Over the years I’ve enjoyed a wide variety of rock fishing, catching all manner of critters.
High-speed spinning for kings and bonito was an obsession for a few seasons, then there was a bout of after-dark jewie fishing for a while. True LBG fishing never really grabbed hold of me, although I’ve certainly done my share of live-baiting from the stones.
Tailor, salmon, bream and blackfish are others that have provided plenty of thrills and spills.
While many species encountered around the east coast rocks are still quite catchable, it’s a sad but true fact that our fish stocks are dwindling. Thanks to the increasingly ruthless onslaught of commercial netting, line catching and trapping of species like bonito, tailor and the various tunas, many species just aren’t showing up in the numbers that they used to.
There is, however, one species that remains pretty much unaffected by the commercial sector – black drummer.
Also known as rock blackfish, or pigs as I like to call them, these robust fish live in such a rough-and-tumble environment that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the greedy pros to get their hands on them.
Even if they did, the appearance of drummer wouldn’t be too appealing to the fish-buying public anyway. Once dead, they turn a dull, blotchy grey and certainly don’t look too appetising. The truth be known, I reckon they are one of the tastiest fish you’ll catch from the rocks when prepared properly.
The Munmorah State Recreation Area, on the northern end of the Central Coast, has been my main rock-fishing playground for the past 20 years and that’s where I’ve done most of my pig fishing.
There are plenty of times when fish like tailor, bonito or bream fail to show up but the pigs of Munmorah are always there. Sure, you get the difficult days when the seas are dead flat or the horrible north-westerlies are blowing, but most of the time it’s not too much trouble to hook up on these black beasts.
There are roughly two main ways to target the local pig population. One is to use heavy gear and cunje baits which results in bigger, but fewer, fish. The other is a lighter approach with bread baits which tends to catch more fish overall, although the bigger ones usually bust up the light gear in short time.
I would like the best of both worlds, although catching numbers as well as landing the bigger pigs has been an ongoing personal challenge which I’m yet to conquer.
But that’s part of the appeal of pig fishing – it’s a true battle between fish and angler. A big bust-up is something to be expected and respected – I love it !
Traditional drummer fishing revolves around the use of an Alvey sidecast spooled up with 10kg to 15kg mono and mated to a robust rod of around 3.0 to 3.5 metres. If landing a decent sized pig is your goal then realistically, this is still the best type of outfit to use.
While I’ll admit that Alveys are super-practical for rock and beach fishing, I rarely use them and prefer a threadline reel for the task. The old Mitchell 499 is by far my first choice but they are hard to come by these days.
Perhaps the best alternative is a big Penn Spinfisher, Daiwa GS9 or a Shimano TSS4. If you have the big bucks to throw around, by all means try a Daiwa Saltiga but this harsh style of fishing will soon get a nice new reel all scratched and dinged up.
The main brands of line to look for when spooling up a pig reel are Schneider and Maxima, although Tortue also has an excellent reputation.
As for rods, the best ones are made up on Pacific Composites blanks such as the FSU4120, FSU5120, FSU4144 and FSU5144. This isn’t the place for fancy bindings, cork grips and all things pretty. A pig rod is a pure, hard-knocks, fish-fighting tool so it needs only a reel seat and some tough Fuji guides on it. The lads at Budgewoi Marine Sports have made a few purpose-built rock and beach rods for me and they know Munmorah well so if need be, drop into the shop at Budgy or give them a buzz on 4390 9326.
The big pig rig is simple. Just a thread a tiny size 1 ball sinker on the line and tie on a No 2 Mustad 542 hook. Other hooks that will do the job include Mustad’s 540 and 540NPBLN, although they aren’t as strong as a 542.
At times you can do away with a sinker altogether although in deeper spots or when the seas are rough it may be better to use a slightly heavier ball sinker like a No 3 or No 4. Make sure the knot is secure and the hook point nice and sharp.
Cunjevoi can be gathered at low tide when the seas are calm. The rocks around Munmorah have plenty of cunje growth, but I usually collect some in the Norah Head area and salt it down to toughen it up before using it. Salted cunje will remain in top condition when stored in a plastic container in the freezer for several months.
A decent-sized cunje bait will be more appealing to big pigs but it’s also very attractive to hordes of tiny pickers like toads, sweep and mados, so that’s something else to contend with.
If you do hook some of these annoying little buggers, don’t leave them on the rocks to die. They may not be what you wanted to hook but they have every right to be released unharmed, too.
Berley, in the form of some mashed-up white bread, works well to get the pigs in a feeding mood and should be thrown in close to the rocks every 10 minutes or so.
If you can see that the berley is rapidly floating away from the rocks simply reduce the amount you’re throwing in and smash it up against the rocks so the ocean surge will wash it in, rather than hurling it out. That way it will remain in the area you’re fishing for longer.
You’ll feel the rat-a-tat picker bites from the word go but a big pig bites like a Mike Tyson punch – bang, thump ’n smash.
Lower the rod tip and let the fish take the bait but don’t let out too much slack line – that will only give the pig the advantage when you go to strike. Once you can feel the line get tight as the pig takes off, slam the rod back hard and wind like hell.
If you pussyfoot around, these brutal fish will have a good old laugh. Fight them hard and get them in as fast as you can – that’s if the pig doesn’t win first !
Most of my pig fishing is done with lighter gear.
Sometimes this merges with traditional blackfish techniques, as both fish will respond to pretty much the same tactics. Bream also get in on the act at times, making for a good mixed bag of quality table fish.
It’s common to hook the occasional drummer while fishing for blackfish with green cabbage baits. Generally the smaller drummer up to half a kilo can be handled on light blackfish gear but when pigs of a kilo or more get in on the act they become quite a challenge to land, if not impossible.
So when fishing with cabbage baits in a spot where pigs are more likely, the first step is to beef up the gear a little. Instead of using a 3kg of 4kg trace, step up to a 6kg or 7kg trace and combine this with a main line of the same breaking strain or perhaps try GSP lines.
My preference is for 12lb or 15lb Schneider line for the trace and 8lb or 10lb Berkley Fireline as the main line. This combination works well because in the advent of a snag or bust-up, the trace line will nearly always break before the main line, leaving the majority of your rig intact and ready for a quick re-rig.
Suitable hooks for lightweight pig fishing include the Mustad 540NPBLN, 92668NPNR, needle sneck and the Gamakatsu Baitholder. For green cabbage baits, try a No 6 or No 8 and for bread baits a No 4 is about right.
Check the adjacent rig diagrams and remember to tie all knots securely and re-check your line and knots during the fishing session.
As for the bigger pigs, bread berley will bring the pigs around and once in a feeding mood they’ll quickly scoff down a small bread bait. It’s best to use stale bread for the berley and fresh bread as the bait.
Some breads are quite soft but if you try a few different shops you may find one or two brands that will stay on the hook long enough to be successful.
The more care you put into shaping and squeezing the bread over the hook the better, so don’t be put off the whole idea if the bait keeps falling off, just keep trying.
In really washy seas it could be best to do away with the float idea and just tie the hook on the line with a tiny ball sinker running freely to the hook. Sometimes I’ll crimp a small split shot on the line just above the hook or even fish the bread bait unweighted.
The rocks of Munmorah are extensive and realistically, there are drummer almost everywhere. Some of the more reliable and safe areas can be found a few hundred metres south of Wybung Head, the north-eastern face of Wybung Head, the large flat platform between Wybung and Snapper Point and the western-facing corner of Snapper near the little beach.
The spots south of Wybung are a bit of a hike through bush tracks that can become overgrown or worn away after heavy rain. They are also a steep walk out so if you’re not fully fit I wouldn’t recommend this part of Munmorah.
If you don’t mind a bush walk, though, you’ll find plenty of rocky outcrops, rough boulders and reef which drummer absolutely love.
Although pigs can be caught right around the perimeter of Wybung Head the best spot is a cut-out which faces north-east. Here you can choose from a high spot or the adjacent low ledge, both dropping into quite deep water. I don’t doubt that some of Munmorah’s biggest drummer lurk here, as well as a few big groper.
The large flat platform between Wybung and Snapper offers plenty of scope for drummer fishing, with numerous washy cut-outs, potholes and points. My favourite here is along the north-eastern ledge where baits can be cast farther out to reach a washy patch of reef. This is also a good area to drift baits suspended under a float.
This platform can be reached via Frazer Beach on the northern side or by walking down from the northern face of Wybung Head. I recommend the walk from Frazer.
The western-facing corner at Snapper is very easy to get to. Simply park at the car park above Snapper and walk down the hill which faces west (the beach side ). Then you’ll come to a small low ledge next to the little beach.
You can fish from this ledge when the seas are calm although the better spot is about 20 metres further around towards the rear part of the Snapper platform. Here, facing west, there is a small area of shallow, broken rock and reef that is generally overlooked by anglers because it may seem too shallow and snaggy. That’s true at low tide but by the time the tide is half-way to high, waves wrap around and this spot fills up with nice foamy water and drummer and blackfish start moving in here.
That brings us to when to fish. Mornings and afternoons are better than the middle of the day unless the sky is dull and overcast. If it’s a bit rainy so much the better.
The swell needs to be pushing a bit of white, foamy water around the rocks but you should never fish when the swell is more than two metres.
About the best swell is a metre to a metre and a half but this can still get hazardous around high tide at some spots so take care and always keep an eye on the water as you fish.
A rising tide is just about always better than a falling tide. With a bit of common sense, fishing for Munmorah pigs is quite productive and a whole lot of fun.Reads: 2117