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Park signs of the times
  |  First Published: December 2007




The holiday season in Port Stephens is in full swing with many visitors relaxing with a line in the water. But the new Port Stephens Great Lakes Marine Park means those who haven’t visited the area since last Christmas should familiarise themselves with the new rules and regulations.

Already fines of up to $500 have been issued to those caught fishing in sanctuary zones so don’t think that if you’re caught you’ll just receive a warning. I suggest you study one of the Zoning Plan User Guides which can be obtained from any of the local tackle shops or by calling the marine park office on 02 4916 3970, or check out www.mpa.nsw.gov.au for more information.

Many signs and yellow marker buoys have been placed throughout the Port indicating sanctuary and habitat protection zones so keep an eye out for them.

There are still plenty of good fishing grounds and, like me, you’ll soon discover new areas that you may have not considered.

The best bet for this time of year is to head out early and be back before the crowds roll in and you’ll also beat the heat of the midday sun.

Be patient at the boat ramps because they can get hectic. Over the years I have seen many heated discussions but really it’s not worth arguing – besides, it’s only fishing.

If you’re planning a day out on the bay, early-morning high tides are best. They allow many estuary species to feed right up on shallow sand flats, against the mangroves and over oyster-encrusted racks and rocks.

You’ll be amazed at just how shallow bream, flathead and sand whiting will swim in the warm water to feed on prawns, nippers, worms and poddy mullet.

WHITING, CRABS

Jimmys Beach is a fantastic place to target all three species, the expansive weed and sand flats are ideal to drift baits such as live worms, whitebait and pilchards, while those looking to throw a few lures will find the area ideal.

This area has also been popular with local anglers who have discovered the new craze of targeting whiting on poppers. This method is very effective in the right conditions; so effective in fact that it seems bag limits of big sand whiting can be achieved in no time.

I have heard of some real thumpers well into the 40cm range being caught so maybe those elusive kilo whiting will be caught this Summer.

Crab season is in full swing with big blue swimmers and the odd mud crab in the back reaches of the bay.

Tilligerry creek, North Arm Cove, and the Karuah River are all hot spots for these delicious crustaceans. I find two hours before high tide to be prime time.

Make sure you have fresh mullet for bait and check your witches’ hats at least every 15 to 20 minutes; the key is to keep rotating your traps so you can keep on top of the crabs.

The jewie season has been outstanding so far with plenty of schoolies and the odd larger specimen throughout the estuary. Live slimy mackerel, poddy mullet or fresh squid have been the prime selections on the jewie menu.

The breakwall at Nelson Bay and the Anchorage breakwall have been key locations and don’t be surprised if a larger than normal kingie decides to play. Plenty of bust-offs have occurred by rampaging kingies, some over 15kg, which have been cruising the walls.

The Summer beach fishing is off and running. Typical species such as sand whiting, dart and the odd bream can be targeted easily through the day using live beach worms and pipis.

Hawks Nest and all the beaches right down to Birubi have been holding good numbers of fish in the right gutters. After dark you can expect tailor and mulloway in the same spots so it’s definitely worth staying those extra hours.

BILLFISH

Port Stephens’ renowned game fishing has just begun to hit the fast lane. The beautiful cobalt currents from the north have swirled down the edge of the continental shelf, bringing striped marlin and the odd blue and black.

The bait has already begun to stack up on the edge with signs that it might be another top season.

The continental shelf is where the majority of billfish are found off Port Stephens, although the inshore fishery around 30 to 50 fathoms off Fingal lighthouse and Little Island can yield spectacular black and striped marlin action. Smaller blacks already are being encountered.

Schools of pilchards and slimy mackerel are the prominent food source in close for both species. There’ll be plenty of boats working out there over the next three to four months.

Around the islands kingfish to 20kg are attacking live squid and yellowtail and even the odd cobia has been caught. It seems a little early because normally cobia are more frequently encountered from March to May.

All the reefs such as The 21 and the Big Gibber are producing quality trag day and night plus school mulloway and the odd pan-sized snapper. If the east Australian current is consistent along with the bait schools then the next report should be full of marlin.

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