Still in shut-down mode
  |  First Published: September 2005

I suppose we are really getting into ‘shut-down’ time now. This is about the coldest time of year in the water, even though land temps will gradually start to creep up as we come out of Winter.

There’s always a lag between water and air temps and sometimes we don’t see warm water until November. Despite this, anglers get fired up by longer, warmer days and expectations go up with the temperature.

Unfortunately, fish are in their lowest cycle with slow metabolisms and often fighting sickness. Just like most animals, including humans, cold weather lowers their resistance to disease and fish tend to be at their weakest at this time of year.

Higher expectations and slow fish can lead to some disappointing trips.

There is an upside, though. The classic Winter fish that are still around are firing and usually in good numbers and you often have them all to yourself.

I’ve had days, even on Sydney Harbour, where I haven’t seen another boat. There’s no queue at the ramp and no one at even the most popular spots. With either dead calm weather or, at worst, prevailing offshore winds pushing close coastal waters flat, conditions can be very pleasant.


There are a few tricks to success at this time of year. Upstream is very cold and quiet. I caught a big flattie up past Roseville bridge one day on a live bait when the water temp was 13°. It didn’t fight at all in the water and could barely muster a head-shake once it was in the boat.

It was in its deepest hibernation and the live mullet bait must have thumped it on the head to wake it up. In Summer, a fish like this probably feeds every day whereas in Winter it might feed only once a week

So you can see that your chances of catching this fish in Winter are reduced to one-seventh of your Summer chances.

There are a few blackfish, some john dory, the occasional jewie and a few other bits and pieces upstream but all up, it’s very quiet and hardly worth the effort.

The trick is to fish on the incoming tide downstream somewhere within the reach of ocean water, which is considerably warmer. Stable high-pressure systems and the full and new moon periods fish better. This also applies in Summer but is much more important in Winter if you are trying to avoid the shut-downs.

Fishing early in the morning or late in the arvo isn’t as important as the other variables at this time of year

You must fish hard and this means moving a lot until you find the fish, using plenty of berley and fishing a variety of baits and rigs. My average bait spread would include an unweighted piece of salted mackerel for trevally, a lightly weighted piece of steak or heart on the bottom for bream, a live bait near the surface for tailor or salmon, a live bait a few metres off the bottom for dory and, of course, the token prawn for miscellaneous.

I would also have some cabbage weed on board ready for a luderick session. If you are going to troll, do it deep and always have a small metal slice ready in case a salmon pops up.


Salmon are usually found around the Heads and won’t venture too far in until the water warms. You can get them trolling or casting if you can see them. If the seals or dolphins move in – give up. The salmon were at North Head at the time of writing but so was a seal.

Trevally like deep bays and good water quality. Use lightly weighted baits and lots of berley. Parsley and Vaucluse bays are fishing well at the moment in among the moorings.

John dory also like deep, clean water but are almost exclusively caught on live baits. They bite particularly well around the tide turns, especially the high, and even more so if they are in the main stream where there is a bit more flow.

Bream can still be found in the lower reaches around the moorings. My old mate Lionel came down from Orange to join us on a charter and turned up with a lamb’s heart and a jar of garlic.

I wasn’t sure whether we were having a barbecue or going fishing but by the end of the day, despite the boat smelling like a Greek picnic, the old bugger had outfished us all – mostly bream. Cut the heart into small cubes roughly 2cm square and dip it in the garlic. Again, Parsley and Vaucluse bays were kind to us.

Flatties still feed occasionally in the cold and are even still worth a shot on soft plastics. We picked up a good one on a softie among the moorings in North Harbour recently. They will take baits, too, especially live baits, and are usually in deeper water than you will find them in Summer.

Luderick are a great standby or even the mainstay of Winter fishing. They are abundant through the lower Harbour and can be found around nearly any structure or rocky shore. Use plenty of berley (chopped weed mixed with sand). Luckily, lower Harbour luderick will happily eat cabbage weed, which is abundant now.

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