The Port comes alive
  |  First Published: November 2003

THE WESTERLIES are finally abating, making way for longer, warmer days and a whole new selection of warm-water fish to chase.

Whiting are hitting the beaches and eagerly sucking down live beach worms. These tasty fish are always fantastic to catch and are easily targeted at this time of year. they are equally welcomed by once-a-year family danglers right through to the hard-core bag-limit-each-arvo crew.

Pipis are also great bait as long as you adhere to the regulations. You can collect only 50 and cannot take them more than 50 metres from the high-tide mark – in other words, use them where you find them. The Wilson brothers swear by pipis and always get great results as the tide rises just before dark.

All surf beaches around the Port Stephens area will produce whiting so its usually not very hard to find a spot. Fish the deeper holes during the day and move onto the flats at high tide, especially around dark. The fish move into the shallower water at night to forage for food as well as to escape predators.

One peak predator that whiting are always wary of is the jewfish. These begin to congregate around the surf zone in the deep holes and at the back of the breakers, then move into the surf zone to hunt when the sun disappears behind the sand dunes. Their main sources of food along the surf beaches in this area are fish, sand crabs and worms.

Early Summer would be incomplete without a night fishing trip to tangle with one of these silent hunters of the sandbanks. The sand and salt water through your brand-new reel, in your pants, in your eyes, your hair, your car, your sleeping bag, your everything, can be justified by the capture of a giant jewfish.

Inside the Port, the flathead are on the move. Along the drop-offs and weed beds, giant duskies are waiting in ambush for something to move past them. If they’re lucky, it could be a prawn or a small fish or squid – but if we’re lucky, it’s a slowly-twitched lure or bait. This time of year flathead should be on the bite right through the system, with high tide being the best time to try the mud flats because that’s where they’ll be feeding. As the tide abates, they lie in wait on the edges of deeper channels for their deathly ambushes.

Trumpeter whiting, the smaller of our recreational whiting species, are also turning up in great numbers. They feed on worms and small molluscs that inhabit the shallow, warm waters of the port. They love worms or pieces of peeled prawns and a feed of trumpeters can be gathered in no time. They might be smaller than their sandy cousins but are far more aggressive.

I drifted along a rock wall in my small boat late one afternoon on the run-out tide recently. The water was gin-clear and the wind was all but a whisper. I noticed in the shallows behind a weed bed a school of bream feeding on oysters. One fish had disturbed a prawn and was ravenously chasing it as it skipped clear of the water. Beyond the weed bank, a small shoal of hardiheads flickered in the current. A razor gang of tailor soon found them and was busily going about diminishing the school.

On the deep drop-over, a jewfish had claimed a stake on this school and was boofing the tailor with ease. From above, sea birds dive-bombed the fish that headed to the surface for escape and from below, the gnashing teeth of top-order predators made their lives miserable. Gee, I’d hate to be a baitfish!

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