All set up for a pearler
  |  First Published: April 2008

April has always been my favourite fishing month and the way things are shaping up, this one looks like being a pearler.

Good February rains stirred up things for a while but in the long run it’s always for the best. For a while things went quiet when the water was really dirty but when the fish moved back in, it was with a vengeance.

Apart from turning the system upside down for a while, a good flush injects the system with a burst of nutrients. These come from two main sources, the main one being in the form of plant and animal matter washed off the land. Depending on the extent of the flood, the river bed, along with the vast variety of marine organisms, gets lifted and dispersed downstream.

When you combine this abundance of food with the fact that water temperatures have just hit 23°, you need no further explanation why Sydney Harbour is now experiencing the best fishing anyone can remember for many years.

Being opportunist feeders, bream are particularly turned on by a big flush and this is evident at the moment on the lower Harbour where they are in almost in plague proportions.

The Spit bridge, Balmoral, North Harbour, Sow and Pigs, Bottle and Glass and Bradleys Head are all producing well and should continue to do so for the next few months. The shallower spots like Balmoral and Sow and Pigs are best fished early morning, late afternoon and into the night. Once the sun is high, try the deeper areas like Bottle and Glass and North Harbour.

With a bit of colour in the water, baits like skirt steak, fresh tuna cubes, chicken and mullet gut and chicken breast fillet dipped in tuna oil seem to work better than live baits like yabbies, prawns and worms. There's no doubting, though, that once the water is back to its normal clear condition then the live baits are way ahead.

A light berley is a definite advantage in attracting bream. I once fished next to a boat that I considered to be berleying excessively. The anglers’ mix consisted of a typical grain-based berley with what should have been a dash, but was in fact probably half a bottle, of tuna oil (we all do it). And the mix was going in by the bucketful.

Consequentially a large number of the bream we caught were bloated with oats. My bet was that there were fish still down there that were so full that they had stopped feeding.

Berley is designed to attract fish, not feed them. Your bait is there to feed them. Keep the berley regular but use just a sniff.

My berley system consists of a few fish frames in the PVC berley pot and a gentle stir every 10 minutes or whenever I remember – usually later. It’s comical to watch some of my crew who previously had no interest in berley become human berley pot pistons when the fish turn up.

Flathead have also come on strongly after the rain although they are probably more interested in the abundance of baitfish that have been flushed down, rather than berley scraps. All the areas mentioned above are fishing well for flatties with the Balmoral region really firing.

If you plan to anchor for flatties then try to find a drop-off on a sandy bottom or an area of broken sand reef. Live baits are the way to go when at anchor because flatties like a moving bait.

Drifting the shallow sand areas around Balmoral and Rose Bay is extremely productive. The fish are often in numbers but tend to be smaller. Whitebait or anchovies make good drift baits but a live bait pinned through the top lip is way ahead.

We are currently experiencing one of the best pelagic runs I can remember and while bonito have been conspicuously absent, we have been more than compensated by higher than average catches of kings, cobia and samson fish.


If you are going to score regularly on these species there is really one bait and that’s squid. Frozen squid rates poorly against freshly caught squid so I thought it might be a good time for a refresher course on the art of squidding.

Two main types of squid are found in the Harbour, the calamari or southern squid and the arrow or common squid.

Calamari squid are the bigger and are found around structure. They are particularly fond of kelp beds but can often be located around jetties, bridge pylons and boat moorings.

They are often encountered by live-bait anglers who consider them a nuisance, although I have never understood why. A live squid or even a strip will outfish a yakka any day and even if you don't use them for bait, how could anybody complain about a fresh feed of squid? When it comes to jew or kingfish I'd prefer a fresh squid strip over a live yakka any day.

The best way to catch calamari is with the standard prawn-imitation jig. The old plastic bead-style jigs are nowhere as effective but even among them, there are dramatic differences in quality and effectiveness.

Problems I have encountered include poor weighting and weight distribution, blunt jags and, in the worst cases, the jags and leads fall out.

A good jig will have needle-sharp jags and leads which are securely fastened and, most important of all, it will sink horizontally and slowly. The bottom line on squid jigs is, like most things – you get what you pay for. I like Yamashita or Razorback jigs.

Calamari squid can be lured by working the jig very slowly with regular stops about 2m above the kelp. They can grow quite big – we've caught them up to 1.5kg – and because of the snaggy nature of the bottom, I'd recommend using no less than 8kg line.

I also recommend using a net to land the big ones because they have a habit of dropping tentacles under strain.

Calamari are proportionally shorter and have larger eyes than common squid but the most obvious difference is in the length of the wings. Calamari wings run the full length of the tube, where arrow wings run slightly less than half-way down the tube.

You are much more likely to find arrow squid upstream, while calamari mainly congregate in the lower reaches.

Catching arrow squid requires a slightly different approach. They are schooling squid where the calamari are loners or found in twos or threes.

Arrows congregate in large numbers in the deep bays and are much less structure-orientated. They hang close to the bottom and are caught by letting the jig sink right to the bottom and then slowly jigging it back up. Quite often they grab it on the way down and are snared on the first retrieve.

Arrows are highly excitable and can often be caught one after the other up to the stage where the large quantity of ink expelled by their panicking mates puts them off the bite. At places where there is some flow in the water to take the ink away, they can be caught in large numbers.

Whether you are collecting squid for bait or food, they should be iced down immediately. Squid for bait are ultimately used fresh but for prolonged storage they are best frozen whole in airtight bags.

Don’t let squid come into contact with fresh water as it causes them to lose their appealing opaque colour very quickly and makes them a much less attractive bait.

Whatever you do don't put whole squid directly in your ice box. Put them in some sort of container which is then put in the ice box – the ink is a nightmare to clean up.

• Fishabout Tours has officially amalgamated with Untamed Tracks, enhancing our Sydney guided fishing operations and also offering an expanded range of fishing travel options to destinations all over the world including Top End Australia, Tassie, New Zealand, PNG, Alaska, North America, Costa Rica and Belize. Visit www.untamedtracks.com and click on the Fishabout logo link or email --e-mail address hidden-- to receive our monthly e-newsletter

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