The light at the end of the tunnel
  |  First Published: September 2006

I can see the light at the end of the Wintry tunnel. September is what I call the ‘turn-around’ month – from here on things get increasingly better right through to the end of May.

Really, I have no grounds for complaint as the Winter months were relatively mild and the fishing was great.

The waterways in and around Port Stephens are unique in that they hold most species of fish year-round. Snapper, for instance, stay for the entire 12 months. They move in close when the sea builds and head out into deeper water when conditions settle, they bite like crazy when a warm current arrives and steady up as the water temperature drops.

The bottom line, however, is that they are always here and I have always found this time of year a great period for reddies.

I don’t know whether it’s because we are becoming more efficient or because there are more fish around but the snapper catches reported over the past 12 months have been sensational with heaps over the magical 10kg and quite a few over 12kg.

The really big fish are generally taken on big baits of bonito fillets, large squid or live slimy mackerel.

Soft plastics are having a huge impact on the number of snapper caught in our area to the degree where an increasing number of top local snapper fishermen are concerned that plastics may, in fact, be too efficient. Others, far less experienced, reckon that plastics are the greatest thing since the invention of outboard motors.


Tailor are thick on all the beaches and off the headlands. Trolling anything silver around the islands just on sunup all but guarantees a feed. Smiths jigs, feathers and slowly-towed pilchards on ganged hooks have proven irresistible to tailor.

Once the school has been found, simply cut the motor and toss and retrieve into the ravenous school. Let me clear up a misprint or a misunderstanding that appeared in last month’s issue concerning tailor in Port Stephens. My article suggested that tailor around 4kg were common, well unfortunately that isn’t the case.

The truth is that tailor here don’t grow very big at all in comparison to other popular fisheries north and south of us. We consider ourselves fortunate to catch fish around a kilo. A 1.5kg or 2kg tailor is a rare customer.

As odd as it may seem, tailor over 2kg are more commonly taken on the beaches north of the port – Hawksnest, Mungo and the Gibber. It’s been many years since a fish that big has been reported on local Nelson Bay outside beaches or inside the port.

I have just returned from up north, on the Tweed, where I attended the Greenback Tailor presentation night where tailor from 4kg to 7kg were discussed. I could only listen and dream.

Bream, bream and more bream – Port Stephens is full of them! Every oyster rack and every rock wall is loaded up with cracker bream to a healthy 1.2kg.

The beaches have been a little disappointing but the rocky coast and shallow inshore reefs are simply boiling with bream.

Lobster fishermen who work their traps from Fingal south to Birubi tell me that every time they lift a trap, the bait in the trap breaks up and is followed to the surface by a dozen or so quality bream. The lobstermen have a 2m fishing line, 2/0 hook and luderick gut bait handy and quickly drop it over the side. Two bream can be caught before they get wise.

I’m also told that when the old lobster bait is taken out of the trap and tossed over the side of the boat, up swim the bream for a feed.


Salmon have again arrived in increasing numbers, much to the disgust of local fishermen.

When the salmon arrive, it’s time to move. They are poor table fish which gorge themselves on anything that can fit into their mouths, including juvenile recreational fish.

Local Salamander Bait and Tackle owner Graham Duffy has had enough of what he refers to as the ‘carp of the sea’. Unlike anglers south of Sydney, who target salmon and consider them a thrilling fish to catch, it is becoming increasingly obvious that those north of the city have a totally different opinion of the salmon‘s value.

Thankfully research by Fisheries scientists into their diet, movements, numbers and range will start in October and is expected to be completed within three to five years. Hopefully not too much damage will occur to prized recreational stocks in the meantime.

Rock blackfish, more commonly called black drummer, are another species that chooses to stay active all year, biting best when the sea lifts over 1.5m. Cunjevoi, bread, prawns and abalone gut are the preferred baits, tossed behind a berley trail anywhere there is constant whitewater.

On that trip back to the Tweed I mentioned earlier, I met up with an old crabbing mate, Claudey McDermott. “Any muddies still in the Ukerebah Channel?” I asked Claude.

“Stinker, mate, you won’t believe this,” he said. “It was only yesterday that I was fishing in the channel in my boat when I hooked what I thought was a snag. I pulled and pulled and slowly the ‘snag’ started coming to the surface. Struth! - a turtle! No, a monster mud crab.

“I finally wrestled him into the boat, where the enraged crab with his giant claws chomped my best fishing rod in half. With my knees under my chin, I paddled to shore and jumped out to get a spear, only to return and see the crab rowing the boat downstream.”

“So nothing much has changed,” I replied.

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