Lake level falls
  |  First Published: December 2002

Lake level falls

The estuary scene should be starting to fire but, at the time of writing, Lake Illawarra was still closed and due to evaporation had dropped 21cm below the low water mark. This has exposed the majority of worm and nipper beds and had a devastating effect on the seagrass, which now lies dried and exposed to the Summer heat.

The fish that are left in the lake are biting but they are running out of food as the water dries up and the shallows disappear. The situation is so desperate that while the bureaucrats do what they do so well – play pass the buck – 600 like minded citizens took matters into their own hands and had The Big Dig. It took them all day working in shifts with buckets and shovels but they managed to open the lake and some water flowed in and out for a while.

But the lake needs more help than a few people working with their hands to get it back on track. This summer looks like it could be an economic nightmare for those who depend on the lake for their livelihood, particularly those in the tackle and tourist industries.

Apart from the Christmas tourist season, when tens of thousands of people descend on the lake to spend their money, small events like the Lake Illawarra Flathead Classic, still scheduled for January 19, could be put in jeopardy.

This comp now attracts several hundred anglers and is a nice boost to the local economy. However there are still some flathead in the main channel and a few blackfish about, but the prawns are yet to do much at all.

Again Minnamurra is the only other spot left and there are some nice fish being caught there, including flathead, whiting, bream and even the odd flounder.


The hot water is out there so we can look forward to some of our northern pelagic friends coming to visit over the coming weeks, kick-starting us into a great season.

Dolphin fish seem to be everyone’s favourite and they have already shown up on some of the wide traps and FADs. A few years back many anglers didn’t even know what they looked like; now they seem to be one of the main Summer targets in this region. This is probably due to the demise of most of our other pelagics, such as kingfish and the once abundant yellowfin tuna.

If you want to get into the dolly action, head east and look for fish trap marker buoys or floating objects and throw an unweighted bait or a lure in the general area of the object. If there are any fish about, they will grab your offering on the spot.

For increased mayhem, try tossing a live yellowtail or slimy mackerel out to the dollies – this will really get them going. Don’t be surprised if a big, boof-headed male dolphin over a metre long hurls himself out of the water. These fish come in all sizes.

If you are feeding out live baits, there is a chance that you will score a hookup on a marlin. They just love a feed of dolphin fish and there is more often than not a beaky hanging around close by many schools of dolphin fish. billfish rarely pass up the easy picking of a wounded slimy mackerel or yellowtail.

Not all the marlin are confined to the deep water. New Year’s Day generally sees the first marlin captures over the close reefs, just a few kilometres offshore. Some years they turn up a little earlier but, as a general rule, the New Year is the time to start chasing them.

For those a little less adventurous, there are other things to throw live baits at and one of the more popular targets is the kingfish. They are back in the spotlight again with some nice fish up to around 6kg, although most are between 2kg and 3kg.

Try Bass Point or the reef at Rangoon Island, in close around Windang Island and just about anywhere at the islands off Port Kembla. Bellambi Reef holds some fish but they tend to be smaller than those farther south, while some good fish are always about around The Hump off Stanwell Park.

Elsewhere for the sportfishos there are still salmon milling around the islands, taking lures and small live baits meant for kings. Some striped tuna are taking trolled flies and small Christmas tree lures in about 40 fathoms. A few schools are even popping up right in behind the breakers off some of the beaches, making for some interesting sight casting on light tackle.

Stripies make great snapper and jewie bait for later on in the evening, which is the best time to chase them at this time of the year. Unweighted pieces of tuna drifted back down the berley trail is a sure fire way to attract any fish in the area.

The reds haven’t been all that abundant but those that have been caught have been quality fish, while the jewies have mostly been schoolies taken from the reefs just offshore. Coniston Reef and the shallow reefs off Thirroul beach are worth a look.

For bottom bouncers, a feed of flathead is just about guaranteed over most of the sand patches. Other species are almost ignored at this time but there are a few mowies coming in. On the full moon there have been reports of a few teraglin showing up.

Beach evenings

On the beaches, whiting are taking worms and flathead guzzling fish baits all along the coast. Some days it may take a bit of walking to find the most productive spot on the beach but, once located, you will get a few.

During the evenings there are a few bream about along with some tailor to almost 2kg and a few salmon. If you are in need of some arm-stretching, now is the time to chase the big jewies during the evenings as they travel along the deep beach gutters searching for tailor or whiting.

Any beach is worth a try with fresh bait but be aware that it is not always a big jewie that picks up your bait. Over the next few months there are plenty of whaler sharks in the surf after dark that like a feed of fresh fish.

For the rockhoppers it gets even better over the coming months. Kingfish, mackerel tuna, salmon and tailor are common around the deeper ledges and breakwalls if you like tossing a lure or soaking a live bait. Down around Kiama at the Blowhole or Marsdens it’s time to start swimming larger live baits –a land based marlin is always on the cards over the next couple of months.

There are a few drummer about in the white water while you could find the odd Summer bream mixed with some trevally, tailor and salmon on pilchards. Port Kembla breakwalls particularly the northern wall and the groyne are worth a throw in the evenings for school jew.


Brian tailor caught this colourful but unlucky leatherjacket on ganged hooks and a pilchard.


There are still a few fish left in Lake Illawarra, like this blackfish that fell to a nipper bait. Ainsley released it to fight another day.


There are some nice snapper to had around Bellambi if you fish into the evening with berley. Warren ‘Groper’ Hamilton looks pretty happy with this fine specimen.

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