I HAD a great day up Parramatta River the other day chasing bream on lures with Mick Collins for a segment in my new video on fishing soft plastics (available soon).
Bream fishing will peak up there over the next few months and the old Parra River is now a much nicer place to fish than I remembered it. I did a lot of bream spinning up there 10 years ago and although the fishing was always exceptionally good, it wasn’t always the most attractive environment, complete with strange smells, car bodies and run-down industrial sites.
I was delighted to see just how much the system had cleaned up in the past five or so years, largely attributable to the 2000 Olympics. The water was noticeably cleaner, smelt better and there were fewer plastic bags and other floating crap. Mangroves had sprouted up on mud flats that were previously barren and oysters and other shellfish coated the rocks and structure. Best of all, I didn’t get that nasty rash and my fingernails and hair didn’t fall out.
We fished a variety of natural and human-made structures with tiny Storm Rattle Grubs and nailed a dozen or so good fish up to 40cm. It’s an amazing fishery and looks set to get even better.
Over the years, the weeks around Easter have etched themselves in my mind for two things – atrocious weather or superb fishing. Before I owned a boat, I spent many years on the rocks fishing for game fish and other species. Easter went two ways – a complete write-off as wild seas and rain swept the platforms, or phenomenal fishing that usually provided the year’s highlights.
This peak period occurring on the lead up to Easter every year is more than just coincidence. According to the liturgical calendar, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the March 21 equinox. This year it's April 11.
Water temperatures are at their peak, activating an abundance of species. The other key factor is that a lot of resident and even a few of the minor migratory species are eating themselves silly in an effort to put on some fat in anticipation of impending cold times.
According to my fishing diary, two days before the full moon and three days after, along with a similar period around the new moon have produced the best catches on any given month. If you have a look at the tides around these times you'll notice that they are always early to mid-morning highs. They are the best tides you'll get, especially for estuary fishing.
By-catch of kingie fishing in Sydney Harbour are samson fish, amberjack and, to a lesser degree, rainbow runner. Some years, like last year, the samson are quite abundant, enough to make them a worthy target species. This year it’s amberjack and in our best session we caught 12.
With the exception of the rainbow runners , these species are becoming more abundant. In the past it’s been normal to pick up the occasional samson or amberjack among a haul of 20 kings. Lately it’s becoming more common to have a session on ambers with the occasional king. Of course, over the year the kings far outnumber the others but the ratios are closing every year.
The other interesting thing is that we are catching more on lures now, another indicator that there are lots more around.
Distinguishing between the four species had 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 in colour and have a distinct yellow band running the length of their body. The tail is not as yellow as a kingie’s and they have a faint stripe running vertically across their head that intersects the eye.
Samson fish , as juveniles, are very distinct and couldn’t possibly be confused with kings or amberjack. They are very trevally-shaped and the colour is a blotchy mix of brown, yellow and white. According to Grant’s Guide to Fishes, they have red teeth, although on the juveniles that is only just apparent.
Rainbow runner may get confused with kings but you would have to be very unobservant to do so. They are very elongated, have a bigger tail and a pointy snout. Their colour is most distinct, with iridescent blue-purple stripes the length of their body on a yellowish background
There has always been some confusion distinguishing between kings, amberjack and samson fish, mainly because juvenile samson look very different from adult samson. The books say that samson and amberjack are very similar, which is true when they are big. So when someone catches a small samson and it looks nothing like an amberjack, the ID problems start. Juvenile samson vary dramatically in colour between life and death. When a samson is dead it becomes a very uniform yellowish-amber, similar in colour 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, buy a good ID book.
You will find these fish in all the same spots that you find kings and use the same techniques, with fresh squid being the key. As a rough guide, North Harbour (to the north of a line running between North Head and Grotto Point) attracts the majority of the samson. The three buoys across the mouth of Port Jackson and Seaforth Point, Pickering Point and the reef in between these points is where you will find most of the harbour’s amberjack.
There’s no size or bag limits on samson or ambers at the moment, probably because they have historically been such a rare catch that it was not justified. If they continue to occur in line with the current trend then Fisheries will have to consider putting some limits on them but in the meantime, it will be up to us to show some restraint.
It’s been a pretty good jewie season so far in the Harbour and it should only get better from now on. All the jew that are hanging around the beaches, bays and lower reaches of the rivers will move upstream around late April/May. I assume that they traditionally follow the upstream migration of mullet.
The headlands in Middle Harbour will be good spots to try with squid and large live baits. Farther upstream will be worth a shot with live mullet and lures. Medium to large Storm Shads bounced along the bottom will take their fair share of jewies above Roseville bridge and up the Lane Cove River over the coming months.
From left, a kingfish, an amberjack and a samson.
The author with a prime Parramatta River bream.
From left, samson, kingfish and amberjack.Reads: 6175