How to

Spring on the SHELF

Trailerboat Gamefishing

Now is the time to head offshore in search of yellowfin, albacore and crazy mako sharks. GREG FINNEY details gear and techniques.

SPRING on the NSW South Coast is one of my favourite gamefishing seasons. After a cold winter of snapper and squid fishing, I look forward to that first solid hookup like a single man looks forward to a one night stand with a hot blonde. Many years ago I used to enjoy chasing jumbo yellowfin tuna at The Banks, a famous reef system east of Greenwell Point, in spring, but the days of finding big (or any) yellowfin here are long gone. There’s still plenty of kings, though, and marlin in summer.

These days we spend most good spring weekends out wide in pursuit of school yellowfin, albacore and mako sharks. The past four or five seasons have been crackers and this one should be the same so let’s have a look at the species and how to make the most of their upcoming appearances.


Yellowfin Tuna

For many NSW South Coast game fishermen, the yellowfin tuna is the ultimate prize in spring. There’s not a lot more exciting than a solid yellowfin hookup and if that fish is in the 60 to 80 kilo size range then you’ll know what a sore back is all about. Yellowfin have a well earned reputation for fighting hard and slugging it out down deep until they’re completely exhausted. Any  angler who’s spent time chasing yellowfin will have a bad luck story about a big yellowfin lost after a long fight. They never give up and are one of the best looking gamefish on the planet.

You can catch yellowfin by trolling lures or cubing with bait. We’ve taken some good fish by cubing and under the right conditions it’s a very effective and fun technique. However, we spend more time trolling lures these days and we only pull up and cube if the fish are in a concentrated patch or of any size. The advantages of trolling are that you don’t need to organise, buy or store pilchards for cubing. Also, you can cover a bit of ground by trolling lures and maximise chances on scattered fish.

In spring we normally do a bit of trolling but if there’s a few big fish about we’ll put in the extra effort and take some pilchards and cube.

When trolling for yellowfin we normally run a couple of deep divers or bibless minnows off each corner and a couple of skirted lures from the outriggers. Most of the school fish in the 10 to 20 kilo size range come on the minnows but the odd large fish will grab a 6 or 8 inch skirt in green or Evil. We’ve had very good success with Rapala X-Raps over the past few years and I make no secret of the fact that we just about run these exclusively for yellowfin and albacore in spring. We run the 30 and 20 foot models on 24 and 15 kilo tackle for yellowfin with two metre leaders of 150lb Momoi trace. I like anything in green or lumo for yellowfin, but the pilchard and natural tones also work well. My favourite colour is D for Dorado.

We run an eight-inch JB Dingo in lumo green on 15 kilo tackle off one outrigger for larger fish or anything that wants a surface lure. If the water temp is above 20 degrees or there’s some bait about on top we’ll usually run an skirt for striped marlin off the other ­outrigger on 24. We’ve had stripes up behind the lures in early November so if the conditions are right don’t hesitate in putting a marlin lure out in the spread. Anything in Evil or blue and green slimy colours will work.

If you want to target a bigger yellowfin then there’s no doubt that cubing is the way to go. You can virtually pull up anywhere on or over the shelf and get a cube trail going but it helps to start where the fish are or likely to be. Unless fish are evident, troll around and find a few fish to start with or look for temperature breaks on the edges of a current line. If you have the contacts, find out if any long liners have been getting yellowfin and, if possible, where. We’ve also had good success by fishing in what I call “live water”. This is an obvious line or patch of water that may contain blue bottles, plankton or even those tiny blue sparkles. Find a patch of this water or even the edge of it and you’ll be in with a good chance.

There’s been a heap written on cubing for yellowfin over the years and I’m not going to repeat it all here. There are a few basics and few things that you MUST do if you want to be successful. Keep a steady trail of pilchard cubes going in as berley. We cut our pillies up into two or three pieces and feed a few back every minute or so. Keep the trail going, even if you hook up. When cubing use a small but solid circle hook and light trace of around 2.5m long. For school fish in the 15 to 30 kilo size range I like the Mustad Demon (Fine Wire) in 6/0 with 100 pound Ande Pink trace material. I’d normally fish this on eight or 10 kilo stand up tackle. For larger fish I go up to 150 pound Ande trace and use 15 or 24 kilo stand up tackle.

Finesse is essential when cubing for yellowfin. Use the thinnest trace you can get away with and hide the hook in the pilchard. I feed the hook through the mouth and out the gills then pin it in the pilchard’s side so it sits nice and natural. Keep the line going when feeding it back down the trail. Any tight line will stop the pilchard sinking and drifting naturally and a yellowfin will shy away from it like a bream in crystal clear water. Feed a bait right back long every now and then. Quite often a big fish will sit well back down the trail out of sight. We’ve hooked a few of them by drifting a bait back a hundred metres.



Chasing mako sharks has only been a recent thing for us. We’ve fished the past two springs from September to November and to be honest it has been an absolute blast. We’ve filmed and photographed some amazing sights, learned a lot and caught a few solid fish. Prior to our first season I was a bit skeptical about chasing sharks but my young bloke Andrew finally convinced me to give it a go and I’m glad he did. Those makos are great fun on eight, 10  and 15 kilo tackle and these days we look forward to each weekend in spring and spend the weeks in between organising berley and bait.

The technique we use is nothing special and is probably the same as most boats use these days. We normally set up and drift along the Continental Shelf using current and breeze to our advantage. The best drift for sharks is due south at about 1 knot with a little current and a 10 knot breeze from the NE or NW. You need to cover a bit of area and the current does this but you also need to move along the water to get a berley trail established and you need some breeze to do this. Completely calm days with no wind are nowhere near as good as days with a breeze from the north.

Once a drift is established we start putting fish frames through the berley pot. We get these from a few local fish markets. Blackfish, salmon or mullet are by far the best to put through the pot due to their oil content. We also run a 10 kilo frozen block of fish mince off the back corner in a nylon keeper net. We normally go through four or five of these in a full day’s shark fishing. We keep them frozen in an insulated fish box and just put a new one in the keeper net when the other one has slowly thawed out and done its job. We never stop berleying with the pot and masher but the frozen blocks add some good berley and are maintenance free. They do the job without having to be touched and double your berley output.

When chasing makos we normally don’t put a bait in the water until we have a fish up in the berley trail. The advantage with this is that we can see the fish and make a judgment on what tackle we use to catch it. If it’s only around a 100 or 120 kilos we’d normally feed it a six or eight-kilo outfit. Anything between 150 and 200 kilos gets a 10 kilo outfit and over 200 kilos is for 15-kilo tackle. If you’ve been told that mako sharks are boring and don’t fight then I’d suggest you go out and hook one up before making a call on that one. They all fight and put up a pretty solid account of themselves. Some go absolutely insane and launch themselves out of the water in somersaulting cartwheels that just leave you open mouthed and thanking God the fish wasn’t right next to the boat.

After a solid fight most makos are still pretty active when you get them to the boat. This is when you have to decide if you want to gaff or tag the fish. I’m not going to get heavily into the debate about killing sharks because most anglers have their own ideas and ethics. I can hardly expect to influence how you feel about this subject or change your mind and I don’t intend to try. I’m not even going to try and “justify” our shark fishing other than to say this: over the past 12 months we killed and kept three mako sharks and one bronze whaler. All of the sharks were weighed for NSWGFA Southern Zone points and the bronze whaler was a Junior World Record on 15 kilo line. All the makos were cut up and the best meat was given away and eaten by various people. We also tagged and released two mako sharks. As you can see we are not out there every weekend killing umpteen sharks and just wasting them.

Having said that the decision to tag or gaff a mako shark is purely personal but one you need to make before you have a fish up and on the trace. If you do decide to gaff one make sure you are up to the job and have the right gear. A 200 kilo mako will make short work of inferior flying gaffs, tail ropes, bollards and even small boats. Don’t even contemplate trying to catch large sharks from small boats unless you have some experience and the right gear. Makos aren’t called “blue dynamite” for no reason and one little mistake can lead to a big problem if you’re 20 miles out in a small boat.



Last spring the NSW South Coast saw some of the best albacore action we’ve had in a decade. October and November were the pick of it and combined with some good weather, most crews had the opportunity to get out and concentrate on these wonderful fish. They average between eight and 12 kilos and the majority were caught by anglers trolling lures in between 80 and 200 fathoms. We had a very good success rate on X-Rap 15s and 20s on eight and 10 kilo tackle. The most consistent and productive colours we found included GGM, SBM and BTO. While trolling for albacore we will often keep a larger lure out there for yellowfin or even a Pink Squid to catch a few striped tuna for shark baits.

We fish six and eight kilo stand up tackle for the albies and have some great fun catching them. We keep a couple each trip for food. We bleed them and put them in a saltwater ice slurry in an insulated fish box. We tag the rest with NSW DPI pelagic tags. The ones we keep don’t get wasted either. Albacore are one of the best eating of the tuna species and are great just seared on a hot plate or in curries, etc.


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