Big City Fishing Sydney Systems Part II

IN last month’s instalment we looked at both Port Hacking and Botany Bay. This month we head north and inspect Port Jackson, situated in the middle of Australia’s largest city. Port Jackson is a stunning waterway, made special by the brilliant waterfront real estate and backdrop of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the iconic Opera House. It comprises all the waters within a line joining North Head and South Head. Within this boundary lies North Harbour, Middle Harbour and Sydney Harbour. These three harbours extend from a single entrance known as Sydney Heads.

For any travelling angler, Port Jackson should be seen as “must fish” location. The removal of the commercial fleet a few years back has had a phenomenal impact on boosting fish stocks. In fact, the resurrection started occurring quite some time ago with the removal of the kingfish traps and the restriction on netting Australian salmon from adjacent waters. Both species are now abundant in the Sydney area and make for some exciting sportfishing. When you add in one of Australia’s premier bream fisheries, plus a smattering of mulloway and heaps of large tailor, luderick, whiting and flathead, it is easy to see why Port Jackson is not only highly regarded by its local residents but by travelling anglers alike.

North & Middle Harbour

North Harbour is the smallest harbour in Port Jackson and is really just a large bay extending to Manly. From North Head around to Quarantine Bay is an exceptionally productive area for kingfish during the warmer months.

The location of the kingfish schools will be easily identified as anchored boats huddled together will usually divulge their position. For a first-timer to the harbour, the boating and fishing etiquette may be a little different to what you are used to. Boats will anchor practically on top of each other around many of the marker buoys to jostle for prime position.

Kingfish roam from marker to marker in search of food. Markers in close proximity to Sydney Heads frequently produce as the kingfish make a pass from outside the harbour to the waters inside.

The normal technique is to use livebait suspended at various depths. The general rule inside the heads is that squid is the preferred bait; further out past the heads at locations such as “The Colours” adjacent to South Head, fish baits like yakkas or slimies are preferred.

Squid can be sourced at Grotto Point Reserve, Middle Head and around the shoreline at Little Manly Reserve. The key attribute to look for is the presence of weed and sand. Early morning is best and I advise you to use the sophisticated Japanese squid jigs currently in vogue. While you may have to re-mortgage your house to buy them, they definitely produce better than the cheap models. My tendency is to use natural coloured jigs.

Yakkas and slimies can be sourced from around any of the wharves in the local area such as Clifton Gardens and Balmoral Wharf.

Moving further into North Head, Fairlight is another great spot to throw a few lures amongst the moored boats. Expect to encounter kings, tailor and salmon on the surface as well as bream, trevally, pinkies and flathead off the bottom. On occasions you might hook a jewie or two.

Middle Harbour extends to the northwest and its headwaters begin deep in Garigal National Park. This area is also another great producer of pelagic species and on occasion exotic species such as yellowfin tuna, sampson fish, amberjack and cobia have been caught here. This is due to the deep, clean water that characterises this area as well as an abundance of bait.

Moving into Middle Harbour to the southwest, the sand flat system at Balmoral is a great spot to prospect for flatties and bream amongst the moored boats. Both plastics and bait can be used. This is a great spot for the kiddies and is quite protected from boat traffic. Tailor usually herd whitebait to the surface here, especially just inside Middle Head. Casting slugs to them can see you locked up for hours on end. Thirty centimetre fish are the standard. 

For jewie die-hards, the “Clontarf Drop-off” will be your best chance to hook a monster jew on a run-in tide. At night, expect to hook some noahs here as well. On the eastern shore, Clontarf Beach and the adjacent marina is another great spot for kingfish; downrigging with live squid is a popular method, especially for kayakers, at this location. Clontarf Beach offers easy access and the prime spots are within a few minutes’ paddle. The water gets to 100ft here so fishos flicking lures will need some patience on light jigheads, but it’s well worth the effort. Jew can also be hooked among the boats. To the northwest, the Spit Bridge is a gun spot for sourcing live squid and a decent location to anchor for jew at night. It is quite snaggy here so be prepared to lose some tackle.

West of the Spit, Middle Harbour is a decent expanse of water and has numerous bays and points. At some stage, all produce quality fish interspersed with times of tough fishing. The onus here is to stay mobile and find the bait. Kingfish are very mobile in this section of water and if you get lucky, you will find them busting up on the surface. For those who prefer to anchor and wait it out, Seaforth Point is a great spot. Bream and whiting can also be caught regularly in the shallow margins at the back of the bays on worms or live nippers. The more consistent spots, though, include Bantry Bay and Sugarloaf Bay. Dropping a few crab pots here will also see you sorted for variety.

Up near Roseville, Middle Harbour becomes a great bream fishery for the dedicated lure fisho. The terrain is quite diverse with sand flats, rock bars, submerged timber and mangrove forests meaning you can try almost any lure in your box. It’s a stunning stretch of water where you can spend a few hours in peace. A rare find in Sydney!

Sydney Harbour

Sydney Harbour is the biggest harbour in Port Jackson and extends west past the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Balmain, where it is fed by the estuaries of the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers. The primary sportfish target here is once again kingfish. Places such as the famous “Wedding Cakes” are a beacon for kings and multiple methods are used to extract them, including trolling live squid and anchoring close to the structure. However in more recent times, topwater lures have been a great tactic and are increasingly preferred by switched-on anglers.

The best thing about this method is the proliferation of marker buoys and marker poles that can be targeted. You can spend all day popping lures to surface structure in Sydney Harbour and ones that fire today may not tomorrow, so be active. If no fish come up after a dozen casts move on. My favourite topwater lures include 80mm Halco Roostas, Cultiva Tango Dancers and Rapala Skitter Pops. On occasion pencil poppers like Cotton Cordells will produce, especially if the kings have seen the same lure a dozen times. One word of advice, if a king follows the popper, don’t stop your retrieve – keep it going. Also when they strike the lure avoid the temptation to set the hook. Kingfish will inhale the lure and hook themselves. If you strike prematurely you’ll pull the lure from their mouth. Unfortunately I have leant this lesson the hard way.

Sydney Harbour is also renowned for the luderick fishing during winter months. This coincides with the weed growth found on the rocky shoreline around the intertidal zone. Sourcing this weed as bait should be fairly easy. The best part is where you find the weed should be where you find the fish as well. In fact, luderick in winter are very prolific and should be found along most shorelines and wharves. I prefer a run-out tide. If my life depended on catching few I definitely would look around Clifton Gardens.

The area from Watsons Bay to Rose Bay holds good numbers of jewies, although the exact locations are a closely guarded secret. The common denominator to find jewies here is to find ledges where the can hold up out of the current. Some ledges fire on a specific tide as the water travels from shallow to deep water. There is also a great flathead fishery around Rose Bay and drifting plastics here will put a few fillets on the table. Anchoring up on the shallow flats at night with live nippers will get you connected to good bream, whiting and flounder, especially over the summer months. For the shore-based fisho, Rose Bay is a great spot to casts a few lures as well.

Heading West, Shark, Clarke and Garden islands are excellent producers of pelagics. Once again kingfish are the primary target but salmon, tailor and frigates are common as well. The exclusion markers around Garden Island are particularly productive but don’t stray inside the markers. If you do, you’ll be questioned by the boys in blue.West of the “coat hanger”, Goat Island is another great spot to prospect for jewies and kings, especially if the tide is moving through the area. The island acts as a tide break and baitfish tend to find respite here, dragging in the predators. The gun spot is the red marker to the northeast of the island. It gets a hammering but it produces regularly as well. I prefer to prospect with plastics, especially 7” and 9” Lunker City Slug-goes in white or pink.

Parramatta River

The Parramatta River is the main tributary of Sydney Harbour and begins at the confluence of Toongabbie Creek and Darling Mills Creek west of Parramatta. This area is a lure fishos paradise and the site of many high profile national bream tournaments. There is every conceivable bream habitat you can think of from man-made cover such as marinas, pontoons, jetties, wharves and bridge pylons to natural cover such as rock walls, fallen trees, mangrove forests and reef structure. The fish populations in the “Parra” have bounced back tremendously since the removal of the prawn trawlers more than four years ago.

The key areas to look at for bream in the Parra are Iron Cove Bay, Hen & Chicken Bay, Brays Bay and Homebush Bay. Iron Cove Bay, in particular, is a great fishery that has subtle depth changes with weed-fringed banks and swing moorings that allows you to select a wide range of lures from hard-bods to blades to small softies. The pylons of Iron Cove Bridge are worth some attention as well as the area around Rodd Island. Hen & Chicken Bay, Brays Bay and Homebush Bay are very shallow areas and best fished with small hard-bodies and very lightly weighted plastics, although the bream pros usually concentrate on hard-bods in these areas.

In the main system, the stretch of water between Woolwich and Cabarita is also another prime bream target. This vicinity always holds good numbers of bream year round and requires a number of different tactics. I wrote an article in the April, 2010, issue covering a session I had with well-known tournament angler Tim Morgan.

If you can dig this up or source a copy, this is “the” instruction manual on how to fish this area. To quickly summarise, we targeted man-made cover such as wharves and pontoons with moored boats. The best option in this scenario is to have a three-tiered approach. First, use a small hard-bod to get right back to the shore and work the shallows, then deploy a Tiemco Stick Minnow for the outside of the pontoon and lastly flick a small plastic to the mooring poles further out from the cover. This allows you to probe all parts of the water column and thoroughly work the area over. Some days the bream are tight to shore, other days they are held up beneath the pontoon or taking cover in deeper water. This search and destroy tactic allows to you zone in on what the fish are prefer on the day.

If bream are not your vibe, jewfish are also abundant in the Parra and you can’t go past the Gladesville area for consistency. This isn’t the sole domain of lure anglers either; bait fishos get regular success here, especially at night. If you are one of the many fishos who are trying to break their duck on lures, try 70mm Squidgy Pro Fish with S-Factor or 1/4oz blades. I have found jewies here tend to go for smaller lures than you would otherwise assume.

Lane Cove River

The lower reaches of the Lane Cove River merge into Sydney Harbour at Greenwich and Hunters Hill. The area at the mouth is a good producer of jewies and is quite deep, and winter and spring sees good caches of EPs and flathead. Further up from the mouth among the moorings is another prime location for the bream brigade. In fact, the biggest bream I’ve pulled out of the entire harbour system have come from this stretch of water. Usually they’ve been caught from under boat hulls attached to swing moorings well away from shore. Bream will hold up here on sunny days to escape the light. Use lightly weighted plastics or slow sinking hard-bods to attract fish held tight underneath the boats.

Heading west, the Lane Cove River starts to resemble the Roseville area which consists mainly of mangrove forests and submerged timber. Flathead are a regular catch and in the deeper holes on the bends in the river, jewies to 6kgs are commonly caught. I reckon there are some seriously big specimens in here and know of a few anglers that have been comprehensively blown away, especially around the Figtree Bridge area.

So there you have it. Seriously, there are more places to catch fish in this system that it is hard to know where to start.

My advice if you haven’t fished the harbour before is to be “species specific”. Choose a fish you want to target and focus your attention on catching that particular species. This will make you more successful, especially when you can divide your time chasing heaps of species in numerous locations.

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