Fluctuating water temperatures will make fishing in this part of the world interesting, if nothing else. It will be warm one day and freezing the next before the warm northerly current cranks into gear and thunders down the coast bringing with it all those great Summer speedsters.
But this month we will have to settle for the sluggers and stayers, in the form of yellowtail kings, unless we get an early push from the north.
The kings in this region copped a hiding from the traps during the late 1980s and the 1990s before they were banned. The fish have never fully recovered, although there are a few about if you know where to look.
Not the most popular species in the past, the king seems to now be on the most-wanted list. Rather than fishing for a feed, more anglers are looking for the fight and if it is a fight you want, there is none more powerful than a healthy kingfish.
Pre-traps, I can remember when the water was green and gold below the boat as dozens of big bruisers cruised around, waiting for that next live yellowtail to tossed in. About 20 seconds later you wound in the slack line after the 20kg thug had crash-dived and tied you around every ledge and rock 35 metres below. I think this is where the reef knot was invented!
In shallower water the end came even quicker but there were those times when you had a win on such fish.
The monsters of the past are still about but you have to be extra lucky to strike one and even luckier to land it. These days we have to downsize as a 10kg fish is not a bad capture. Even these fish can clean you up in shallow water on 15kg tackle.
There is really only one way to go and that is live bait, either yellowtail, slimy mackerel, squid, or, if you set your sights on a monster, a live frigate mackerel.
Trolling live bait works well particularly with the slimies or frigates but picking your reef and putting down the anchor is more productive. When putting out your baits, let one swim out behind the boat and put another down on the bottom with a sinker, then lift it a couple of metres. This will soon find any kings that are about and the bottom rig will score 80% of them.
Kings are creatures of habit so the good spot of the past is still a good place to target them today. So where do you find them?
Kings love structure, particularly reefs with sharp drop offs or steep pinnacles where they can ambush their food. The reef behind Rangoon Island is always a good spot, then there is Bass Point, once the home of kingfish in the Illawarra. The rock at the front of the point, the Humps and the infamous Church Grounds are still good spots.
Off Port Kembla the front of Gap Island and the northern side of Pig Island are good while the deeper waters of Wollongong Reef have always held kings.
The shallow waters in front of Bellambi Reef and the little pimple to the north, called Shaley, have been the sight of many battles while, further north, the deeper reefs of Bandit and The Hump off Stanwell Park have produced many thumpers and hordes of rats.
Once you have found them, kings are not that difficult to hook. They are quite savage predators on most occasions. But hooking and catching are different things and kings are notorious for cutting your line on the bottom, so good luck.
Elsewhere, there are still plenty of salmon and they don’t mind the temperature fluctuations much. They are feeding on small baitfish so casting very small lures is the way to go. As usual, the islands and Bass Point are the pick of the spots but the salmon can pop up anywhere, particularly between Stanwell Park and Port Hacking.
Out wider, there are striped tuna but they seem to be well spread out so trolling small Christmas trees or flies is your best bet. There is even the chance of a stray yellowfin still about. They appeared a few weeks back but seem to have thinned out recently.
While you are out there in the deeper water it may be worth an early look at the Trap Reef for the first of the Summer mahi mahi. They generally don’t show up until late January but over the past few seasons they have arrived early, then been spasmodic until the hot current settles in.
Towards the end of the month we should hopefully see the first of the black marlin arrive. There have been a few striped marlin out wide.
In closer, there have been some great small snapper over the inner reefs with better fish to 4kg over some of the deeper reefs in 40 metres and over the gravel. Pick and berley if the current allows and the leatherjackets don’t give you too much of a hard time.
When you do hit the berley, there is always the chance of sharks but the small hammerheads and whalers that start to move in at this time aren’t too bad on the plate and good fun to catch, so they aren’t always unwelcome.
Over the sand the flathead have really hit their straps and all the usual areas have good flatties as well as the odd flounder, particularly down around Port Kembla Beach. If you don’t get your 20 you are having a bad day.
Sweep seem to have moved over the reefs but not in the numbers they were two years ago, probably due to the hammering they get from the nets these days. It seems that as one species becomes economically unviable the pros just move onto the next. It will be damn tough in a few years when they run out of species.
Pigfish, the odd small samson fish, trevally and a few trag round out the catches. It might be worth a shot over the trag bumps during the next full moon.
The beach fishing has really improved with whiting, bream, tailor, salmon and dart in good numbers. The beaches fished particularly well after the heavy rains of October. Just about every beach that had a creek running into had good black dusky flathead in the gutters for a few weeks.
Also in the gutters were some solid jewies and they should just get better over coming weeks as they feed up ready for mid-Summer spawning.
From here on in whaler sharks become a major nuisance on the beaches so take plenty of hooks when you fish after dark. Whalers are not bad tucker and they sure as hell fight harder than a jewie.
The flatties all seem to be down around the entrance of Lake Illawarra as the fresh water a few weeks ago pushed most species out of the feeder streams and they are really yet to fully recover from the impact of the muddy water. This means the main body of the lake will fish well, particularly for bream around Mt Warrigal and whiting al the entrance if you can score one of the few times it is ever open.
Minnamurra is much the same as the floodwaters pushed most fish into the surf zone and they are still moving back upstream to their old haunts. Fishing from the bridges to the entrance has been the best over the past few weeks but the water is clearing so it will be back to searching the length of the river over the coming weeks to get a feed.
Have a great Christmas.
Before the Summer speedsters arrive there are always kings to fall back on. This one took a live yellowtail set near the bottom off Pig Island.
Jayne Emms with a nice hammerhead headed for the barbecue.
Towards the end of the month the first of the black marlin could show up so strap yourself in and hang on.Reads: 2912