The best of times
  |  First Published: January 2010

After a busy holiday period the Hunter Coast waters should have a lot fewer holidaymakers and school kids but you’ll be unlucky if you can call February peaceful –this month and next provide action aplenty.

After 30 years of fishing, I still believe this is our best time to wet a line.

The warm current from the north always laps our shores about now, with water everywhere well above 20°. No wonder so many major sport fishing events are scheduled thereabouts.

When the water is so blue and warm, there’s more action from travelling fish following the streams of baitfish, adding up to some great times on the water.

I talked to some divers recently and was surprised at the numbers of fish they reported. Large schools of snapper, jewfish, striped tuna and bream were most common, they said, having encountered them close to shore in relatively shallow water on the reefs off Big Ben and Merewether Baths.

Yet I have spoken to a lot of anglers who haven’t caught much at those places at the same time the fish were around.

It shows either that the fish weren’t feeding or the anglers had all done something wrong.

Maybe the fish were in travelling mode or just hunting around for a certain type of food. You never know, but it’s certain that if you use different baits and techniques in one area it can pay dividends at times.

Maybe the fish were in the mid depths or were feeding close to the surface and the baits were on the bottom.

We all come to accept that fishing can change day by day.

Some nice bream have been taken along Stockton Beach, as have some quality whiting and a few jewfish.

Jewies lately seem to have a preference for fresh-caught squid and there’s nothing better than a squid oozing black ink through the gutters and holes in the surf – it spells dinner for many fish species at this time of year.


In the estuary the lure-tossers have got stuck into some nice flathead and they will still be around in good numbers.

Don’t forget the bream; any estuary that has a load of oysters will fish well this month.

It is ‘drying time’ so activity around oyster leases will intensify.

For three weeks through February, a lot of oysters are brought to shore to dry off the Pacific oyster by-catch.

Once the trays are returned to the water, bream and whiting can boil up like surface-feeding tuna. Stay out of the oyster farmers’ way and don’t do any damage and you can get bream into the 2kg bracket.

Some racks can have a vast school of huge fish sitting under them or close by. The bream know the pattern and are there feeding up for their annual run, around April-May.

The Hunter River has been fishing quite well.

The boys from Freddy’s Fishing World say the number of bream in the river should be a great drawcard for all anglers.

Bait and as well as deep-diving lures have caught the majority of bigger fish.

Try around the northern channel just above the bridge at Stockton.

After rain, prawns drain from the extensive waterways up river so tying on a lure that mimics these tasty crustaceans is possibly the best way to connect to a fish.

Fullerton Cove around the old oyster racks is a great place also at this time of year.

You can also swim a live bait around the underwater cliffs at the mouth of the cove; a number of large jewfish have been taken from this area over the years.

Off the rocks, tailor, bonito and, if we are lucky, some early-season longtail tuna, may show up for the land-based game anglers.

Bream and huge schools of luderick hang around close to the mouths of the estuaries and feed around the ledges close in.

How often do you see someone fishing from a boat casting as close to the shore as possible, while a nearby fisho on the rocks will cast out as far as they can?

It’s pretty comical sometimes although both theories work. And often each angler will take different species because of where they cast.

This month I would recommend an early morning run to the close reefs for a squire or even a snapper. You should also get a live bait down for a kingfish or maybe a school jewfish.

After the nor’-easter belts you back in, you can flick lures for flathead along the sandy stretches of the rivers and lakes.

Soft plastics can be great around the oyster racks and reefs, while drifting the flats with worms or peeled prawns should attach you to some whiting.

There have been a great number of trumpeter whiting around so they should be a great target this month.

Cast some chrome slugs from the rock ledges for tailor and bonito and put out a live baits for a tuna or a shark.

No 2

Flathead have been around in great numbers, with lures taking good plate-size specimens from now until late March.

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