A month of surprises
  |  First Published: March 2004

THIS is the month of surprises, with many exotic species putting in cameo appearances – much to the delight of surprised anglers who are lucky enough to stumble onto one of these rare northern visitors.

They are many and varied, including spotted and Spanish mackerel, cobia, rainbow runners, sailfish, spearfish, samson fish, mangrove jacks and a few of the various tropical trevally species.

They are usually caught while fishing for other species but ,over the seasons, certain species seem to be captured in and around the same areas each year. So without going as far as saying you could target them, if you fish certain areas with the right techniques then you stand a better chance than a shot in the dark of scoring a northern visitor.

Mackerel aren’t regular visitors but if you have your pilchard bitten off several times without even feeling a bite, then it could well be a spotty, so put on some very light wire and you are in with a chance. Ganged hooks also give you a better chance of staying in contact.

Cobia have been showing up over the past few years late in the month and are generally captured by those chasing yellowtail kings in close with live baits. Bellambi Reef, the reef under Wollongong lighthouse and the wreck at Bass Point are prime spots. The cobes can range from tiddlers of a kilo or so up to 18kg so don’t be surprised if a whopper shows up.

Rainbow runners like current so if there is a strong current from the north hitting the islands or Bass Point, try trolling small lures in close to the rocks where the current boils away into deep water.

Farther offshore, you might find the sails and spears. Again, you can’t target them, but they do like very small skirted lures and Christmas tree-style lures on the troll, or rigged garfish trolled slowly. You will score a lot of small tuna on these lures, with the sails and spears a bonus.

Mangrove jacks used to find their way into Lake Illawarra and hang around the bridge pylons but the entrance is closed yet again, so they may not show this year. But the Minnamurra River sees jacks as fairly regular visitors, especially around the pylons of the rail and road bridges. The jetties in Port Kembla harbour are also worth a look, as are the deeper parts of the breakwall. But there are lots of pylons to each jetty, so good luck.

Big eye and giant trevally can show up around just about any bommies along the coast – you just have to be lucky.


As fun as it might be chasing tropicals, for better results stick with the locals and you won’t go wrong. Snapper are starting to move in closer over the inshore reefs and towards the end of the month should be right in among the bommies and islands just offshore. Drop the pick and berley for best results and the evenings are a great time, as the northeasters don’t blow as hard at this time of the year and tend to drop early in the afternoon. Wollongong Reef would be a good spot to start looking.

Farther offshore everyone’s favourite, mahi mahi, are around the traps and just about any other floating object. It has been a good year for the dollies, even though the water has not been as warm as in the past few years. This may be why there have been a larger number of big fish being landed. Heaps of fish over 10kg have come in with plenty up around the 20kg mark being picked up as well.

Another factor may be that more anglers are spending time and money deploying their own FADs and reaping the rewards. It is a sad fact that the Illawarra is one of the few places that has not been the recipient of one of the NSW Fisheries FADs deployed along the NSW coast. In fact Wollongong was one of the first to make submissions for one and has the highest boat ownership per head of population in the State. Come to think of it, the Illawarra anglers don’t get a real lot for their licence dollar.

Marlin don’t mind hanging around the FADs picking up an easy feed of mahi mahi and this month there are still plenty about and it is a case of what type you might catch – black, blue or striped. They are all active. You could even score the grand slam of all three in one day – now that would be something special.

The odd wahoo and a few small yellowfin tuna have been picked up trolling out wide but they are mostly bonus fish for those chasing the billies. Closer in there are striped tuna, salmon, frigate mackerel, small mackerel tuna but nowhere near as many bonito working the baitfish along the shallow reefs and the back of the surf.

You can still have fun throwing lures at the packs of surface speedsters but they seem to be a little quieter that past seasons but it might all change over night if some new water comes in.

Yellowtail kings are in all the regular spots but to have any real chance of scoring the better fish, you will need to be out on your chosen spot at daylight with your live baits ready. The kings seem to be going off the bite as the suns rays peep over the horizon. Most fish are around the legal length but a few up around 8kg mark have been sneaking in for a look.


Along the rocks are the same schools of surface fish and some larger kings, particularly down around the deeper ledges at Kiama and up at Hill 60. Live baits like large yellowtail and slimies are good while a live frigate mackerel or squid is almost guaranteed to score a strike. Don’t be surprised if your king starts jumping and turns out to be a marlin, as they are still on the cards this month off the stones.

The blackfish anglers are starting to get ready for the Autumn run of big travellers along the ocean rocks. Towards the end of this month they will be travelling in schools along the headlands, so if you have always wanted to try your hand at chasing big blackfish, the end of this month is the time to start fishing.

All beach species are well on the bite. Most beaches are holding whiting in good numbers with flathead, salmon, a few bream, tailor and even dart making an appearance.

During the evenings there have been some quality jewies coming off southern and the northern beaches. There seem to be plenty of schoolies between the larger fish but, as always, they can be hot and cold as the schools move from beach to beach. You just have to be at the right beach on the right night and fresh bait is a must.

Keep your ear to the fishing grapevine for the latest info on who caught what and where, and then sort the fact from the fiction and you will be one step closer to finding where the jewies were the night before, so you can plan where to fish that night. That makes sense doesn’t it?

Lake Illawarra is still producing fish, even though it is starting to resemble a sewer now that the entrance has closed again. At the time of writing the water is dirty and there is slime and algae on the bottom but the fish are still biting.

This was the case during the Flathead Classic run by Wollongong Sportfishing Club and sponsored by Deans Bait and Tackle. The event was very well attended by 228 registered anglers.

The fish were not large by any standard, with the longest of the 112 flathead measured going 50cm. Some of the results were: Longest released capture on lure, Steve Monck with a 49cm flathead; longest released flathead on bait was yours truly at 47cm; longest released flathead on fly was by Steve Chatterton at 41.5cm and the longest released by a junior was Christopher Bellantoni at 42.5cm.

Steve Monk won the longest total aggregate by an individual with nine flathead for 379.9cm. Of the 112 fish caught, 77 were released and 35 kept and of the 77 released, 58 were captured on lures, 15 on bait and four on fly.

The next event on the lake will be the Bream Challenge in May so keep an eye out for that one. Speaking of bream, there were quite a few taken on lures during the flathead event, particularly along the rocky shorelines and islands, so they should be on the move in the lake this month.

Down at the closed entrance there are some whiting taking squirt worms and there are still some flathead about if you work hard enough. The prawns should make another run during this next dark, with the scoopers picking up a few kilos on good nights.

Minnamurra has been pretty good with flathead still along its entire length and whiting from the entrance up to the bridges. Mullet and blackfish are along the edges of the weed beds while there have been some nice bream under the bridges during the nights, along with some mighty big eels.

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