Lake with the Lot!


Since it was declared a rec-only area, NSW’s Lake Macquarie has boomed, writes local angler MARK WILLIAMS.

BACK in the early days of my involvement with Fisho I wrote an article titled “Going Soft on Flathead” which detailed the pursuit of Lake Macquarie’s dusky flathead using soft plastics. Since that article was published back in the October 1999 edition, there’s no doubt much has changed. With regards to Lake Macquarie, that change has mostly been for the better. So I thought it’d be worth looking at the changes that have occurred over the past 10 or so years, both to the lake and the way we fish it.

Funnily enough, I distinctly remember being quite nervous about writing that original article, as I was afraid of being branded as some kind of crazy heretic. The consensus among established fishing writers at the time was that trolling bibbed minnows was the way to go when targeting dusky flathead, and magazines were full of it. I was fishing with a really switched on group of gun anglers from the now defunct Lake Macquarie Sportfishing Club at the time. We had specialised in chasing lizards on soft plastics for at least a decade before I wrote the article, so we knew how effective they were. It was still a hard thing for a new kid on the block to come out in print and tell the recognised gurus that their trolling sucked and jigging SPs was the way to go. It’s funny how things have changed …

The most significant change to Lake Macquarie since my original article has been its closure to commercial fishing and subsequent declaration as a recreational fishing haven. The impact of this visionary decision is still evolving. There is absolutely no doubt that fishing has improved. The lake’s delicate sea grass beds are being spared from the ravages of haul netting and fish stocks are on the improve. As an example, my good mate Michael Aubrey (who featured prominently in the 1999 article) has landed five jewfish on soft plastics in Lake Macquarie in the past year, mostly as a by-catch while pursuing flatties. Prior to the commercial net ban it was a rare event for an angler to catch a mulloway in Lake Macquarie on live bait, let alone lures. Now it’s a relatively common occurrence.

The greatest threat to Lake Macquarie now lies in the massive urban development planned for the region, not recreational angling impact. Credit must go to Lake Macquarie City Council, though, for its attempts to protect the lake from the impact of these developments through the installation of siltation and storm water traps around the lake’s foreshores. 

The following is a rundown of the current state of play regarding luring Australia’s largest coastal saltwater lake with comparisons to how things were when I wrote my first Lake Macquarie article.

Lake Macquarie is a massive waterway with a surface area of 110 square kilometres and about 170kms of shoreline. Back in 1999 the majority of the fishing effort involving flathead on lures was in Swansea Channel or its immediate environs. Today the lure fishing effort encompasses the whole lake system and is largely split between anglers pursuing yellowfin bream and flatties on soft plastics.  

In recent years I’ve found myself concentrating on fishing the main body of the lake and avoiding the very popular Swansea Channel area. I’ve actually recently moved house to be more centrally located on the lake as it allows me to explore the full fishing potential of this massive waterway without having to tow my boat from one end to the other. Unbelievably, I’m now spoilt with the luxury of being able to check how crowded my local boat ramp is across the bay from the comfort of my bed. Life has never been better!

Lake Macquarie, being only around an hour’s drive north of Sydney, is a tremendously popular waterway for all forms of pleasure craft including yachts, launches and cruisers. This provides tremendous fishing opportunities amongst the multitude of moored craft on the lake. Bream and flathead love these areas as the barnacle and weed encrusted hulls provide ample food and shelter. While fishing on the lake just yesterday I had a yellowtail kingfish follow up a nice bream I’d hooked while fishing soft plastics around a moored pleasure cruiser. Kingies are another species that is becoming a more common catch in the lake.

Other areas that provide ample opportunities for lure fishing around Lake Macquarie include sand flats, creeks, snags, rocky points, wharves, bridges, breakwalls, artificial reefs and power station inlets and hot water outlets.

Weather conditions play a significant role in my choice of fishing tactics when luring Lake Macquarie these days. I enjoy chasing flathead and bream equally with soft plastics so I target the species the conditions most favour. I like to target flathead with plastics in light winds which allow you to cover water and achieve a good drift rate. Lake Macquarie SP specialist Mick Aubrey uses a sea anchor to good effect in stronger winds to slow his rate of drift when jigging lizards. If conditions are calm and opportunities for drift fishing are limited I prefer to target bream around structure such as moored craft. Another significant change since my original article has been the rise in popularity of bow mounted electrics. These really have become a key factor in achieving consistent success when targeting bream with plastics. I couldn’t be without my Watersnake bow mounted electric these days; it’s such an integral part of my fishing, particularly when you need to move stealthily around structure.

I generally focus my fishing of hard-bodies for bream to the low light periods at dawn and dusk around rocky points and when trying to cover water over weed beds. Lake Macquarie has many points and sheltered bays so you can usually find a protected lee to fish in even the windiest conditions.

My gear has changed immensely since 1999 and reflects the advances in technology and changes in my fishing style. When I wrote the original article I was fishing with gun SP anglers; as previously mentioned, these guys were way ahead of their time and most of the fishing writers of the day. Without exception they all used baitcasters on expensive custom built high modulus graphite rods. Younger readers might be surprised to learn that you just couldn’t buy a decent SP jigging rod off the shelf back then. These days my fishing revolves around introducing inexperienced anglers to the joys of recreational fishing, especially with soft plastics. So the rod racks in my boat are filled with quality light threadline outfits. These allow me to use a wide range of jig weights depending on the species being targeted. The Quantum Response light threadline rods I’m currently using are so good I’m sure I’ll never have another rod custom built in my life.

For all-round soft plastic fishing on Lake Macquarie I find it very hard to go past those ubiquitous Berkley Gulps. The three-inch Minnow Grubs have proven to be the great all-rounders in my SP arsenal. My favourite colours are Pumpkinseed for clear water conditions and Mango Ripple Glow for dirty water/low light conditions. The Gulps work wonderfully on a wide range of species including bream, flathead and whiting and can be used with a variety of techniques depending on the size and type of jig head employed.

When specifically targeting flathead, the 75mm Cocahoe Minnows that were recommended in my 1999 article are still a favourite. However, a number of excellent flathead producers have appeared on the market since then. These include the Squidgy Fish (which is quite similar to the Cocahoe Minnow), Tsunamis and Berkley Gulp Jerk Shads. A couple of noticeable improvements since the original Lake Macquarie article include the range of high quality jigs heads now available and the variety of attractants around such as Ultrabite and S-Factor.

All my reels are loaded with light GSP braided lines for estuarine luring work as they were when I wrote the original Lake Macquarie article. My preferred GSP braid these days is Rovex Viros; the situation awareness provided by this high performance low stretch braid is outstanding. A significant change from the original article is the use of fluorocarbon leader material. Hard mono leader was the go back then, but now I fish light fluorocarbon exclusively to ensure more bites from a wider range of species. Whiting are now targeted on lures but they were only a rare bycatch back then. It is likely that the fluoro leaders help get bites from finicky whiting.

It’s great to see a fishery that’s actually on the improve. As I mentioned before, there’s no doubt Lake Macquarie’s fish stocks have benefited immensely from its closure to commercial fishing. Predatory species such as sharks, yellowtail kingfish, mulloway, dolphin fish, Australian salmon and big tailor are encountered in the waterway with increasing regularity. The whole local community is benefitting from this revitalised waterway. I honestly believe Lake Macquarie’s future as a rec fishing haven is very bright. That’s why I relocated to be a part of it.

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