Grappling with grunters
  |  First Published: July 2005

The cold snap has finally arrived and with it came a whole host of species that were previously slow.

Grunter are out in force and the average size at the moment is 2-4kg. Some of the wider locations are fishing well and many of the local anglers have been reaping the rewards. Grunter appear to be at their best on the rising tides around the full or new moon, though inside the estuaries they can come on almost any time.

Last year we had an exceptional run from May right through into the later months. This year though, they were scarce until the start of June and it seemed as though there was not a lot to look forward to. Then they suddenly slipped into the area, hitting many of the usual grunter hotspots such as The Barge, The Pinnacles, Cape Manifold, The Rama, Mystery Reef and Cape Capricorn. From now on they will be schooling up and hitting these areas frequently.

In 2004 we tried using soft plastics for grunter when they were schooling. Now twelve months down the track, the results have been gathered. We found that while the odd grunter may take a soft plastic lure randomly in the estuaries, it can be quite different outside in deeper locations. Soft tails can be a very good option when there are big numbers of grunter in one spot. If you can get a few anglers working soft plastics at the same time, when one fish makes a grab for a lure, the others usually follow by attacking the other anglers’ lures. Provided there are enough fishers and a couple of jigs in the water at all times, they hang around for a while. Trouble only arises when that first fish doesn’t hit and the rest stay away and will only respond to bait. They favour glow baits with either green or clear blue coloured tails. Weight isn’t that important, but the jig has to reach the depth of the fish.

Berley is another tactic to keep the fish in the zone. Fish scraps and pilchard pieces mashed with equal amounts of old bread works as well as anything else. Freeze this mix in handful-sized lots and keep it in the esky till needed. One of these berley lumps lasts up to an hour, depending on the current flow and the hole size in your berley bomb. We use a standard bomb with a lump of lead in the bottom and the lid wired closed. In the area we fish there is a resident hammerhead about 4m long, so we use 20kg line to hold the berley bomb instead of cord to avoid drama if the big bugger wants an easy meal.

Grunter feed better at night in the open waters, while in the creeks they seem to eat as the tide is coming in, regardless of whether it’s day or night. Pillies are the best all-round bait for grunter, either used with squid or with the head and tail cut off. Reefie scraps along with strips of mullet or tuna make a handy backup. An old regular from up this way thinks nothing can compete with whiting flesh strips for catching grunter.

There are two rigs that work equally well: a standard snapper set up and a bean sinker sitting above the hook. The snapper set up consists of two droppers placed 50cm and 1m above a big lead. On my past few trips, the higher dropper has accounted for the majority of strikes on this rig.

The other method allows you to fish varying depths and to run the line down on as little weight as possible. This can nail a grunter or two when they are finicky. Grunter don’t always feed directly on the bottom; if there are bait schools moving in the area they may be a metre above.

Although the hook size is not overly important, when things are quiet, smaller hooks can be hidden more easily. 3/0 to 5/0 suicide hooks are perfect for grunter and they will be strong enough for the nannygai and snapper that feed in the same areas.

Black jew continue to rate among the larger fish caught in winter and from reports of late they haven’t been shy. Captures of jewies reaching 20kg and bigger are regular, while fish around the 15kg mark are the norm. The favoured spots are Ironpot, Double Heads, Corio Heads, Rita Mada and Cape Capricorn.

On the subject of recent catches, mackerel have also been on the go. Every one of the land-based platforms has worked a treat over recent glassy mornings. The Rosslyn Bay Harbour wall from the entrance around to Double Heads and Porcupine Point is a winter delight.

Pilchards or lures have resulted in doggies and greys whenever the opportunity has arisen. Even Clayton’s Reef, 1.15 km north of the harbour, has done the trick. Any kind of watercraft imaginable was out scoring mackerel and when they are in this close, why wouldn’t you try for them?

Estuary anglers are enjoying the midwinter run of blue and king salmon, flathead, bream, whiting and trevally. Large numbers of these bread and butter species kept everyone in good spirits when it was a bit rough outside. The Fitzroy River, Coorooman Creek, The Causeway Lake, Ross Creek and Corio Bay give anglers without boats the chance to obtain quality fish from the shore. Bait gathering is another bonus because nearly all of the roads to these spots end up near the bait beds. A yabby pump and a cast net are all that is needed to have fresh bait suited to the local areas.

The quality of newer depth sounders means that we can get a much clearer picture of the terrain we are looking at. Many of the targeted species don’t always hunt right on the main structures, whether it is a pinnacle, a bombie or a wreck and a detailed sounder shows smaller variations that could hold fish.

There are also other contributing factors that dictate where the fish will be. All structures create a pressure wave on the leading side and an eddy on the back end. There is normally a trough or trench at the rear end of the eddy where the two streams of water meet after going around the structure. This trench collects food and bits of debris that draw in the forage feeders. The type of fish you find will depend on the strength of the current, how far back and how big the trench is. I know a spot that produces reds on a regular basis and it has a trench 50m back from the main bombies.

Often the key to success is where you put down the anchor. Look at the sounder and cover the area before making the decision of where to drop the pick.

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