If you have ever desired to battle a marlin you won’t find a better time than right now and you don’t have to travel far to get into the action – it’s all happening right now off the Illawarra coastline.
The regular run of black marlin fires this month and there have already been a few captures during recent weeks. If it is anything like last year’s run there will be standing room only over the hot spots like Bandit and Wollongong reefs, where up to 20 fish a day were caught and released last season, with many anglers catching their first.
As usual, bait is the key and you need live slimy mackerel for consistent results. Then it is just a matter of slowly trolling the live slimies around a school of their mates and if there is a billfish in the area it won’t be long before your bait gets nailed.
If you can get frigate mackerel they are even better and you just about have to hide when you put them on the hook because marlin love them.
If it gets too crowded over the preferred reefs then move a little to the east because often the fish move away when it gets too noisy but they won’t travel far enough to lose touch with the bait schools.
If you don’t want to go to all the trouble of targeting a marlin you can always just put out a live bait when you are fishing for other species because marlin can pop up just about anywhere. A half-dead sweep out the back as a live bait while you are drifting for flatties or mowies has a great chance of a hook-up on a marlin.
They aren’t restricted to the inshore waters and places like the Kiama and Stanwell Park canyons will be popular for bigger black marlin as well as stripes and blue marlin up to 300kg.
Out on the canyons and the shelf there are the added attractions of large mahi mahi, wahoo and even the odd sailfish.
The FADs will be popular as the dollies gather ready to grab anything that comes their way and big fish are really something else to catch. The way they hurl themselves out of the water and the power they develop on their runs is amazing. The vibrant, iridescent colour changes from blue to green to yellow to silver in the space of a few minutes are something you never forget.
Live baits are again the key to good results on bigger fish but if you just want a couple of schoolies for the table then lures or pilchards will get the job done.
Remember, there are size and catch limits now for mahi mahi. Minimum length is 60cm, limit is 10 and only one can be over 110cm.
There are small yellowfin and striped tuna grabbing trolled or cast lures out wide while in close there are more stripeys along with bonito, mackerel tuna, frigate mackerel and the usual kings, salmon and tailor.
Larger kings are taking live baits around the islands, Bass Point and Minnamurra and if you get bitten off by a fast fish, try some thin single-strand wire above the hook because there might just be a few spotted mackerel about, as can happen around this time each year.
If you anchor and berley over the inshore reefs there are a few nice snapper but you will have to put in some work. Hedge your bets and sit over one of the trag bumps during the evenings for those elusive teraglin and there seem to be a good smattering of samson fish as well.
You will berley up hammerheads and small whaler sharks. The hammers aren’t too bad but when the whalers show up they can be a real nuisance.
The drifters have a ball this month with plenty of good-sized flathead over the sand but those rotten leatherjackets are becoming a real pest along with the green toads so you can lose some gear getting a feed of flatties.
Over the reefs there is a tonne of variety with mowies, trag, small snapper, pigfish, samson, kings, sweep and trevally. I even saw a lovely 2kg pearl perch come in recently so anything is on the cards.
The rockhoppers love February with plenty of surface action all along the coast as kings, bonito, tailor, salmon and frigates chase baitfish right up against the rocks.
The usual spots like the Kiama, Port Harbour breakwalls, Bass Point, Honeycomb, Windang Island, Wollongong breakwalls and up at Coalcliff will all have good days.
For some great fun check out the harbours for frigate mackerel. Take a light spin outfit and some small crystal eye-type lures and you are in the hunt. You know when they are about because there will be half a dozen like-minded folk with the same outfits hanging around waiting or casting.
Bellambi jetty and wall, Wollongong Harbour, Port Kembla breakwalls inside the harbour and Kiama Harbour are the places to be.
With so much bait about there will be larger predators in pursuit including large kings, hammerhead sharks and marlin. Kiama’s Blowhole Point, Marsdens Point and Bombo are the pick platforms for these big fish. As always, put in the time to get live baits because they make the difference. Frigates and slimy mackerel are the pick but yellowtail are a great standby.
Berley will attract a few bream but they seem to be evening and early morning propositions. Throw in a few larger trevally and some drummer and the rocks look a good prospect.
The estuaries are fishing well with Lake Illawarra looking as good as it has been in years, with exceptional water flow and a deep entrance.
Flathead are all along the main channel with the usual baits and lures working well. The main drawcard is the big whiting around the entrance. These are quality fish and the best bait is squirt worms, if you can find them.
Now the entrance is so deep I had the rare pleasure of finding a school of salmon feeding from the entrance all the way up to the bridge and only too happy to grab a lure. They go well over the shallow sand flats and it was a bit like tackling bonefish or tarpon in a metre of water over sand.
There are still reports of a few jewies hanging around the bridge pylons and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few whaler sharks showed up in the lake before long.
Up in the feeder streams there are some nice bream around the snags and good-sized mullet in the open water if you use bread berley, but you have to work the tides to get in and out of the creeks. Low tide makes the entrances very shallow and unnavigable.
Prawns have also made a big comeback this year so get down there after dark because the March dark is usually the last of the productive periods.
The Minnamurra is fishing well with some good flathead along its entire length. The deeper holes seem to produce the bigger fish.
Bream are around the bridge pylons during the evenings and you might even find a stray mangrove jack crunching a live unweighted prawn floated in with the current.
There are mullet and blackfish along the edges of the weed beds and even a few trevally around the entrance on the big tides.
Finally, beach fishos are in heaven with whiting abundant along all beaches. The sand either side of the lake has been extra productive. Throw in a few dart, salmon, bream and flatties on worms and tailor on pilchards and it is a real smorgasbord.
With all this bait about in surf the predators are not far away and the evenings belong to the jewies. Good fish seem to be coming in from the deep gutters all along the coast.
Use fresh bait at a high tide and late in the evening is the best time – or is it? My mate Russell reckons it doesn’t matter because he is catching plenty at all times of the day at any tide. All he does is find a deep hole and cast big soft plastic and slowly retrieve it.
These fish are not monsters but several fish to 10kg in a session is nothing to scoff at. They don’t come every trip but Russell’s strike rate is much better than many of the so-called hot shots so there is something to try over the next few weeks.
February is a great month for fishing but next month is even better.Reads: 1945