Tuesday, March 5, 2024
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South Coast fishing seasons

AS fishos, most of us are attuned to the weather and seasons as they change each year. To the non-fisher, I guess winter means cold weather and summer means BBQs, thongs and beach weather.

To the fisho, each season means so much more than a change in weather or temperature. We know what changes in the environment around us. We are closely in touch with weather and temperature changes but also in how our home waters and available species change with each season. In 42 years on the NSW south coast I’ve seen more than 160 seasons.

I’ve seen freezing cold and mild winters. I’ve experienced hot summers that melted roads and brought devastating bush fires. I’ve seen howling westerly winds in August that took the roofs off houses. I’ve also seen incredible marlin fishing in February and March. Southern bluefin tuna in July and yellowfin in September. Let’s have a closer look at the NSW south coast seasons and what they bring the fisho each year.

Spring

Once winter is over and done with the fishing changes again. The water slowly warms and the estuaries and rocks start to fire. Bream and flathead start to move around in the estuaries and bass and EPs start to feed in the upper reaches of the Shoalhaven River. Anywhere upstream of the Nowra bridge will produce fish. The last 12 months have seen a lot of rain in the enormous catchment that feeds the Shoalhaven but it hasn’t seemed to have deterred the fishery. Some very nice EP’s and bass are on offer from spring to the end of summer.

As the snapper start to move out wide, reefs in the 40 to 50 metre depths fish well on micro jigs, plastics and bait. Find a bit of a drop off or humps and you’ll often find reds schooled up near it. A bit of current usually helps, especially if you’re bait fishing and trying to get a berley trail established. Some kingfish will still be around our on the reefs and under the cliffs so it’s well worth slow trolling or down rigging a live squid or slimey mackerel. It’s not unusual to see a late run of yellowfin in spring so keep your ears open and be ready to head wide if you hear anything.

It’s the estuaries that are my focus these days as spring rolls around. This is the time to nail a big flathead on a soft plastic or swim bait. Find some baitfish in any of the estuaries and pepper the area with lures. We’ve caught some big fish whipping plastics in spring but I’ve also caught some thumpers as bi-catch while chasing mulloway with vibes or Slick Rigs. Any of the estuaries are also worth a shot if you’re a bream fanatic. In spring you’ll find bream on the flats feeding on shells and prawns or out in the deep hanging with bait schools. Pepper the flats with hard bodies or lightly weighted Clone Prawns or fish the deep with grubs, vibes or Mussel Vibes. The Basin, Conjola and Burrill all fish well for bream and flathead in spring with some very nice fish on offer. It’s still not too late for a jewie either.

Summer

As well all know, the weather and waters warm as summer approaches. This is simply because the southern hemisphere is closer to the sun in it’s orbit from December to February. Temperatures rise to the mid-teens overnight and can get into the mid and even high thirties on hot days. This heats the land and while the ocean can warm to 23 or 24 degrees, the temperature variation between land and sea produces prevailing onshore NE winds by mid-morning on most days. We also experience warm and very humid weather for several days before a cool southerly change works its way up the coast, often bringing a severe storm with it.

To the fisho, summer means a lot of things. The warmer waters sees baitfish and prawns in the estuaries become active. This in turn brings the predators out. Bream, flathead and whiting move back onto the flats. With a 10-15 knot NE behind, this makes for some excellent flats fishing with stickbaits and bent minnows. The deeper estuary waters also produce at this time of year with flathead actively chasing baitfish. Summer is also cicada season and, for those in the know, this can produce some awesome bream fishing along tree lined banks where big bream just sit and wait for a hapless cicada to fall in the water. Stopping those big bream so close to cover in cicada lures is a sure way to blow $50 in a mornings lure casting. The summer NE winds also get a bit of wind chop on the estuary water surfaces which many aerates that water to a certain degree and promotes feeding by predators. I know many local anglers who don’t chase flathead until the NE breeze starts to blow around 9 or 10 each morning.

Summer also sees the East Coast Current work its way down the NSW coast. It starts in far north Queensland and usually hits the south coast by early January. This is what brings warm water and gamefish to the south coast each summer and into autumn. The NSW south coast is gamefish heaven over summer and autumn on a good year with black, striped and blue marlin available along with mahi mahi. That warm current pushes down the entire east coast and brings baitfish, plankton and the predators. It all starts to happen in January with the black marlin which are predominantly inshore and will be hooked at The Banks and Mount Fuji to the north. By February and March, the stripes will have turned up out wide along the shelf and hanging around bait schools of slimey mackerel or cowanyoung. By April the odd blue marlin will be hanging around out wide as well.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the outstanding land based game (LBG) fishing opportunities  in the Currarong and Jervis Bay area every summer. January through March is when black marlin move into Jervis Bay to feed and the small ones will enjoy some time out of that current outside. The Torpedo Tubes are world famous for producing marlin to 150 kg from the shore. Probably the best LBG on the planet. Yes, it gets crowded every weekend and it’s tough but if you want a land based marlin this is one of the few locations on earth where you can do it.

The fishing opportunities over summer are endless on the NS W south coast. The many lakes and estuaries such as St George’s Basin, Conjola and Burrill Lake all produce some enormous flathead and bream. The ocean rocks are good for blackfish and drummer. The inshore reefs still fish well for snapper and kingfish. The Jervis Bay beaches will produce whiting and bream on stickbaits and cranks. The Shoalhaven River fishes well for flathead and the odd mulloway with a heap of bass available in the upper reaches. The local beaches fish well for bream and whiting on worms or pipis. There’s always somewhere to fish in a NE wind or a stiff southerly so it’s really only terrible weather or a very rare east coast low that makes everything off limits.

Autumn

Autumn is really when just about everything fires on the south coast. The months leading up to the start of winter see just about everything on the chew. The estuaries and lakes are fishing well for bream, flathead and whiting. A few jewies are starting to move around in the rivers and larger lakes. Snapper are starting to move inshore and feed up for winter breeding. Luderick are thick off the many rock platforms doing the same. The ocean and inshore reefs are alive with various baitfish and everything is on the chew and feeding up for winter. The gamefish scene is still happening with striped marlin out wide along with kingfish on the inshore reefs. Some years see an early run of yellowfin tuna or albacore out on the continental shelf.

Autumn sees a slowing of the stiff summer NE sea breezes and the weather is usually quite settled before winter starts to creep in. The days are getting a little shorter and the mornings a little crisper. It’s probably my favourite time of the year as far as weather and fishing goes. It seems most  years, that everything is on the bite with nice weather and cooler nights. Looking back over a heap of photos in my external hard drive I see a heap that I selected for this piece that were taken in March through May. The influx of baitfish in the form of whitebait and pilchards has many predators on the shew in autumn. The beaches are producing salmon, tailor and jewfish all based around the presence of baitfish. The estuaries are all fishing well due to the influx of bait also.

There’s probably not much that you can’t catch in autumn. It’s my favourite time to fish the ocean rocks due to settled weather, calm seas and heaps of blackfish and drummer available. The rocks are also producing snapper and in recent years we’ve seen longtail and mackerel tuna fall to live baits and lures on several Jervis Bay and Currarong platforms. The beaches are producing mulloway for the night time bait fishermen. The inshore reefs and Jervis Bay are starting to be visited by kingfish and some big kings are hanging around under the Currarong cliffs. Some big squid are also on offer in Jervis Bay as the water starts to cool. March and April are prime time for striped marlin out wide of Jervis Bay at the Canyons and Kink.

Winter

By the time June rolls around you could think you were in a different part of the world to where you were over summer. The weather has cooled significantly and the days are much shorter but the fishing has changed in a very big way. Gone are the days of warm water, baitfish and everything eating baits and lures. Winter is when a lot of our local species breed and when many head north to warmer water. Our coastline is also inundated with humpback whales as they journey north to escape the cold water. However, winter offers some great sportfishing and bait fishing opportunities on the NSW south coast.

Snapper move inshore and into Jervis Bay to breed. This makes them a target for lure and bait fishermen. We’ve enjoyed some great reddie sessions over winter in Jervis Bay and on the inshore reefs with soft plastics and pilchards. I prefer the soft plastics these days but a pilchard cube trail and lightly weighted pillies on a 3 hook rig will catch you a lot more. When fishing soft plastics, I like a 5/0 hook and 6 or 7 inch plastic with a ¼ ounce head. Fish them slow and on the drop with very gentle twitches now and then. Winter also sees the local jewfish available in the estuaries and from the beaches. The Shoalhaven River fishes well over the cooler months and don’t think you need to be down near the entrance and fishing at night. Up river of the bridge produces good fish during a high or low tide change when the water slows and baitfish start to move around.

Winter is also kingfish time down here. They’ll be at The Banks and Shallows in June and July but also in Jervis Bay. You’ll get them on jigs or live baits outside but live slimies or squid will get you connected to a big one in Jervis Bay at Long Nose or the Middle Ground. While you’re in Jervis Bay it would pay to flick a squid jig around. We get some of our best squid fishing at any number of locations during winter. Look for 3 to 5 metre deep water and ribbon weed on the bottom. JB also fishes well for salmon and tailer in winter as do most of the local beaches. Tossing lures or pilchards will usually get you connected to a salmon.

Winter is when the local luderick travel into the estuaries to breed. We target them on fly but they can be tough at times when breeding takes preference to eating weed. While the luderick can be hard from the ocean rocks due to the winter breeding, you’ll get some drummer, bream and snapper by fishing lightly weighted baits in the washes. Another winter fishery is the large tailor in St George’s Basin. As the baitfish move off the flats and into deeper water, big tailor inhabit the Basin to feed. You’ll often see them up on top with bait balled up and birds working but you’ll also find when fishing vibes or plastics for flathead or jew. Most times you’ll lose a lure but a mouth hook up might keep you connected. These fish range up to over 80cm so they are worth chasing.

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Another very popular winter fishery is the offshore tuna. This may mean yellowfin at any time between March and November. They’ll normally work their way up the coast from Bermagui to Sydney but they may only be there for a few days before moving elsewhere. They cover a lot of territory in search of sauris and the fish can range from 30 to 80 kilos. The southern bluefin normally turn up in July and on a good year you may find them in 100 fathoms. Some years they can be out as far or 1000 fathoms and out of the range of most trailer boats. You can do a lot of trolling to find tuna but it’s always worth it when they grab a lure. In September 2021 there was a run of yellowfin all within 5 miles of Currarong and Jervis Bay. That lasted about 2 weeks and a lot of fish were caught on top water stickbaits and threadline tackle. Some of the fish were up to 80 kilos and hooked 500 metres off Point Perpendicular light house.

Well, there you have it. The NSW south coast in a nutshell. As you can see, it’s a very diverse fishery and a great part of the world to live in. It’s only a few hours from Sydney or Canberra and can get very busy and crowded over Christmas and Easter. There’s also a reason why so many fishing journalists and influencers live here. There’s just so much on offer all year round and a lot of it is world class. No, we don’t have the tropical species of Queensland, NT or WA but what we have is very special and the climate ain’t that bad either.

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