Tough times, tough fish
  |  First Published: July 2003

You have to be pretty tough to take on the weather and get into the action and this goes for the fish, too, which is probably why two of our toughest fish will be prime targets this month – salmon and rock blackfish or black drummer.

Now salmon and, for that matter, drummer are just about all-year propositions but during the Winter they seem to be more prevalent in our catches, probably due more to the lack of other species picking up our baits rather than there being an abundance of these Winter saviours. Things can get very quiet around the rocks at the moment and any fish found in good numbers is very welcome.

Drummer have to be some of the toughest customers anywhere, with an amazing power-to-weight ratio. Living in a cauldron of whitewater all their lives makes them strong and aggressive fighters that ask for no quarter and certainly don’t give any.

For the most part they are territorial and hang around the entrances to caves, crevasses and holes. They venture out to graze on weed-covered rocks and small crustaceans dislodged by the turbulence. When you hook them, they tend to head straight back into these holes. This usually means you part company very quickly and head back to the tackle box to tie on a new rig.

Drummer can be stopped with heavy tackle but you tend to get fewer bites and there is little satisfaction gained in dragging a fish out of the water, giving it no chance. You are allowed to take only five anyway and you might as well have a bit of fun getting them, so 4kg to 6kg line is ample to get a feed.

You will find pigs hanging around in the whitewater virtually right at your feet on most open rock platforms all along the coast. In these parts, Honeycomb, Bombo, Bass Point, Wollongong under the lighthouse, Bellambi and all platforms north virtually guarantee good fish at the moment.

My favourite bait is a lump of abalone gut on a 1/0 hook with no sinker, but ab gut is getting hard to find these days and many people don’t like the look of it, let alone the mess it makes putting it on the hook. So cunjevoi (take only enough for your immediate needs) will do well, as will royal red prawns, which are much easier to obtain and a heck of a lot cleaner.

The other brawler, the salmon is about all year long but seems to be quite common during the Winter all along the coast and can be encountered in just about every open-water situation. They will be just about the only fish on most beaches, while off the rocks they can be found patrolling in the whitewater and the open deep-water ledges and offshore bommies and islands, so they are a great standby.

Unweighted pilchards on ganged hooks are the bait this time of the year unless you are on the beach, where a little lead may be needed to keep the pillie out there in the surf. Simply cast your bait out, let it sink for a few moments and then very slowly wind it back. If there are any hungry salmon in the area it won’t be long before you are into the action.

Most beaches with a good gutter will hold salmon, particularly those around Windang, Shellharbour, Coniston and Coalcliff, while the rocks at Kiama, Bass Point, Windang Island and Port Kembla Breakwalls are spots worth a look.

Just remember, fishing the rocks at any time is fraught with danger and at this time of year, you last only a short time in the water before hypothermia sets in. So fish with a mate, never turn your back on the waves, always watch an unfamiliar spot for at least half an hour before fishing and be aware of what the tide is doing. Remember, wet rocks are dangerous rocks. Fishing the rocks on a rising tide means the waves are going to be pushing you back all the time, so be careful.

That’s the prime targets for this month covered so let’s have a look at what else is about. Another current annual event that cannot go unmentioned is the offshore cuttlefish-spawning run. This means the snapper will be hunting cuttlefish all along the coast, with the major areas being the reefs from Bellambi north. But any cuttlefish floating on the surface is worth a throw.

The best method to use if you want a feed is to anchor over one of the shallow reefs and hit the berley. Early mornings and late afternoons are the best times so a thermos of warm brew and a jacket are prerequisites for a comfortable session.

Elsewhere offshore, there are plenty of leatherjackets so when you are fishing for reds, drop a light line to the bottom with a couple of long-shank No 6 hooks and nail a few of these tasty bait thieves.

Trevally are another fish about in reliable numbers on the shallow reefs. Berley of bread and tuna oil should bring them on the bite if they are in the area. The islands are always productive during July.

It is a lean month for the bottom-bouncers with few flathead and not much else. Small snapper with the odd larger specimen, some mowies, leatherjackets, pigfish, sweep and pike will be in most boxes and you will work hard for everything you catch.

On the gamefishing scene we are in between seasons, with the weather dictating most of the fishing. There have been a few yellowfin tuna around 20kg out on the Kiama Canyons but they are patchy. Over the next few weeks the makos and blue sharks will show up on the shelf along with the ’fin and hopefully a few albacore, so things will improve.

As I said, the beaches are quiet apart from salmon and the odd bream and tailor but the rocks are a better, with more salmon, those drummer and a few blackfish, bream, tailor and trevally. The southern side of Bass Point, Kiama and Windang Island are probably the best spots to start looking.

Lake flowing

Speaking of Windang, Lake Illawarra is finally open. The drought that the powers that be told us caused the lake to close finally came to an end in May with better than 300mm of rain falling in four days, but the lake stayed closed. The committee that was so vehemently opposed to using heavy equipment to open the lake when it was in danger of drying up did an about-face when the lake was in danger of causing flooding, so the machinery went to work.

So much for letting Nature take its course. But, then again, Nature didn’t put a great rock wall across the entrance, altering the wind and water flow patterns. The lake will close again sooner than later and it won’t be due to Nature.

The lake fishing is quiet with most fish taking the opportunity to make a run for it to the sea, although now it has settled down there are a few bream in the creeks and backwaters and the odd few in the main channel with some blackfish around the bridge pylons and not a lot else. You will have to work hard for a feed in the lake.

The Wollongong Sportfishing Club Leisure Coast Bream Tournament was run and won on May 25 in absolutely atrocious conditions just a week after a deluge filled the lake to capacity. In 20- to 30-knot south-east winds and driving rain, 29 anglers braved the conditions to record 35 fish in the allotted time. All fish were measured alive at the recorder’s point and released with the winner being Jamie McQuire with a full quota of five fish for 162cm. Dean McHardie recorded the largest fish at 41cm, is one ripper bream. Twenty fish were between 25cm and 30cm, 11 were 30cm to 35cm, three were between 35cm and 40cm, with one fish over 40 cm. All fish were taken on lures, none on fly.

Considering the conditions, the angler and capture numbers were surprising. With good weather the results could well have been exceptional – maybe next year.



It’s snapper time so start casting baits at those floating cuttlefish for fat healthy snapper like this.


Salmon are a great standby during Winter when most other fish just don’t want to play. Lester took this nice 2kg fish casting lures at a passing school.


Drummer are tough customers and fishing the whitewater around breakwalls is a great place to find them.

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