Big City Fishing: Sydney Systems Part III

Our comprehensive rundown on the fishing options around Australia’s biggest city concludes with a close look at the mighty Hawkesbury River. By KEVIN SAVVAS.

IN last month’s instalment we looked at Sydney Harbour and the diverse fishing options available on the doorstep of Australia’s largest city. This month we will head north and inspect the mighty Hawkesbury River. If you thought Sydney Harbour had options, just wait till you explore this waterway!

The Hawkesbury River, on the north-western outskirts of Sydney, is well known as one of the most beautiful rivers in Australia. Its winding 480kms of waterways have engraved out spectacular scenery. This is an ideal area for exploring by boat or canoe, as the Hawkesbury offers sheltered coves and many tributaries where you can escape the weather.

Broken Bay
The entrance to Broken Bay lies between the Box Head to the north and Barrenjoey Head to the south. The bay comprises three arms, those being the prominent estuary of the Hawkesbury River in the west, Pittwater to the south, and Brisbane Water to the north. Broken Bay is a great sportfishing destination and summer is possibly the best time to get into some fishing action.

At this time of year, pelagics like kingfish, salmon and tailor are abundant; to a lesser extent, so are bonito and frigates. The warm water and the presence of whitebait bring these hard-fighting fish close to shore. It’s difficult to predict the movements of these highly mobile predators so keep an eye out for working birds to signpost their whereabouts. A good area to try if no birds are visible is the area from Barrenjoey headland round to Palm Beach and the northern headland of Whale Beach. This is the gun trolling path in summer. Any of the fish mentioned will make an appearance along this stretch as they heard the baitfish to the surface or up against the rocks and beach. The hot zone is anywhere between the shore and out about 100m. Once fish are located, casting small metal slugs at them will provide great sport fishing on light spin outfits.
I find the River 2 Sea Sea Rock 7 gram slug to be the best performer. If Barrenjoey fails to produce any action then Box Head is the next best headland to prospect.

Broken Bay also plays host to some cracker inshore reefs such as West Reef and East Reef. These areas can serve up monster mulloway, cracking snapper and exotic species such as cobia, amberjack and samson fish. These are fairly shallow reefs and can be fished by both bait and soft plastic lures.

Brisbane Waters
Heading north from Broken Bay lies the productive Brisbane Waters arm. Also an expansive system in its own right, Brisbane Waters is a highly tidal system where much of the fishing revolves around the ebb and flow of the water. North-west of Box Head lays the notorious half-tide rocks at the mouth of “Brissy”. This location is famous for mulloway and monster flatties on a run-out tide. The water movement here rips through so beef up your sinkers or jigheads to match the flow. Don’t be too concerned with a raging current as the local fish are used to it. Best baits are those with a bit of a smell trail. Try butterflied tailor and slimy mackerel or whole yakkas. On small tides live or stripped squid
can be used.

Heading north-east from here you go past the townships of Wagstaff and Kilcare. This is a great drift area for bream, whiting and flathead and further into Hardys Bay it’s protected from boat traffic and most winds. This is a great spot for the kiddies as a basic sinker and swivel rig mated to a small hook baited with worms or live nippers will see constant action all day.

Heading west, the iconic Rip Bridge comes into view. This section is extremely deep and the name of the bridge should say something about the gushing water that passes through this tight passage. Either side of the bridge gets to 100 feet deep but directly under the bridge it’s only 10 feet. This creates some awesome looking tidal surges that creates significant eddies either side of the bridge. These eddies are gun fishing spots and can be fished throughout the entire tidal sequence. I usually use plastics here for jewies but legal snapper and big lizards are common as well. My standard presentation is a 1/2oz Nitro jighead with a 5” Gulp Jerkshad in any colour. Our best session saw 24 jews hooked in a few hours!

North from the Rip, Paddys Channel is another good family location and good catches of most bread & butter species can be had. Either drifting or anchoring in the current will work fine. I find the outgoing tide to be more productive. Actually, this spot is better fished at night. Bag limits of big kidney-slapping whiting can be caught using live bloodworms. The channel can be fished land based as well from Woy Woy’s public wharf.

Further upstream to the west, Narara Creek is a great little spot also. Here you can expect to encounter quality bream and flathead but the real drawcard are EPs. This is really the domain of kayaks but can also be traversed by foot. I have only ever fished this area with plastics but no doubt bait would work a treat. Micro plastics are by far the best option.

Pittwater is a magic place to wet a line and was recently covered in detail in the October 2010 issue of Fisho. See if you can grab a copy to have a read. It will give you more detail than I can offer this piece. All I will say to whet your appetite is big kingfish – and lots of them!

Cowan Creek
Cowan Creek is a tidal sub-catchment of the Hawkesbury River which has its own tributaries including Coal & Candle Creek and Smiths Creek.

Cowan is unique in that the techniques to fish it differ greatly to that of the main river system. There’s little current in Cowan Creek and the lack of run means there are no eddies or holes to act as fish-holding grounds. Whereas in the Hawkesbury you can be confident of catching a few fish by sitting in a particular spot and waiting, I’ve found in Cowan you need to be active and go looking for the fish.

At the mouth of Cowan is the famous Eleanor Bluff. This is another good producer of mulloway and big duskies on a run-out tide. Big baits are the preferred option but I like to prospect with plastics. On the odd occasion it also fires up for bream over the reef.

Heading south-west, Coal & Candle is best known for catches of the mysterious hairtail, which typically happens during the winter months, mostly at night. Hairtail are very mobile fish and any section of the shoreline in this tributary will produce at some stage. As there’s minimal current, berley only disperses into a small zone so re-anchoring is recommended if no fish are being caught after a few hours’ effort. Also, it’s a good tactic to suspend your baits at different depths. Hairtail can feed just below the surface or up off the bottom. Fish baits on gangs seems to be the preferred tactic.

West again, Smiths Creeks is very similar to Coal & Candle. The mouth of Smiths has seen some big kingfish caught over the years and is also a producer of jewies. Anchor very close to shore as most fish will be within close proximity searching for food. Ten metres from the shoreline, the system turns to mud bottom and all you’ll hook are undesirable fish like sharks and rays.

Another notable spot is Jerusalem Bay. This is where I troll close to the shoreline with deep divers for jew. If I can catch them on trolled lures it stands to reason they can be caught on bait and plastics as well.

Heading towards the upper limits of Cowan, past Apple Tree Bay, is a lure fisherman’s paradise. The terrain is a mixture of rocky shorelines with submerged timber and as many boat hulls as you would want to cast at. Bass and EPs are common up here during winter but summer is a killer time for big bream. Small softies and hard-bods are the go for success.

Mooney Mooney Creek
The entrance to Mooney Mooney Creek is located in between the famous Railway Bridge and F5 Freeway Bridge in the main Hawkesbury River. The creek is probably the home of bream luring in the entire Hawkesbury system with a labyrinth of oyster racks, mangrove forests, rocky outcrops, flats and submerged timber dotting the entire system.

The lower reaches of the creek are characterised by oyster racks and extend about 10kms up river. The racks are not the sole domain of lure chuckers – crafty bait fishermen have their day in the sun also. Bait fishos need to anchor close to the racks and use the minimal current to drift berley into the racks enticing the bream to come out of hiding.

Most anglers I know fish unweighted baits and float them in the berley trail. This has been the undoing of many kilo-plus bream. I have it on good authority that a few mangrove jack have been caught here using this same method.

If lures are your thing, using lightly weighted plastics and hard-bodies is the standard techniques. I find the back of the racks closest to the shoreline are the hotspots for lures.

Upstream from Snake Island to the iconic Besser-brick oyster house to the north-west will see a great opportunity to catch jewies on lures in the main channel. Keep a keen eye on the sounder for any water over 22 feet. The main channel is quite narrow so all predatory fish are funnelled down specific routes, which should make them easier to find.

Further up the creek the oyster racks give way to the most stunning mangrove forests you’ll see. It’s easy to forget where you are as it is reminiscent of a Top End creek. Up here it’s the domain of the EP, and they do say they are the “barra of the south”. There may be something in that statement.

I like using lightly weighted plastics such as 2” Berkley Gulp Shrimps mated to a TT hidden weight jighead for perch. As the tide is minimal you can use these light lures in the deep holes the EPs hold up in.

Berowra Creek
Heading west from Mooney, Berowra Creek is a prominent tributary of the Hawkesbury, commencing at Bar Island. I would probably consider Berowra my home ground as many hours have been spent chasing bream and jewies on soft plastics over the past eight years.

If there is any advice I can give, it would be to focus on the area from the vehicle ferry at Berowra Waters down to Bujwa Bay. This stretch is characterised by steep rocky shorelines and an abundance of bait. This combination of cover and food is why predators like jewfish and flathead are around in good numbers.

The same locations are also good for deep water bream hunting (see Fisho’s October, 2010, issue for a full rundown on deep water bream techniques). Bream in Berowra will succumb to most finesse lures and techniques but “deep and slow”
is a good mantra to follow if you want to catch the big ones. Bait is also a good option if you anchor close to shore. Unweighted baits of live prawns or nippers are the best producers.

The best plastics for jewies in Berowra are smaller than you might think. My best producer is the 70mm Squidgies Pro Fish in either Grasshopper or Flash Prawn colour. Mate this to a nine-gram Squidgy round jighead and you’re in for some fun. I would be concentrating my efforts around points and the shorelines about one hundred metres to either side.

Like Cowan, there’s minimal current to keep fish located in one spot on a consistent basis. The idea is to move around to find the bait schools. Once located, mark them and begin to deploy your lures.

MacDonald River & Colo River
Due to a lack of space I’ve combined these two tributaries together, but I could write full articles on each. The MacDonald River begins at the confluence of the Hawkesbury River at Wisemans Ferry, some 60kms from Broken Bay. The first point of interest is the famous “hole” at the northern entrance to the river. Officially it is within the Hawkesbury and steps down to some astonishing depths. The hole is subject to the full force of the current from the Hawkesbury so it’s best fished at either end of the tide change. Expect jewfish, bream, flathead and tailor.

Further into the MacDonald the bottom contour of the river is quite undulating; for this reason look for the deeper gutters and holes where bream and EPs can be found. You don’t necessarily have to fish the shoreline here; just keep an eye on the sounder for some good markings. In fact, this is one of my gun EP locations; bass
are there to be caught as well.

Best results are had using 2” soft plastic grubs in chartreuse. Colour is usually one of my low priority considerations when lure fishing but in the brackish sections of the Hawkesbury, it plays a vital role. I think the fish get focused in on the local green prawns so lures resembling them make perfect sense.

Moving west, the Colo River is a breathtaking place. In fact, it’s regarded by many as the last clean river in the Sydney basin. Those who have visited know this is hard to refute. The Colo has remained pristine because it flows out of an enormous wilderness – the Wollemi National Park. In my opinion, the Colo is the heartland of EPs, not only in Sydney but perhaps the entire eastern seaboard. This is highlighted by the scientific name given to EPs – Macquarie colonorum, named after the river.

EPs are a target year-round here but the cooler months sees them interspersed with bass, which makes things a little more exciting. Right now, during summer, EPs are far up into the fresh reaches and can be taken on surface lures, divers, vibes and plastics. My pick is definitely a well-presented softie cast to bank side cover.

During the cooler months bass and EPs are found schooled up in deep holes, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Further up towards the Putty Bridge,
it’s the sole domain of bass. Try late afternoon with surface lures for a piece of the action. If bass are in the vicinity it won’t take long before they crash tackle your lure.

Nepean River
Above the weir at Richmond the Hawkesbury River changes its name to the Nepean River, which ultimately marks the upper limits of the tidal range and thus becomes fresh water. The Nepean is probably one of the most productive wild river bass fisheries on the east coast, especially in between the weir at Richmond and the weir at Penrith.
The “Yarramundi” region is a consistent producer as many bass migrate through here to their spawning grounds in brackish water past Windsor. Research though has shown that bass do not automatically migrate every year and this fresh water section has a good supply of resident fish. This section has no launching facilities for boats so kayaks and canoes are generally employed. In my opinion, this aids in keeping this section pristine and productive.

Above the weir at Penrith, land-based anglers have good clear banks to fire off a few casts, and late afternoon during summer will see a decent fish or two caught on surface lures. I tend to use Halco Nightcrawlers or Rapala Skitter Pops in dark colours. The boat brigade is catered for as well with modern launching facilities at Tench Reserve. A boat will allow you to drive south beyond Penrith to rich summer habitats where crankbaits, spinnerbaits and surface lures can be used to cast to fallen timber, either on the bank or held up mid stream. If you’re a dedicated bass fisho and haven’t visited the Nepean, do yourself a favour and make the trek. You will be well rewarded.

So there you have it: Sydney’s big four waterways. So the next time your missus asks you to go to the big smoke for a holiday, smile and say yes, but don’t forget to pack a few rods for the journey. You’d be mad if you didn’t.

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