JEWFISH, also known as mulloway, have become such a sought-after and targeted species on the east coast of Australia.
Their diverse availability from the brackish headwaters of estuaries to the more saline mouths and bays, rocks and beaches to offshore reefs only adds to the increasing popularity. They’re accessible to the majority of Aussies.
When I first gravitated to the hustle and bustle of Sydney chasing the dollar it was rare to see other anglers chasing jewies. However, fast forward to 2018 and it’s uncommon not to see some budding hopefuls out chasing them, especially in estuaries.
Unfortunately stock levels are at a crippling low in NSW. Hopefully by the time you read this there might be a light at the end of the tunnel to help boost numbers back to acceptable wild levels. Fingers crossed we will see some sensible new commercial and recreational limits.
While numbers of fish are down, there are still fish around and with the available resources and information, catching one is very viable at this point in time, although it could be better!
When I started my quest for jewfish 20 odd years ago it began with soaking squid baits around some of the local beaches in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven area. Results were as expected for someone with no experience catching these prized sport fish. There was no internet and no chat rooms, so learning some secret tips was virtually non-existent apart from fishing magazines like this one. I guess that’s why I hold some loyalty toward the print media publications such as Fisho; I did learn a lot and was inspired to keep me going back.
Early articles from Steve Starling, Scott Mitchell and Greg Finney were the only source of information I had. I read them so many times I could almost recite them word-for-word.
Back then, catching jewfish was seen as “black magic” or “witch craft”, and I thought there is something “they know” that I don’t.
The penny dropped
Then it all changed…the jewfish penny began to drop not too long after the introduction of the Squidgies soft plastic range to Australia, about 2004. These lures, most notably the squidgy fish 80-100 mm, accounted for the odd incidental capture while chasing flathead and I began to piece a few clues together.
Millions of cast later and I could not begin to tally the hours of time on the water chasing these amazing creatures I can confidently say “I know” some or most of what I didn’t know all those years ago. It would be a fair bet a good percentage of people out there also “know” quite a bit about these fish, but catching their first or consistently catching jewies still eludes them.
Confidence is a huge key; it’s amazing after a few captures what once seemed so insurmountable starts to become expected and you know you have cracked the code.
So the million dollar question is how do I catch my first and, more so, how do I consistently catch jewies?
Dispel the myths!
Firstly there are a lot of common myths that surround jewfish. For example, moon phase. Forget everything you read about certain moons being better! I have caught them on every moon phase in the cycle. Sure there are peaks and troughs but tide plays a much larger factor. Having a lure or bait in the water gives you a much better chance than sitting at home waiting for those four days were the moon is right. Do you only eat when it is certain moon phase? I doubt it, and fish are not much different.
It also still amazes how people think jewies can only be caught at night. Just few days ago I returned to the ramp and a hopeful angler threw out the famous line:
“How did ya go?”
“Couple of jewfish. Was not too bad actually”
“Really! What just in the river?”
“Yeah not far from the bridge”
“Don’t they only appear near there at night?”
I just shook my head walking back to the car. Despite all the information out there, it’s hard to break the mould from all those years when catching them was a predominantly a night time affair. Well, guess what? They can be caught during both day and or night. At night I tend to find the fish in areas you may not locate them during the day but this is something that will only be learned with time on the water as each system can vary.
Another part of the unbreakable jewfish mould when bait-fishing is to free-spool the bait to the fish and wait for the second run before hooking them. Fish don’t have hands! If they move off with a bait it’s down their gob and that’s where you want your hook to be!
Okay, so we know to stop worrying about moon or time of day or a fish fiddling with the bait like a Rubik’s cube. This leaves only few other aspects – tide, bait or lure, and where. Get these three fundamentals 75 per cent correct and there’s a good chance you’ll encounter a jewie or two.
Tide and where
Tide is a vital component to the jewfish puzzle and being in the right spot at the right time will definitely see a much better chance in landing a fish. It may seem odd to talk about tide and location at the same instance, but stay with me…
There are two defined styles of targeting jewfish within estuary with bait and lures being equally as productive. Firstly, there is a deep hole, or adjacent area, targeting feeding and localised type of fish; and secondly, there is the travelling route or highway style of fishing which intercepts fish moving looking for an opportunistic meal.
If a spot has been identified as a deep hole or shallower area adjacent to deep water, this will be best targeted 1.5 hours either side of the change of tide; high or low will depend on the spot. In some spots it may not matter but others may only find it’s low tide, or vice versa. This can also allow you to have a much more mobile approach and fish several locations either further up or down the system as the tide changes vary almost up to three hours from the mouth to the upper reaches. This ability to cover more water and possibly find large concentrations of bait for the jewfish to hunt will certainly increase your likelihood of finding a fish. Personally I use this approach when fishing soft plastics and will work over a likely looking deep hole and adjacent areas in 30 minutes or less before moving to the next location if the bait is scarce and or no larger fish have been hooked or located on the sounder. If I choose this approach for bait fishing, the spots will be reduced to about three and have a good one hour difference in tide. That way I can fish each spot for about 1.5 hours and still be around the peak bite time.
Travelling route or “highway fishing” can at times be very productive, especially if fish are entering and leaving systems or bait is spread throughout and are not too localised. Simply looking at an overview map or google earth can help to identify these locations. Look for bottlenecks in the river where it narrows, river mouths, areas with narrow deeper channel over an expanse of river. Essentially, you’re looking for where the fish will be corralled into a smaller area as the move up and down a system from spot-to-spot or feeding. The trick is to set the trap and sit and wait as each school passes hopefully picking up the opportunistic feeders. This sit and wait approach usually means holding in the one spot for a good part of the tide cycle, which is either rising or falling. I find this approach to be much better on the larger tidal flows and when fishing with bait, as it can be hard to work a plastic in higher flows of water.
Bait or lure?
Both are equally as productive, but a few factors will determine where to concentrate your efforts. This doesn’t mean you can’t do both, especially if you have some baits out with the trap set. However, I do find a dedicated effort to one or other yields better results.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a boat with an electric motor then you’re well equipped to go down the plastic or soft vibe path. The electric motor will allow far better positioning and a level of stealth while probing casts around a likely area. Work the bottom third of the water column with either a single or double lift and then allow the lure to rest back down before commencing another lift. Any feeling of a bite or something unusual it is best to strike as if a jewfish has inhaled it this will set the hook. Try to cast toward shallower water working back toward the deep as active fish will move to shallower margins where the bait is to feed and ambush prey.
A good sounder is invaluable if lure or bait fishing. Always keep a keen eye out for bait and of course larger predators trailing them. Shags and pelicans are also another good indicator of food in the vicinity.
If land based lure fishing I’d keep a very mobile approach and try to cover large decent areas that are accessible. The Navionics phone app will help you identify where deeper water is adjacent to the land. You don’t necessarily need to fish the deepest water you could find but if there is some reasonable depth nearby and readily good food supply then you’re quite a few steps toward finding your target. Also, treat your car as a boat and move from spot to spot with the tide, this applies to using lures or bait.
For those that find the lure side of things daunting or don’t have a suitable boat, bait is going to be your port of call. Firstly, I must stress bait quality. Of course the odd fish is caught on a pilchard or frozen bottle squid. Though if you want the best possible chance or be far more consistent, fresh bait is best or at very least freshly vacuumed sealed. Jewfish will eat just about anything that will fit down there gob, but squid, yellowtail, pike, slimy mackerel, and tailor would rate up there as the top five for me. Now depending on whether you have picked a travelling route or feeding spot will depend on what rig is used and where the boat is positioned. Personally I always like to position the boat were the gradient or contour of the bottom changes, placing one bait on the gradient shallower and one bait on the flat deeper section. I also like to fish two different baits if possible, like a squid strip and a tailor or yellowtail butterflied or stripped. Some days you’ll find they’ll be all on one bait or all on one rod set deeper or shallower.
If the tide allows I like a simple rig of a running ball sinker straight to a 7/0 circle hook, if the tide is pushing hard it may need reasonable snapper or star sinker set running above a swivel with around 1m of 30-40 lb fluorocarbon.
Be sure to check your baits periodically every 10-15 minutes. There’s nothing worse than having the line in the water for half an hour or more with no bait on it.
Be sure to have your drag set in the rod holder 1.5-2 kg, a good jewfish 90 per cent of the time will hook itself, free-spooling a fish will only lead to it spitting the bait.
Take the time to evaluate your plan when targeting this species and it won’t take long till even a spur of the moment trip can yield results. Diligent attention to rigging, tides, bait quality, boat positioning and finding locations with good amounts food for the jewfish and the results will begin to speak for themselves.