Avoiding the yellow plague
  |  First Published: July 2008

What is it with this yellow peril that has virtually taken over all the sand patches off the coast? They seem to swam in their thousands and they are often from the bottom right up to the surface and will eat just about anything.

They range in size from little tads of 10cm up to 45cm and every one is equipped with teeth like bolt cutters and they use them to good effect. You know what I’m talking about – leatherjackets.

When you find them, or they find you, you don’t seem to catch anything else. Maybe they ate everything else.

They give the flathead fishos a real hard time in the warmer months but while the flatties are lying low during Winter these marauding hordes are still there, ambushing unsuspecting anglers that stray into their territory.

More often than not you will just lose a hook but if they are on the boil you can be left with just a metre of line dangling limply in the water as they nip out from under the boat and bite you off just below the surface. This is when you move.

All is not lost because they don’t seem to taste too bad, it can be easy to catch a bag limit in a very short time and they are easy to clean.


So far they don’t seem to be over the reefs and let’s hope they don’t because this month heralds the start of what makes Winter bearable – the cuttlefish spawning run that spells snapper.

So far there has been a steady trickle of nice snapper to 2kg coming in with the occasional larger fish but that should all change over the coming few weeks as they move in over the shallow reefs en masse to take advantage of the easy pickings.

Even at this early time the best bait has been cuttlefish pieces drifted in a good berley trail. Judicious use of the sounder is needed to pinpoint the drop-offs and gutters the snapper seem to love, although most locals have their favourite spots where they know the fish will eventually show during the season.

Getting the cuttlefish for bait can sometimes be a challenge as well, because without it you will struggle.

Last year they didn’t pop in numbers until the end of the season, when it was just about all over, so gathering those floating carcases on the surface was very hit and miss.

Catching your own is the only other option. While you are fishing for snapper, drop a yellowtail, slimy mackerel or pike to the bottom on some heavy gear and wait for a cuttlefish to grab it. Coax it to the surface and get it in the boat.

These baits often pick up extra-large snapper and a few stray jewies so there are bonuses involved.

This is where it gets interesting because cuttlies are quite intelligent and they will blacken you with great accuracy with ink in doses that can cover you and the entire boat.

The other hazard is the beak, much the same as a white cockatoo’s, so don’t let one get hold of you. I have had them take large chunks out of 25 mm dowel so a finger or hand in the wrong place could get punished.

Fresh cuttlefish is great tucker in its own right so you get a feed even if you don’t get a snapper. But don’t eat any that you find floating because there is no way of knowing how long it has been drifting around and a bad case of food poisoning could be on the cards.


For best results on the snapper don’t fish too heavy because you reduce the bites with every extra kilo of line breaking strain. About 10kg is the maximum I use and it always gets fewer hook-ups than the lighter gear. My choice is 6kg unless I am fishing a really rough patch of ground and even then you still get most fish on this tackle.

When sight casting to floating cuttlies, 6kg is ample and it allows the bait to sink down through the water column in a natural manner, inviting more strikes.

Like most species, the snapper are not as thick as they used to be but casting baits at the floating cuttlies on a cold morning is still an exciting fun way to fish.

The gentle westerly wind slowly pulling the line off the spool as you drift away from the dead cuttlie can be hypnotic. Suddenly the line accelerates off the reel as something grabs the bait and you set the hook into a solid fish, running hard against the drag.

Then the telltale thump of a good snapper is transmitted up the line before the golden red flanks come into view and you land that prized red. It just doesn’t get any better.

It is not always snapper that grab cuttlefish; groper are regularly hooked and also regularly lost but you get lucky sometimes and land a good fish.

The berley also attracts schools of trevally, particularly around the islands, and they have been quite active over the past few weeks. Light lines and small pilchard fillets will bring them undone every time.

Similar baits also pick up bream and there have been quite a few about recently A better option could be casting soft plastic prawn imitations into the washes. I tried this a few weeks back and scored fish on almost every cast, it was scary just how effective they were.

Salmon are starting to school on the surface, taking small lures and pilchards on ganged hooks. About the only other pelagic action has been a few striped tuna out wide although there could be some large yellowfin about when the weather is kind enough to allow boats to get out the required distance.

Recently there were fish from Sydney to Jervis Bay. The crew of Paul, Russell and Jane Emms took several to 40kg until Russell hooked into one around 80kg for over four hours before he lost it near the boat as the sun went down.

If the ’fin aren’t there and the current is slow, there are all those deep-water bottom dwellers available around Kiama Canyons – blue eye trevalla, hapuka and gemfish. It’s a long way down to them and even further to wind back up.

Small snapper are the saviours over all of the close reef systems along with a few mowies and good numbers of pigfish and the ever-present sweep and leatherjackets.


On the rocks the mainstay is the drummer. Most platforms with water rolling over cunjevoi ledges will have a few around that will eat royal red prawns and cunje.

You’ll get a few bream and trevally on the deeper ledges and a few blackfish will be there taking cabbage weed.

The beaches have salmon and tailor taking pilchards in the early mornings and late evenings. Pilchard pieces will pick up any bream in the area and if you are keen enough to take on the big high tides during the cold evenings, there are still a few jewies getting about.

Give the estuaries a miss unless you get up into the feeder streams and chase a few bream. The open waters will be windy and hard to fish.

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