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Battling the elements
  |  First Published: July 2005



A beautiful July day is something to behold: Not a cloud in the sky, the air is warm and not a breath of wind to ruffle the ocean. Now back to reality: It is cold in and out of the water, cloudy and, more often than not, blowing a gale!

So let’s see if we can glean some joy out of what I consider one of the less productive times of the year.

It is not a total loss but you will really have to scratch about to get any real action and when you do, the conditions are usually only marginal at best.

When you get a good day you have to make the most of it, especially if you’re heading offshore.

Lousy weather and cold water don’t seem to bother the salmon so they are one of the mainstays of the Winter months. Due to a lack of baitfish they are less often found schooling on the surface so casting pilchards on ganged hooks into likely-looking washes is the way to go.

The islands, Bass Point and Kiama are the pick of the spots as sambos seem to frequent these areas most of the year. But most other deep-water washes will produce fish. Try to keep clear of the shallow washes because the swell can be unpredictable at this time of year and you don’t want a large wave upsetting the day’s fishing.

Trevally are another cold-water favourite and they should start to gather over the inshore shallow reefs over coming weeks. Although not as common as they were a decade ago (more on that later) there are still enough about to make for an interesting day’s fishing.

Berley is the key to trevally and they will come right up behind the boat on most occasions if they are about. Throw away the sinkers and cast small unweighted baits out in the berley on light line and the fish will do the rest.

Trevally and salmon are good stand-bys but the main target in July for the offshore angler is snapper. The annual cuttlefish spawning run is just starting and I know I push this every year but it is one of those phenomena that is unique to the area.

The snapper are there and starting to feed but as yet they are not gorging themselves. Over coming weeks as the cuttlefish start popping to the surface, the snapper fishing will really improve.

Putting the anchor down over any of the shallow inshore reefs off the northern suburbs from Bellambi north and hitting the berley pot will pay dividends.

They aren’t all monsters, with many of the fish between 1kg and 3kg but the chance of scoring a brag-book fish over the next few weeks is better than at any other time of year.

The eating quality of the reds at this time of year is exceptional, too, as they are almost exclusively dining on cuttlefish.

As the cuttlefish start floating to the surface in numbers it is time to cast a few baits at the floaters for some exciting action. You don’t get many fish but the anticipation and thrill level is right up there.

The rest of the inshore fishing is a bit patchy with only a few tailor mixing it with the salmon in the washes and along the backs of the beaches. There are some bream still about in the sheltered bays but you need to use berley to get them interested.

For the bottom-bashers it is quiet apart from the snapper. Throw in a few sweep and the odd mowie and that’s it unless you want to persist and chase a few flathead. Sometimes they bite but for the most part they lie on the bottom with their mouths shut.

Further offshore, weather permitting, there could be some yellowfin tuna and albacore but there haven’t been any reports as yet. If you take a trip out and miss them, particularly out around the Kiama canyons, it could be worth dropping a line to the bottom in 200 metres of water and try for gemfish, blue-eye trevalla, frost fish or the giant nannygai that inhabit this rough part of the seabed.

DRUMMER, BLACKFISH

Back on the rocks it is hard work as well, with drummer the best shot. Royal red prawns fished in the washes will hook some big pigs at this time of year. Whether you get them out is another problem but it’s fun trying.

Blackfish are another target, mainly in the dirty water during the storm seas we often get at this time. Places like Bellambi boat ramp, Wollongong Harbour, Port Kembla Harbour and Shellharbour attract large schools of blackfish into the calm zones.

It can be picket-fence fishing with plenty of anglers jostling for the best spots and some good catches are made. The traditional green weed or cabbage weed under a float is the best method.

There are salmon in the washes around the deeper platforms with a few tailor and trevally. In the sheltered bays like Beaky Bay at Bass Point or Sandon Point there are some bream, best fished in the evenings.

The beaches are quiet with only a few salmon and the odd tailor and bream. The jewie run a few weeks back has eased but there are still a few about for those persistent and brave enough to take on the cold nights.

If you’re thinking of fishing the estuaries, put on the TV or watch some videos. Bream in the feeder streams in the evenings are the only bright spot.

So there is enough to keep the keener angler interested but it is hard work at this time of the year so good luck.

BELLAMBI RAMP

Those who frequent the popular Bellambi ramp will have noticed a fair bit of work going on of late. Now it is finished and there will be a whole lot less congestion around the cleaning tables, what with six new boat-washing bays that can be driven straight into after boat retrieval. This will open up the area that became congested at the top of the ramp.

It will work if everyone does the right thing so let’s hope it all works the way it is intended as it is a great improvement. Now all they need is another holding jetty on the southern side of the ramp to make it a top-class facility.

FADING SPECIES

I touched earlier on silver trevally not being as prolific as they used to be on this part of the coast. When you think about it, trevally are only one of many fish that have really declined over the past 20 years.

That may sound a long time but in the 1980s the trevally would gather in vast schools around the islands to spawn – until a large net was run around them and they were hauled off to market at 50c a kilo.

And it was not just a local phenomenon. It also occurred at places like Gunsight Reef, off Port Stephens, where the blurters would gather in the hundreds of thousands and these were the top fish of 3kg to 5kg. How long has it been since they made such gatherings? I asked a few locals and it was the same answer: A long time.

Yellowtail kingfish are another species trying to claw its way back from the brink. To be honest, I have seen only about half a dozen decent pictures of kings gracing the pages of this mag over the past five years and most of them cam from either Greg Finney or Phil Bennet, who live in two of the last kingfish strongholds on the coast.

Let’s face, it a 10kg king is still a baby. Schools of 15kg to 25kg kings used to swarm on the surface hunting sauries over most peaks between The Peak off Botany Bay down to The Banks off Greenwell Point, and Montague Island between September and December before the traps took their deadly toll.

The Banks still has a good run of big fish during November for those who know how to take them. Elsewhere, a 6kg fish seems to be something to talk about.

After striped tuna, yellowfin tuna are supposedly one of the most prolific tuna species in the Pacific. Both of these species now seem to be a distant memory on this part of the coast.

Schools of big yellowfin tuna used to roam the close waters between Sydney and Montague Island for many months of the year and large schools of 5kg to 20kg fish would converge on the coast over the Summer and Autumn.

At one stage six of the eight world records in line classes between 4kg and 10kg were held in the area. Some still exist but they have not been advanced for many years and will probably never be beaten because the fish just are not there any more.

Yes, there are still yellowfin out there and large ones but you have to travel well out beyond the shelf and hope you get a favourable current that will bring some of the oceanic biomass close enough to the coast for amateurs to catch.

Striped tuna are a mere shadow of their former glory with only a few schools showing up wide of the coast and the odd few schools venturing into the closer waters each season.

Gone are the boiling masses that used to work their way along the backs of the beaches all along the coast from Spring to late Summer. Huge purse seine vessels scooping out an entire gene pool in one shot put and end to that.

Wahoo are a thing of the past due to over-fishing of drift nets in the Pacific and snapper are still there, but not a patch on their former glory. You just have to look at the picture on the wall in the Wollongong Council Chambers of the three gentlemen with their catch of 40 or so line-caught snapper between 6kg and 10kg, lined up on the wharf at Wollongong Harbour in the early 1900s.

But, of course, this is all anecdotal evidence. The scientists will tell us they are still there and very little has changed because of the catch statistics. You can interpret statistics how you like but there is one statistic that I have noticed and that is I am paying a whole lot more to catch a whole lot less.

We now have FADs in place so we can catch mahi mahi but take away the dollies and there is not a great deal to smile about in the catches over Summer these days.

So where will it end? Let’s hope some sanity prevails and something is done to save what is left.

They did it with the whales that were on the brink of extinction and they are increasing in good numbers, providing great growth in the tourism industries. You don’t have to kill everything en masse and export it to make money.

Many of the tourists are Japanese. Or are they just popping over for a look at what is on the menu when they get home – in the name of science, of course.

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