Going hell for leather
  |  First Published: April 2004

MANY anglers think that leatherjackets are a pest and all that they do is steal their baits, bite through their lines and get in the way of the other fish they are targeting.

But I think they are a great fish to target. Change your tackle and techniques and you, too, may find that you go home with a good feed of sweet-tasting leatherjackets.

My research indicates there are 28 types of leatherjackets in the waters of eastern Australia. Here in Sydney you will usually come across the yellowfin, six-spine, reef and chinaman leatherjackets. To help you get a few leatherjackets in the cooler months, here are a few of my techniques, types of gear and places that I regularly fish.

When I am heading offshore to chase leatherjackets, I take an overhead reel loaded with 15kg braided or thermofused line, an Ugly Stik rod, 2/0 and 3/0 Mustad Big Red hooks and Graphite Metal leader material. Over the years if I didn’t have these items, the offshore leatherjackets would get the better of me.

The best rig that I have found is the two-hook paternoster rig so I can keep the hooks fairly close to the main line while avoid leader twisting around the main line. It also gives me a much better chance of coming up with two fish each time, saving those extra long cranks up from the bottom.

The minimal stretch in braid gives me much more feel than monofilament would and I don’t have to let out as much line as other anglers who are using monofilament when drifting over a reef because there is less drag on fine diameter braid.

I prefer to use ball bearing swivels as they will spin much more freely than conventional models swivel. Many anglers who experience line twist because they use too big a swivel.

Many other anglers use long-shanked hooks when fishing for leatherjackets offshore but I prefer the 2/0 and 3/0 Mustad Big Reds. I can put a small piece of bait on the hook and not cover up the point and the barb. These thicker hooks are also much harder for the leatherjackets to bite through. The overhead reel with its high gear ration enables me to get the fish up to the net quicker.

I also take a permanent marking pen. Once the rig has reached the bottom I will wind in the slack so that the line is nearly vertical. Then I mark the line so that the next time I will know when it is just about to hit the bottom and I can engage the reel in readiness of the leatherjacket’s bite.

Prawns have to be the No 1 bait for leatherjackets but they can be expensive and the leatherjackets seem to be able to get them off quickly. I also use pieces of slimy mackerel, yellowtail, pike, seep, squid, cuttlefish and flathead.

Places off Sydney worth a try for leatherjackets are The Twelve Mile (33°.55.660S, 151°.28.510E), The Peak (33°.58.760S, 151°.21.760E) and the SS Undola Wreck (34°.10.51S, 151°.05.33E).


In the estuary I use a different outfit, rigs and techniques. The breaking strain of the monofilament line is 5kg, the paternoster rig has only one hook and use a lighter rod with a sensitive tip and fast taper. The hook is a Mustad Blood Worm No 8 or 10 long-shank and I don’t use a swivel.

Most of the estuary leatherjacket locations I fish are shallower than six metres and I have found that the monofilament will give a better result. There is more stretch in the line, giving you a little bit of a shock absorber.

It is best to anchor up over your chosen spot so that you can lower the rig directly to the bottom and crank the reel slightly to take the weight while keeping the rod tip near the water. Immediately you feel the bite you need to strike and once you feel the weight of the fish, wind in slowly and don’t give any slack line or the fish may get off.

As for bait, I prefer peeled prawns or squid. The peeled prawns are cut into 5mm pieces and the squid will need to be cleaned so that it is white and then cut into 5mm pieces. If you put on a whole prawn, all that will come back with is the empty prawn shell and no fish.

Around southern Sydney places to try are Watts Reef, Bare Island, and the mooring drums and marker poles in Botany Bay. In Port Hacking you could try South-West Arm, the Ballast Heap and the eastern side of Gymea Bay.

Summer to the end of Autumn seems to be the best time to target leatherjackets offshore. In the estuaries you can chase them year-round, with Winter being best. If you are interested in learning more, call or email me for more information.


Leatherjackets of this size need special terminal tackle.


A two-hook paternoster rig led to a spectacular double for this lucky angler.

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