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No free lunches
  |  First Published: December 2003



THERE IS no such thing as a free lunch, my Grandfather told me when I was just a lad. No one had told the mullet that were zooming through our berley trail, picking up pieces of bread seeping from the back of the boat.

Half a dozen of them were just about to find out that, ‘conditions apply’ to with their free lunch in the form of a small, sharp hook. Their day was going to get worse before it got better. Soon one of them was spiralling down to the depths with a live bait hook and a heavy sinker attached. He seemed to know a bit more than we did on board at this point as he desperately struggled to stay on the surface.

The pull of a heavy sinker was too much and he finally disappeared from view. I barely clicked the reel in gear and passed the rod to the anxious angler before it bucked down hard and line howled off the big Shimano Tekota. "Struth!" grunted the fisho as the rod dug deeply into his groin. Hook-up! Even the passing train packed with commuters could not drown out the yahoos coming from our vessel as the big fish powered away. Ten minutes later, 20-odd kilos of gleaming golden jewfish was carefully landed, unhooked, photographed and returned to the water.

It never ceases to amaze me how good we have it here. I'm sure there will be very few places in the world were we can catch quality fish so close to home. A few minutes’ drive from the largest city in Australia we can catch bass to marlin is a blessing I never take for granted.

A few years ago I drove north from Los Angles, marvelling at the lovely California beaches and rocky headlands. I'd often travel 20km or 30km before I'd see an angler. This puzzled me as I knew recreational fishing was big business over there. The answer was very sobering. No one was fishing the beaches and headlands quite simply there was nothing left to catch.

It made me feel grateful for what we have at our doorsteps but it also made me sad that one day, possibly in my lifetime, local fishing too will be a joke. We really are fortunate to live in this beautiful country that has so much to offer us.

And December is a prime month to experience that. With the arrival of our strong north-east sea breezes, things really start to happen. These winds blow schools of baitfish inshore, where they seek shelter along the coastline and in rivers. With them come the predators.

From right up the creeks to way out to sea, this is the time to be fishing. Mid-December seems to mark the arrival of marlin, with areas like Broken Bay Wide and Terrigal Wide often holding huge schools of bait fish with the marlin nearby. Most of the billfish respond well to pusher lures but I've found that if you’re picking up bigger fish on the sounder and there appears to be marlin actively feeding but no strikes on the lures, it's best to try another tactic.

On a good day they will happily slam a lure trolled at seven or eight knots but some days, like all fish, they can be fussy. Option B can be slowly trolling a live bait picked up on a Sabiki-style jig around the perimeter of the bait school, often knocking the boat out of gear to allow the bait to swim deeper.

If this doesn't bring strikes, I’ve found head-rigged dead slimy mackerel skipped on the surface can often bring strikes after the same trolled live fish has been ignored.

SNAPPER TIME

This is also a good time of year for snapper, with fish from the wider reefs to right up against the shore. In close, late afternoon or early morning work best and a nice steady stream of berley is essential. I look for gravel patches adjacent to hard reef, which can often be found by motoring in close to the headlands and turning around and heading back out to sea with a careful eye on the depth sounder looking for where the reef drops away to gravel or sand.

This is where I'll anchor and set out a variety of baits with minimal lead so they waft back in the berley trail and eventually find their way to the bottom. Line of 6kg to 8kg is all you need here, as any heavier just doesn't seem to get the bites.

Remember to have a live bait of any description hanging virtually below the boat with a heavy sinker to keep it in check, because jewfish and big kingies patrol these areas. A big live yakka is also a great bait for a big snapper.

There have been heaps of reports of big jewfish along our beaches and these blokes can be targeted by using big baits late in the afternoon and into the evening. I like to use as big a bait as the conditions will let me. Butterflied mullet or tailor are prime baits. they can often be a handful to cast, with the bait being anything up to 100g, but I have often found that the big fish lurk right in close and long casts are not necessary.

If you are fishing the beach where there is strong shore break and the water suddenly drops down a metre or two almost at your feet, that is often the areas where big fish patrol. Sometimes you can cast too far when fishing from our beaches and rocks.

The bream and tailor are thick along our coast at this time of year and a great time can be had by berleying up a foamy wash around a headland. I like to find a spot where is a strong backwash and the burley will be sucked out and dispersed over a bigger area. It's then just a matter of floating strip baits back in that wash. Again, use minimal lead.

Although bream are the primary target, it's amazing what other fish find the berley to their liking. Snapper, kingfish and tailor are frequent by-catches using this method.

It's worth having another line rigged with abalone gut, as there often are rock blackfish hanging in the washes as well.

BIG FLATHEAD

December is prime time for those monster flathead and they are often dispersed right through our estuaries.. I've often found that a flathead will eat something half its length, so don't be afraid to use big baits for bigger fish. Early morning or late afternoon are great times to be throwing soft plastics in the shallows as the fish seem to move into deeper water as the sun gets higher. These fish can be found in water less than a metre deep at these times.

When using these lures it's imperative to make sure that they get down to the bottom. I'll work an area for only a fairly short time. I’ve found it better to cover as much territory as you can, rather than sit in one spot if there appears to be no action.

The big jewfish are truly in top gear in December, with fish running right throughout the estuaries. Like the flathead, these blokes won't think twice about moving into shallow water, and some of my favourite big-jewfish locations are only a few metres deep.

NEW TACKLE

I change the fishing tackle on my boat regularly and was recently delighted to find a quality larger overhead reel with a level wind. I've always found it amazing that level winds were mostly available on smaller baitcasters. A level-wind lays the line neatly and evenly on the spool without any effort from the angler and I find that the level wind has no real disadvantages. I have had a few of the new Shimano Tekota reels for only a couple of months but they have probably seen more work than most reels see in a lifetime. The drags are silky smooth and the gearing robust.

Check out [url=http://www.shiptontrading.com.au/], which brings some unique gear into the country. Check out their booms and knottable wire trace, for starters, and .

The classes on jewfish and kingfish I have been conducting with Dave Butfield have been a success. We have had a number of people letting us know that they have after many years managed to crack their first good jewfish and/or kingfish. I find that extremely satisfying as I'm only too aware of how hard it can be. If you are really serious about getting stuck into the jewies or kings, you'll find this class very beneficial as we cover every aspect of chasing these fish. For those outside the Sydney area keen to know when we are coming to your town, give Dave a ring on 02 9623 9743.

CAPTOPN:

1

Marnie Sebire with a lovely Hawkesbury River flathead.

2

Up and coming young anglers Jacin Hodge and Daniel Davy with a nice jewfish.

3

The author with media mogul John Singleton and a nice haul from Broken Bay.

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