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Mulloway Magic

Mulloway are one of these fish that inspire obsession in many anglers. Brisbane-based KRIS SWERES has been bitten by the jewie bug and here he details his first forays into understanding these great sportfish.

IF my personal mulloway fishing efforts were likened to a golf game I would definitely fall into the “hacker” category. Mixed results are common place for me. A flathead or two of better than average proportions is a welcome by-catch but regularly hitting that jewie pay dirt is few and far between. So what’s the deal? Why spend so much time targeting such an elusive quarry? Anyone who’s seen that first silvery bronze flash of a jewfish slipping up from the depths will know the feeling. It is fishing magic. Couple that with drag screaming runs and massive head shakes and it’s not hard to see why mulloway are so sought after. 

Jewfish Facts

Argyrosomus hololepidotus, or mulloway, are also known as jewfish with smaller models affectionately known as soapies or schoolies. They have the potential to grow to massive proportions with fish known to have tipped the 45kg mark but common sizes range from bubs to nice fish in the 5-10 kg mark. 

They are mostly silver with a purplish/grey, green, or bronze coloured back. They also possess a line of silver/white spots that follow the lateral line and sometimes have a black mark at the pectoral fin base. Mulloway also possess a distinctive vivid orange colour on the inside of their mouth which is present from an early age.

The mulloway belongs to a world-wide family of croakers, grunter and drum. In Australia, mulloway are found southwards from about Rockhampton in Queensland, around the southern half of the continent to at least Carnarvon and possibly Exmouth in northern Western Australia. In northern waters the black jewfish, a very close relative of the mulloway,  is a very popular sportfishing target.

The southern mulloway’s usual habitats include the upper tidal limits of coastal rivers right down to the mouths, rock walls and beaches . While mulloway can tolerate water that is almost completely fresh, they are rarely found so far upstream. Inshore reef areas and headlands where any significant structure is found will usually hold schools of jewfish of various sizes.

Larger specimens possess a pair of white ear bones or otoliths within their skull which resemble jewels, thus the common name “jewfish”. The purpose of these “jewels” is still widely unknown but I have heard theories that range from calcium build up to communication tools. Jewfish also “croak” when brought onboard. 

They are opportunistic predators, feeding on a variety of fish, molluscs and crustaceans. For me, however, live prawns, tailor and bloodworms are the stellar baits. That said, the boom in soft plastic fishing has seen a very large percentage of fish now being regularly targeted with this ammunition with brilliant results.

Mulloway are also one of the best table fish in the ocean. 

Times & Techniques

Having yarned with many an old timer about preferred targeting times for jews I have come to the conclusion that three factors can really improve your results. Firstly, a slack in the tide is the most consistent way of increasing your catch rates. That means you focus your efforts when the tide starts to slow down and even stops running. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is the top or bottom of the tide. Secondly, if you can time your jewie session with the slack tide just before sun up or (my preferred time) just on dark you will certainly be upping your chances. 

Lastly is structure. Like most fish, mulloway rely on structure and will happily nose in behind a rock bar or wharf pylon till the tide slows enough for them to feed.

Of course, every angler will have his/her preferred times but the other factor that is hugely important is bait/lure presentation.  Having mentioned the above three points there are also moon phases, barometer readings and pre-storm fishing moments that could also be  said to play a part; but for me tide and darkness are most critical. The moon  is still something that I am certain influences jewfish bite patterns but I’d be guessing at this stage to offer a theory. Of course bait, particularly prawn movements, have a lot to do with this. It’s all a bit of a puzzle sometimes but applying logical theories to any species seems to get the best results (and heated discussions amongst anglers!)

Baits & Lures

Jewfish can be very fickle when it comes to what they will be happy to eat. By starting off with the freshest possible baits you will, however, be at an advantage. Anything that is still alive is worth putting down for a look but if you manage to spin up a few legal chopper tailor they are absolute gold. A hook full of writhing bloodworms is also an absolute cracker. Live tiger prawns can hardly make it to the bottom when the mood is right and rank up there with the best baits in the ocean for all species so never go past them.

All this being said I have also heard stories of service station bought mullet gut catching more than its fair quota of big fish, so start fresh and work backwards. The key will be to offer a bit of variety and be prepared to mix it up a bit.

As well as having a bait or two in the water I like to throw around lures when searching out fish. Lures that can get  to bottom seem to be the “go to” choice for me but guys regularly target fish, particularly at night, with big poppers. One lure that has been brilliant for me is the Japanese-made Jackall Transam. These are a range of soft bodied vibe style lures that have a similar size to most baitfish in Australian estuaries. The “bite” with these lures can be just a subtle thud or a heart wrenching run but either way they really work well. Care should be taken when using them around structure as they have a pair of extra sharp trebles that love hooking onto wood and rocks! Anglers will often get best results when quickly giving the rod tip two or three violent jerks and then pause to let the lure head back to the bottom. Most takes will be on the drop so watch your line carefully for jewfish pick up the lure.

The Berkeley and Squidgy range of soft plastics are dynamite with Flick Baits and Turtleback worms being my two absolute favourites. Fished slow and deep seems to get best results and losing one to structure is not as painful as an imported top shelf hard-bod. A heavy-ish jig head is useful, especially in deeper estuaries, but more importantly go for a quality brand. TT and Nitro’s heavy duty range are a good place to start. Depending on current flow and tides, the head weight should be enough to get you to the bottom without making your lure look like a bomb. Something that resembles a “wafting” morsel will always get more attention than not and that seems to apply to most fishy predators.

All in all, the whole mulloway fishing thing is still a massive learning curve for me and can still be extremely “hit and  miss”. It’s true to say, however, that few fish that swim  get my heart racing more than these magnificent beasts  and just seeing one regardless of size is enough to keep me absolutely hooked!

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