There are three species of fish that I really miss in Port Stephens but I really shouldn’t complain because the variety of fish on offer, particularly at this time of year, is fantastic.
Inside the Port jewfish are swallowing live yellowtail, herring and slimy mackerel (and everything else that wriggles). The best spots remain the bridges at Karuah and the deep holes that surround Middle Island off Soldiers Point.
Flathead, flounder, bream and whiting are going flat out from Soldiers Point east and west to the headlands at the entrance to the harbour and back up into the Karuah River and the feeder streams.
Kingfish, amberjack and small cobia are zooming up and down the breakwall right in the middle of town. If that’s not enough, thumper blue swimmer and mud crabs are tap-dancing through the shallows in the mangrove forests in the western harbour. Heavy rains will wash then closer towards the open sea.
To add to the already congested conditions big squid are cruising over the seagrass and moorings in the calm waters of Shoal Bay. I nearly forgot to mention the leatherjackets and broad-shouldered trevally that have found comfortable homes in the shade of the Fisherman’s Co-operative jetty.
There are still tailor to be found swimming with their mates the fishcakes (salmon) and kingies around the rocky headlands from Fishermans Bay north to Fingal Point.
Small snapper go haywire, at this time of year off the rocks as the sea starts to boil – the bigger the sea, the bigger the snapper. As the sea drops off drummer, bream and leatheries come into play. When conditions are as flat as a flounder and the water turns glassy, along swim the groper.
With the stable conditions the beaches are working overtime. Concentrate your efforts on Stockton, One Mile, Fingal, Box and Zenith beaches for the best whiting, jewfish, tailor and fishcake results.
Conditions outside the heads are generally magnificent around March and April, ideal for trips out wide in search of marlin – blacks, stripes and blues. Mahi mahi are massing under the FAD, which has proven to be very successful, while closer in teraglin and jewfish are busy over popular reefs like Uralla, The Tank, The 21, The V and The Gibber.
Snapper and morwong are working the shallow reefs around Broughton. The bommies just off Fishermans Bay provide some of the greatest snapper fishing off our coastline. Launch out of Boatharbour Beach or the soft sand at Fishermans and it’s only a short trip to the action zone.
As you have gathered I get very excited about March as it offers the greatest selection of fish in the best possible conditions. Oh yes – the species I miss: Mangrove jack, venus tusk fish and the big mackerel. For some reason they won’t visit. Well, you can’t have everything.
Bushrangers, I call them – country folk from the other side of the Great Divide, keen as mustard fishers who will dangle a line all day and all night if there is a chance to get another bite.
It seems over the past few years that Port Stephens has become the focus of fishing attention from the residents of country towns, particularly those within a five-hour travelling radius – Dubbo, Gilgandra, Gulargambone, Warren, Coonabarrabran, Gunnedah and the Armidale- Uralla district.
Persistence pays because the ‘bushies’ catch more than their fair share and are becoming increasingly smarter on the ways of the saltwater. You never really know when they are going to drive into town in their dusty utes with huge bullbars, mean-looking dogs and Bundy stickers. Family groups as well, in moth splattered 4Wds full of kids. I suppose their presence on the coast is all to do with the rain that falls out west.
I spent a few years in the bush and grew to appreciate just how keen these freshwater cowboys are. Travelling four or five hours east or west to catch a fish doesn’t rate a mention.
My first bush fishing adventure was in a convoy of utes from Gilgandra to somewhere west, or was it south, of Warren via the Collie Pub. Being a bit of a saltwater specialist from the Far North Coast at the time, this trip presented somewhat of a cultural shock.
Fishing in Gilgandra wasn’t really an option because of one major problem. The Castlereagh River that winds its way through the town rarely has water in it.
After the last ‘fisherman’ was physically dragged from the pub, we headed off to the river where small crayfish, kurrajong grubs, worms and boiled eggs were threaded on hooks more suited to towing your mate out of the bog and tied to line or cord equally suited.
The ‘set lines’ were tied to the trunk of a tree or a stout overhanging branch and that was it! Off came the esky lid and on went the barbie fire as we gathered together to have a yarn.
A day-and-a-half later, someone suggested that we should check the lines to see if we had caught a fish or really to see if a fish had caught itself. A couple of carp and a lonely cod was the result. I recall one mate holding up his hook that had been robbed of a worm bait some time over the last two days. “At least I had a bite” he beamed. Back to Collie.
I had the time of my life and have gone back to do the same silly things on many occasions.
The attitude that bushies have to fishing is all based around having a heap of fun, regardless of the outcome. I think it’s a lesson that we should learn on the coast, where far too many of us take our fishing and ourselves way too seriously. After all is said and done, it’s all fishing.Reads: 1979