It’s the time when the snapper move in a touch closer and the water is as cold as you want, so pack a flask of hot coffee, a beanie and a warm jacket, find a close reef, berley up, set the baits and wait for the scream of the reel.
Early last month my fishing ‘spies’ (my mates who let me know what they’ve been catching) said a lot of good squire had been setting the scene for the next few months, when the close reef and gravel patches will really pick up.
Newcastle offshore grounds aren’t renowned for huge snapper. Around 3kg is the norm, making them nice table fish and not bad on light gear – the lighter the better.
The more concentrated efforts from anglers have been off Bar Beach and the Merewether coastal fringe, two places that have enough close reef and gravel as well as a bit of structure to hold good squire, morwong, bream and the occasionally trag, tailor and salmon. Putting in morning is usually well worth the effort and the cold is well, just bearable.
Reef fishing starts the same way on most outings. You anchor the boat, making sure you’re holding on good ground, get a few quick baits down and then settle back and berley for an hour or so. The usual wrasse, rock cod, and every other less desirable fish will make its presence known nearly straight away but as the berley starts to work a few squire, bream or tailor will start to come on. Then it’s the morwong and if you’re lucky, the school snapper move in and crunch everything sent down.
Most anglers off Newcastle swear by pilchards for fishing snapper in the shallows. The soft baits are torn up by fish and act as a berley over the reef and snapper go ape over them. Whole or filleted slimy mackerel, yakkas or bonito also draw attention.
The gear we use is often classed as a light estuary tackle not suited for offshore work but we find light gear has a great hook-up rate. Sure, at times we get done like a dinner but we always having a heavy set-up as insurance.
For bream and squire the light lines are a must and every little nibble and bump is felt and at times a fish of a kilo can seem a lot bigger. We use only enough lead to hold bottom or against any current. Most people seem to think heavy weight is needed offshore but it just kills the gentle drift of the bait, especially on very shallow ground, so keep it all light and I bet the hook-up rate goes through the roof for you.
We have been trying soft plastics over the reefs, rigged similarly to a bait, and are having some good success. I know the squid surely love them, following them right up to the boat or snagging on the trebles. A heap of soft plastics carry a treble rather than a single hook so try these instead over reefy areas and keep the single-hook models for casting.
So it’s shaping up to be a good Winter with squire showing in good numbers, bream, tailor, trevally and morwong as well as groper and leatherjackets. By far the best spots are south of the harbour mouth with the close waters off the Newcastle baths down to Redhead the best option.
If things get a bit slow, try drifting or live-baiting. When there seems to be nothing around it can be also a sign that a few big predators have spooked everything and are hunting under you.
In the river, as remarkable as it seems, I am still hearing reports of flathead and flounder being caught as well as some nice bream. The southern channel through the back of Sandgate was the place to be at time of writing, where bream and flathead were cruising the sand flats and muddy drop-offs.
Aaron Cutmore from Toronto Bait and Tackle tells me there have been a number of good squire caught on the western side of Lake Macquarie, as well as some good flathead for those who put in the effort with live bait. Aaron also keeps a supply of live poddy mullet on hand for those who want to get fishing straight away. A big-eye trevally around 2.5kg was taken by a young bloke who works at the Eraring worm farm. He was fishing the warm-water outlet – you never know what will turn up there.
And the last tip for this month is keep your hands in your pockets between bites – at 6am lately, they feel as if they’re going to snap off!Reads: 822