Baitfish trigger the food chain
  |  First Published: October 2006

Things really start to happen this month, or is it just that the Winter was so dismal that any increase in activity seems like a dramatic change?

The water warms, albeit only slightly, and the baitfish arrive over coming weeks to kick-start the fishing action ahead. Swarming baby slimy mackerel, often only a few centimetres long, gather along the coast and trigger a flurry in the feeding activities of all species from flathead to whales.

Catches for the bottom-bashers improve this month with flathead back on line after the Winter shutdown. I am not a keen chaser of the sand flathead but Dad is. So try his simple tip that on most days will improve your catches on the shallow sand patches: Fish where the seagulls are sitting on the water.

That’s it. The birds in most cases are not feeding, just sitting on the water. You can watch them and they don’t eat, they just sit there and it may only be 10 or so birds but if you drift the area where the birds are sitting, nine times out of 10 that is where the flathead will be.

Small snapper are over most of the reefs but the better fish seem to be out in 60m-plus with some nice mowies and plenty of leatherjackets, sweep and the odd samson. Throw in an early trag and some small kings and you have the making of a better box than last month.

One drawback to the next few months is the dreaded pickhandle barracouta. Between them and the leatherjackets they can make life miserable and expensive as they snip off every piece of terminal tackle in sight. If they get too thick, break out the hookless poppers and by repeatedly casting and retrieving you can whip them into a frenzy. But be careful of their sharp teeth.

October is one of the calmest months and often free of raging currents so it is a prime time to bottom-fish for those deep water ooglies on the shelf around the canyons, particularly Kiama Canyon. Giant nannygai, gemfish, frost fish, oil fish, warehou, blue eye trevalla and hapuku, to name some of the better fish, are all available if you are willing to fish in 100-fathoms plus. It’s hard work and not something you’ll do every day but it can be rewarding.

While you’re out there you might try for yellowfin tuna, albacore, even a few southern bluefin and, of course, sharks. There have been some good catches of albacore and yellowfin recently with ’fin to 50kg and albacore to 10kg taken on trolled lures and pilchard cubes. Water of 20° to 21° has been merging with nutrient-rich 16° water from the south which means the whole food chain gets working.


Back inshore, it is commonplace to see a seething ball of slimies being demolished by striped tuna, bonito, salmon, kingfish and barracouta. Below these there will be trevally, cowanyoung, tailor and even snapper and flathead.

When you find a ball of bait, and there will likely be several in the area, small lures cast into the mass will score hook-ups on every cast if you can avoid the terns, gannets, seagulls and muttonbirds. Let the lure sink a bit deeper or use slightly larger soft plastics down near the bottom and you could hook just about anything.

Be aware that these bait balls attract some very large sharks and they can get nudge the boat from time to time. Even whales will take out a whole bait ball in one gulp, which happened a few years back when I was working a bait ball off Stanwell Park. You’ve seen on TV how whales use a wall of bubbles to concentrate their food and then swim upward, mouth open, and take the lot.

The thing was I was in the ring and there was a large mouth coming in my direction! It swallowed all the baitfish and missed the boat by a few metres but certainly put the wind up me as it was coming up out of the depths at speed.

Salmon, tuna and kingfish are gathering in bays and off headlands. As usual, the Bass Point, Kiama and Five Islands areas will fish well. Some of the striped tuna have been better than 10kg and right in behind the beaches in the north.

As mentioned last month, larger kingfish will become more active over the deeper reefs like Bandit and Wollongong. Jigging and live baits will get results, just keep your eye on the sounder for bait or the kings themselves.

A few snapper are about if you anchor and berley but they tend to be in the deeper water so it may take time to get the berley working. There should be no shortage of little makos to keep you entertained while you wait.

On the closer reefs and around the islands, silver trevally will be attracted to the berley with pilchard fillets on small hooks and a split shot catching plenty of fish.


It’s not bad on the rocks this month with often calm conditions making for pleasant fishing. Drummer will be on the bite just about anywhere with whitewater and cunje-covered rocks. Abalone gut is still the best bait if you can get it and it helps you pick up any bream in the area.

The deeper ledges have salmon, tailor, small kings and the odd tuna hitting lures while live baits early in the morning will attract any decent kings around. You might even pick up a stray yellowfin on a live bait down around Kiama. It used to be the start of the land-based season on tuna a few years back so you never know.

The beaches are still quiet with the regular salmon, tailor and a few bream if you work hard. There are reports of more jewie action along the beaches so work those evening high tides with fresh bait and see how you go.

The flathead are starting to get going in Lake Illawarra and they should really be on the bite towards the end of the month when the first run of prawns start.

The main channel, the drop-off and over at Tallawarra are the spots to try. Soft plastics are always deadly but on the days the flatties get picky you may need live poddies if you can find them.

Minnamurra should be much the same with bream in the deeper holes and along the rock walls with a few still holding out in the feeder streams of the lake.

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