Chasing the Broughton reds
  |  First Published: October 2006

With some of my hot snapper spots soon to be claimed as sanctuary zones in the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park, I thought it time to visit Broughton Island before the boundaries were finally declared – a last throw of the dice.

Generally speaking, the weather hasn’t been all that brilliant but there have been keyholes of magnificent, unseasonable Summer conditions which have broken through the clouds for a couple of days at a time. My mate Duffy and I were lucky enough to pick such a time to motor up to the island.

Launching my 4.6m tinny Stinkin’ Hot off my home beach of Fingal, we travelled the 14km in comfort, thanks to a gentle south-east breeze that pushed us along. The ride itself was enough fun for one day as we passed under the lighthouse on Fingal Island before sailing through the shadows of other outer islands, Cabbage Tree and Boondelbah.

The scenery from Hawks Nest Beach north to Broughton was sensational with kilometre after kilometre of lonely beach broken only by the Little Gibber, a rocky headland that seems somewhat out of place. The majestic Bulahdelah Ranges made a spectacular backdrop between the beaches and the skyline.

The sea was so flat that I took the rare opportunity to motor into the giant crack that passes right through Looking Glass, a massive barren rocky outcrop that sits on the south-eastern corner of the main island.

The trip to Esmeralda Bay on the island took around 45 minutes in ideal conditions. For those who haven’t had the experience, Esmeralda is one of the most protected natural harbours on the east coast and provides island visitors with safe moorings even in the crankiest sea. A small gathering of fishermen’s huts fringes the cove in what only could be described as postcard scenery.

Remarkably, on our arrival a spirited north wind blew up and continued to grow in strength, limiting our fishing options.

Now when it comes to snapper fishing around Broughton everyone has a different spin. Some old salts fish in close around the washes and over the shallow reefs while others prefer to travel towards the horizon to the 20-fathom line. Others head straight towards the northern reefs up as far as Seal Rocks while another group will head back south. Of course, everything depends upon the prevailing conditions.

Bait and methods also vary with a floating bait generally accepted as the preferred option. A 4/0 to 6/0 hook under as little lead weight as possible, none if there is no current, is the go.


The champions on the island choose pilchards, fresh fillet of bonito, slimy mackerel, squid and, recently, more and more are joining the plastic revolution. I prefer big prawns for bait and nothing I have seen to date has enticed me to change.

On this trip it was the prawns that did the trick again for me with cracker reds to a handy 4kg swimming up from 20m to smash the unweighted bait on 7kg line. In deep, calm water close to the island in the evenings or right on sunup, there is no greater fishing thrill than to be attacked by a big red. That initial run lifts the hairs on the back of your neck and your eyes pop out like crab’s – it doesn’t matter how many times it has happened to you before.

As the wind settled we decided to target the deeper water in the hope of tracking down a pearl perch. I did know that there was a lurking problem in the shape of a million leatherjackets but on arrival at the 21-fathom reef the leatheries had taken over completely. Chances of catching anything else were slim.

The leather army was so strong that they had no trouble holding up 6oz sinkers while their mates ripped the bait to pieces before snipping off both hooks and finally the sinker. Occasionally we were lucky enough to reclaim our gear with one or two of the footsoldiers dangling.

Wire is the only solution . It’s a case of fighting fire with wire – fencing wire if necessary. Anything light is simply snipped off and used as a toothpick.

Duff, who had been having a pretty lean time of it, finally swung into action. ‘A bloody big leatherjacket!’ he called it for. Then the line went slack. Seconds later, a couple of metres from the back of the boat leapt one cranky, cartwheeling, mako shark. Time to head back to the island.

We were joined by a couple of lads from nearby Medowie. They had fished the south side of the island, out of the wind, floating pilchards down a berley trail with excellent results. Cracker snapper to 5.5kg made for a pretty exciting esky. One other crew shared the island with us; Snapper Tracker fished the wash on the rough side and returned after dark with an excellent catch of reddies to 4kg.

We headed home the following morning with an impressive box of reddies, soon to learn that the snapper stopped biting when we left the island. Maybe I might go back one more time before the gates are closed.


Elsewhere, Port Stephens is preparing for the Summer months when the fishing is sensational and you don’t need to freeze while you are at it. October is another exciting month for me as I continue to target snapper, flathead start to poke their noses onto the beaches and the first reports of big jewfish begin to filter in.

The bream season has been a cracker and they continue to cruise through the whitewater around all the headlands and swim under the oyster racks inside the Port. Trumpeter whiting continue to provide the greatest source of entertainment to the junior boaties and anyone else who wishes to give them a try.

Huge schools of slimy mackerel are moving north and have attracted the attention of tailor, salmon, jewfish and, dare I say, great whites. Two monster sharks have been reported gorging themselves on the salmon schools that sat off the Fingal Light.

As the water continues to warm up the fishing improves relatively. Summer whiting, which are a real favourite around the Port, will arrive any day so prepare yourself for the annual invasion.


There have been some excellent snapper around over the cooler months. Dave Daniels got this huge one off Cod Rock.


Ben Doolan this cracker of a 10.6kg red at Little Island on a slimy mackerel.


While there have been some good tailor about all Winter salmon, like the one third from the right, are becoming an increasing problem for anglers as the numbers of these fish continue to grow.

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