Tropical ring-ins a chance
  |  First Published: April 2006

With the water at its warmest now, I thought it might be a good time to talk about some of the occasional tropical and sub-tropical ring-ins that ride the Eastern Australia Current down the coast and into the Harbour.

Autumn is the best time for these species, primarily because the water is at its warmest despite air temps starting to cool down. The larger of these species, like the pelagic amberjack, samson and cobia, will head back up north when the water cools.

Sadly, though, many of the smaller demersal ring-ins that have come down as eggs or fry will perish. These smaller fish haven’t come down by choice but have been taken at the will of the currents. The exception to this is the occasional Spangled emperor that manages to find a warm patch or adapt long enough grow up to 2kg.

We picked up a small cobia of about 4.5kg this season and my skipper, Mick, got one around 12kg last year. Apart from a small one Pete Clarke got a few seasons back while spinning for flatties, they are the only ones I have seen caught in 25 years of fishing the Harbour and I’ve heard of only a handful more.

Your chances of even catching one are slim but might be improved if you target them. They have all been caught between February and May. Most captures have coincided with a large influx of sharks into the Harbour and captures of remora in the same area.

The fish I cleaned recently had three stingrays in its gut, which is a fair indication that they feed on or near the bottom. Discussions with land-based game boys revealed that the best locations are rock platforms that fall onto a sand bottom.

Pete Clarke’s cobia was caught while jigging along the bottom with a small plastic. Best baits include sand crabs, yakkas, squid and slimies. Best spots in the Harbour would include Cannae Point, North Head, Middle Head and Clifton Gardens.

Cobia are the most delicious pelagics I have eaten and the flesh is more like reef fish than game fish. This most likely reflects their diet.


Samson fish are much more common but fluctuate in numbers with our best year producing over 50 and our worst only two. Generally they appear to be becoming more common.

Samson can come in as early as December but are most prolific around Easter. You will also find that the years that amberjack are most prolific, the samson are fewest and vice-versa.

They are most often taken in the lower reaches but we have caught a few upstream in Middle Harbour. They are caught in most of the spots where you take kings and are usually a by-catch. We have taken a few trolling lures along the Washaway-Dobroyd run and over in Quarantine Bay but they are primarily bait targets.

Best bait is squid by a long way, followed by yakkas and slimies. I generally fish just below mid-water for kings but if you are specifically targeting samson then drop it a bit deeper, but not on the bottom.

On average they run at about 3kg but we did get one weighing 6kg one year. Best spots are Fairlight Point, Dobroyd and Quarantine Bay. They are also good eating.

Amberjack can be very common at times. One season we were taking one amber to every two kings. Their average size is about 2kg but every year we get a handful at 6kg and once again, usually as a by-catch of king fishing.

Unlike samson, they are targeted specifically with exactly the same methods you would for kings. The little ones are happy on squid strips but all the big ones have taken live squid. We have taken a couple on deep jigged Slug-Gos but they are mostly a bait proposition.

We have caught them in February-March but they are at their best in April-May. Prime spots include The Spit for the larger fish, Dobroyd , Middle Head and North Head. We have taken a few up at Pickering Point in Middle Harbour. They have very similar eating qualities to kings.

You will see the occasional rainbow runner but, like cobia, they are very rare. They are always small, around a kilo, and swim with kings. The few we have picked up have been on small squid strip baits but we caught one on a Slug-Go.

Watson’s leaping bonito come in rarely. I can only remember three seasons when they have entered the Harbour but they were in huge numbers then so they are a feast or a famine. You will catch them with small metal slugs, just as you would normal bonito.

Watson’s often swim with frigate mackerel They are ordinary tucker, having very red meat, certainly much more so than bonito. And I’ve never seen them leap.

Tropical long tom come in most years in large numbers but are seldom caught, simply because they are so hard to hook. If you get them to swallow a small unweighted bait they are great sport, leaping high and often. They are mostly in the lower reaches , particularly around North Head. They are very visual, making them very popular with those crazy fly boys who have a saying, ‘Me love you, long tom’.


Cobia are rare but very welcome visitors to Sydney Harbour and extremely tasty.


Fly anglers have the chance to say ‘Me love you long tom’ when these snaggle-toothed, warm-water visitors turn up.


Amberjack can become quite frequent and fall to all the common kingfish techniques.


Samson fish appear to be becoming more common and your best chance at one is around Easter.

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