About the time this magazine hits the stands, the biggest game fishing tournament in the Southern Hemisphere is under way here at Port Stephens.
The annual NSW Interclub tournament at the end of February and the beginning of March attracts around 1000 anglers and more then 200 boats ranging from 4.5m tinnies to 20m battlewagons.
The tournament is a teams event with many game fishing clubs across the country competing. Each club will have its best top five tag and release boats and its top five capture boats competing for nothing other than prestige and a trophy. No money or prizes are up for grabs; it’s simply the top crews and skippers battling over two weekends to claim the top title.
I have been lucky enough to be involved as part of the winning tag and release team for the Newcastle and Port Stephens Game Fishing Club for the past five years in a row, as well as champion boat tag and release in 2009 and 2007. Believe me, there is a lot of hard work involved just to claim a block of wood!
Game fishing has been red hot along the continental shelf. There have been days over the past month when many boats have tagged up to 10 billfish a day.
Most fish have been striped marlin with the odd black and blue. On recent trips aboard Born Free we have raised multiple marlin by skip baiting or switch baiting.
It’s amazing watching at least half a dozen striped marlin light up like Christmas trees and try to eat anything that moves.
Most fish have been raised while sounding around bait schools. Multiple fish can be seen as definite arches on the sounder, especially on the edges of the bait schools, and it’s just a matter of working the area to encourage a bite.
It’s also a good idea to drop down a bait jig to gather fresh baits but be warned, bait jig losses can be high because striped marlin find it irresistible to latch onto half a dozen wriggling slimies attached to a Black Pete Super Jig.
Fishing in close around the islands has never been better, with some of the best warm, blue water I have seen in years.
Larger predators like hoodlum kingies, cobia and sharks have constantly harassed the abundant baitfish such as yellowtail, slimy mackerel and bonito.
Slowly trolling live baits around the many bommies around Broughton Island will be a sure way of attracting the attention of cobia and kingies.
The deeper reefs have also fared well and you can expect to find some plate-size snapper and the odd pearl perch around The Gibber, The 21 and the Inner and Outer V reefs during the day, while at night the same reefs will produce plenty of trag and mulloway to 15kg.
The FAD is still attracting mahi mahi although you have to be there early to tangle with a larger specimen before the boat traffic switches them off.
The estuary is still producing great results although our crab season so far has been a non-event. It seems the good old blue swimmer has vacated the bay with only a handful being caught per outing.
Don’t despair, plenty of fish are still eager to take a bait or lure. With warm water moving in from the ocean, surface lures have been the pick for bream and whiting.
The occasional outings when I have not been chasing marlin have been spent targeting bream among the oyster racks and rock walls using surface lures.
It’s been fantastic fishing with many fish averaging a kilo or more pouncing on a Lucky Craft NW Pencils or Bevy Props.
Luderick have also been keen to snaffle live nippers drifted down along shallow weed edges. I find areas such as the flats around Soldiers Point ideal, especially on the last half of a run-out tide.
The land-based game season has just begun and already I have heard of a few longtail tuna from Tomaree.
Traditionally March to May is prime time and you can add cobia, mack tuna and few other species so it’s all worthwhile lugging all that gear over the rocks.Reads: 999