Future on the line
  |  First Published: October 2003

Each month I endeavour to paint a fairly reliable picture of what’s happening in this part of the world – what you might be likely to catch, where you might catch it and, in some instances, how to go about catching a few fish for fun and a bit of tucker. NSW Fishing Monthly is the recreational fisherman’s voice and recently there have been grumblings from anglers so I’ll take a small portion of your time this month to say a few words.

Well, it gets harder with the passing of each year and well quite frankly the fishing in this part of the world is stuffed. There are still fish around to be caught but you have to really work your backside off to do any good and on some species even that isn’t good enough.

And what really gets up my nose is that I now have to pay for the privilege of catching fewer fish. Then there are the exclusion zones where I can’t fish at all because I may hook a grey nurse shark. The fact that no one in living memory has ever been able to hook one doesn’t seem to matter, but a couple of high profile celebrity divers who made a motza out of filming themselves blowing hundreds of these hapless creatures (sorry, ‘man eaters’) away with power heads reckon these sharks are now endangered and they’re buggered if they know why.

Perhaps they want to make more money filming their comeback? But how will we know if they are making a comeback? There is so little scientific data available that no one has a clue so they’ve banned fishing in known nurse habitats. The fact is they don’t even know all the habitats and significant areas where these fish frequent, just a few high profile areas that happen to be very lucrative for the scuba diving industry – and God knows what damage they are doing to the population by converging in their dozens on the nurses’ home and driving them out when they should be sleeping.

There are around 60 more sites that have been discovered to harbour grey nurse. These are mostly popular angling destinations and could well be the next to be closed off, which doesn’t leave a real lot of room for you and me.

Which leads me into opening the next big Pandora’s box: The fact that hook and line fishing is a Key Threatening Process (KTP) to 15 endangered species. Let’s look at the four freshwater species first: Australian grayling, trout cod, Macquarie perch and eastern cod. Habitat degradation is 99% of the problem for these species. If they don’t have habitat, even artificial breeding and releasing millions of them into streams won’t help.

With deep holes silted up and snags removed because of riparian strip clearing, polluted water from fertilizers, acid sulphate soils, rising salinity levels and poison run-off – or, even more disturbing, no water due to dams or farmers pumping the life out of streams for irrigation – the fish are in dire straits.

Anglers get blamed for accidental captures. I believe there are not enough of some of these species left for anglers to make accidental captures. We are being punished for past atrocities.

Then there are the saltwater species. I’m going to stick my neck out here and ask you just what are the chances of an angler catching a weedy sea dragon? Then there have been the huge catches lately of blue devilfish, elegant wrasse, Ballina angle fish and the Herbst nurse shark – sorry if I sound sarcastic, but let’s get fair dinkum.

Sure, let it be known that these fish are scarce and if they are incidentally captured to let them go gently, but let’s not get to the point where anglers are prohibited from fishing areas where we might catch one of these species.

I hate getting political, but politicians were never at the front of the queue when common sense was handed out but they are very cunning creatures, and they distort the truth to suit themselves. Their priority is to get your number at voting time. If we anglers – and there are millions of us – don’t vote for pollies who won’t help us, they’ll soon take notice. Then maybe, just maybe something will be done before it’s too late.

Don’t forget Fisheries either – these are the guys who often formulate their policies on little or no information. They do great work in many places but the knee seems to jerk a bit too quickly, and it seems that the angler is the one who gets a kick in the bum with each jerk.

It is a complex mess we have dragged ourselves into over the past two centuries and it will take a huge effort to get things back to even 25 percent of what they used to be. But if we don’t do something we’ll lose it all. We won’t be allowed to fish but it really won’t matter because there won’t be anything left to catch.

I’ve wasted enough of your time and probably most people don’t read a column from some passionate angler from the ‘Gong – but if we just keep sitting back and taking it, our kids won’t even know what a fish is unless it’s frozen on a supermarket shelf.

My dad still says he thought he would “never see the day when…”. The sad thing is now he is seeing it all the time.

What’s about

Flathead are starting to move most everywhere. The lake is a good bet with live poddies or soft plastics, particularly the Storm Wild Eye Shads. Offshore they are picking up all along the coast with fair catches of quality fish on most of the popular drifts. Next month should see them really get moving.

On the beaches there are a few flatties too but the whiting are the fish on the move, with most of the southern beaches starting to show a few fish on beach worms.

Jewie numbers are on the increase, particularly the schoolies up to 10kg. They had spasmodic appearances through Winter this year but now they should be more predictable (if you can say jewies are at all predictable). The larger fish are out and about as they feed up before spawning in early Summer. The best I have heard of so far is 28kg, with several caught over a couple of nights by the same anglers. Try the northern beaches for best results.

There have been regular good catches of salmon and tailor during the evenings but they seem to be moving from beach to beach so it’s a bit of a lottery. Pillies are doing the trick for these.

Off the rocks there is a bit of surface action along the deeper ledges with salmon, bonito, tailor and some kings schooling up and chasing bait around. I watched a school of striped tuna working right in close off Coalcliff recently, well within casting range – so there is a bit of fun to be had for the lure tossers.

In the washes there are a few bream but you’ll have to work hard for them. Royal red prawns are a hot bait, and you should also pick up any drummer that are about into the bargain. Some good fish up to 3kg have come in lately so don’t be surprised if you get smashed up a few times.

Offshore there is the same surface action as around the rocks but it extends way out to the shelf, with striped tuna showing up along with a few yellowfin tuna out wide on the canyons and plenty of blue and mako sharks.

In closer the sportfishing action is revving up. There’s plenty of surface activity around the place with salmon, striped tuna, tailor and small kings chomping into baitfish. Under these are trevally and some reds over the reefs, but they are a bit patchy.

On the bottom the mowies are on the chew taking prawns and squid, while the leatherjackets have tapered off a bit. The odd trag will show later this month, as will a few small samson fish and the usual sweep, tailor and pigfish.

The lake has improved over the past few months with some nice bream around Berkley and Mt Warrigal, while the flatties are in the main channel and around Tallawarra. Seeing as the lake was closed all last year and the weed beds were all exposed, the prawning season (which starts this month) is a ‘wait and see’ situation. Only time will tell.

Down at Minnamurra the flathead, bream and blackfish are all starting to make a move and the odd big marauding trevally has again turned up around the bridge pylons.

Last but not least, you will no longer be able to fish the very popular and productive northern Port Kembla breakwall due to hoons drag racing along the access road, vandalism, rubbish being dumped around the area and general mess that gets left behind by grubs. Yet another great spot lost to the ones who do the right thing.

1) Jeff, better known as ‘Bushy’, has been getting a few nice jew lately on the beach. This one went 21kg.

2) If you put in the time there are still a few reds about. The author took this one from one of the northern reefs.

3) There are some fish about for the bottom bouncers, including small snapper and some nice pigs.

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