You could be forgiven for thinking that bait doesn’t work for jewies any more. Jamie Robley disagrees.
Casting big hard or soft lures has become a popular way to target jewfish over the past five years or so. While there’s certainly no doubt that lures catch jewfish, I still believe that natural bait can be more effective in many situations.
Unlike bream, flathead or tailor that take a wide variety of baits even if they aren’t always fresh, jewfish are a bit more picky. They prefer big baits that are alive, very fresh or have been promptly frozen after capture.
Sure, there’s a chance of catching jewfish on pilchards or other types of bait that may be purchased from a bait shop but the fact is if you really want to catch jewfish, you first have to catch your own bait.
Squid is a popular jewfish bait but there’s squid and then there’s real squid. Southern calamari squid is the real deal and is at the top of the list of jewfish baits.
Southern calamari are larger and rounder in shape than the arrow squid which are common in some estuary systems. Calamari do enter bays and estuaries but are more abundant along the ocean rocks and inshore reefs. They prefer areas with kelp growth and clear water that doesn’t get too stirred up by tidal flow or wave action.
By far the best way of catching southern calamari is by casting and slowly working a good-quality squid jig over a patch of kelp-laden reef. The best sizes are 2.5, 3 and 3.5, although bigger jigs like a 4 often attract bigger calamari.
You can catch them at any time of day but, like most marine life, they are generally more active early in the morning or late evening.
Remember to wear old clothes when squidding because these beasties squirt heaps of black ink which stains everything. Store them in a cool place and use them within a couple of hours or chuck them in the freezer as soon as you get home.
Don’t clean them up as if you were going to eat them, jewfish really like all that dirty black ink. White, washed-out calamari will catch jewfish but the messy black stuff is better.
There is a great article the CATCH annual by Craig McGill on catching jewfish on southern calamari. No one with an interest in jewfish should miss out on that article, which I regard as nothing less than pure jewfish gospel.
It’s hard to nominate the second-best jewfish bait but, if pushed, I would have to say live or fresh tailor.
If you’ve caught a few tailor in the morning they can be stored in the fridge and used later the same day but what we call ‘fresh’ will expire after about 12 hours. Once past 12 hours or after being frozen, tailor is no longer a valid jewfish bait.
Smaller tailor can be used whole and bigger tailor can be cut up. An average tailor of 700g will make three jewfish baits; the head and two fillets.
A 2kg tailor should yield six baits; the head and then each fillet can be cut in half. Just remember to make sure you use a big hook with the point well exposed when using tailor heads.
Mullet share my number three position as top jewfish baits with beachworms, which I’ll get to next.
Live mullet or big slabs of fresh mullet would have accounted for thousands of big jewies over the years. Some of the biggest jewfish I and some of my mates have caught fell to fresh mullet heads or big mullet slabs.
One of the best aspects of using mullet is that, alive or dead, they are very tough fish that aren’t easily killed or removed from the hook by pickers.
Mullet are also one of the main food sources of jewfish in the estuary or along beaches, particularly through autumn and early winter.
At one stage several years ago, fresh or preserved beachworms were my favourite jewfish baits off the beach.
It always amazed me how a jewfish could find a tiny worm bait in a raging surf at night with ease. A big pile of worms on a hook isn’t always necessary, either, as I’ve caught a lot of jewies between 8kg and 17kg on a single worm bait on a 2/0 hook.
Ideally, fresh worms that you’ve caught on the day are best but they can be preserved by dipping in a mix of 50:50 metho and water. Left in the water and metho for a few minutes, the worms curl up and can then be packed in a plastic bag in the freezer, after you’ve drained them off.
That way they can be stored for months and regardless of the fact that they will still smell like metho, jewfish don’t seem to mind at all.
As reliable as I’ve found beachworms to be, after many years of chasing jewies I’ve come to the conclusion that they are well behind calamari and just a tiny bit behind really fresh tailor as jewfish bait – but still they are certainly among the best.
The next few baits in the list would be pike, live yakkas, octopus and cuttlefish. When I first started visiting South West Rocks the gun local jewie anglers repeatedly said that live pike were by far the most effective baits along the big rock walls. Having spent quite a bit of time chasing jewfish there, I’ve seen evidence to suggest that pike work very well but I haven’t really seen pike outperform fresh squid, tailor or mullet.
A number of other baits will interest jewies from time to time, including good-quality pilchards, fresh bonito, trevally and blackfish.
My cousin Glen used to catch a lot of big jewies in the Hawkesbury River in Sydney and I always remember the time he caught a flounder and quickly cut it in half and lowered one half straight back down on a 10/0 hook. He didn’t actually catch a jewie that day but said he’d caught them on flathead, bream, whiting and other fish. He stressed that the bait must be super-fresh.
Different baits can be more or less effective, depending on where you’re fishing. Live baits will no doubt catch jewfish from a beach but why go to the trouble of hauling along the necessary gear to fish live baits when fresh or good-quality frozen calamari is easier to fish with and probably more effective, anyway?
On the other hand, I’ve found live mullet or tailor to be a good idea when fishing further upstream in an estuary. Dead baits can get picked to shreds by small bream and other pickers, while a live bait will generally get eaten only by a jewfish, flathead, estuary cod or shark. I’ve just found live baits to be the best way to go upstream, especially when fishing around bridge pylons at night.
Of course, there are many other important factors that go into consistently catching jewfish. If you’ve got really good bait though, you’re two-thirds of the way there.