Beware the Winter westerly
  |  First Published: July 2006

The westerly winds we experience at this time of year in Port Stephens drive me crackers.

Cold and blustery, they blow over the snow-capped peaks of the Barrington Tops and come roaring right up the middle of the Port. If you think that is uncomfortable, you’re dead right.

The strong westerlies can pick up in an hour and build a metre of chop in no time, conditions which are potentially very dangerous for anyone fishing outside the heads or a distance from a boat ramp. I’ve been caught less than a kilometre from the Little Beach boat ramp when the conditions changed and had real trouble attempting to motor across the wind and waves – it’s a 45° struggle at idle speed.

The major problem is then getting your boat out of the water as the waves by this time are breaking over the ramp, which faces directly into the wind.

With two on board you have half a chance. One can stand waist-deep and hold the bucking boat into the wind while the other does a dash for the truck and trailer. From here on it’s just luck if you can get the boat onto the trailer without sustaining some injury to yourself or damage to the boat.

We are talking about the busiest ramp in Port Stephens. The boating and fishing communities have complained until we are blue in the face and the problem has been pigeonholed in the estuary management basket by the council. This means that it realistically could be years before anything significant happens – unless, of course, we have a major accident, which always speeds up the process.

So what must you be aware of if you choose to go boating or fishing in Port Stephens over the next couple of months?

Firstly, check the weather forecast. If a westerly is blowing strongly or is expected to, forget about launching at Little Beach and seriously consider not motoring outside the heads. Stay deep inside the Port, west of Soldiers Point, where the bream fishing is sensational.

If you have launched off Little Beach and you do get caught out by a sudden change, motor into the safety of the Nelson Bay Marina behind the breakwall. From there you can work out your next move, whether to wait out the blow (which can take a long time) or ask the professionals if it’s OK to use their private ramp. They are an understanding lot and there is generally someone there to lend a hand.

The good news is that the fishing is red-hot when you’re not freezing.


The bream fishing, as previously mentioned, is sensational – not monsters like the thumpers in the Hastings system but solid fish up to 1.5kg and plenty of them.

Rock fishing is rewarding – and dodgy. Snapper swim in close during July as the heavy seas crash into the headlands, loosening all the shellfish and crabs. Bream, tailor, fishcakes (salmon) and drummer also share the whitewater.

Fingal Bay local Russell ‘Rusty’ Hyland doesn’t give two hoots about the inclement weather. I’m told he loves it because he is the only one fishing the popular spots. Armed with a rod resembling a toothpick, light line and prawns for bait, Rusty heads off to Boulder Bay and invariably returns with a bagful of bream, snapper or, more recently, drummer.

There he stands, dripping wet, shivering from the cold with his miner’s light still burning, crowing, “Gee I love Winter!” I think Rusty needs a holiday up north!

The beaches, particularly Stockton, are worth visiting. Surprisingly, we have been visited by tailor to an impressive 4kg. Not big, I can hear you say up north. Well 4kg is big for Port Stephens. Bream are also working the sand and are keen to bite on pipis, worms and fresh mullet.


Local guns Noel Martin and Graham Duffy are the latest to have jumped the fence. Yep, they have given up the bait and gone over to plastics. What was once a trickle of interest is now a stampede of enthusiasm.

The boys took the big step recently and made the decision to go fishing without bait! Working their plastics over the reefs at Fishermans Bay, they began to question their decision after landing two red rock cod and six sergeant bakers, along with a heap of bonito, tailor and fishcakes.

Then things started to warm up with six snapper to 2kg and two thumping reds that just kept going. It seems that I might well be the last of the bait-wasters.

As much as we grumble at this time of year we still go fishing.

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