go and it can be pretty cold catching them. As always, effort reaps reward. The schools are not as big as during the summer, but the fish themselves will all be solid. There will be no throwbacks at this time of the year. A catch of 10 fish will be a good effort on any given day. The best thing at this time of year is the by-catch. The ever-present salmon love beach worms and go hard on light line, and although they’re not thought of by many as good table fish, good old salmon fish cakes done properly are excellent on the chew.

Although they have thinned out noticeably over the past few weeks the odd flathead is still being caught. They are well outnumbered by the school mulloway who just love a feed of worms. They don’t usually come on the bite until after dark and you don’t often catch them when you are pulling in whiting, as one of the whiting’s number one enemies is the mulloway. Whiting hightail it when there are any mulloway about.

Bream have come into their own lately and if you can’t get worms they will tackle fish bait and prawns. It always pays to carry a few different types of bait on each outing.

Tailor have come on and they love pilchards, so there’s no standing in cold water to get bait there. Some of them have been fish over 2kg and they’ll put on a good show on light gear.

Bigger mulloway are on the usual beaches that are known for big fish. With bigger high tides in the evenings the odds of hooking one are enhanced with more water in the good gutters. The whaler sharks are still present too, so take a few extra hooks. These guys can be prolific on some nights. The trouble is you never know if it is a small shark or a mulloway, so you have to fight them out to see what they are if they don’t bite you off quickly.

The rocks are going well too with some pelagics still hanging about in the form of mac tuna, bonito, kingfish and the odd longtail. All these fish love live mackerel or yellowtail, so always keep one in the water while throwing lures or bait fishing. You just never know when one will swim by.

Lures are accounting for most of the bonito, and plenty of salmon and tailor are being caught too. Pilchards on ganged hooks slowly retrieved through the washes are taking plenty as well, with the odd snapper and solid bream grabbing the pillies around the deeper ledges.

Berleying the washes with bread and fish mince and then bait fishing is bringing in bream, trevally and drummer, depending on what bait you use. Bread works best on the drummer. Cabbage weed under a float is accounting for drummer, luderick and a few big silver drummer. These things go harder than groper, but are useless on the chew – if you can get them out. You know how it goes; you have to cook them with a brick.

The estuary scene is fading fast with only a few flatties willing to have a crack. You’ll have to work hard for them. The water is getting cool, but there are some good bream getting along the weed bed edges around Primbee that are closer to deep water. They will be better next month, and a few are making their way up into the lake feeder streams.

The entrance to the lake and Minnamurra is holding some nice luderick if you can get good weed. Try the new synthetic stuff. It seems to trick a few when they are hungry.

Offshore is still going pretty well. There are patches of warm and cold water along the coast, and that is dictating the species you will run into. Over the reefs there are a few snapper that stayed after the April full moon. There should be strays and a few more later in the month arriving early for the cuttlefish run, which is still some way off yet. Most of the fish are under 2kg, but some ugly big hump heads are about too. You just don’t know what you will get.

There are still a few pelagics about with schools of mackerel tuna, bonito and salmon smashing the baitfish along the coast. As always when travelling, keep your eyes open for the splashes and birds working the schools. Fresh tuna has no equal for snapper bait at this time of the year.

The odd king will be hanging around the islands and all the other usual spots. Live yellowtail is the bait of choice unless you can get hold of a few squid. I prefer eating the squid to using them for king baits, although the fight and photo opportunities of a better than 15kg king have some merit.

Some of the big bonito from last month are still around grabbing live baits meant for kings. They will move on as the month progresses.

Further offshore there is still a good chance of striped marlin and even more of a big blue out over the shelf and beyond. With more boats than ever heading wide these days, the season seems to just get longer each year. Unlike in summer the winds can come from the west and the ocean can get ugly and very dangerous, very quickly. When you’re halfway to New Zealand it’s a long way home.

With a bit of luck a few yellowfin tuna should show up during this month. So far they have been pretty scarce. That can all change with the currents. Even the smaller fish that hold in the warmer water over summer were few and far between.

The next gamefish will be the southern blues of winter. They are some way off yet. Don’t write off a few mahimahi showing up on the FADs this month either, as they have lasted right into June over the past two years. When going past it’s always worth a look.

A few striped tuna have been doing their best to grab the bigger lures, so a small brightly coloured lure in the spread should get all the bait and berley you need.

For the bottom bouncers the flatties have slowed a little. There are still enough around over most of the sand patches for a feed, and they seem to be a better size with 40cm+ fish and very few spikies in the mix.

Over the reefs the smaller snapper are in good numbers with mowies, pigfish and samsonfish on most days. Trevally are on the increase as the water cools, along with more leatherjackets. Some of them are whoppers.

Don’t forget that this month the ocean can be very calm, allowing you to get in closer than you normally would in some of the exposed bays and headlands. This lets you get into shallower water and lay down a berley trail for plenty of bream and the odd red.

Remember to err on the side of caution if you are not completely familiar with the spot you are fishing as a set wave can come through at any time and catch you napping. Stick to the sheltered bays where there will be plenty of bream as well.

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