Targeting the residents
  |  First Published: June 2006

Late May and June can be a great time for fishing in Sydney Harbour. Water temps will have just stared to drop so there should still be some Summer species lingering and the first of the Winter fish will be moving in.

The fish that stay in the system, like bream and flatties, will be feeding up big to ensure they put on enough fat to get them through the cold times. Jewfish will move upstream, presumably chasing the returning mullet run, and will be prime targets for lure-throwers. It’s a time of mixed bags and good lure fishing for demersal species like bream, flatties and jew.

Big flatties exhibit some strange behaviour at this time of year. They move upstream into what appears to be the coldest water in the system. My theory is that they are going into hibernation and use the cold water to help shut down. I back this theory by the fact that the ones I have caught didn’t fight at all either on the line or once they were landed in the boat. And they do have access to warmer water elsewhere in the system.

Obviously in this condition they will be hard to catch. They won’t eat or move often and won’t go to much effort to chase down a feed. Lures probably have the edge over live bait under these circumstances in they can be used to cover vast amounts of ground.

The trick is to bounce a lure right past a flatty’s nose. Heavily weighted soft plastics are ideal for this. Mostly the fish are in the deeper holes, down to 10 metres, but occasionally they will come into very shallow water in the uppermost extremities of the system, almost in fresh water.

The two key elements in finding these sleepy fish is to maintain contact with the bottom and cover lots of ground. Pick a suitable location, usually a hole, and fan casts from your extreme left, almost parallel to the shore, right around to your right-hand shore.

Each time you make a new cast, land it no more than two metres from the last. Let the lure sink right to the bottom. If you are using braid line and conditions are good you will be able to clearly detect when the lure hits bottom; your line will be taut as the lure sinks but will drop slack with a noticeable bump when it hits bottom. Your rod tip should be low and pointing straight down the line so that the rod continues on the same plane as the line.

Once the lure hits the bottom its time to immediately whip up the lure. Whip your rod upward in a series of three strikes until the tip is directly overhead. Now pick up the slack line by winding as fast as you can while lowering your rod tip quickly back down to its starting point near the surface.

Your lure will now be on its way back to the bottom after having been whipped up a couple of metres. The line will once again be taut and you are now watching for the bump and slack in your line as it touches down again. When this happens repeat the process all the way back to your feet.

This retrieve is the standard procedure for working the depths for a whole range of bottom species and it is critical that you perfect it if you are going to get the best out of your plastics. The main variation in this technique for application to other species is in the style of the ‘lift’.


For bream, the lift is a much more subtle affair . Dump the ‘whip’ and instead just lift smoothly and more slowly. For jew, also eliminate the whip and lift smoothly, firmly and slightly faster than you would for bream. The trick to the jew lift is that should be done firmly and at a speed that allows you to feel the vibrations of the lure through the line.

Bream feed along the shores and there are not many features where you won’t find them. Their style of feeding makes them capable of exploiting the food source of most structure.

On sand and mud they find worms and chase small baitfish and prawns . In the rocks and snags they seek out crabs and crack open shellfish. High tide will give them access to the shallow intertidal areas that are exposed at low tide.

On the rising tide they work the deeper rocky shores and snags. Keep moving along the shore until you catch a fish and then work that area extensively. In most cases there will be more than one bream working a suitable area.

Don’t be afraid to drop your lure within a metre of the shore and, as you work it back, you will need to allow more time for each drop as the water depth increases towards your boat.


Jewies spend a lot of time sitting around doing very little; their feeding sprees are short and furious.

This gives you two choices: Either find where they are sitting during down time or work their feeding grounds at prime time. Downtime is most of the time between tide changes, while feed time is the two hours around the turns, mostly the high tide.

When they are up the river at this time of year they are chasing fish, mostly mullet, so lure fishing becomes more effective now than at other times of year when they are chasing different prey – mostly squid and cuttlefish in deeper water.

During downtime they sit quietly in the deepest parts of deep holes. In a typical estuary they are easily accessible as they are usually in structure-free water.

When they are further downstream they favour wrecks, caves and reef edges, all of which make them hard to reach with a lure. But upstream they don’t have these options and are sitting in clean water. Work the holes between tide turns during the day.

During the tide turns, especially those occurring around early morning and evening, work the shorelines – particularly the deep ones – and the narrower channels and creek junctions.

One final tip for luring jew in these quiet upper reaches is to fish from the shore when at all possible. If you do work from a boat, be as quiet and as low-profile as possible.

You will get away with clunking around for bream and flatties, but not for jewies

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