Bread & Butter Bermi

Ever since Zane Grey put it on the game fishing map in the 1930s, Bermagui has been associated with bluewater and big fish.

While anglers from across Australia and even further afield continue to travel to the tiny NSW South Coast town in search of trophy tuna and massive marlin, the Bermagui area offers much more than game fishing.

Although it’s overshadowed by the bluewater scene, the reef and estuary fishing along this stretch of coastline is as good as anywhere in the state.

So don’t think you need a massive boat and thousands of dollars’ worth of high-tech game tackle to get the most out the Bermagui region – the bread & butter fishing here can be just as rewarding as the pursuit.

Reef fishing around Bermagui is something game fishers tend to fall back on when the weather closes in or the currents run cold, but bottom bashing deserves to be more than simply a “Plan B”.

Reef fishers visiting this area are spoiled for choice. There are close-in reefs that fish well year-round for snapper, morwong, nannygai, pigfish and the ubiquitous sand and tiger flathead.

There are also reefs in much deeper water, close to continental shelf, that yield trophy snapper, prized Tasmanian trumpeter, blue-eye trevalla and gemfish.

The fish-rich waters surrounding Montague Island aren’t far away, either. The reefs around Montague are renowned kingfish and snapper grounds, and the island itself offers shelter from the wind, especially the blustery nor-easters that plague the Far South Coast during summer.

The most notable locations off Bermi are the famous Four Mile, Six Mile and Twelve Mile reefs. These all offer tremendous fishing.

But there are many other reef systems – large and small – between the coastline and the shelf that are well worth exploring.
Many of these are within close proximity of one another, allowing boats anglers to move from reef to reef until they find a patch that fires.

Bermagui’s safe, man-made harbour makes offshore fishing in this part of world a whole lot easier. Access to the ocean is via a deep channel – there is no shallow bar to cross – allowing boats of all sizes to head out on to the bluewater in most weather conditions.

Grabbing a good feed of reef fish off Bermagui needn’t be a complicated matter. On the close-in reefs, traditional bottom bouncing techniques using a simple paternoster rig and squid, prawn or fish-flesh baits is a great place to start.

Anglers can spice up their bait rigs with a soft plastic tail, like a five-inch Gulp Jerkshad for instance. Octo-jigs like the Shimano Lucanis are also effective, on their own or in conjunction with bait.

Try to employ braided lines and relatively light threadline outfits for this style of fishing. It allows the use of much lighter sinkers and results in a much better strike rate when fishing the depths. It also means you’re not wrestling with heavy, cumbersome gear that can make reef fishing a miserable pursuit at times.

The reefs around Twelve Mile and adjacent to the Shelf are a little trickier to fish, with anglers forced to battle strong currents and water more than 150m deep. Specialist charters equipped with deck winches and electric reels are experienced at plumbing these depths and are one of the best ways to enjoy the fishing these reefs have to offer.

Jump on Google Earth when you get a chance and scroll down to the stretch of the NSW Far South Coast between Narooma and Bega.

You will notice a lot of creeks, rivers and lakes. Some are sizeable systems, well-known and popular with local and holidaying anglers.

Wallaga Lake, Lake Wapengo, the Bermagui River and Mogareeka Inlet (Bega River) spring to mind as examples. These four main estuaries are easy to access and fish extremely well for all manner of species.

But in between these estuaries lie many smaller (some are tiny) systems that barely rate a mention on the map or in any fishing literature or guides on this part of the coast.

In fact, there are some that most anglers have never heard of.

They are waterways that anyone with a love of secluded locations and wild fishing should check out the many things a person loves about fishing.

Adventurous anglers who regularly fish these pristine little estuaries keep them to themselves. And that’s fine by me!

These are systems that would struggle to cope with sustained fishing pressure. They’re best left as little secrets for those with a bit of time and sense of adventure can check out for themselves.

Having spent a bit of time exploring the potential these estuaries have to offer, I can vouch for the fishing here now. What I lack in size they more than make up I know there are fish numbers and diversity.

A quick session on one of these little lakes can easily yield more than half-a-dozen species. In addition to the ubiquitous flathead, bream and whiting, there are loads of tailor, salmon, trevally, mullet, blackfish, snapper, leatherjacket, garfish, flounder, estuary perch and even bass.

Lure fishing with soft plastics and hard-bodies is a great way to connect to most of these species. The warmer months, from about November through to March, are the most productive. The lead up to Christmas in particular can be action packed as bream, whiting and flathead actively feed on small prawns.

Squidgy Wrigglers and Gulp two-inch Shrimps are pretty effective plastics in these Far South Coast systems.

I’ve also recently been trying the new Z-Man three-inch Shrimps of late and they’re proving superb little lures. Their durability is particularly impressive – you could hook a dozen flathead in succession on these lures and they still wouldn’t show signs of wear. Even tailor find them hard to mangle!

Small hard-bodies, poppers and surface walkers work extremely well in the shallow systems around Bermagui. Just about any make or model will work, but I like Ecogear SX-40s, Pontoon 21 48mm Crackjacks, Cranka Cranks, Berkley Scum Dogs and Gladiator Poppers.

Fresh bait is dynamite in all these systems. I recently fished an out-of-the-way lagoon south of Bermagui with local guide Darren Redman.

Darren uses bait in conjunction with lures to cover all bases and, on this particular day, it was the fresh striped tuna chunks and live nippers that did the damage on a host of solid bream, as well as some blackfish, trevally and flathead.

Darren had just experienced one of his best ever summers in this region, with his forays with fresh bait producing flathead to 85cm, stacks of bream over 40cm and whiting to an incredible 48cm.

Access to the tiny estuaries in the Bermagui region is sometimes tricky. They’re the domain of anglers with canoes, kayaks or very small boats. Launching facilities are limited – but that just adds to the adventure!

Another great way it to hook-up with a guide like Darren (see fact box) and let an experienced local show you the ropes.

Fact Box:  Fishing Bermi
Bermagui is located about four hours’ drive south of Sydney and three hours south of Canberra.

With a population of about 1300, Bermagui still has that quiet, peaceful, unspoilt feel to it – unlike more popular holiday centres to the north and south.

Although it’s small, Bermagui still has all the services required by visitors, including a supermarket, several petrol stations, an excellent tackle shop, and some great cafes and restaurants.

There are plenty of accommodation options too, from caravan and camping grounds through to serviced apartments.

A number of charter boats operate out of Bermagui Harbour. Some specialise in game fishing, others in reef fishing, and a couple will do both.

If you want to sample the great reef fishing this area has to offer, look up Keith Appleby. Keith has been fishing this stretch of the coast for more than 25 years and has a sixth sense when it comes to finding a hot bite on the reefs.

Keith’s boat, the Binjarra, is an ex-trawler that featured in the movie, The Man Who Sued God, starring Bill Connolly. Contact Bermagui Charter Services on 02 64934451 or visit

As far as estuary guides go, Bermagui’s Darren Redman is about as experienced as they come.

One of the South Coast’s first ever fishing guides, Darren specialises in the estuaries immediately surrounding Bermagui, including Wallaga Lake, Bermagui River, Lake Wapengo, Cuttagee Lake, Nelsons Lagoon and the Bega River.

Darren provides all rods, reels, lures and bait – he’ll even take you out and show you how to catch your own fresh bait. He and his wife, Jan, also run guided one-on-one kayak fishing tours, which are another great way to sample this superb pocket of the NSW Far South Coast. Call DJs Xstream Fishing Charters on 1800 802 528 or visit


This story was first published in the Fishing World October 2013 issue.

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