A Winter Species List
  |  First Published: June 2009

While most fishermen are packing the rods away for winter a handful of ‘in the know’ anglers are gearing up for what they consider to be the best time of year to wet a line.

Daybreak on the harbour can be bitterly cold and some of the sport fish might have followed the warm water north, but this is more than compensated for by an influx of superb quality table fish and greatly reduced boating traffic.

Winter fish are better to eat because of their high fat content. It’s good fat - those Omega 3s that we keep hearing about - and they have thick layer at this time of the year. Its layered through the flesh much like marbled beef and improves both taste and texture. It’s a little known secret that the most highly prized (and priced) sashimi fish are nearly always cold water inhabitants. The belly flap - the fattiest cut of the fish – of a large winter bluefin tuna can fetch over a thousand dollars a kilo at Tokyo sashimi bar.

So what is the secret to successful winter fishing? Covering lots of options is a good start, so having a good variety of quality bait helps. I spread out a couple of live baits, some prawns, squid and pilchards. This way you are appealing to a wider variety of species and increasing your chances. I also do a lot more berleying in winter than I do in summer too. Berley can be as simple as a loaf of stale bread mashed up in a bucket of water with some sand to help it sink. Just send out a small handful every ten or so minutes.

Some reliable winter species include;

Drummer (silver and black) fall into the same category as the luderick and are vegetarians. You will find them in abundance off all the deep rocky shores along the harbour’s sound. The blacks are very good to eat and the silvers are edible with a bit of work and tricky cooking

Flounder are more common in winter, but like tailor, they are deeper and bigger. Try small soft plastics around the sand drop-offs and deep moorings or drifting prawns around North Harbour and Rose Bay.

Salmon are now in abundance since the easing of commercial netting and have become a year round proposition. They are commonly found at the Heads, North Harbour and occasionally up around Clifton Gardens. The only thing that changes is what they are feeding on and this can have a dramatic impact on their catchability. If it’s tiny bait then they become the ‘one in a thousand casts’ fish but if the bait is big, then they are too easy. They are the best sport fish you will encounter in winter in the harbour on a regular basis.

Trevally can be caught all year, but they are at their peak from July to November. They don’t mind the cold and will head well upstream but are most common in the lower reaches. They like deep water and plenty of berley and love salted slimy mackerel baits lightly weighted. They are excellent sashimi.

Luderick. The big suckers are found in the lower reaches around the reefs and structures such as Sow and Pigs and the wedding cakes. There’s always a squabble amongst anglers for rare river weed at this time of year, despite the fact that these big lower harbour bronzies actually prefer cabbage from the ocean rocks which, fortunately, is in abundance. Their reliability is due to the fact that being a vegetarian they are constantly grazing. They need to eat a lot more than a carnivore simply because veggies yield less energy than meat.

John dory are at their best when they first move in around May but can be caught right through till November. They can be found lurking well upstream as far as Bantry Bay in Middle Harbour and Mosman Bay in the main harbour. They are most common around the deep moorings in the lower harbour, particularly North Harbour and are taken almost exclusively on live bait.

Tailor are in the harbour all year. The main difference in winter is that they rarely feed on the surface and are bigger. You can still take them on deep diving lures early in the morning or on live baits fished in the deep holes but if you want some whoppers, try night fishing around sow and pigs reef and the shipping channels.

Preparation, care and cooking

There’s a saying amongst trawler men applied to their catch: ‘an hour in the sun is equivalent to a day in the fish shop window’. That means that fish age rapidly if left on the deck. All fish benefit from being killed quickly and humanely, bled and put straight on ice.

There’s a few choices for preparation - you can simply gut a fish and then, leaving the scales on, wrap it in foil with some enhancements and put it straight on the barbie. This technique suits the white-meat fish like john dory and snapper, but I wouldn’t attempt it with the game fish like trevally. This is a good technique as the skin and scales help stop the fish drying out but when you peel the skin off, be careful not to get the scales through the meal.

If you think the scales might become a problem for you then they can be removed with a fish scaler or even a knife by simply running the edge from tail to head. Keeping the fish wet after capture will make this task a lot easier.

My favourite method is filleting and skinning, but it does take some practice. The fish is first filleted by running the knife from tail to head , keeping the knife pressed firmly and flatly on the backbone. The fillet is then skinned by laying it skin side down on a flat chopping board and running the knife at an angle of 30 degrees between the flesh and the skin, keeping a downward pressure on the blade. Skinning is much easier if the scales are left on and your knife is sharp.

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