Fair game off the ’Gong
  |  First Published: December 2003

IT ALL JUST GETS BETTER from here on over Summer as the hot water pours down the coast, bringing with it ocean life in abundance.

It’s time to get out the game tackle because right about now the first of the black marlin should hit the coast off the ’Gong. Too many people mistakenly believe marlin to be the domain of the wealthy but anyone with a seaworthy boat can get into the action over the next few months, and only a couple of kilometres off the coast.

You don’t need to spend a fortune on tackle as most stout overhead combos will handle the small early Summer fish. You just need to put yourself in the right place at the right time and with a few yellowtail or slimy mackerel kept alive in a plastic garbage bin, you are in with as good a chance as the big-game cruisers, if not better.

Good places to start looking are eastwards from the point at Kiama, the Church Grounds, humps and South East Grounds off Shellharbour, Wollongong Reef, a few kilometres east of Wollongong Lighthouse, and Bandit Reef, off Austinmer.

Simply slow-troll a live bait, anchor or drift in these areas and you could get a hook-up. The key is patience as the marlin are not there every day. The best times are when you hear of someone hooking or catching one, but go straight away because the weather can change.

When you do get that ‘run’, don’t be too disappointed because more often that not a marlin simply picks up your bait gently and keeps on going about its business. There isn’t the ratchet-screaming spectacular take of, say, a yellowfin tuna, but be prepared for some fireworks when you set the hook.

Don’t get too carried away and just hang on, as all the dancing will die down shortly and then it will be up to you to get the marlin to the boat. If it is less than 50kg then it won’t take too long, as these fish are not overly blessed with stamina, although the odd one will give you a good shake.

If you hook one over 50kg, enjoy the battle and if everything stays in one piece, you should win. Whether you choose to take it or let it go is a personal thing. I keep one small marlin each year as they are bloody good tucker. But I don’t fish for food, I fish for fun and a feed of fish is a pleasant bonus while you are having fun. Killing one fish every few months has to be better for the environment than killing dozens of other species over the same period for a feed.


Plenty of fish other than marlin will take your baits during January with mahi mahi, bonito, kingfish and sharks all lining up. The traps off Kiama and Port Kembla have had a few early dollies hanging around but they have been small. More and larger fish should be in full swing come the end of the month. Closer in, there have been some kings around the islands, Bass Point, and Bellambi and also on the deeper reefs like Bandit and Wollongong if you sink a live bait down near the bottom.

Bonito were conspicuous by their absence in large numbers last season but a few are around already, rounding up schools of baitfish, so there could be some joy for the lure-tossers. Salmon are also chasing bait along the backs of the beaches – just keep and eye out for the birds off Fairy Meadow, Coniston, Windang and anywhere between Bass Point and Kiama.

Some lucky angler fishing the beach will get action you only dream about when a school moves right into the shallows and bundles the bait right up against the sand. It usually lasts only a short while but some sensational action can be experienced.

Still offshore, there are striped tuna wide of the islands taking Christmas trees and small skirts and even a few small yellowfin tuna out over the shelf. In close around the reefs there are some small to medium snapper with the odd big knobby poking around the bommies up north. Striped tuna pieces make great bait and berley for these. Silver trevally are still about over the reefs but they are usually a bit skinny after spending the past few months spawning.

Flathead are thick over the sand patches all along the coast. They have good days and bad but on the bad days, most anglers are still getting a feed. The teraglin have been quiet but they may go off on the next moon, they are a strange fish. Small samson fish have shown up with the warm water and are settling in over many of the inshore reefs, giving the snapper fishos a scare when they pick up a bait and put up a fight way beyond their size. Mowies, sweep, tailor and leatherjackets are filling out the bags over most reefs.

When the warmer water comes, so do the sharks. Out wide around the shelf they cam be monster tigers, whalers and hammerheads but in close they are on a much smaller scale most of the time.


They are not confined to the offshore scene, as deep gutters on most of the local beaches will have a whaler or three cruising about in the dark making life difficult for the jewie anglers. School jew have been about with any beach with a good deep gutter worth a throw during the evenings. Most fish are between 3kg and 8kg but specimens up to 18kg have been active.

During the day there have been increased numbers of whiting on most beaches with beach worms the No 1 bait. Some bream and more than a few nice flathead have made for some good bags during the day after a lot of these were washed out of the creeks during the late November rains.

The odd salmon has been partial to the beach worms, too, stretching the whiting gear to the limit, while there are a few tailor in the surf on Windang, Coniston and Coalcliff beaches during the evenings.

The Minnamurra River has some nice whiting and a lot of small bream between the entrance and the bridges. Plenty of mullet are hanging around the weed beds, along with some small to average blackfish and a few flathead are upstream.

Lake Illawarra is much the same, with some mostly small bream in the main channel during the evenings with live prawns the best bait. The prawns are good during the day for flathead, too, but the pickers make short work of them. Live poddy mullet are a better option but there are heaps of chopper tailor in the lake, which can demolish live poddies and soft plastics. You will get a few flatties but the other fish have been making it harder, as has the increased water traffic.

Get out very early and be back before the hordes hit the water and watch out for sunburn.

Brian Taylor caught his first marlin this time last year. It went 130kg and put up a mighty battle on 15kg tackle.

Fat little salmon like this are feeding along the backs of many local beaches.

A rare sight these days: Flathead caught on a hard-body lure. These were taken in shallow water at the entrance to Lake Illawarra.

Lake Illawarra has a few bream in the channel for the kids on holidays, as Morgan Clarke found out.

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