Sydney harbour has fished very well so far this season and with the peak months of feb to May ahead of us I think we are in for a real piscatorial treat. Kings have been great with the big fish getting bigger by the season and plenty of rats to medium sized fish to back them up. We have seen the best surface fish action in many years with bonito, tailor, salmon and small kings in abundance. Jewfish continue to increase in number in the harbour after the removal of commercial fishing as do the flatties and bream.
Also, some very exciting news recently that the Fisheries minister Niall Blair is set to declare the whole of Sydney harbour a recreational fishing haven. This means no future angler lockouts or marine parks and I’m sure that the minister will benefit greatly from the support of the one million strong NSW fishing fraternity. It also ensures him full support for future fisheries management strategies which are proven to be a more effective conservation tool than token, green appeasing, lock outs. Well done minister.
Here is a bit of a rundown on how to tackle the harbours current fantastic pelagic run.Trolling lures is a great way of finding some species. It works exceptionally well on bonito, tailor and salmon. Its success rate on kingies is poorTrolling the headlands, particularly north, south and middle heads is the preferred option when the fish or the baitfish cannot be visually or electronically located in open water. Different species prefer certain locations. North and south heads produce lots of bonito but we hardly ever get tailor there. Tailor are much more common along middle head and the run between grotto and dobroyd points. Of course, with their highly mobile nature any of the pelagics can be expected to turn up anywhere.
In fact, strong concentrations of bait fish have been known to lead some of the more oceanic orientated pelagics well up into the mangrove country. A few seasons back bonito, frigates and kingies were thick as far up as Bantry bay, well above the spit bridge. Don’t discount the shallows either, I’ve seen mac tuna and frigates raid baitfish in 18 inches of water. Trolling is best done with minnow style lures. Metal baitfish profiles and skirted type lures the likes of Christmas trees are good when the fish are high up in the water. Those types of lures will ride high at the trolling speeds required for pelagics (4-8 knts). Minnows offer deep diving capabilities or at least reliable depth control. My favourites are rapalas CD7 and 9 and Producer lures Barra Mauler No4 and 5 after an upgrade on the Producers hooks.
A trolling pattern must be established in order to locate the concentrations of fish. This usually involves a close run first and then moving a little bit wider on each run after that. Troll both directions on each run because its common to find fish biting in one direction and not the other. Keep an eye on your sounder for baitfish concentrations, other boats trolling to see where and what they are catching and so you don’t run into them, birds working the surface, current lines and most importantly gnarly waves, bombies etc.
Most people I know would rather cast to pelagic fish than troll for them. What do you do though if you want to cast a lure or fly to pelagics but can’t visually or electronically find them? Troll until you find them and then cast. You can locate fish by blind casting to likely looking spots but on average it will be a slower process.
All the pelagics, even silver trevally, at one time or another will work bait on the surface. At these times they can be visually located, often kilometres away, by looking for the accompanying flocks of seabirds cashing in on the left-over baitfish. Not every surface feeding school has birds but even they can be visually located just by looking for the surface disturbance. Obviously good sea conditions make the job a lot easier.
There are times when the erupting schools will be heard before they are seen.When the time comes to approach the school there’s a few things to keep in mind. Don’t charge right up to, and never into, the feeding school as this will almost certainly put them down. There exceptions to this, where a rapid approach is essential. Certain species will, at times, feed in very short bursts and if you are not there quick you will miss your shot. You must approach fast but keep your distance. The obvious distance to pull up is at the extremities of your personal casting range.
A classic example of fish that feed in quick bursts are northern bluefin or strippies. A common mistake made in this situation is for anglers to take a slow, cautious approach to these schools. Most fishos conclude that the fish disappear when their boat approaches because of the fish being spooked by the boat. Occasionally this is probably true but if you sit back for a while and just observe their feeding pattern it soon becomes apparent that they are feeding in short bursts regardless of whether the boat approaches or not. It’s generally just coincidence that the time you take to get to them is roughly about the same time as their feeding bursts.
This short-burst feeding pattern could be the result of the fish trying to avoid becoming prey, themselves, to sharks or marlin etc or it could be linked to loosely schooled baitfish or even a hearding tactic. When they are feeding like this the slow cautious approach will gain nothing but frustration. Drifting in the general area and waiting for the fish to come by the boat occasionally pays off. I’ve found the best approach it to get just within casting distance as quickly as possible and let fly. Speed is the essence in this situation.
You must consider your boat shadow as this will put fear into your school long before the engine noise. Shadows are the early warning sign of a large predator where engine noise is unfamiliar and fish have proven to be to be far warier of dangers that they are familiar with. The basic rule is to never get between the sun and the fish. The lower the sun is in the sky the more this applies.Try to anticipate the direction that the fish are moving and be sure not to but your boat in their path.In windy conditions you can use the wind to make a quite approach on a school but position your drift to take you along side the school and not over the top of it.
With experience it becomes possible to identify the species by the manner in which they are feeding. The benefit of this aids in lure selection and rig. For example, you don’t want to throw your favourite soft plastic at frenzied tailor. You might decide to rig a short length of wire ahead of your fly if you know you are dealing with tailor but would definitely steer clear of wire if you knew they were mac tuna. Lure selection in these situations is more a matter of size than type or colour. You are all familiar with the concept of ‘matching the hatch’ but how do we determine the hatch. The term arose in the trout fields where the hatch was quite obvious. It was probably airborne and tangling in your big moustache or tweed hat. It’s not always that easy when your hatch is under water.
Seabirds help a lot. They won’t even show up unless it’s worth their while. A birdless patch of feeding pelagics usually indicates that the prey is very tiny. And to the other extreme, the bigger the patch of birds the bigger the prey. Tiny bait inhaled whole leaves little to interest a seagull, but a four-inch pilchard chopped in half by a tailor or stunned by a crushing blow from a kingie certainly provides an easy and worthwhile target. If you are lucky you might even see the prey as it showers from the water in an effort to escape. If all else fails, start with your smallest lure and work your way up. Fish homed in on a certain size prey will regularly eat something smaller but rarely anything bigger.
It is generally accepted that a high-speed retrieve is essential for pelagics which is true if you are using weak actioned lures like metal slugs. Strong actioned or slow sinking lures like flies, spoons, minnows and soft plastic stick baits do not require the same speed to entice a strike. The problem with metal slugs is that they are so un-lifelike on a slow retrieve. My favourites amongst the casting lures include Rapala minnow spoon, wonder wobblers, slugos and raiders.
Never assume that the fish you are seeing on the top are necessarily the fish you are catching. In these situations, it is not uncommon for fish of different species to layer, ie Salmon on top, bonito under them and then trevally under them. Your first few casts should be retrieved immediately but later casts should be allowed to sink to varying depths before the retrieve. Many pleasant surprises have come from this technique. Silver trevally rarely feed right on top but are quite common below the salmon. They will take lures at these times, often on the fall.
Kings are regulars below tailor and bonito. The first sign of them is when one follows a hooked tailor or bonnie up to the boat.
Kingies are the easiest of all the pelagics to locate but usually the hardest to catch. Their biggest downfall is their love of shade but to some extent it’s also their saviour. Structure creates shade. Structure is very easy for us to locate but it also gives the kings something to wrap us around. They will face into the current when they are holding Avoid lures that rattle for kingies and that includes anything with trebles and split rings. Slug go is no.1 but you will occasionally get away with poppers as the splashing sound helps mask the rattling of the hooks and rings.
Article by –Craig McGill