The royal order of Winter
  |  First Published: August 2003

August on the South Coast is probably the most depressing time of the year – it’s bloody cold, the offshore winds are usually howling and the fishing is crap at the best of times.

If you can pick a break in the weather you might be able to get out and chase a few snapper but if those winds and cold weather persist, the options are pretty limited, and that’s putting a positive spin on it.

That is unless you like chasing a few bread-and-butter species like drummer from the rocks. I used to do a fair bit of drummer fishing when I fished the rocks a lot but these days I seem to be spending more and more time in the boat. The past few months, however, have seen a few mates and me chasing drummer and we’ve had some success, to the point where I’ve started to realise just how much I enjoyed it before the boat came along.

I’m still trying to get used to those early Winter starts but the walking and climbing is doing me wonders and the feeds of fresh drummer fillets are something very special.

We’ve been fishing a few washes and bommies around Currarong and with those high cliffs behind, us the westerly winds can blow away without being a nuisance. There are a heap of similar locations right along the coast, so just about anyone can do what we’re doing. We haven’t been doing anything fancy – simply using a bit of bread and rock cabbage for berley and fishing the whitewater or along the edges of bommies on the right tides.

We’ve been fishing early mornings or the afternoons when the sun goes down and puts the wash in shade. The offshore winds usually have the seas flat but, once they go off, you need to keep an eye on that groundswell. It can be very dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing so have a good look at any platform or wash you intend to fish if there is a bit of swell.

Years ago I used to use cunje or abalone gut for drummer but this Winter we’ve been using something a lot easier to collect – royal red prawns. The royal red prawn is a deep-water crustacean and a couple of Greenwell Point-based trawlers get them in Winter. They taste pretty good, but only in curries, laksa and other spicy dishes – you wouldn’t just boil them and eat them out of the shell like tiger or king prawns and, because of this, they are much cheaper.

They get their name because of their red-pink colour straight out of the water and they make a great estuary bait as well. A lot of people around our town use them from the local wharf and catch some thumper bream and blackfish, especially when the trawlers tie up, weigh in and wash down their decks. Simply drop a lightly-weighted royal red out the back amid the deck run-off and hang on – it won’t last long!

Royal reds don’t keep all that well on ice because the heads go black in a short time. For the table you really need to get them fresh and de-head and shell them before cooking or freezing them. For bait you can take the heads off and keep these for berley but what we do is simply freeze half a kilo of royal reds in a zip-lock freezer bag and take the heads and shells off as we use them, chucking the head in for berley. Alternatively, you can head and shell them at home and blanch them in boiling water for 10 seconds, which makes them a little tougher.

I’ve heard of people pickling them in brine or salting them down but the hot water seems to make them tough enough for bait. I like them straight out of the shell and, despite being soft, they usually get nailed quick enough for this not to be a problem.

As I’ve mentioned, the old drummer love them but it’s amazing how many nice blackfish and bream we’ve also pulled out of washes using royal reds. I can’t remember catching blackfish in numbers on cunje or abalone gut while fishing for drummer, although I have heard of it. Another bonus is that buying a couple of kilos of royal reds is much cheaper than most baits and a hell of a lot easier than cutting cunje or trying to find abalone gut. If you happen to see royal red prawns in your local fish shop, grab a kilo for bait and give them a go.

A load of rubbish

Spending a bit more time on the rocks this Winter has been an education and quite enjoyable – except for one thing. Some of the locations we fish are pretty isolated and others are quite easy to access. But wherever we fish, there nearly always seem to be reminders of other anglers. – the rubbish they have left behind in the form of plastic bread bags, bait wrappers, plastic bags, cigarette packets, etc. None of this stuff breaks down in nature so it is around for a very long time on the rocks or in the ocean.

Some of the worst I saw recently was a heap of crap shoved up under a ledge out of sight by a Currarong local who should have known better. When confronted about it, he said it was the first time he’d ever done something like that, but you and I know that was a load of rubbish in itself.

These days we carry out any rubbish left on the rocks, along with our own, but it does get annoying to do it one weekend and then to see another load a few weeks later. The next time I see someone do this or leave rubbish behind after fishing I’m going to front them about it and tell them to take it home with them.

New Baitrunner

I’m a big fan of Shimano Baitrunner threadlines, considering my 3500 essential for bream and blackfish, my 4500 for reddies and a Thunnus 6000 for reds and even some lure-fishing. My 3500 has also caught reds, the odd school jew and drummer to 3kg from the rocks without a drama.

Just recently I upgraded to the current model Baitrunner 3500B and got a few nice surprises. The new one has Super Stopper II infinite anti-reverse and with Dyna Balance, it is much smoother. The new one has a bigger line roller, along with that great waterproof drag and larger aluminium spool. The handle shape also fits much better – a very versatile and practical reel that suits much of my fishing. If the new one lasts as long and catches half the fish the old one did, I’ll be more than happy.



For those who brave the cold or pick a fine day, there are still a few snapper about.


Royal red prawns are a cheap and easy bait for drummer and bream, while big blackfish also relish them.


Andrew Finney with a fat Winter drummer from Currarong.


Roger Morley with a 1.5kg pig taken on a royal red prawn bait.

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