Port Stephens is a renowned offshore and game fishing hot spot and each year plays host to the largest game fishing tournament in the Southern hemisphere, but did you know there is also another fishing side to this amazing waterway?
If you’re an estuary lure addict like me, you will find Port Stephens offers some the best lure fishing in NSW. It has such a large diversity of waterways and fishing options, from the brackish waters of the Myall Lakes to the twists and turns of the Karuah River and the expanses of the open bay, so it’s not surprising that the estuary lure options are endless.
Although the advent of the Great Lakes Marine Park has seen some areas become sanctuary zones, there are still plenty of prime fish-holding locations. Visiting anglers should ensure they pick up a copy of the latest marine park map from all the local tackle retailers or by logging onto www.mpa.nsw.gov.au .It details all the park zones – and it makes an ideal way to pinpoint potential fishing areas.
As with any southern estuary, many species can be encountered. There are probably four more common and easy target species, bream, dusky flathead, sand whiting and the holy grail of any estuary lure-caster, the mulloway.
Like most areas, there are various techniques, lures and locations that will play a pivotal role in your success. The unique shoreline of the bay means that there is every kind of fish habitat available, from tidal flats and natural rock walls to artificial structures such as oyster racks, break walls, marinas, moored boats and the like. The options are endless.
The expansive shoreline of Nelson Bay means that there are hectares of sandy, weedy flats to explore. Whether you have a boat, kayak or even if you prefer to simply wade the shallows, you will find plenty of locations.
Since the advent of soft plastics, surface lures and shallow diving hardbodies, flats fishing has become increasingly popular. As techniques are refined and tackle becomes more suitable, many more bream, flathead and whiting can be easily targeted in skinny water.
I find that the flats in Port Stephens are heavily influenced by tidal flow. Fishing the rising or falling tide is ideal, preferably early morning or late afternoon.
Time of the year can also impact different fishing styles and techniques.
For instance, late Spring to early Autumn are ideal times to use varied surface lure presentations. It seems that as the water temperature rises, especially above 20°, bream, flathead and whiting become aggressive surface feeders.
So what lures attract surface strikes? Any of those small cup faced poppers like the Rebel Pop-R, Daiwa TD Zero, Bushy’s Stiffy Popper or a River 2 Sea Bubble Pop are all ideal.
The walk-the-dog style lures such as the Smith Towadi, Lucky Craft NW Pencil and Sammy and the Heddon Zara Puppy are all perfect candidates. These lures vary from 35mm to 70mm and I try to keep the colours fairly natural, due to the water being so shallow and generally clear.
Keep your leader material short and sweet, around 1m of 10lb fluorocarbon, and don’t be afraid to cast right into water so shallow that even the fish struggle to keep their fins wet.
When it comes to fishing sub-surface with soft plastics and hardbodies, time of year is not so crucial. These lures will attract fish year-round.
Bouncing assorted soft plastics along the bottom is an ideal way to connect to large wary bream and even monster flathead.
When it comes to bream, smaller soft plastics such as Squidgy Wrigglers, and Berkley Gulp Shrimps and Worms are perfect. I try to use jig heads as light as possible, depending on wind and tide, but usually 1/32oz to 1/16oz are ideal.
Leader material is crucial; the lighter the better. I use anything from 3lb to 6lb fluorocarbon but there is a downside because larger flathead tend like those smaller plastics as well.
If you find that the flathead are on the chew, upsize the leader and the plastics. Don’t be afraid to cast 100mm plastics such as Squidgy Fish and Berkley Gulp 5” Shads, flathead have big mouths.
Hard lures account for many, especially smaller baitfish profiles like the Ecogear SX40, Lake Police Chubby (shallow and deep) and the Australian-made Attack Minnow are perfect for bream and, to a lesser extent, whiting.
Bigger lures like the shallow-diving gold Bomber and Mann’s Stretch 5+ have taken their fair share of flathead and I cut my teeth using these lures before the inception of soft plastics.
Rock walls attract fish and Port Stephens has loads of both.
All manner of species are attracted to rock walls and it’s probably because of the abundant food that can be found along them. Oysters, barnacles, crustaceans and baitfish are all reliable fare for bream right through to mulloway.
I think that tidal flow has a major bearing on bite periods, so no run, no fun.
So what lures attract what species around rock walls?
Soft plastics are by far the best. Bream have a hard time knocking back a bloodworm Squidgy Wriggler or those deadly Berkley 2” Gulp Shrimp.
I rarely use anything but 1/16oz jig heads. They’re an ideal weight for nearly all rock wall situations and I find that they offer the perfect balance for presentation of the soft plastic.
Harbodies are also very effective. Those new little vibration lures such as the Ecogear VX 35 and the Jazz Sonic Boom are deadly on bream.
Leader size will depend on the area. If it’s a nasty, shallow, oyster-encrusted area then 8lb fluorocarbon is the minimum, while more gentle areas covered in weed mean you can go down to 4lb.
Some big flathead live up close to rock walls and most of my larger flatties have come from water adjacent to a rock wall where those crocodiles love to lie and wait to ambush passing baitfish.
Larger soft plastics over 100mm are perfect, generally rigged on no lighter than 1/4oz heads. This allows me to stay in constant touch with the bottom, which is critical if you want to encourage a bite.
Don’t go under 14lb fluorocarbon for leader, flathead are notorious for rasping through leaders and mulloway tend to like the same plastics.
Which brings me to the pinnacle of estuary luring, the Mulloway.
This species is probably the hardest to crack but rock walls are probably the best places to start.
I try to find bait by looking at the sounder and watching for signs of feeding chopper tailor or schools of mullet. Locate the bait and you’re in with a chance.
Match the hatch when selecting lures; those big paddletail soft plastics are hard to resist, likewise some of those bigger shallow running hardbodies.
Tidal changes are prime bite time, try to plan your session an hour or two either side of a tide change. When it comes to the time of the day or, for that matter, night, well, it’s anyone’s guess. For me it has to be day, only because I can’t stand night fishing.
There is abundant artificial structure throughout the Port, from breakwalls, moored boats, bridges, oyster racks and even wharfs.
Oyster racks are probably the most abundant. Racks are ideal hidey-holes for bream, flathead and whiting but beware, those oysters are razor-sharp and even the toughest of fluorocarbon doesn’t stand a chance.
Port Stephens/Nelson Bay is such a large waterway that even after 20years of exploring and fishing, I still find something new.Reads: 20171