PHIL ATKINSON helps steer beach anglers towards their dream fish.
SECTION: Fish of the Month
No fish captures the imagination of more NSW anglers than the mulloway.
Under a couple of kilos, they’re better known as soapies. They’re called schoolies up to 10kg and jew after that. They’re an awesome species. With a size range to 30kg and a distribution that takes it from the deep offshore reefs, headlands, beaches, rivers and creeks, whether you’re targeting them or not, there is always that hope in the back of every fisherman’s mind that they may one day hook that really big jew.
Having caught more than my fair share of jew, I’ll have to confess straight away that apart from a 5kg schoolie that ate a dead chopper tailor I had out on a crab handline in Woy Woy Bay, I’ve never actually landed a jew that I wasn’t actually targeting. Even the unlucky schoolie was still within my planning, after a few serious runs that I figured weren’t crustacean in nature, I learnt a year or so earlier that even on a crab bait, it pays to use a sharp hook at all times, making sure the point is well exposed.
Chasing jew from the beach is one of my favourite mid-week pastimes. There’s nothing I enjoy more after a long day at work than heading down to the sand on dark, throwing out a jew bait and switching the brain off for a couple of hours.
Optimum conditions for big jew would include a metre of swell, a high tide an hour or so after sunset and the dark of the moon. If you’re able to fish only around available free time then don’t be put off by my tide, moon and swell parameters. If you find a good enough gutter and have fresh bait, then most beaches will produce at least school jew during the first few hours after sunset.
The most productive bait for jew, particularly schoolies, would be beach worms. Take a double-strength 6/0 suicide; add about a metre of 20 or 30lb fluorocarbon leader, swivel and a good-sized ball sinker and you’re in business. Unlike when using other cut or live fish baits, if you’re using worms for jew you’ll find that you’ll catch fish in more turbulent surf areas.
Jew are generally actively looking for worms near the edges and sometimes right on top of a sandbank. When using worms, don’t be afraid to fill the whole hook leaving a generous amount hanging over the bend, this will factor out the slightly overbuilt hook and allow the bait to waft around in the stirred-up conditions. When eating a worm bait, jew don’t tend to muck around as they can on live fish baits. Dropping your rod tip and striking immediately will convert most bites, or should I say slams, into hook-ups.
Most of the serious beach-worm users up my way are either retired or MIA and if, like me, you haven’t got enough time (or leave passes) up your sleeve to go beach-worming and then fish, you can pre-order good quantities of jew-sized king or big stumpy beach worms from better bait shops.
After worms, fresh tailor fillets are the next most reliable jew-takers and, in some situations, they’ll outfish worms on the better class of jew. These fish spend a lot of their time hunting tailor, whiting, dart, bream and mullet.
If you are using cut fish baits, a tandem-hook rig of double-strength 6/0 suicides on 30 or 40 lb leader will do the job nicely. Remembering to cut your baits long and narrow, leaving plenty of tail hanging below the bottom hook.
When using cut baits it’s generally best to cast into deeper gutters, making sure your bait stays in contact with the bottom and in the heart of any rip during the majority of its time in the water. If you’re finding that your bait is washing back onto the shore dump within a few minutes after touchdown, you may need to increase your sinker size. If this doesn’t work, consider using thinner diameter line. In general 15kg line is the absolute maximum you need to be using from the beach.
Once hooked, jew tend to put up a spirited fight and they will amaze you with their ability to gain purchase on the water in even the most stirred-up conditions. After you’ve landed a few decent ones you’ll very quickly pick out their distinctive tail beats and their habit of doing their best fighting along the beach, often tantalisingly close to the back of the shore dump.
Patience is definitely a virtue when landing a jew and, rather than trying to skull-drag a big fish through the wash and up the beach quickly, it’s best to keep constant pressure on and slowly but surely work the fish back and forward along the beach until the shore dump recedes, leaving it high and dry.
I’ve never had to gaff a jew from the sand. Apart from the odd horse that I’ve had to stop rolling back in with my legs or rod butt, most fish have been simply picked up by the throat or the gill case. Whatever you do, don’t put your hand too far into those strong and sharp gills – you’ll only do it once!.
Whether using worms or cut bait, I always like to fish a running rig for jew. The ability to give line will often make the difference between hook-ups and missed opportunities, particularly in really big, deep, still gutters, or on nights when there’s not much swell around.
One last word of warning, before you try to grab an almost beached ‘jew’, make sure you get a positive ID on the fish. A mate of mine got the shock of his life recently when he tried to gill a 1.2-metre whaler shark!
Kurt Atkinson with a solid schoolie caught casting from the rocks out to the sand.
A couple of tailor slabs ready to go.
Tailor make top jew bait. Catch your tailor and cut a strip to fit the hook, leaving a tasty morsel hanging. The author favours a running sinker rig with 30cm or 40cm of trace.
A top jew gutter near Red Rock. Note the deep water in close and the washy outer bank – come nightfall, this is the place to be.
Sometimes the best jewie water is in the corners where the beach meets the rocks and you find yourself beach-fishing from the stones. No matter, provided you get your bait where it will be eaten.
Kurt Atkinson with a beach schoolie.