The john dory story
  |  First Published: July 2004

THIS year we experienced the quickest change from Summer to Winter water that I can remember.

Within two weeks the water dropped from 23° to 18°. Summer species like kings and flatties stayed on the chew and the traditional Winter fish like john dory and trevally fronted in good numbers.

This meant very mixed bags with everything from sub-tropical species like spangled emperor and samson to cold-water fish like salmon and dory in one session.

Dory have been exceptionally thick this Winter, to the extent that we have been able to sight-fish a couple with soft plastics in crystal-clear water. They are actually quite common from about May to September and there's no reason why you shouldn't average at least one every time you go out.

Just like jewies or whiting, they are common enough to make them a feasible proposition but they must be specifically targeted.

Dory are almost exclusively taken on live bait but very occasionally one will be fooled by a pilchard aimed at tailor. Even more occasionally, one will take a cut bait aimed at bream or trevally. A fair percentage of these incidental dory are taken after they inhale an undersized bream or reddie that has been hooked on a bream line.

In Sydney Harbour they will be found in deep water. They spend most of their time offshore in very deep water so when they come inshore they also feel more comfortable in the relatively deeper locations. Six metres is a good starting point.

They aren't the most energetic fish in the sea so strong currents are unfavourable. The still, deep bays and the eddies of the lower harbour, Middle Harbour and particularly North Harbour are good spots to start looking. A final requirement on habitat is clear, saline water, so the upper reaches are usually unsuitable except, possibly, after long periods without rain. The main body of the Hawkesbury is hopeless for dory but the deep, clear tributaries of Cowan and Pittwater are quite productive.


With that whopping great eye the dory could possibly be nocturnal but I've never chased them at night so I can’t say for sure. One thing I do know is that they love shade and the low light of early morning and late afternoon. Jetties and moorings are big favourites, as is any underwater structure.

As with most species, the turns of the tide seem to spark a feed with the high being the favourite and the low not far behind. The new and the full moon are good times, though I'm not sure whether this is related to the moon phase or the fact that the turn of the high tides around these phases occur early morning and late afternoon. Probably the latter.

A rapidly falling and a stable high barometer are also peak times. The biggest problem you will face is timing your day off with all the abovementioned factors!

Baits must be alive. If you choose live yellowtail or slimies, which I might add are most inappropriate, then make sure you trim the tails to slow them down to dory speed. More natural prey are the slower, reef-dwelling species like mado and sweep.

How you fish these baits is just as important as where and when you fish them. Dory will pick up a bait off the bottom but they much prefer it suspended a metre or so above the bottom. I find it much easier to set the depth without the bait on the hook.

Once you have set the depth, put the rod in the holder, pull the line up by hand and place the live bait on the hook. This way, although the bait will swim frantically for a few minutes, when it finally settles down you will know it will be at the right depth. You cannot set the depth accurately with a frantic bait charging all over the place.


The rig is very basic. A 40g bean sinker is placed free-running on the main line and is stopped by a swivel. Then a 10kg trace about a metre long is finished off with a 4/0 to 6/0 VMC Octopus chemically-sharpened hook.

You can get away with ordinary tackle with dory as they really aren't the toughest fighter but keep in mind that whenever you have a live bait out, you risk hooking a kingie or jewfish.

Lures are definitely an option, particularly when you can see the dory stalking your livie, which is quite common. Even blind jigging will work but it could be some time between bites, due to the relatively scarcity of dory.

Jigging is preferable to casting because dory like to stalk their prey for a while before striking – you can watch them circle your live bait for 10 minutes before having a go.

Get a big plastic like a 6” Storm Shad and jig it about a metre off the bottom.

Shore-based fishos are well in with a shot at dory.

Jetties provide shade and swarms of baitfish. Fishing straight off the rod tip amongst the pylons or a little farther out under a bobby cork often produces more dory than the boats working out wider.

Salmon are thick at the moment and look like they will probably hang round for the entire Winter. The Heads are the go at the moment, either trolling or casting.

Sharks are following the salmon and the mullet run and at times can be a nuisance. We had six kingies bitten off in one session the other day. If you want to target them, try a big slab bait out in front of the shacks at Dobroyd Head at night

Flatties and flounder have been on fire for lure fishos right throughout the Harbour. Use smaller plastics (2” to 3”) around Reef and Washaway beaches and the moorings at Balmoral if you want flounder.

The flatties are good upstream of Roseville bridge and it’s coming into jewie time up there, too, so you can kill two birds with one stone.

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