It seems to be the year of the bonito along the whole NSW coast, as ridiculously large schools have been rampantly decimating baitfish for the past few months.
Never in the past 20 years have I witnessed such a sustained run of bonito as we are currently experiencing.
Virtually any rocky headland, regardless of tide or sea conditions, has been the scene of multiple hook-ups on bonito, from 500g tiddlers up to almost 5kg beasts.
Fifty-fish sessions have been standard and there have been days when you could catch that many fish in the same number of casts!
Even when we had a rapid temperature drop from 22° down to 17° for a week or so, the bonnies were still taking lures and live baits with gusto.
Amazingly, miniature live bonito set under balloons have been eaten by big bonito, something I have not witnessed in almost 20 years of land-based game fishing.
A few kingfish have been getting in on the act some days but very few fish have been legal. Most have been 50cm to 62cm with a rare 70cm one occasionally in the mix. I did manage to nail two 62cm kings on one lure, which had us in fits of laughter.
Frigate mackerel have finally made an appearance. Better late than never and hopefully they should bring some big kingfish with them.
It will be worth stocking up on bonito fillets for the bait freezer as they make great snapper bait for the Winter. And bream, tailor and jewfish also love a feed of bonito.
Snapper in the shallows will be in full swing this month and I definitely plan to be putting those bonito and frigate mackerel fillets to good use off the rocks this season.
Some good fish to 4kg are already being captured from the rocks and I expect a few nearly double that size to be caught over the next few months.
The inshore plastic scene will be firing for those with boats. More and more anglers are changing from bait to plastics for reds, as my neighbour Ian Green can attest. He recently nailed his first red on a plastic, a fish that measured over 50cm to the fork, hooked in only 8m of water. It was a pretty amazing fight by all accounts.
Ray Smith has been donning snorkelling gear and sussing out all the snapper haunts to get a better understanding of the best rocks to fish. He has seen some impressive schools of squid in the various bays but no cuttlefish have yet moved into the shallows.
He also reports seeing some really big back drummer concentrations during his dives and May is notoriously one of the best for pigs, in particular those powerhouse 4kg models that take plenty of brute strength and a fair dose of luck to land.
Those bonito fillets will be a great idea after dark with a rising tide for the likes of bream, tailor and jewfish.
Bream will be best targeted at smaller beaches and boat ramps on the coast with some light line, light pea sinker and a 2/0 chemically sharpened hook. I don’t really bother too much with berley as it attracts stingrays that will relieve you of a full spool of light bream line if you are not careful.
When chasing nocturnal jewfish off the beach, however, I like to berley extensively and just put up with the rays and sharks it tends to attract. Berley will keep a school of jewfish feeding in your chosen gutter rather than simply sweeping through it and moving on to the next. Without berley you may only get one shot at a hook-up.
I like to use a full length of a bonito fillet split down the middle so the average bonito will provide four baits and the head and frame can be cubed up into berley that will be periodically thrown into the gutter.
I use a two-hook rig for a long bait, 8/0 suicides work well, and a 30kg leader is the heaviest required.
There have been some huge tailor on the beaches and rocks, with 4kg fish not uncommon. That same jewfish rig will be fine on big tailor but will usually need to be retied after each fish as their teeth are quite sharp. You can go for wire if you are concerned about losing fish to bite-offs but you will catch fewer fish and hinder your chances of a jewfish hook-up.
The big fresh of March has really livened up the estuaries, with plenty of opportunities now.
James Bunn took his son, Jai, 4, for a fish at the newly-opened Tuross entrance to see what was lurking. James rigged him up with a gang-hooked pilchard and propped him up on his ‘game chair’, an upturned bucket, and he was soon struggling under the weight of a good fish.
Thinking it was merely a stingray, James simply buoyed Jai’s confidence with some verbal encouragement and left him to see how he’d handle the situation.
Some time later he was gobsmacked, to say the least, when 95cm of well-conditioned flathead materialised from the depths, all but spent.
After a quick photo session the big flathead was released with a super-stoked Dad, an overwhelmed Jai and a Mum who really couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and just wanted to get going so she could put dinner on!Reads: 2028