Winter fish move in
  |  First Published: May 2009

As we head into the coolest part of the year, the fish species available change over and the cold current roars up the coast, sometimes those early mornings are just too much to take.

Out in the open on the water, the biting wind whistles around the boat and we ask ourselves if we’re mad. But when the fish start biting, none of that seems to matter.

The Winter fish have moved into town. Luderick, travelling bream, drummer, snapper and salmon are all options, as well as some slackers from Summer that stay on in the remaining small patches of warmer water.

Tailor and striped tuna seem to love this time of year on this part of the coast. Both are great to catch on the surface but no matter how you do it, get onto a big one of either of these two species on light gear and there’s nothing better.

Morwong, nannygai, trevally and the ever-present leatherjackets should be combing the inshore reefs, along with smatterings of squire and groper.

There have been recent reports of good numbers of school jewfish over North Reef. The rain-affected Hunter River has a lot to do with this; torrents of dirty floodwater have pushed the fish outside.

I was at Carrington boat ramp when I saw a number of boats return with jewfish and tailor. The best I saw was a 26kg jewie but the majority have been around 12kg to 14kg. Some anglers were very happy, saying they left them biting.

After heavy rain or floods, a lot of fish travel outside to the nearest reefs, waiting for the water quality to improve before re-entering the river.

This month is a great time to be on the close inshore reefs. From Stockton Bight down to Redhead, squire are around in good numbers – not huge fish but plenty of them.

The Granites and the Dumping Ground are two of the best places to start.

I figure if these two areas are holding good numbers of squire, the run down to Merewether is well worth it because the further from the Harbour you go, the bigger the fish will usually be.

It’s not just squire that are around this time of year. Morwong, groper and drummer are some of the Winter fish that sit over reefs.

Crabs and prawns are the best way to catch these, with pilchards for the squire. A good berley trail can help.


Rockhoppers love this time of year. Drummer and groper, two brutes of the sea, search the washes for food and are able to be taken quite easily as long as you have good, solid gear.

The front of Newcastle Baths and the two Hunter breakwalls are great places to start. Berley with bread for the drummer and use peeled prawns or cunjevoi for bait, drummer can’t resist either of these. For the groper, crabs are the best bait, or turban snails. Berley with crushed claws from the crabs and hang on.

The estuaries and rivers should be in full swing with luderick the No 1 target. They are commonly regarded as a second-rate fish on the plate but bleeding the fish straight after capture tends to make the flesh taste less weedy.

Luderick are great fighting fish on the right gear and, being available along the rocky coasts and in the estuaries makes them an easy Winter species to chase.

Weed is easy to gather at low tide and all along the Hunter coast and estuaries there are huge amounts. We have in Newcastle a lot of wharves, piers and structure which we can collect weed from.

Trevally and leatherjackets are starting to show over the reefs.

Long-shank hooks are a must for leatherjackets. Both of these species will take any bait, making them a great target, especially for kids.

although most anglers try to avoid them, don’t forget that both, if cooked the right way, don’t taste too bad.

I have never eaten a bad fish curry or a bad fish in sweet and sour sauce, there is always a way to make a fish taste good if you take a bit of time to prepare it.

The beaches have been quiet although the reason could be the weather.

A wander along Stockton Beach not long back was a real eye-opener. Usually 4WDs and people are everywhere but very few were out fishing.

Those who have braved the weather have been getting onto some nice tailor and bream.

Salmon have moved in and you can expect mass invasion from these as Winter progresses. They’re another great candidate for a Winter fish curry.

The hole behind Stockton Soccer Club has been hot and cold. For a week it will fire with tailor, bream and salmon, then it just completely shuts down, then fires again. It does show how fast fish move through areas feeding.


My son is aiming for his young adult boat licence.

How things have changed since I got mine, when it was as simple as wandering into an MSB office and sitting a test! Nowadays you have to do a short course over the internet or after watching a DVD on boating safety, then sit a written test.

As you read this, more long overdue changes have come into effect.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I have come across people in boats who couldn’t even find their way up a channel; they didn’t know what a marker was for and in some cases they had run into oyster racks, underwater objects clearly indicated by isolated danger markers and plenty of other hazards.

From this month new boaters will have to complete a logbook with at least three trips in enclosed waterways with a skipper of three years’ experience. At least people will have a little more experience out on the water.

This month worthwhile trips would include looking for blackfish weed and then having a session in the estuaries or off the rocks, a walk along the beaches spinning up salmon and tailor (reverting to bait in the late afternoon hoping for some bream or flathead), a rock venture with half a sack of bread and some prawns and heavy gear for the drummer – and maybe a squire or snapper could be berleyed up on the close reefs.

Winter is far from the worst time to be fishing with schooling winter fish often available in vast numbers. Salmon move into an area in schools and feed before moving on, luderick do the same in mass migration and sometimes stay on in an estuary for quite a while, and plenty of other fish are also about in good numbers.

The cold nights can be an issue, with the chill from the seat of the tinny biting you in the butt, but warm cushion, a beanie and a thick jumper should have you sorted. On out-of-the way beaches it doesn’t harm to have a small fire, either, as long as you keep everything under control and legal. All in all, Winter can be a great time to fish – just keep warm.

No 1

Winter can be hard on the fingers and toes when fishing, but rug up and the rewards are there. These two bream which attacked fresh prawns just after dark may be small but it’s all part of quality time with the kids.

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