Things finally heat up
  |  First Published: March 2005

After a slow start to the season it looks like things have finally picked up with water getting up to 24° in the lower Harbour.

The last time we had temps this high the spotted mackerel swarmed in and the kingies cleared out. It was a nice compromise.

Kings’ temp range is between 19° and 24° and if its hits 25° we can expect to see them slow right up. At the moment some good kings are around but it’s still hard to find any consistency to them. All the buoys work at one time or another with the best being the eastern Wedding Cake. There are two size classes, one just under the legal 60cm and one about 80cm. Best options are still 9” Slug-gos, 6” Storm Split Tail Minnows and live or fresh squid.

The next-best choice is live gar and there seems to be an unseasonably good run of them at the moment. To catch gar, get a bread or pellet berley going and fish tiny pieces of pilchard gut under a quill float on a No 14 hook.

There have been good reports of samson fish offshore but we haven’t seen any in the Harbour yet. We have been getting some great amberjack up to 8kg around The Spit and Seaforth. Kings, samson and amberjack are closely related and we usually get all three in the Harbour each season although some years the samson dramatically outnumber the amberjack and in others, vice -versa. Kings are still the dominant species although a few seasons ago the amberjack almost outnumbered them


Distinguishing between the three has always been quite easy for me, mainly because they were always caught in their juvenile sizes. Once they get big they become harder to tell apart.

The hardest to pick are amberjack and kingies because even as juveniles they are similar in colour and body shape. If you have a king and an amberjack side by side it’s quite obvious. Amberjack are rounder and fuller over the top of the head and have a slightly bigger and more forward eye. They are generally darker and have a distinct yellow band running the length of their body The tail is not as yellow as a kingie’s.

Samson fish , as juveniles, are very distinct and couldn’t possibly be confused with either. They are very ‘trevally-shaped’ and the coloration is a blotchy mix of brown, yellow and white. According to Grants Guide to Fishes, they have red teeth although on the juveniles that is only just apparent.

There has always been a bit of confusion regarding distinguishing between kings, amberjack and Samson fish mainly because juvenile samson look very different from adult samson and none of the text books I referred to have mentioned this. The books say that samson and amberjack are very similar, which is true when they are big. So when some one catches a small samson and it looks nothing like an amberjack, the ID problems start.

Secondly, juvenile samson vary dramatically in colour between life and death. When a samson is dead it becomes a very uniform yellowish-amber, similar to a dead amberjack

Of course you can’t go wrong with fin counts but that’s way too boring to go into here. If you are really interested in that, buy a good ID book.

Ambers and samson used to be too uncommon in Sydney Harbour to target but over the past 10 years they have become progressively more common, to the point that they are now a viable target.

They have become so common that DPI Fisheries has placed them on review for size and bag limits. If you really want to catch one, the only advice I can give you is to fish for kingies and sooner or later one will show up.

Just like kingies they are all suckers for fresh squid and respond to the same techniques. The only other thing I can suggest is to fish when the water is at its warmest – now.


Big Al Bellissimo’s prediction last month of the return of the bonito was spot-on and they are now thick in the Harbour and are taking trolled lures along all the Harbour and coastal headlands. They are also schooling up in the open water off Quarantine Bay, Clifton Gardens and Rose Bay.

Tailor have been thick in Vaucluse Bay and up around Pickering Point in Middle Harbour and are an easy catch on trolled or cast Raider lures.

Bream are in good numbers in the deep channels in the lower Harbour and are taking live nippers or peeled prawns. After dark try fishing up on the shallows around Sow and Pigs Reef as the bream move from the deep holes on to the shallows.

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