Bountiful Broken Bay
  |  First Published: March 2003

COL BUCKLEY spills the beans on some of his favourite fishing holes. His arm should be out of plaster by the time you read this!





The Broken Bay close offshore reefs are areas that I have fished for more than 30 years. Reefs, boulders, rubble, shale and even the odd shipwreck are all within easy reach from trailer boats five metres and bigger.

Over time, patterns have emerged on how and when these areas fire. Despite this accumulated knowledge, sometimes everything gets blown out the window and all you have to show for a day out is sunburn.

However, with careful planning and consultation of tide charts, you can tip the odds in your favour. By keeping a record of your catches, trends will become apparent, showing what areas fish best at certain times of the year. Other variables to take into account include rainfall, current, tides, moon, salinity and wind.

A necessary investment, besides a GPS, is a quality depth sounder that enables you to park right over these ‘fish zones’. I can’t overstate how critical it is to be positioned directly over a drop-off or structure. Constant checks must be made to ensure the boat has remained over the chosen spot.

Read the signs, go to the appropriate grounds, use light gear and fresh baits, and you’ll soon start turning all this theory into hits.

The floater

My foremost bait fishing tool is the floater. I fish baits weightless whenever I can, adding lead only when there is current. This enables me to fish the total water column. This ‘stealth’ form of bait-fishing is best done with a sturdy 6kg to 8kg spin stick with a bit of grunt down the blunt end. Matched with an overhead, baitcaster or a mid-range eggbeater, a rod like this will catch most fish on offer on these northern reefs.

I spool up with 4kg to 8kg monofilament line and employ a small pea-sinker running straight to a 5/0 to 7/0 tarpon-style hook. Size of sinker is directly proportional to current – we’re looking at getting the bait to eventually reach the bottom in the current, not plummet straight down or drift away too far.

The Tarpon hook has a straight eye, straight shank and no offset. This minimises bait spin which, if not counteracted, can give rise to some horrible line-twist problems, especially in deeper water. Sinker size should be changed to suit prevailing current conditions – if the current changes, so should your sinker.

When using this lightweight floating technique there is little indication when baits reach the bottom, but keep feeding out line till a take is felt. We call this technique ‘walking the dog’. With overheads, there are no shades of grey on a hit as the spool suddenly revolves at a greater speed. With spinning tackle, the line will peel off the spool faster and with more weight behind it. The modus operandi is the same in either case – engage the reel and strike.


A paternoster rig uses a weight (snapper lead) at the very bottom and a minimum of two droppers off the main line above it. I employ the paternoster when fishing water over 70 metres deep because it takes too long for a floater to reach the bottom.

I manufacture this rig out of 24kg mono, attached to the main line with a swivel. A swivel is also recommended between each dropper to minimise bait spin. Use a fixed loop for attaching sinkers, so weight changes can be made quickly according to the prevailing conditions.

The advent of braided or gelspun line has dramatically improved the ‘feel’ of hits in deeper water. This no-stretch cyber-thread lets you know exactly what’s happening down there at the business end. The downside of this line (besides being a lot more expensive than mono) is that it puts a lot more strain on rods, drags and reel gearing. When you feel a hit, just a gentle lift of the rod will set the hook or you’ll risk pulling hooks through tender mouths. Or, even worse, you might break a rod on a larger, feistier fish.


Berley should be employed at all times. It can consist of a mixture of mashed and cubed fish with a couple of drops of tuna or pilchard oil as an attractant. Or it can have a cereal-based component, such as bread, bran or poultry pellets.

Berley should be fresh as possible and, like bait, should be kept cool until used. When fishing floaters on the shallow grounds, it helps to have a transom-mounted berley pot, which allows a constant supply of surface berley that will slowly sink in concert with the baits.

Tip: Gently grind the berley pot every couple of minutes – don’t just flog the death out of it every time you remember. This makes a lot of noise and erratic clumps of food don’t create the desired effect, which should be a constant stream of food particles.

After each session, have a debriefing. Were all facets examined? Were all techniques tried? It is this constant learning curve that makes us all better and more consistent anglers in the long run.

What follows are descriptions of some of the spots I frequent and a little about them.

East Reef (off Maitland Beach)

GPS: S33°.32.914, E151°.24.128

Depth: 27 metres

Features: This is a very hard, craggy reef with uprisings and small drop-offs onto sand. I have found there are always yellowtail on site for bait, which is probably why it’s such a good mulloway spot. Snapper and morwong can be taken here, too. It fishes best when the current is running to the south. East Reef is the area where I start targeting mulloway around October.

Rig: Floater with running sinker or unweighted. Live bait rig.

Baits: Live yellowtail, cut pilchards, slab of tailor or pike.

Species: Mulloway, kingfish, trevally, shark, snapper, morwong and occasionally teraglin.

West Reef (Off Putty Beach)

GPS S33°33.440, E151°22.197

Depth: Rises up to three metres. Beware – this reef breaks in an erratic pattern with a heavy swell.

Features: This is a very rocky reef with drop-offs onto a shale bottom. West Reef also has yellowtail on site for bait. Trolling around the bommie with small, shallow-running minnows will pick up pelagics. Tailor and salmon ball up bait and can often be seen breaking the surface, indicated by screeching gulls. Both species are receptive to chrome slices cast into the wash and retrieved in a fast, jerky motion.

Rig: Light casting and trolling outfits.

Baits: Cut pilchards, strips of peeled squid and whole garfish.

Species: Bream, tailor, salmon, kingfish and snapper.

Esmeralda (off Mona Vale)

GPS: S33°39.578; E151°25.357

Depth: 68 metres

Features: This is a large, boulder-strewn rocky area around three football fields in size, with some patches of hard reef. There are also sand patches among the hard bottom. Berley is essential here, dispensed around two-thirds of the way down. Current can be so strong here that the place becomes unfishable.

Rig: Paternosters and weighted floaters. A live-bait rig is also recommended, as this can be a good mulloway ground.

Baits: Whole pilchards, halved squid, garfish, and slabs of tailor or yellowtail fillets. Live tailor or yellowtail.

Species: Snapper, mulloway, Chinaman leatherjackets, marble flathead, morwong, trevally, nannygai and pike.

Trawleys (off Palm Beach)

GPS: S33°36.026; E151°21.025

Depth: 28 metres

Features: This reef, roughly parallel to the shore, has a single pronounced drop-off that falls onto sandy rubble. The top of the reef is extremely hard and very snaggy, with ooglies like moray eels and red rock cod eager to eat any stray bait. Precise anchoring on the drop is all-important here. Usually slimy mackerel and yellowtail are on site for bait. Check your sounder for clouds of bait schools. Use surface berley with the occasional cube thrown in every minute or so.

Rig: Floaters, either completely unweighted or rigged with a very small running sinker to the hook.

Baits: Cut pilchards, peeled squid, and slices of tailor or slimy mackerel fillet.

Species: Kingfish (mainly up to 80cm), snapper, leatherjackets, bream, tailor and bonito.

Boultons (off Whale Beach)

GPS: S33°36.582; E151°22.291

Depth: 37 metres

Features: A very large reef, boulder-strewn, with sand patches and very few drop-offs. It fishes best when the current is travelling to the south. Look for bait schools on the sounder. This is a popular fishing ground for trailer boats due to its proximity to Barrenjoey Headland. Berley both top and bottom of the water column and fish very light with little or no weight as the fish are educated here. The north-east corner fishes best. Teraglin can be found farther south.

Rig: Floater and live bait rig.

Baits: Whole pilchard, squid, cut garfish, slimy fillet and frogmouth pilchards.

Species: Mulloway, snapper, kingfish, teraglin, trevally and nannygai.

Reggie’s (off Avalon)

GPS: S33°37.905; E151°21.752

Depth: 43 metres

Features: This is a very rough reef with a couple of drop-offs on to mud and shale. Space is limited, though, and only about four boats can fish this area at a time. Reggie’s fishes best when the current is heading north. Ensure baits are fished down the drop-off and keep an eye on the sounder, as position is all-important. Live bait can be caught on site and there are normally large aggregations of slimy mackerel and big yellowtail. It is a good big-mulloway possie at night when the current is right. Surface berley, with the occasional mid-water berley bomb, will keep baitfish in the vicinity.

Rig: Floater and live bait rig.

Baits: Live yellowtail or slimy mackerel. Halved squid and fresh or salted tailor fillets are also good.

Species: One of my top snapper grounds. I have also caught large mulloway here in summer. Trevally, kingfish and small sharks.

Newport Reef (Newport)

GPS: S33°40.470; E151°20.730

Depth: 20 metres

Features: Rocky reef with pronounced drop-offs. Fishes well at night four days before and four days after a full moon. Plenty of bait on site such as yellowtail, slimy mackerel and small tailor. Berley dispensed at the surface will get fish into the zone quickly. Trolling either bibbed minnows or small skirted lures about 70 metres from the point will attract pelagics.

Rig: Floaters, light trolling rigs.

Baits: Cut pilchard, strips of tasselled squid, strip of yellowtail and frogmouth pilchards.

Species: Tailor, salmon, leatherjackets, snapper, bonito, kingfish and sweep.



The boat ramp at Roland Reserve at Bayview has excellent facilities and will give access to the reefs via Pittwater.


Two floaters out on a perfect day off Broken Bay.


This snapper fell to a floated pilchard bait off Newport Reef.


A big bonito taken on a trolled bibbed minnow circling the shallow waters of West Reef.


This small kingfish came from Trawleys Reef. The kings here, on the whole, are not large but great sport on light tackle.


It can get a bit crowded on the smaller reefs like Reggies off Avalon.


Heading out from Barrenjoey Head to one of the many reefs on offer.


Freshly caught squid is the prime bait for kingfish. Stripped and peeled, squid also makes great snapper fodder.


Baits like fresh caught squid and yellowtail, fished on light gear, will ensure success on the close in reefs.

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