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Chasing the estuary dream – jewies
  |  First Published: October 2006



The majority of anglers who fish our east coast estuary systems are happy to catch common favourites like bream, flathead, blackfish and whiting. In some waterways tailor, trevally, leatherjacket, garfish or mullet are also met with enthusiasm.

They’re all good eating and aren’t overly difficult to catch. That’s why they form the bulk of our estuary favourites.

Then there are other fish like the elusive estuary perch and the mighty mulloway. Both species have more specific dietary and environmental preferences than their more common relatives. I’ve put in a fair bit of effort for both jew and EPs over the years and I reckon jewies are by far easier to find than EPs. But then again, my results are largely based on fishing estuary systems where jewies are perhaps more widespread than estuary perch.

Jewfish also seem to be a bit more opportunistic when it comes to dinner time than the fussy perch, which seem to open their mouths only when a nice juicy prawn or shrimp goes past.

To be honest, I probably started fishing for jewies in estuaries before I even heard of an estuary perch. The first jewie of I caught was a tiny tacker of about a kilo in the Hawkesbury River but it was the Brisbane Water system on the Central Coast where a million cold, wet and sleepless nights were spent chasing jewfish.

It took a long time to get my first one there, at Woy Woy, but in time things started to come together and plenty more jewies followed.

These days things are a little different and due to the soft plastics craze, a lot of people are catching the odd estuary jew. A combination of media coverage, internet fishing forums and the availability of modern super-plastics has helped keen lure-chuckers cross paths with jewies. But one of the main reasons why I reckon people are catching them is because lure casting can cover a lot more water, rather than just sitting there with a bait in the one spot.

Cover a lot of water and eventually you’ll come across a jewfish. But is it really that simple and is everyone who casts a plastic catching the odd jewie ?

There’s a little bit more to it than simply being out there on the water and chucking a lure. I can assure readers who haven’t had much to do with catching jewies on soft plastics that there is a certain degree of pot luck involved.

I’ll never forget a stage of lure casting at a particular Central Coast bridge that I tortured myself with. I made at least 15 trips to the bridge at known peak jewfish times, through a perfect Autumn when plenty of mullet were running. Not once did I feel a single bump from a fish.

Then my mate Phil brings this fellow down from the North Coast who had almost no jewfish-luring experience at all and had certainly never even seen Brisbane Water, let alone that bridge. Of course, it took this bloke all of 20 minutes to hook up and land a jewfish. If that isn’t luck, what is ?

Tales of woe aside, luck generally holds out for so long. Consistently catching estuary jewfish year after year is a combination of a few simple but very important factors. Local knowledge is always beneficial but not all of us live right on the doorstep of a good jewfish estuary. We may have to travel some distance to a suitable piece of water or we may try our luck on the jewies during a fishing holiday.

Either way, if you would like to tangle with a jewie a bit more often, the following info should help.

LOCATION

I seriously reckon location is the single most important factor when it comes to catching jewfish. Cast the very best of baits or lures into water that doesn’t hold jewies and there’s obviously very little chance of catching one. If you want to catch ’em, go to where they are.

Along the NSW coastline at least half of the estuary systems will harbour a reasonable jewfish population but only half of these are really good systems. The main thing that a good jewie estuary has is deep water and a decent-sized opening to the Tasman Sea.

It’s no wonder that the mighty Hawkesbury River is one of the State’s best jewfish estuaries – it’s big and deep. Other excellent systems include the big northern rivers like the Clarence, Richmond, Macleay and Hastings. Even Sydney Harbour and Botany Bay are pretty good waterways for jewfish.

So if your local estuary is shallow with little tidal flow, maybe it’s worth travelling to a more suitable estuary to try for jewies.

The next step is to pinpoint specific spots within an estuary. In short, the first places to try are bridges with overhead lighting at night, the big breakwalls towards the mouth of the estuary and deeper holes or channels which are often found adjacent to major river bends or at the mouth of a smaller creek within the system.

I’m certainly not saying these are the only spots within an estuary where you’ll catch jewfish but they are by far the most likely and that’s where you should concentrate your efforts.

TIDE, TIME

Jewfish are very lazy fish and they don’t often swim around like bream or tailor looking for a feed. In most cases they’ll pick a spot where they can get out of the main current and catch a feed without expending too much energy.

Tide changes are peak times when jewies generally spark up a bit and look for a meal beyond their little rest areas. The top and bottom of the tide cycle will produce fish although some spots may fire up at low tide while others fish better around the top of the tide.

As a basic guideline, low tide may be better in deeper areas and high tide better in shallow areas. In the deepest spots, it’s more likely that the top or bottom could be good.

As for times, after dark is often much better than during daylight, particularly when using baits. The change of light around dawn or dusk is also very good, particularly if it coincides with a tide change.

Although lures will tempt fish night and day, if you do intend to try with lures after dark, fish near some sort of street lights, around wharves or under a bridge.

BAIT OR LURE?

Despite the soft plastics craze and all the hype that goes with it, I’ve caught a zillion more jewfish on baits than I have lures over the years and I still maintain that good bait-fishing techniques will outfish lures. Having said that, some anglers may prefer one style over the other and there’s no doubt that lures are a much cleaner and convenient option compared with baits. So the choice is yours.

When it comes to bait, there are only a few types that I will use if I really want to catch an estuary jewfish – live tailor, live mullet, live pike or squid. I’m a big fan of Craig McGill’s theories on squid as bait and he’s one of the few fishing writers who constantly heaps praise on this humble cephalopod.

When it comes to squid, don’t bother wasting your money buying it. Invest in a few Yo Zuri squid jigs and spend the time to catch a few yourself. There’s a massive difference between squid purchased at a bait shop or even the fish markets compared with freshly caught squid.

On top of that, you can freeze the squid you’ve caught and they’ll still be way better than the shop-bought version. I repeat, don’t buy squid – catch them yourself!

As for livebaits, you pretty much have to catch those yourself, anyway. Although squid are a super bait for jewfish, in situations where bream, tailor or other pests keep on taking your valuable squid baits, livebaits could be a better option. I’ve done much better in Brisbane Water with livebait than I have with squid.

If you would rather chase jewies with lures, there are a number of good ones on the market but a smaller selection of really good ones. Regular readers may get sick of me mentioning Berkley Power Minnows but here I go again. I’m not endorsed by Pure Fishing (the Berkley distributors) so I praise these wonder plastics only because they are just so bloody good.

The 3” and 4” versions will catch jewies but if you’re more interested in catching jewfish than bream, use the 4” on about a No 2 or No 1 jig head. My favourite colours are pearl/watermelon, chartreuse /pearl scales and chartreuse/silver flake.

Other top-notch jewie plastics include the larger Squidgy Shads and Squidgy Fish, Mojo Mullets, AusSpin Shads and Atomic Jerk Minnows.

As a rough rule, the bigger the lure, the bigger the jewfish. But chances are you’ll end up catching more fish overall on medium-sized plastics. One of the biggest jewies I’ve hooked in an estuary snatched a 4” Berkley. I estimated that fish over 25kg and, of course, I lost the bugger after a drawn-out battle where I could see the fish rolling on the surface down Botany Bay way.

GEAR

When using larger baits where fish over 10kg are the norm, I use a 3m FSU5120 custom-built rod with a lever-drag reel spooled up with 12kg to 17kg Schneider line. Lately my mate John Grant has been using heavy sidecast tackle and 37kg line, which makes a lot of sense if you don’t want to lose a big one in rough country.

This is shore-based tackle but obviously when you’re baitfishing from a boat a shorter rod makes a lot more sense. I still prefer using good old mono when baitfishing for jew but will always use braided line for lure-casting on lighter tackle where feeling the lure through the water is essential for success.

Quality baitcast or threadline tackle is suitable for lure-casting with baitcast rods and reels a bit more suited to larger or heavier lures.

One final tip is to make sure your hooks are sharp and all your knots tied well. Jewfish don’t come along as often as bream or flathead and when you do hook a big one you don’t want things to fall apart at the wrong time.

If you really want to catch jewfish, fresh squid is one of the best baits you could use. But don’t bother wasting your money buying it – you must catch it yourself, there’s no other way!

A 12kg jewfish with the squid bait still in its mouth.

Baitcasting tackle makes a lot of sense if you’re serious about catching estuary jewfish on lures. The Daiwa Luna has a super-smooth drag, which is important for this sort of fishing.

The 4” Berkley Power Minnow is one of the most effective jewfish plastics you could hope to use.

The majority of estuary jewfish are under 10kg but they still look fantastic and are always a welcome catch.

An assortment of estuary jewfish lures. Yes, there are a couple of deep-diving hard lures as well as the plastics.

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