How To Fish Structure in Sydney Harbour

Structure  , either man made or natural  , means different things to different fish . For some like leatherjackets and luderick  it’s a food source in the form of barnacles, weed ,  crustations and all the other critters that live on the structure itself . Predatory fish on the move  ,  the likes of  bonito and salmon , could  find  the baitfish that hang around a marker buoy a convenient  and reliable feed stop even if these predators do not  find the structure itself attractive . You will catch bonito  , tailor and salmon around a buoy but they rarely stay long. Kings on the other hand will use a buoy  to hunt food  , as a reference point ,  for shade while they have a rest or all of the above. They will hang around structure even if it has no food supply and use it as a ‘base’ from which to mount  hunting trips to the nearby shallow kelp beds or other food supply.


Other structure like reefs  , rocky points and headlands and bridge pylons  cause a diversion on the current  creating  pressure points , eddies ,  upwelling’s and scouring of the substrates . This creates all kinds of hunter/prey scenarios as well as discolouring water  and  mixing temperatures.  And if that is not complicated enough  it all reverses when the tide changes.

Other fish like jews will use structure for protection from predators  during their long resting periods. Its not uncommon to find jews backed into a cave or wreck. They can rest easy in here at least knowing that their arse is covered from predators , so to speak.

Fishes relationship to structure is similar to ours  in that we are both  generally fringe dwellers . Our deserts are about as attractive to us as the open  , featureless oceans are to fish . Its no co-incidence that our prime real-estate is either waterfront or elevated  and I can assure it goes deeper than just the views. Food and shelter are the primary concerns for all species  and structure, features and fringes and their interactions provide the best balance of both of these.



A general rule for all structure fishing is to  concentrate you efforts around the turn of the tides. As mentioned above , when the tide turns everything reverses  . What this means is that baitfish that were sitting pretty on a pressure point of a headland or reef will now have to move round to a similar spot on the other side .  This means moving through dangerous water and predators will take advantage of this .  It works right through the food chain .  Prawns sitting in the cover of dirty water created by an eddy will find themselves vulnerable when the eddy shifts .  Squid that were comfortable with their ambush point amongst the kelp will not find that spot as favourable when the water changes direction. They go in search of a better spot but in doing so put them selves at risk. Mussels  uncovered by the scouring effects of an eddy will again be covered by silt when the tide changes . They are now safe but elsewhere a new eddy will be uncovering new mussels . The bream will shift round the headland to find the new mussels but on their way they have to pass a jewfish cave.



The significance of a channel marker be it a pole , buoy  or lighthouse  structure similar to Sydney harbours famous wedding cakes  is twofold. They are themselves a structure which will attract all sorts of marine life but they also mark some sort of natural structure.  This gives you two choices  . You can fish the buoy or you can fish the point or reef that it marks.

The man made feature doubles the effect of the natural structure.  One of Sydney harbours popular kingfish spots  is a submerged secondary  cliff face that runs parallel to the cliffs of north head .  It was always a good spot but when Sydney Ferries  dropped a wave measuring buoy right next to it it became a fantastic spot.  The downside of buoys is that they become  over crowded  with  inexperienced fishos or those without depth sounders or who cant read the one they have .  To a new chum a marker buoy is a quick-fix alternative  to finding  some unmarked structure. I’ve got no gripe with that  but the downside is that you have to put up with the crowds . With thirty other fishos all fishing the same spot  , naturally your chances are reduced. To many fishos a chanell marker is akin to  big neon sign that reads ‘Fish Here’



I like to fish  up-current of most structure . Obviously this means that you will have to change sides when the tide changes. Holding predatory  fish  will always face up current . There’s  a long held myth that fish will hold in the eddy behind the structure. This might be true for sedentary species like bream but the big  , fast predators will always sit on the pressure wave created on the front of a structure . They are first in line for anything coming downstream  , have their arses covered by the structure from attack from behind and  have a good clean water flow over their gills . Eddy’s are often dirty which might suit jews and bream but definitely not most pelagics.


One of the fastest ways to see if there are any active predators  (particularly kings – the main target of the buoy fisho ) is with a  quick scan with a lure. A stickbait the likes of Slug-go or any of its imitators  would be your weapon of choice and I would start unweighted on an offset worm hook. Work it as a popper for the first few casts and then work it down to about mid depth . If this hasn’t produced a strike then use the same lure on a weighted jig head and prospect from the bottom up to mid depth. A little trick I have found will spark kings into action is to change your presentation angle after about 10 casts . This is a pain if you are at anchor and is most suited to drift casters.


Ship wrecks are a great form of man made structure in that  they  create eddy’s and upwelling’s and effectively  , from a fishes point of view , create a monumental cave . Jewfish love caves. The downside of ship wrecks is that they do not last for ever and as they decay  become less effective fish attractors. Wrecks that survive for hundreds of years usually do so because they are either in incredibly deep water of they periodically get covered over completely with sediment. Either way they are no good to fishos in this state.


Wrecks can be a nightmare on tackle and this is where a good sounder and scrupulous attention to anchoring and bait presentation pay off.  To lure inactive jews into a bite you will need to land your bait on the sand next to the wreck . If you overshoot you will inevitably snag up , if you aren’t close enough  you wont tempt them out.  Tide changes are an ideal time to fish here as the jews will move out to feed  but you need to be on  the ball because they are on their way to feeding grounds elsewhere and you will only get a short time to hit them.


Bridges are good but because they are usually in relatively shallow water they often make a better night time proposition.  Bridge builders naturally look for narrow spots in a river  and narrows of this nature are usually created by rock bars. So you will inevitably get shallow, fast moving water and upwelling’s.  These are top spots for big predators to hunt but they will never spend too long here due to the high energy expenditure need to maneuver in the fast water.  Small prey either  hang in the pressure waves and eddy’s or come out and struggle in the fast water . Either way they make easy prey to larger fish whose bulk allow them more control in the current.  The ultimate bridge fishing is done at night using poppers or shallow running lures worked slowly along the ‘light line’ where the bridges shadow is cast on the water by the street lights. Always work the up-current side of the bridge.


Pylons and structure like jetties, yacht moorings and baths  support a smorgasbord of tasty marine life for the more sedentary mollusk and crustation eaters like bream and leatherjackets and algae eaters like blackfish and surgeon fish.   The juveniles of these species in turn attract the slower predators like flathead and John dory.  High tide seems to be prime time for this sort of fishing , the theory being that marine growth proliferates on pylons around the intertidal zone. You don’t have to sit for long on a jetty before you see leatherjackets feeding on the top two feet of a pylon at high tide. My tip for this style of fishing is to fish as close as you can for the likes of jackets  , bream , surgeon and luderick but always have a live bait a few meters wider.  You can be sure a predator wont be far off. I’ve found kings holding under yacht moorings in eight feet of water while spinning for flatties.



Reefs and rocky headlands provide habitat for probably the greatest variety of  fish of any of the structures mentioned.  Anchoring is critical hear as the area where the reef meets the sand is by far the most productive.  Fishing on top of a reef produces  bags of ooglies like eels,  kelpies wrasse and unidentified , not to mention plenty of  snags. The exception to this is flying visits from predators looking for squid and baitfish . They wont stop though and will always be found holding around the fringes. The upside to this is that at least you know that  pelagics  zipping over the top of a reef are looking for food whereas holding fish may not necessarily be all that hungry. Its also worth mentioning that if you find a reef that has a high yield of  undesirables then it is probably a good fishing spot for more desirable fish  as the ooglies are the first to diminish on heavily fished reefs.


Another form of structure found in the upper reaches of rivers and estuaries are rock bars and  snags in the form of fallen trees.  These are baitfish and crustation magnets and in turn attract both scavenger and predator alike.  They tend to fish better towards the bottom half of the tide as baitfish are concentrated by the receding water.  As mentioned fish holding on structure will face upcurrent  so present your bait or lures from above the bar or snag. Old snag seem to be more productive than new ones that still have their leaves as are snags near creek junctions .



The last sort of feature worth mentioning is sand bars and drop-offs.  At high tide the likes of whiting and  bream will move up onto sand banks to access critters living in the sand that would otherwise be dry at low tide. Stealth approach is essential here as they will spook easily in shallow water.  Just as pelagics will make flying visits in search of food over reef tops they will also come onto the flats at high . I’ve seen bonito , frigate mackerel  and surprisingly large kings speeding through as little as three ft of water.  I’ve caught them while spinning for flatties but if you are going to target them speed and accuracy is the essence. Have your bail open and anticipate the fishes direction . You will probably only get one cast. Its challenging but once you have hooked a king in shallow water there is no going back .

Drop-offs work better on the falling tide as fish wait for the bait to be forced off the flats. Flathead is the main target but  , once again , don’t underestimate their potential for pelagic raids. Keep your lures tight to the bottom and work them from the shallow water into the deep .

Article by — Craig McGill





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