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The year of the mulloway
  |  First Published: July 2017



This year has been the year of the mulloway. I can’t ever remember a run of school-sized mulloway (4-15kg) this good. There have been a few seasons that have produced better runs of big fish, but never in the numbers we are experiencing at the moment.

Mulloway have adapted very well to the type of artificial structures found along our coast and in bays and rivers. They love shade and a break in the current while they aren’t feeding, so the likes of deep water jetties, marinas, wrecks and bridges provide ideal holding grounds for them. The downside is that they are more sensitive to noise and commotion than some of our other common big predators, so keep your approach as quiet as possible.

They are probably the hardest of all fish to crack the code for consistent success. Here are a few tips that should make it a bit easier.

As with any fish, you’ll fluke one on any tide if they are hungry enough and you drop the right bait on their nose. However, the turn of the tide is when they come out to feed. The turn of the high and the first hour and a half is the prime time. The turn of the low and the first hour and a half of the run-in is your next best bet. This is the time of least tidal flow and reflects the lazy nature of the mulloway.

Mulloway have two areas where you might find them: their holding grounds and their feeding grounds. As an example of this, imagine a wreck sitting on barren sand or mud bottom in the harbour, where mulloway hold. On the turn of the tides they will come out of cover and make their way to food-rich kelp beds or a breakwall to feed. The wreck is the holding ground and the kelp bed or breakwall is the feeding ground.

Being in the vicinity of holding structure gives you your best shot at these fish. They will pass by your offerings as they make their way out to the feeding grounds and again as they make their way back. Obviously they will be hungrier on their way out than when they return after a feed, so right on the turn of the high or low when they first make their move out is the ultimate time to be near holding cover. You will catch good mulloway during the day if the conditions are right.

Divers tell me mulloway hang in wrecks, caves, ledges, pylons and under marinas. Sometimes they can be found under coastal shelves in very shallow sudsy water. They are different from kings who hang around structure for food and shade. Mulloway actually like to get inside the structure for security. This doesn’t mean that they ambush feed from here though. Their feeding is done when they move out and onto richer grounds.

Don’t always assume that the structure needs to be deep either. I know of at least one patch of washy, gnarly bommies within casting distance from the shore that produces mulloway up to 40lb and sits in less than 15ft of water.

What about when they move well upstream into the mangrove estuaries where there is very little structure? This makes things a bit easier in regards to all tide access. They will be found sitting in the bottom of the deepest holes, generally in open water. This means you can reach them with a bait or lure through any stage of the tide. Of course, you will still do better during those tide changes when they are actively feeding. Bridges are a major source of artificial structure in an environment where there would otherwise be none. These are prime spots in the upper reaches, especially for lure chuckers at night.

Don’t be scared to fish shallow water, particularly if it’s dark or the water is dirty. This can include sudsy, sandy, turbulent water in close to surf breaks or shallow coastal rocks. Mulloway love dirty water and they can detect things in it that we couldn’t. Clearly sight is not their primary sense in this situation.

The worst week of the month to target mulloway is the week after and including the night of the full moon. The best weeks are the lead up to the full and new moon. It’s no coincidence that the perfect tides during these periods fall in the early morning and late afternoon in low light conditions.

Your best bites will occur, at this time of year, when the wind is blowing NW and then swings SW or S. In other words, just before a front. It’s a narrow window of opportunity. It doesn’t seem to matter too much whether it’s overcast or bright and sunny. Of course, this is not the only time they feed, it’s just the best.

There are a number of baits you can use for mulloway, but the most important factor for all of them is freshness. Don’t be scared to put out really big baits if you are after big mulloway. They have a huge mouth, so they can eat big prey.

If you want to catch quality mulloway consistently, you are going to have to master squid fishing. Squid are the number one bait and all the really good mulloway fishos that I know are also gun squid fishos. Don’t make the mistake of trying to find a way around this. Sashimi-quality squid go for about $40/kg and they are the closest you will get to an alternative. My formula is that the squid has to be back in the water as bait at most six hours after it was caught – not bought.

Even on the beach, where you wouldn’t expect to find squid, they still rate as the top bait. Other good baits include large live baits like tailor and mullet, but you will need to come up with a good method of controlling them or you can end up in an awful tangle, especially at night.

Big fillets of the above mentioned fish (leave the head on one side and the tail on the other) are also good. When the fish takes the bait hit it immediately. A lot of people reckon you should let them run before striking, but in my experience this loses more fish than it catches. If a big fish swims off with your bait, there is only one place he can be holding it and that is in his mouth. If your hook is in the bait then it too is in the fish’s mouth. If the hook is in the fish’s mouth then I can’t imagine why you would want to do anything other than strike.

Big Tailor

We get a good run of big tailor in the harbour at this time of year with fish up to 3kg. They are found in the deep water in places like Clarke Island and the Centurion wreck off Quarantine. They take a variety of baits, but you can’t go past a live yakka or slimy mackerel.

I use 40lb mono trace and get bitten off occasionally. Ultimately I land more fish than I would using wire trace, which attracts fewer bites. Winter tailor tend to be better eating than summer fish, as they are generally larger and have a higher fat content. They need to be bled and iced and eaten within a few days to get the best out of them.

Kings

The lingering warm water this season has meant that our harbour kingfish season has been considerably extended. If last year is anything to go by then we should still be getting kings into August, maybe even later. The winter fish are generally bigger, running 80-100cm with very few rats present. They still love squid in winter and are generally found upstream on the main harbour and Middle Harbour.

Like the above-mentioned tailor, winter kings tend to be very good eating due to higher fat contents. If you want to experience primo sashimi, try some of the belly section of a large winter king.

• If you are interested in doing a guided fishing trip on Sydney Harbour with Craig McGill please call 0412 918 127 or email --e-mail address hidden--

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