Another Australian adventure

I GUESS if I’ve got a second home at all it’s here in Australia, where I’m sitting right now overlooking the beautiful Sydney Harbour and the end of yet another memorable trip to catch up with friends and family. The BBC weather app cheerfully informs us that we’ve got temperatures falling as low as minus 6 to look forward to on our our return to go with our plummeting economy, a wave of national strikes and a major cost of living crisis made worse by our incompetent government. So I figured it makes sense to write up this particular Australian Adventure before I get consumed by domestic gloom.

First up was a trip to the Harbour with old friend and fellow Fishing World columnist John Newbery. We put the world to right in between catching a very pleasing haul of luderick / blackfish. These weed munching fishes were my first Australian captures when I moved here in 2010 and I still enjoy making their acquaintance. They represent the closest thing to the English coarse fishing I grew up with and John is a renowned blackfish expert and great company. Sadly he went down with Covid that night but I’m pleased to say he recovered in time for us to enjoy one final session before I was due to fly back to the Brexit Ice Kingdom. In just a few short hours we landed around 30 blackfish, even better than our first session, and took some nice fillets home for a well deserved feed.

In contrast to some of the other fish populations in Sydney Harbour there’s still no shortage of blackfish, probably because so few people fish for them these days. Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be the case with both kingfish and the Aussie salmon, both species that I used to love catching in some numbers when I lived here 10 years ago. Al McGlashan had warned me that numbers were down and this certainly appeared to be the case when I hooked up with Fisho editor Scott Thomas for a morning on the Harbour. Despite being virtually the only fishing boat out there we failed to hook a single kingy or salmon and only found a few skittish pods of fish in several hours of searching. I’m told that commercial exploitation of salmon for pet food or lobster bait continues at enormous tonnages limiting the availability for recreational fishos. This is nothing short of a tragedy given the sporting qualities of this fine fish and it’s minimal resale value. If ever a species should be designated as a sports fish only it’s the Aussie salmon.

No trip to Sydney is complete for Martin unless he has a blackfish session with John Newbery.

It’s a sad fact of life that in order to experience world class fishing you usually have to get far away from the main centres of population. And so plans were hatched for a trip with my good mate, and Pommie ex pat Phil, and former editor Jim Harnwell to hopefully repeat the red letter day we all enjoyed back in 2017 – the last time we fished together.

On this occasion the venue was South West Rocks on the stunning New South Wales Mid-North Coast. We booked out a few days with the father and son team of Vic and Zane Levett from Oceanhunter Sportsfishing – an operation I can’t recommend too highly. Unfortunately pressure of work and a timing switch to catch the best of the weather meant that Jim couldn’t join us which was a shame. Particularly as he he missed out on some stella sport with a whole variety of species.

The stunning coastline of South West Rocks.

I was keen to catch my first jewfish, an Australian species that is well recognised as suffering from excessive fishing pressure, and to get into the kingfish, dolphin fish and snapper for which South West Rocks is justifiably famous. As a fishing venue this place really has it all. Plenty of headlands, islands and rocky reefs as well as the highly productive Macleay River estuary. At the right time of year the East Australian Current brings down the marlin and Spanish mackerel, the reefs hold snapper, kingies and cobia, there are dollies galore out wide on the FADS and the estuary offers quality fishing for jewies, bream, flathead and some trophy sized mangrove jacks. What’s not to like?!

I guess the only hitch is traversing the bar at the river mouth which can be a challenge in a heavy swell. Luckily Vic was able to be flexible with our booking and we arrived in time for two and half days days fishing in pretty optimal conditions. An early start saw us targeting snapper on soft plastics before the sun climbed too high in the sky. Although I failed to connect with anything other than a few rat kingies Phil landed a couple of half decent reds before we headed further offshore to see what was happening out on the FADS. I had happily purchased my temporary NSW fishing licence on arrival and it was good to see the money being well spent on providing what was a veritable haven for both dollies and kingies. As we pulled up to the FAD we could see the dollies jumping and almost every cast with a 125mm Halco Slidog stick bait saw the reels screaming as either dollies or small kingies smashed into the lures. On Zane’s recommendation we changed to free lined livies and immediately started getting into the bigger dollies including several fine fish of over a metre. I guess we could have kept on catching but the unwelcome arrival of a commercial fisherman, taking advantage of a facility paid for and provided by the recreational fishing licence, made us want to move on. Particularly as they know fine well that they are not supposed to be fishing there.

Dollies galore for Martin!

We headed back into the river and enjoyed some good sport bouncing livies down the current close to the rock wall. I got my first jewie and a personal best flathead of 90 cms whilst Phil had several jewie before getting comprehensively smoked by an angry mangrove jack which left him with a bleeding finger and broken leader.

The Macley River gave Martin his first jewie and trophy flathead.

We only had a few hours to fish on the final morning and wanted to target the big kingfish for which the area is renowned. So we headed out to kingy grounds stopping to pick up some livies on the way. Interestingly the Southerly wind from the previous afternoon had turned over the water inshore which was now cobalt blue rather than green in colour. The bait grounds out front were suddenly full of slimies as well as the usual yakkas. Vic was pleased to see this, even more so when he marked a decent fish on the sounder hanging off the bait, and announced we would be returning later.

Plenty of small kingies were once again in evidence but at no point did we spot any of the bigger fish homing in on our stickbaits. Inevitably a couple of spear fisherman showed up and I can’t help thinking that there just might be a correlation between the shortage of trophy kingies and the propensity these guys have to target the largest fish in the shoal. I’ve written about this before but it’s crazy that NSW doesn’t have world class fishery management measures in place to recreate the world class recreational kingfish fishery that you once had on your doorsteps. For a fish that doesn’t fully mature until 90 cms a size limit of 65 cms is just dumb as is the bag limit of five and the absence of a slot limit to protect the larger breeders. You’ve now got it for flathead so why not kingies? I guess it all comes down to having a sustainable fisheries policy that is led by the science and not unduly influenced by vested commercial interests.

Anyway, back to the fishing. We tried stick baiting several marks and whilst I love catching kingies of an any size our target fish still eluded us. With time ticking by we moved on and dropped down a livie. I’m pleased to say that mine was snaffled by a cobia which was another Australian species I could add to the list. As promised Vic took us back to the bait grounds out front and sure enough the sounder lit up with a couple of big arches. We freelined a livie out the back and put another down on a sinker in anticipation. The minutes ticked by and Vic and Zane cast in the bait jigs to top up the livebait tank while Phil and I waited for a take. All of a sudden, as Vic was winding up a string of slimies, a marlin appeared under the boat. He yelled to Phil to crank up his livie on the sinker rod and within seconds it hooped over and the reel screamed as an angry black marlin got airborne. Phil did well to get the fish boat side in half an hour on spin gear and 50lbs braid. Vic and Zane were understandably stoked and getting the first marlin of the season at South West Rocks but I was surprised at the lengths Zane went to in order to ensure that the fish was properly tagged. Never before have I seen someone leap into the water to tag a marlin, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it myself, but I had been warned that Zane was probably the keenest fisho on the East Coast so perhaps his aerobatics shouldn’t have come as such a surprise!

First marlin of the season for Phil and a nice way to end the trip.

Phil’s marlin, conservatively estimated at 50kgs, was safely released and provided a wonderful finale to a fabulous fishing trip in the company of two very fine anglers. If you want to experience the very best that South West Rocks can offer Oceanhunter Sportsfishing can be found at or on Facebook.

Vic and Zane Levett run the impressive Oceanhunter Sportfishing Charters out of South West Rocks.

My final trip was up to the Gold Coast to visit some of my wife’s family so it seemed an ideal opportunity to hook up with my mate Ben Diggles and that other icon of Fishing World, David Green. Luckily Greenie had space for Ben and I on his boat Gemma 111 and word was that the small black marlin were present in numbers. However, that particular morning they weren’t really on the munch and most boats were reporting not much more than the odd missed strike. 8 hours trolling, in highly enjoyable company, saw us get five strikes and the sum total of a single, small striped tuna to me and a modest dolly for Ben. A small black marlin spat the hook almost immediately and the other two hits failed to hook up. Clearly not our day. By contrast Greenie texted us the next morning to say that he had just landed two marlin in three hours with first coming a whole three minutes after first dropping his lures in the water!

And so another trip comes to an end but I’ll be back for sure. I live in hope that at some point you guys are able to better protect the fabulous fishing you’ve got out here so that future generations, of both local anglers and visitors, can enjoy the great sporting potential of your wonderful country.

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