The welcome warm water of the East Australian Current has swirled its way down to push up against the islands and headlands of Port Stephens, bringing with it an array of visiting northern species.
The marlin fishing has been sensational, particularly on the edge of the continental shelf where blue, black and striped marlin have been herding the vast schools of slimy mackerel.
I don’t know anywhere else in Australia where anglers can simply jump on a boat, steam 25 miles east and catch all three species of marlin as well as mahi mahi and tuna all in one day. That’s exactly what’s been happening in these world-renowned waters.
Plenty of grand slams (all three marlin species caught in one day) have been common, with blue marlin to 200kg, blacks to 150kg and stripes well over 100kg, not to mention mahi mahi to 20kg.
The smaller black marlin which usually frequent our inshore grounds at this time of year have been a little sporadic, although some keen trailer boat anglers have been plugging away catching one or two a day.
All the signs have been encouraging with 24° water and plenty of bait over the major reefs.
The Big Gibber just north of Broughton Island seems to always attract black marlin. Plenty of slimy mackerel gather on top of the reef, which encourage many pelagic species to the area.
The NSW Interclub, the largest game tournament in the Southern Hemisphere, has just begun. I’m hoping that our crew on the 50’ Blackwatch Born Free can repeat last year’s success as champion boat tag and release.
Our success has been through practice, preparation, the expertise of skipper Tim Dean plus the years of experience of all the crew. Our method was not complicated: Two slimy mackerel rigged as skip baits on 200lb leaders and Eagle Claw circle hooks, attached to two 80lb stand-up rods.
If you prefer to target quality table fish you won’t be disappointed. Trag, jewfish and snapper are all being caught on the popular reefs including The 21, the Outer V, the Big Gibber and reefs down south including Uralla and the Tank Mark.
Most of the trag and jewies are being caught at night on live baits but both species can be successfully targeted during daylight.
Snapper can be found in shallow and deep water. Soft plastics are accounting for the bigger fish in close while the simple two hook paternoster rig is perfect for the depths.
Plenty of bonito are cruising around the headlands and islands. These great sport fish can be easily caught by trolling or casting and are fun for the kids to tangle with. With the bonito come big kingies and cobia.
The LBG season won’t be too far away. Reports have been sketchy but the odd cobia has been landed from Tomaree, while small and huge kingfish have been cruising the rock ledges further south around Boulder Bay.
With water temperatures ideal so far, it won’t be too long before the first longtail tuna appears along the rocks. Quality tailor to 2kg have attacked lures and baits, delighting many rock anglers.
Time of day is the important factor especially if you want to target greenbacks; dawn and dusk are by far the prime times. Fresh garfish on 5/0 ganged hooks and you will be sure of a feed of fresh tailor.
On the beaches whiting are still going crazy. The influx of warmer water has really fired up big sand whiting on all the open beaches. Bream and flathead are also being encountered plus some quality tailor at dawn and dusk.
Inside the port, bream fishing with lures and bait has been exceptional. The oyster racks with good tidal flow have been producing many fish well over a kilo, while the rock walls and weed flats have had greater numbers.
Bream have been very aggressive towards surface lures and lightly weighted plastics. The new Stiffy Popper has been my lure of choice when targeting bream on the surface; its large cup face pushes plenty of water, exciting the fish into striking.
Drifting the sand flats with live worms or nippers has produced quality sand whiting and the ever-abundant trumpeter whiting.
Try drifting those areas adjacent the ribbon weed where, it seems, larger numbers gather just along the edges.
Meanwhile, those resident kingfish that are cruising the outside edge of the Nelson Bay breakwall are still terrorising unsuspecting bait schools.
Those willing to tussle with the resident hoodlums should try live squid or pike suspended under a float just 1m to 2m beneath the surface. Or for a more visual and exhilarating method, try big cup-faced poppers blooped aggressively across the surface.
Flathead are still abundant although more spread throughout the bay. I find that the smaller fish tend to be on the sand and shallow weed flats, while the bigger females tend to be hiding in deeper holes and ledges.
Some big soft plastics or live baits jigged or drifted through these areas should produce.
Finally, don’t forget the witches’ hats – some big blue swimmer crabs have gathered through out the Bay. They make an excellent addition to any seafood meal.Reads: 1987