Men in grey coats
  |  First Published: December 2008

From now until early March the ‘men in grey coats’ turn up all along the Hunter Coast.

To some, sharks are a welcome drawcard and just another species to fish for; to others they are a nuisance and make it hard to fish the reefs because they home in on hooked fish and all you end up with is a head.

I have seen a lot of sharks over the years, some only 70cm or so and others around 6m.

When a big ‘grinner’ turns up at the transom and he is as big as the boat, even the biggest tough blokes go to jelly they want to move straight away. Mention rigging up and seeing if it can be caught and tagged isn’t well-received.

Lets face it, sharks are eating machines. They can be caught anywhere from miles out to sea to rivers, creeks, canals and nearly all estuaries.

Any jewie fisho who haunts Stockton breakwall or the Hunter River in Newcastle long enough usually encounters sharks, especially this month.

Huge schools of hammerhead sharks turn up and it’s not uncommon to hook two or three from the river side of the wall. They steal live baits that have taken all day to gather so they’re not very welcome.

Usually they are only 1m to 1.6m long with the odd 2m to 3m job which carves up your gear and tears off line.

The smaller models are usually landed and some dopes them on the rocks to smell up the whole area. I just don’t understand this, if they’re unwanted, just release them on the seaside of the wall and let them go on their way.

I have eaten shark a lot. Small sharks don’t have a massive mercury content that can poison you like everyone thinks, although very large sharks do.

The white flesh cooked on a barbecue with a few choice spices is great. Many guests have commented on how good the ‘fish’ bread roll has been, unknowingly eating small bronze whaler or hammerheads. Over the years I have converted a few people to eating shark.

A number of years ago my wife and I were in a 4.2m tinny heading a few kilometres offshore and as we passed an island a huge hammerhead surfaced and did the Jaws bit, with its fin carving through the water. My wife was facing the other way and when said, ‘Look at that!’ she spun around, saw it, swore and begged me to take us back in.

The rest of the trip she sat in the centre of the seat and hardly moved. The shark was an oceanic hammerhead close on 6m.


This month land-based game anglers dust off their gear and, like mountain goats, climb rock faces from Catherine hill Bay to Cape Hawke in pursuit of longtail tuna.

Diehard anglers spend days out on ledges live-baiting for these fish, which are true rockets of the sea that can strip half a spool of line off a TLD 25 in one run.

And if you manage not to get sharked and land one, it’s an adrenaline buzz like no other. If you’re offshore and see anglers on some out-of-the way rocky outcrop, give them some room and take your boat wide. All too often I hear anglers say boats cut off their fish and failed to show any respect for them whatsoever.

Close reefs all along the coast are still producing good numbers of kingfish.

They’re not huge but there are plenty from 3kg to 8kg and on light gear nothing pulls as hard. Spinning, deep jigging and dropping fresh squid and live fish baits are the best options.

Bonito should be coming on the chew. You used to be able to troll up two or three on your way out and use them as fresh bait but nowadays they are hard to find. This month they will be at their thickest if there are any left.

Teraglin, jewfish and mahi mahi should also be around. North Reef off Newcastle is a good place to start, especially early in the morning, and if you can manage a weekday out to the buoy, all the better. Weekends it gets pretty busy and shallow reef and lots of boats don’t combine for great fishing.


The beaches are firing with nice whiting and a few school jewfish. Late afternoon and early morning tides are the best by far, but find any depth or a good gutter and you should encounter fish all through the day.

A few of the Karuah boys have done well on bream around the Sygna wreck in overcast conditions and remember that flathead also move into the beach shallows this month.

In the estuaries flathead have been plentiful. The mouth of Fullerton Cove on the Hunter River has been turning up plenty of flatties and is a well-known whiting spot so a red wiggler worm or red popper may find a few whiting also.

The extensive mudflats hold a good number of species and a drift can produce flounder, flathead, whiting and school jewfish at times. There are gutters and channels all through this area and at low tide you can walk some of the exposed banks and flick lures and bait into deeper water.

Crabs have been around in good numbers from the wrecks at Stockton through to Hexham. I like around Sandgate just up from the rail bridge.

So for January I would concentrate offshore for bottom fish and troll for striped tuna and bonito, with marlin out wide. The beaches should really fire and prawns should be in the rivers and estuaries. Head to the rocks for pelagics such as kingfish and longtail tuna.

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