AFTER one of the quietest Winters on record, most anglers down here are asking one question: Where are the fish?
I cannot remember a more dismal Winter and early Spring in many years of fishing the South Coast. Combined with a lack of fish, we have had to endure endless winds that have blown from the north-west, west, south-west and south-east, along with some big seas.
Most Winters we can usually rustle up a few bream and drummer from the rocks and the blackfish are normally pretty reliable. This past Winter most anglers have struggled to put a decent feed together, let alone do anything spectacular.
It’s not only the rocks that have been quiet, either. Apart from a few lone salmon, the beaches have been near enough to piscatorial deserts. There were a few jewies around back in Autumn but since then not much. As a guide to how quiet things have been, have a think about this. I’d normally shoot off at least half a dozen rolls of 36-frame slide film on fishing shots each month. In the past six months I’ve shot off two rolls locally.
On the outside front things have been equally quiet with very little happening. Spring is usually a good time to chase reds and kings. but as I write this I’m hearing very few reports of anglers catching fish, let alone anyone doing something worth getting excited about. Maybe by the time you read this things will have improved (let’s hope so !) with some warmer water arriving but most anglers I’ve spoken to reckon it can’t get much worse than it is right at present. Even the pros are complaining about how dead things are.
The saving grace has been flathead in the Shoalhaven River. Spring is usually the best time to chase lizards on lures and they are proving more reliable than just about anything else. All of the usual lizard haunts are producing fish to around 60cm with the odd better specimen.
I guess it goes without saying that the most effective lures are soft plastics with the Storms and Squidgies being the pick in 50mm to 100mm sizes. The latest offerings from Storm and Squidgy are some of the most lethal flathead lures you could imagine. They are so good that I know a few local anglers who have always fished with bait changing over to plastics simply because they have been outfished on more than one occasion. A few jew are also starting to be taken in the river on lures as the weather warms.
I’m not sure if it’s because I’m getting older or whether I’ve completely lost it due to a windy and fishless Winter, but the past few months have seen me going back in time to fish with some tackle and techniques that are pretty uncommon these days, but which I had great fun using in the late 1970s and early1980s.
Last month I wrote about resurrecting an old blackfish rod and dusting off my old Avon Royal reel, which hadn’t been used in 20 years. Since then I’ve used that outfit several times and it has worked as well – even better than I had hoped. The new outfit is lighter than the one I have been using for the past few years, so hanging onto it for hours on end is easier and less tiresome.
Going back to fishing with a float and centrepin reel took some getting used to but it works and I reckon I’m catching as many, and sometimes more, blackfish than I was with a threadline and bobby cork. The long, sloppy rod and centrepin are great on drummer and so far I’ve landed more than I’ve lost. Most of the time I’m using only 3kg traces, which has been fun on fish to 1.5kg.
It works so well on pigs because the rod absorbs all the shocks and the centrepin is much more direct. Plus you can change drag settings in an instant with palm pressure, which means I can let a fish take a bit of line when it’s safe and then put some pressure on when required.
Over the past few months I’ve also taken to fishing floaters for reds with handlines. This is nothing new but a mate who has done a lot of reddie fishing fishes handlines more than rods and Baitrunner-style threadlines.
So I bit the bullet and spent all of $10 on a couple of handcasters and loaded them up with 8kg line. Getting used to having all that line lying under your feet and understanding why my mate fishes in bare feet most of the time has been an education, to say the least.
It also took some time to come to grips with just how much stretch mono has. You don’t feel this over a rod with a drag system but with just your hands and a length of line it is very apparent. The ‘direct as you can get’ approach of a handline also helps when detecting what your bait is doing as it slowly drifts back down a berley trail. And when the line starts whistling through your fingers as a red inhales the bait and swims off –you really need to experience that!
In what might reliving the past, I’ve also got back into deepwater jigging. Years ago I was a jigging fan and had several outfits with Penn Jigmaster and Seascape reels. The rods were Ironglas and Fenwick blanks, which is really showing my age. This was around the late ’70s when I lived in Sydney. Our most popular location was Marley Wreck and we caught some nice kings during Autumn, Winter and Spring. When we moved down here we continued jigging The Banks using chrome WK jigs with a single tail hook sometimes adorned with some red flash or feathers.
Jigging died a sudden death back in the 1980s when kingfish traps took their toll but it seems it is due for a resurgence. Down our way several boats have been jigging over the past few years with some amazing results on kings and reds. Some of these guys are catching more fish on the new wave of super jigs and the associated tackle than most others are catching on live baits.
The Japanese are the innovators of the new jigging craze and it seems Australia has a lot of expatriate Japanese at the forefront and Aussies are starting to cotton onto it. The new techniques are pretty similar to the old way, dropping a heavy jig to the bottom and winding quickly and jigging back to the surface. The new tackle makes it a lot easier.
Most the guys are fishing 6:1 overheads or heavy-duty threadlines such as the Shimano Stellas or the Daiwa Saltigas with 24kg and 37kg braid. Some guys fish braid that is coloured every 10 metres so they know how deep their jig is.
The new jigs on the market look peculiar. They are normally lead with an internal wire frame and some mind-blowing lumo paint and lifelike eyes. The single hook is run off the front of the jig on a short loop of kevlar/dacron to prevent it hooking the bottom when the jig is dropped. Hook-up ratios are very high. Some of the best gear available are River to Sea and Demon Searock and Knife jigs in 180g, 230g and 300g, armed with Gamakatsu Deepwater Jig hooks with a reverse barb (to reduce fouling) and pre-rigged kevlar loops. Deepwater jigging could be as big as soft plastics over the next few years.
The range of River to Sea jigs is extensive and they are well finished and affordable. Shown are Knife and Searock jigs.
The author has gone back to Avon Royal centrepin reels and stick floats for blackfish and drummer.
3 The old tackle keeps working. This kilo-plus drummer succumbed after an argument.Reads: 668