Spring one on the groper
  |  First Published: September 2003

IS IT SPRINGTIME already? Let’s not get too carried away, now, because Mother Nature can still throw a bit of frosty weather our way and there are sure to be a few blasting westerlies still to come.

So what can we expect over the next few weeks? Better fishing.

Although the westerlies are a chilly nuisance, they can provide us with some good opportunities from the rocks and close inshore from boats. Groper are the target and although there are some out there who over-exploit these terrific fish, responsible anglers taking a few each year are not going to do any damage – or you can just take a picture that lasts a lifetime.

About the toughest part of catching groper around here is getting crabs for bait. They seem to be increasingly harder to find each year around the intertidal rock ledges, with the only reliable tools for getting enough for bait being a wetsuit, mask and flippers.

If you can get a few, then the calm days as the westerlies subside allow you to fish many close reefs in millpond conditions and hook onto a few groper. They are quite common these days and every reef has groper on it. All that it requires is for you to put a red crab bait in the right spot.

There are plenty of land-based rock ledges with healthy populations of groper, including the Kiama-Bombo area and the southern side of Bass Point.

Now before you go rushing for the 50kg handlines, let’s get things in perspective. Groper have long been portrayed as brutal gutter-fighters that tear seats out of boats and cut fingers to the bone. Probably rotted seats in old dinghies and anglers with soft hands.

The average good blue groper is 6kg to 10kg, so a well-tuned 15kg outfit is more than ample to catch most groper. Let’s face it, you can stop a 50kg marlin on 15kg tackle, so an 8kg groper doesn’t stand much of a chance.

Handlines can only put on a little pressure before the line cuts your finger and then you release all pressure and the fish gets to its hole and the game is over. So put the handlines away and have a bit of fun.

Elsewhere offshore, there is plenty of action on most fronts as everything starts to happen. The recent snapper season was one of the best in years and lasted right up to mid-August, with a few strays still about, so berley over the reefs during the evenings could well see a solid fish or two come in. You will often attract a willing school of trevally into the berley but don’t get too carried away with them. Just remember while catching the trevally to keep that bigger bait out the back.

For the bottom-bouncers, small snapper and a good few mowies are coming in from most of the reefs in 30 to 50 metres of water. Pigfish and leatherjackets are rounding out some good catches with cuttlefish strips still one of the top baits. The cuttlies have thinned right out but the fish still have a taste for them. The flathead are just starting to get moving but you will work hard for a feed so stick with the reds and mowies for at least a few more weeks.


One other reason I know it is Spring is because my casting finger is very itchy and that means the pelagics are out there, chasing baitfish and ready to latch onto small lures. Salmon, tailor, bonito, striped tuna, yellowtail kings, trevally and barracouta are all active and hours of fun can be had working these schools as they thrash the surface to foam.

They seem to be all along the coast it is just a matter of keeping an eye out for the seagulls and terns feeding overhead to find them.

Farther offshore there were reports of a few yellowfin tuna out on the shelf but they seemed to disappear, but that is the way of yellowfin these days due to greatly deceased numbers. When you hear of a few, about get out quickly as they don’t hang around long.

One creature that is hanging around is the mako shark. Whether you are into sharks or not these guys are something else. ‘Blue dynamite’ is one of their handles, yet they can be blue jelly babies, too. They come in all sizes this month, from snapper stealing babies to 20kg on the close reefs to 300kg boat-wreckers out on the shelf.

If one of the little fellas pops up around your boat, take time to check out one of the oceans sleekest predators. If you have the tackle, take it on; if not, move, because it will probably try to eat any fish you bring in. If you do hook one and it doesn’t do a great deal of fighting, be careful – these fish are very powerful and bringing one of any size into the boat green can cause some grief, along with a whole lot of damage.

If in doubt, leave it outside the boat, tied off by the tail, until you are sure you can bring it aboard safely.

Blue sharks, too, are prevalent over the next few months, generally in the deeper waters around the shelf. They are more often than not jelly babies. Some can give a good account of themselves, as they are a very fast fish, but they generally choose not to use their speed and just hang around the boat, even when hooked.

Back on shore, the beach scene is starting to kick into gear with a few early jewie captures. Some of the fish are not bad, up to 18kg, so they are worth a look. Coniston, Windang and Thirroul seemed to be mentioned in despatches, so you could get some value out of putting in time on these beaches.

Tailor and salmon are the main captures, particularly during the evenings. With a few bream thrown in, a trip down to a nice, deep gutter on your favourite beach is well worthwhile.


On the rocks there is still plenty of action around the whitewater with good drummer taking royal red prawns on most headlands. Toss in a few bream and trevally, particularly around the southern rock spots, and you can have a hot morning, even in cool temperatures.

If you want even hotter action, grab a few live yellowtail or mackerel and give them a swim off the deeper ledges around Kiama, Bass Point or Honeycomb for salmon, tailor, legal to medium kings and even the odd mackerel tuna to 8kg.

For big kings, try a live squid – they can’t resist them. Then again, hooking a large kingie off the rocks is one thing and getting it out is another – good luck.

While you are waiting for the livie to go off, toss a few lures about if there are any schools of fish working the surface for a bit of extra fun.

Over in the lake and the Minnamurra River, things are still a bit quiet after the Winter shut-down but they should start to get going after this month’s new moon. The dark sees the first small movement of prawns in the lake, kick-starting the fish.

That is if the lake is still open. It was almost closed again in early August and this time they can’t blame the drought. When will someone finally wake up and chew on a big slice of humble pie and admit they got it wrong? Another expensive wall will not fix the problem because before they put in the first wall and effectively dammed the entrance, we didn’t have a problem.

The creeks feeding the lake are still producing some nice bream on bait and lures, while the odd good flathead has been seen down in Minnamurra. Next month should bring much better things for these waters.

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