JUST because it’s getting a bit nippy doesn’t mean Sydney’s offshore fishing options have closed down for the year. SIMON FISHER explains how to make the most of the winter fishing opportunities. Additional photography by IAN OSTERLOH.
BY now, summer is a fading memory. The days are growing ever shorter and colder. The water is cooling down rapidly and the currents are shifting in their regular post-summer configurations as the cool waters of the Tasman start to wrap around the coast of Victoria and push up towards NSW. The inshore reefs that have been so productive during the warmer months have invariably slowed to the point that it’s time to think about putting the rods away or to look for new opportunities. This is the annual cycle that befalls Sydney-based anglers each year with the end of summer and autumn and inevitable arrival of winter. While a vast majority of summer’s fishing frolickers will choose to stow the gear and forget about the boat for the next six months, some of us aren’t content with that option and choose to brave the cold, dark mornings. With the cold comes a myriad of new options. The shortened days and southerly frontal systems that are characteristic of winter in Sydney are also punctuated by long periods of light winds, groomed seas and stable weather patterns, making it an ideal time of year to get out offshore. As the water cools, the fishing offshore from Sydney fires.
Inshore: The inshore reefs that were so productive over summer have quietened down significantly as the cool water rolled in and dropped the temperature. While the fishing is nowhere near as consistent, this is the time of year when persistence pays off. Those who persevere will generally be rewarded by fewer but significantly better quality fish. The rats and squires disappear and only the knobbies and hoodlums remain. You’re not going to fill the esky everytime, but when you do come across the fish they’re much more likely to be the type you hang the picture of on your wall.
When the fishing is a bit slower I find that it always pays to go back to basics. Livebaits, particularly live squid, are an irresistible treat to these predators when drifted or downrigged over the shallow reefs. With fewer bites it’s important to maximise your odds so that when the bite comes you capitalise on it. The addition of stinger hooks to your rig is one such simple adaptation to maximise your chances. Know the limits of your gear and fish as light as possible ensuring to make the most the tackle’s capabilities. Strong terminals such as a Gamakatsu Big Bait or Live Bait hooks will ensure that your hook sticks and stays attached and are easily camouflaged inside a bait. Fluorocarbon leader is always a must and the lighter the better. That said, you don’t want to be pushing your luck too far at this time of year …
Winter is all about covering ground and putting in the time to get results. As with the warmer months, there are definite patterns that the fish follow and the only way to break these down is through putting in the time and effort on the water. It’s a well-known fact that the fishing gets better in the lead up to a southerly front around Sydney and it’s little bits of information and tricks like this that will help get results and make your time on the water more productive.
Winter is when the offshore fishing in Sydney really lights up. The marlin have predominantly moved on, although it’s far from uncommon for the odd straggler to be spotted or caught, and the tuna have moved in. If you’re serious about chasing fish offshore in Sydney it’s worth joining your local game fishing club. The amount of knowledge and information that is available from the members of these clubs is a truly invaluable resource, with many members passing on all the details of the latest bite and current information. Similarly internet forums such as Fishraider, Sydney Angler and even Facebook and Instagram can all be vital tools in determining if the fish are on. Bluefin, yellowfin and albacore tuna are all frequent visitors during the winter months. The deeper seamounts like Browns Mountain provide gemfish and blue eye trevalla for the electric reel enthusiasts while sporadic catches of winter marlin and dolphin fish are not at all uncommon.
Reefs such as The Peak and the 12 Mile hold good numbers of kingfish and the odd nice red for those in the vertical jigging fraternity. Mako sharks will turn up in big numbers around August and signal the peak of the gemfish season.
When targeting tuna the simplest and easiest way is to troll a mix spread of divers and skirts. Skirt sizes will range depending on the type of bait that’s around at the time but generally something in the 6-10 inch range should do the trick. Trolling allows you to cover a lot of ground to find the good water where the tuna are holding before setting up your cube trail. When we say “good water” we are looking for temperature, thermoclines and current breaks that are holding bait.
These areas force bait to congregate in the current eddies which in turn attracts the predators. Despite the depth, underwater structures such as canyons and seamounts can also prove to be good areas to target as these areas are known to cause upwellings which also attract the fish. When you have found the area where you think the fish are holding but the fish just aren’t being receptive to trolled lures it’s time to start cubing. The theory behind cubing is to set up a trail that will lead the fish right to the boat and your baited hook. Circle hooks and small cubes of pilchard are standard here and the idea is to simply lay out a continuous trail of pilly cubes behind the drifting boat while simultaneously sending down a bait containing your hook. As the fish follow the trail up, they encounter your bait. It’s important to note here that when you get that first hook up, rip all of the other lines out of the water. Tuna travel in schools and it’s not uncommon to get double and triple hook ups as the fish move up the trail.
For the deep-water ooglies an electric reel is not essential but it most definitely does make life easier. Keep the rigs simple. Heavy leaders 200-400lb, tied as a dropper loop connected to a circle hook. Lumo tubing and glow beads are also often added to help the fish find the bait in the cold dark depths. Large slab baits are normally the go with this type of fishing as you want to ensure that the bait is still attached to the hook after the long drop to the bottom. Learn the intricacies of your sounder to fin the fish then it’s simply a matter of dropping the baits to the depth, drifting the structure and winching the haul back to the surface. The beauty of deep dropping it’s an easy way to break up the monotony of trolling and to ensure that there’s a feed in the esky for when you get home. Other than that it is definitely not what you would call an edge-of-your-seat form of fishing …
The key to mastering Sydney’s offshore winter fishery is to get yourself into the loop of what’s happening out on the water. It’s as important to know when the fish aren’t there as when they are. There’s no point putting all that time and effort in to find out that you’re a week late and the fish have moved just out of your range. If you’re going out there you want to be rewarded. So instead of packing up the gear this winter, keep on fishing. Join a club and make some new friends and possibly even learn a thing or two. Winter offshore fishing in Sydney can be a tough nut to crack but with a bit of persistence and the right information, it can also be the most rewarding time of year.