Port Hacking’s South West Arm
  |  First Published: May 2004

PORT Hacking is about a 30-minute drive south of the centre of Sydney (in average traffic!) and is bordered on the northern side by townships of the Sutherland Shire and to the south by the Royal National Park.

From the drop-off at the northern side of the Lilli Pilli sand flats and into the South West Arm is just over four kilometres long but is a very productive stretch of water. There you have the chance to catch flathead, flounder, yellowfin bream, leatherjackets, tailor, whiting, luderick, squid, yellowtail, john dory, kingfish, mullet, snapper, silver trevally, garfish, salmon and even mulloway.

Many anglers are under the impression that the Lilli Pilli-South West Arm is best fished in the early morning, late afternoon, at night or during foul weather. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even though I do fish the area at those times, many of my successful fishing forays into this stretch have been during the middle of the day.

Here are some locations in the area, numbered according to the accompanying map.


I suggest you visit initially when the tide is a very low, around 30cm, as the sand flats will be exposed, here giving you an idea of where best to fish it when the tide is up near its peak. Whiting, bream, garfish, mullet, trevally and the occasional salmon will work these sand flats near the top of the tide. It is best to put out two anchors and let your baits roll with the flow of the water. A berley trail is essential here.

The north side of the sand flat drops off to about 16 metres. There can be a fair amount of water passing over the sand bank and into this deep hole and there will be a number of eddies formed here.

During the run-in tide you will need to position your boat so that it is just on the edge of the drop-off. Lay out a berley trail and fish with two rods.

The first rod should have a leader one to two metres long, a swivel and a sinker to suit the current. The second rod should be fitted with a baitrunner style threadline reel so that you can feed out a lightly weighted bait in the berley trail.

You can catch snapper, bream, tailor and john dory during the Autumn and Winter. Flathead, whiting, flounder, blue swimmer crabs, mulloway and mullet are worth chasing during the Summer.

It is also worth trolling lures or live baits for salmon, kingfish and tailor along the edge of the drop-off during the warmer months.


The southern side of the Lilli Pilli flats has a eight-knot speed restriction due to the narrow channel. You can drift the edge either side of the channel and cast lures back onto the sand and weed beds for bream, whiting and flathead, or you can anchor near the edge and use bait for bream, fathead, whiting, small jewfish, luderick, squid, mullet and garfish. Once again, you will need to berley at this spot to get the fish on the bite.


This stretch of water is primarily a boat spot unless you are staying at the church holiday cabins. The channel is not very wide here and carries an eight-knot speed limit. If you are after luderick, bream, garfish and mullet you will need to moor close to the shoreline. Two anchors would be better but you will need to take care not to put the front anchor too far out into the channel because it could be in the way of passing boats. Once again, berley is an essential ingredient in the success of your fishing here.

For the bream you will need to use a small float and a leader from one to two metres long. Best baits for bream during the Summer are slimy mackerel, pink nippers and bloodworms. In the cooler months try peeled prawns, chicken or mullet gut and striped tuna or bonito fillets.

If you are after luderick you will need to get hold of some fresh green weed or green cabbage off the ocean rocks. Bread is the go for the berley and bait for the garfish and mullet. Remember to keep the bait as small as possible and use a No 10 long-shank hook.

Squid and flathead can be caught while drifting the channel but you will need to keep out of the way of the passing boats.


Even though this is a very narrow stretch, at times it can produce some very big whiting and flathead. Position your boat near or on the edge of the sand bank because the volume of boat traffic that goes through here will have you pulling your hair out otherwise.

The best time to fish here is just on daybreak, sunset or at night. This will get you away from most of the boat traffic.

Pink nippers, blood and beach worms are the best baits for the whiting and small live yellowtail or poddy mullet are the go for the flathead.


This excellent shore-based area is accessed by turning off Sir Bertram Stevens Drive, which runs through the Royal National Park, and then turning onto unsealed Warumbul Road. It’s a place you can take the kids for a picnic while you cast a line out for yellowfin bream, whiting, garfish, leatherjackets and luderick.

You will need to cast out from the shore to avoid the rocky and snaggy shoreline or you can use a float to suspend the bait above the bottom.

During the Summer surface fish like tailor and salmon frequent this stretch, so have the metal lures ready to go in your tackle box.

If you catch some squid while fishing here in the latter part of the day and you are able to keep them alive, you are in with a very good chance of catching a jewfish an hour before the sun sets. Keep in mind the closing time of the gates – check at the main office.

Those fishing from a boat could anchor, start up a berley trail and fish as lightly as the current will allow. Having your bait work its way down with the berley will give you a better chance of picking up a bream or two and staying away from those small snapper.


This part of South West Arm is one of my favourite fishing spots. You can catch snapper, bream, flathead, luderick, garfish, mullet, leatherjackets, john dory, jewfish, whiting, silver trevally, tailor, slimy mackerel and the odd kingfish and salmon here.

The oyster-covered shoreline leads down to a bottom that is a combination of small reefs dotted around the place, broken rubble, shells and clean white sand.

When you anchor up and start berleying it won’t take long to have mullet, yellowtail, slimy mackerel and garfish at the back of your boat. Once you have caught a small one of these baitfish, I suggest that you put it on a live-bait rig and lower it down to a metre off the bottom. Put the rod in one of your rod holders and just wait for a big one to come along.

Leatherjackets just love to school around small reefy patches that also have a bit of weed or kelp growing. Use your sounder to find a small reef and position your boat over the top. Then use a paternoster rig and small pieces of peeled prawns to catch a few jackets. You will need to lower your berley down to the bottom so that the movement of the tide doesn’t take it away from your boat.

Along the stretch from Costen’s Point to the South West Arm channel there is a drop-off from a seagrass-covered bank that produces good catches of bream, tailor, flathead, whiting and the odd jewfish. On the run-in tide you will need to anchor in the shallow water of the sand bar and fish back into the deeper water. During the falling tide have your boat anchored in the deeper water and fish back towards the edge of the drop-off.

Trolling lures is also very productive here during the Summer for kingfish, salmon, tailor and slimy mackerel. Try using Mann’s Stretch 5+ and 10+ at around four knots. If you are into jigging plastics for flathead, this is the place to try.


Gooseberry Bay can be accessed from the shore but it is a fair walk along a dirt road. Follow the road to Maianbar and then turn off onto Costens Point Road. Park and then walk down to the shore. It takes about 30 to 40 minutes.

Most of the fishing in this bay is done from a boat and the best time to fish is during the week or at night, due to the fact that it is a very popular spot for larger craft to tie up. You can also get a lot of water skiers here.

I have found that either a day or couple of days after the weekend will fish the best here as the fleet of boats that sometimes moor here will do all the berleying for you. Bream, flathead, whiting, leatherjackets and some pan-sized snapper can be caught during the quieter times of the day.


You will need to put one anchor out in the deeper water and one on the shore here to enable you to stop swinging around and also to position yourself over the edge of the reef. It drops off from about five metres to 12 metres in a short distance, so location is critical. Bream, snapper, mulloway, leatherjackets, john dory, tailor, yellowtail and slimy mackerel can be caught here.

Fishing early morning, late in the afternoon or on an overcast day will usually get you the best results. During the Summer you tend to get a lot of water skiers here.


You can anchor here on a rising or falling tide for leatherjackets, yellowtail, slimy mackerel, bream and the odd legal snapper. Berley is a must to get the fish on the bite. Once again, you will have to put up with the water skiers.


This spot is very much like Gooseberry Bay, as the public moorings can become very crowed here during the Summer. Casting soft or hard lures around the moorings will sometimes get tailor, kingfish and bream.

If you use a heavier jig head and allow the plastic to hit the bottom you are in with a good chance of getting a flathead or two.


Try trolling lures along the edge of the drop-off during the Summer for tailor, salmon, slimy mackerel and the odd mulloway.

You can also anchor up on the sand flats and position your boat so that it is at the edge of the drop-off to fish for bream, flathead, tailor, salmon, garfish, mullet and the odd mulloway. Best fished on a run-out tide.


To access the sand flats in this part of the South West Arm you will need a shallow-draft boat or a canoe. If you haven’t, I guess you could always anchor at the edge of the sand flats and fish the rising tide over the flats.

I have caught flathead to 5kg here just by floating a live poddy back over the flats. If that’s not your scene, you could also cast large plastics back to the boat. On a rising tide this area is also home to feeding mullet, garfish, bream and some thumper sand whiting.

On the northern side you will find water to about three metres but take care not to go aground when fishing on a falling tide.

If you have a small boat or a canoe, you can work your way upstream when the tide is rising, casting at the edge of the mangroves and rock bars for bream and flathead. Make sure that you don’t leave it too late to start coming back downstream, otherwise you may become stranded until the tide rises again.



It will take you about 10 minutes to drive upstream in your boat from the Wonga Road ramp in Yowie Bay to the entrance of South West Arm. From there it is about five minutes to the drop-off at spot No 11.


Yellowtail kingfish can be trolled up on the northern side of the Lilli Pilli sand flats.


Berleying for tailor will get them into such a frenzy that sometimes you will hook two fish on the same lure.


Plastics have been the undoing of many a flathead. This one was jigged up while drifting the channel just north of the South West Arm Channel.


Striped tuna, pilchards, slimy mackerel and garfish are great baits for bream.


Try casting small hard or soft lures in towards the mangrove-lined shore. Dave Fletcher managed this bream on his first cast.


Witches’ hats or any other type of crab pot cannot be used in Port Hacking. This blue swimmer got tangled up in the author’s line while drifting for flathead.


Most squid have a life span of somewhere between eight to twelve months. Chris Brown caught this double-header casting a squid jig near the public moorings up South West Arm.


As the sign says, it’s four knots upstream from here. It is also a good place to anchor on a running tide. Berley here to be successful.


This stretch is worth a try for luderick from Autumn to the end of Winter.


Once you have reached Warumbul, you can park you car and it is a very short walk to this wharf. Bream, flathead and squid can be caught from here. Best fished on a high tide.


The sand flats at the entrance of South West Arm are worth a try at high tide for sand whiting, bream and flathead.


There are a few moorings, owned by the Royal Motor Boat Club, right at the end of South West Arm. It is worth chucking a few baits and plastics around their bases.
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