Chills and thrills on the rocks
  |  First Published: July 2004

THIS is traditionally a period when all but the serious anglers curb their activities and slow up a little.

This is evident from the numbers of cars in the car parks early in the mornings and late in the evenings. Both times are still good fishing periods but the hardship of the cold can take a toll on even the bravest anglers.

What I love about Winter is that there is a lot on offer during the day, with the bite more dependent on the stage of the tide than the stage of the day (or night).


With the exception of a few species which prefer low light, such as tailor, one of my favourite Winter species has to be the rock blackfish, drummer or pig.

I have had the odd email making it clear to me I didn’t offer enough info last issue on the pigs so I’ll try again with a few locations and more specifics. Pigs are robust brawlers that can be hard opponents to beat from the water and, with a drizzle of lemon juice, on the plate. Cleaned and the fillets skinned, the rock blackfish lends itself to many recipes including simply crumbing and deep-frying.

There is little argument that the rock black fish go hard. For those who haven’t caught them they are a little hard to describe. Big models can force a rod butt into spots they weren’t designed to go and they’ll rack your arms with solid tail beats as they head for cover.

Locked drags and heavy lines (10kg) are the norm and bust-offs tend to tame the cocky fisho who has forgotten over Summer what these fish are capable of.

So what do you need and where do you go to get among the pigs? Firstly, consider your bait.

There are a few ways around the bait issue. Abalone gut is without doubt good bait but it smells. Hermit crabs are terrific when available from local pros. Cunjevoi is my favourite but you have to cut your own at low tide and risk over-harvesting.

Then there are green and cooked prawns, which broaden the bait appeal to other species like bream, trevally, leatherjackets etc.

One thing you must have is bread for berley. The local baker may be able to help there and you need enough bread to maintain a trickling berley trail for your session – generally the rising tide.

Tackle needs to be tough and generally the Alvey range handles the rough work and accommodates the 8kg to 10kg line necessary. For sport, a big threadline topped with Spiderwire or Fireline (big versions of bream spinning gear!) can be a thrilling alternative and with little or no stretch in these lines, the fight is simply intensified.

The Mid-North Coast area is blessed with some great rock-fishing areas, from Seal Rocks to Bennetts Head. Specifically, the rocks between Shelley Beach and Elizabeth Beach have some deep washes and hold some good pigs at this time of year.

The southern end of Blueys Beach, Janies Corner, Cape Hawke and Burgess Beach are all spots to prospect for pigs. Look for areas where whitewater is generated by the surging waves and where vegetation and other growth appears on the rocks. It is all about food.

A rising tide allows fish to access areas of vegetation growth and generally creates a better volume of whitewater. It also distributes or draws the berley trail away from the rocks, helping to gather other interested species closer to your casting area.

Rigs can be as simple as a pea-sized ball sinker, free-running on your line down to a Mustad 540 or 542 No 1 to 1/0 hook. The hook size depends on the average run of fish, the access to easy landing platforms and the type of bait you are using.

I prefer the larger 542 hooks because I have the odd fetish of pinning a crab to the hook and drifting it for a groper or two and the stronger hook allows a lock-up on heavy gear without too much fear of straightening the pin.


Winter offers other things, too, like big bream around the lower reaches of the lakes and rivers and along the rock walls as they filter into the estuary from their coastal run.

Forster regained its title as a big-bream fishery during the MegaBREAM weekend in May with plenty of oversized ‘old’ fish coming in.

During our pre-fish Steve Starling pulled a great fish (42cm fork length) from an old oyster lease at the back of Yahoo Island and gave me a valuable lesson on how to fish soft plastic minnows over the weekend. Chris Wright claimed the big fish of 1.99kg for the weekend and tales of line-shredding were more common than bag limits.

I have had some reports of flathead being caught over the muddy flats at the end of Point Road at Tuncurry and still some 40cm to 50cm models are falling to white bait in Breckenridge Channel.

Alternative species like leatherjackets and blackfish are available through the lake with areas like the eastern side of Wallis Island, The Paddocks around the posts and washboards of the oyster leases worth a look.


With travelling tailor schools hunting up the coast, a fish on the beach is a relaxing, albeit cool, experience and with the tailor are the occasional salmon.

Big silvery bream in the beach gutters and rock fringes are always willing. Finding the formations on the beaches is a matter of looking or asking the local tackle shops just prior to your intended trip. The shifting sands can change overnight with a change in the weather.

The offshore scene has seen some good trag and snapper being landed from reefs off Blackhead and down toward Seal Rocks. Five Mile Reef surrendered a good mixed bag for Troy Philips not so long ago. The only thing missing was the usual limit of flathead. Troy reckoned the baits didn’t get close enough to the bottom before they were snatched by other species, including a huge leatherjacket.

Fisheries rule: Groper have a bag limit of two per day (also possession limit). Rock blackfish have a 30cm minimum length and a 10-fish bag limit.


What all the fuss is about, a big fat pig! They are a great fight and feed and well worth the effort to chase.


Late afternoon and night fishing for luderick on yabbies is a no fuss and no mess solution to the general timid blackfish.  


Check out spots at low tide to look for growth and signs of grazing fish. Then return as the tide rises and try your luck.


The washes between Elizabeth Beach and Shelley Beach at The Palms are good pig hang-outs. Berley, bait and a bit of brute strength should help extract a feed of pigs.

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