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South Coast longtails

EVERY year, excitement buzzes along the NSW South Coast ledges as anglers eagerly anticipate the return of a familiar phenomenon. The question on everyone’s mind is, “Will they come back like they have in years past”?

While there has always been sporadic catches of longtail tuna (Thunnus Tonggol) off the South Coast rocks for many years and still too this day by recreational fishers, the last three years have brought an unprecedented abundance. This influx of longtail tuna has sparked a wave of exhilaration among land-based anglers to catch a land-based “South Coast bluefin”.

The only time I’ve ever heard of fish like this was during the early 1960s to late 1980s era. At the time, anglers were bestowed with the exhilarating opportunity to witness the presence of yellowfin being caught off the stones and numerous sizeable longtails weighing between 15-25kg were successfully caught on the South Coast by male and female anglers. To watch them reel in those massive fish would of been a true spectacle!

Several factors have likely played a role in the abundance of longtail tuna off the South-East Coast.

This could be due to the strong La Niña weather pattern that had been occurring over the past three years. This has created favourable water conditions because of the push of warmer water towards the eastern side of Australia.

Additionally, the range of longtail tuna varies seasonally due to the eastern Australian current (EAC) often referred to as the “river of life”. They will be at their most southerly extent during the Australian summer and autumn months. The present abundance of “scuppers” 8kg longtail tuna are mixed in with 12kg plus fish indicates that the EAC current is pushing strongly and that their optimal habitat has shifted further south.

Larger fish have a smaller area to body volume, so they lose less heat and are capable of tolerating colder waters smaller fish cannot unless their physiological needs is satisfied. This supports the theory of being in their optimal habitat.

Due to no official catch statistics, only from fisher observation, without more specific information it’s challenging to pinpoint the exact factors contributing to this phenomenal run of longtails with certainty.

This journey began in mid February 2021 when word got out about a catch of a longtails at Little Beecroft. Intrigued by the rumor, a group of determined anglers dedicated their time and effort to pursue this elusive catch. Countless afternoons were spent tirelessly walking that bush track of Beecroft after work, turning weeks into an endless pursuit of a “South Coast blue”.

Like any land-based fishing, it comes with sacrifices; it becomes an all consuming obsession that pushes anglers to their limits to achieve the results required. Although there’s always that one fortunate angler who lands one in their first session, for most of us success comes from investing time and effort.

Eventually, Brett Rushton had an surprising but anticipated encounter with a longtail on the 2nd of March, which at first appeared to be just another stroke of luck. However, a day later, both Kyle Lack and Brett Rushton experienced a double hook-up, leading us to believe that luck was playing a significant role. But everything changed on March 16th when all the anglers on the ledge: Brett Rushton, Kyle lack & Shaun Corbett, and myself, hooked and landed a longtail tuna each. This was an unheard of event on the south coast, and it left us all in a state of shock and pure bliss. We couldn’t believe what we were witnessing.

The news of this remarkable phenomenon stayed under wraps for weeks until it eventually spread, enticing other anglers to give it a go as well.

On April 16th, 2021, the fishing gods decided to bless us with an unforgettable day. Not only were longtails on our lines but even marlin couldn’t resist the temptation. It was a day of epic battles and tales for anglers. As for me, I had an inkling that this day held something special, so I slyly chucked a sickie to try and get away from work, leaving my responsibilities behind. I entrusted my gear to Kyle, who obediently carried it down for me. Little did I know, he had a cheeky surprise waiting in the pool, teasing me with a fat slimy.

Positioned on the northern side, I cast my slimy out, while my partner stood confidently on the opposite ledge. My rod started to pull a steady amount of mono off and I couldn’t contain my excitement as I yelled to Kyle, “I’m on! It’s a tuna!” I put my reel in strike and the ratchet was screaming. But, to my surprise, Kyle wasn’t running towards me to witness my epic catch. No, he had his sights set on something even grander – a marlin. It was as if time stood still, every sound, movement and breath seemed amplified. Adrenaline ran through our veins to conquer these fish.

As Kyle successfully released his marlin, my tuna ended up on my dinner plate.

One particular day saw almost 50 anglers from all across the country gathering on the ledge, eager to participate in the thrilling pursuit of catching a marlin and tuna. Among the impressive catches was an 18.5kg tuna landed by Kyle Lack.

The following day, despite the challenging strong Westerly winds at the ledges inside Jervis bay, Chad Bradbury and a few other courageous anglers continued their adventure. While others retreated due to the unfavorable conditions, they displayed their resilience by successfully hooking and landing not just one, but two marlins and eight tuna.

That year plenty of anglers along the coastline of the South Coast down to the sapphire coast were able to reel in some impressive catches.

Fishing for longtails on the South Coast not only offered the convenience of being just a stone’s throw away from home, but also the absence of sharks like the North Coast. This allowed anglers to fully immerse themselves in the thrill of battling these fish head-to-head, as they dived and darted around submerged boulders in the deeper waters added an extra challenge for anglers to require skills to navigate fish around them.

In the current year, we were fortunate enough to offer an incredible fishing experience on numerous occasions, with the added advantage of minimal crowds and smaller crews, we all returned to our everyday lives. During this time, a significant number of longtails were caught, prompting us to wonder if they will return in the same abundance as previous years. It’s important not to take this opportunity for granted; being able to catch tuna near our doorstep without having to travel long distances only for our catches to potentially be taken by sharks.

I find it hard to imagine going back to that situation again.

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