Late season marlin bite off Jervis Bay

THE plan was to head wide in search of late season dolphin fish and maybe even a marlin. But Seabreeze said there’d be a fair bit of swell on and since we had a junior aboard we thought it’d be better to stay in the bay and hunt down a few squid and bonito instead.

I met regular fishing mate Ian Osterloh and his eight-year-old stepson Tom Hartigan at the ramp just before dawn. We loaded the Bar Crusher with our light spin gear and headed down the creek and out into the bay.

The squid grounds yielded a dozen or so calamari, including a couple of whoppers. Fresh bait (and some good tucker) happily swimming around in the livie tank, we motored over to some nearby reef systems to troll up a few bonnies for Tom to test his skills on. As a much younger angler I always enjoyed catching bonito – they fight hard and look impressive. Young Tom swiftly caught his first, second and third bonnie. He was pretty stoked with the fish and admired the silver and black striped flanks and sharp teeth of these mini-tunas.

In days past I regarded bonito primarily as bait but have since discovered that they’re actually really good to eat. The trick is to bleed them and get them in an ice slurry as soon as possible. Filleted, skinned and with the blood line removed, a standard 2kg bonnie provides four beautiful boneless fillets that come up a treat when shallow fried or barbecued.

While all this was happening I kept an ear on the radio, listening to everyone heading out to the JB Canyons. The radio chatter revealed perfect conditions out at the shelf. Damn you, Seabreeze!

Once Tom has exhausted himself on the bonnies, we headed north to downrig live squid for a king or two. Our first stop produced zeroes so we headed yet further north, right up to the famous Banks. By now the radio traffic was reporting marlin being hooked up, lost and tagged. It seemed a pretty hot late season bite was occuring 10 or so miles to our east …

We hit the Banks marks and deployed two live squid – one off the downrigger, the other weighted down with a large snapper lead. While we slow trolled around the main hump, I dropped a micro jig down on my light jig outfits. Two cranks of the handle and I hooked up to a steamroller. For a moment I thought I had the fish under control but it hit the afterburners and wiped me out in the reef.

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Eight-year-old Tom Hartigan with a 64cm king caught and released at Jervis Bay. Image: Ian Osterloh

I put the mico jig gear back in the cabin and rigged my 8kg spin stick up with a knife jig. First drop and I hooked up again. The fish almost blew me away but I managed to hang on and dragged a nice 90cm king to the top.

By this stage a few other boats were hooking up and we enjoyed a pretty hot jigging session. For some reason the kings ignored our live squid and instead smashed the metals. Suited me fine – I think feeding fresh squid to kings is a crime anyway!

Young Tom had a go fighting the kings. The first one blew him away but he got another fish in. At 64cm it was undersize and after a quick pic was returned to grow a bit bigger.

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Jim Harnwell with a solid king taken on a knife jig. Image: Ian Osterloh

The radio traffic was by this stage going off with multiple boats reporting hook ups on marlin. I heard one boat report a quadruple hook up with only three anglers on board. The aftermath of that was three fish dropped and one brought to the boat for release.

By now the sea conditions were absolutely perfect. Ian and I were cursing. We seriously thought about heading out to have a crack at a beakie but we didn’t really have the gear or the fuel to head out to the shelf.

The water was warmer and bluer at the Banks than it had been all summer. The NSW Fisheries FAD was only a couple of miles east so we headed out there to give Tom a chance at catching his first dollie. We had no livies but stripes of fresh frigate mackerel (trolled up with the bonnies) and soft plastics should do the trick.

Unfortunately, the FAD had obviously been worked over earlier in the day as the resident dolphinfish were very wary.

Good mate Guy Jamison had earlier told me he’d pulled a few legal dollies off some nearby fish traps so I pointed the nose of the Crusher in the general direction of where Guy said the traps had been. Before long Ian spotted a series of buoys bobbing in the current.

We set up a drift and I floated a strip of frigate out on a circle hook. Line started peeling off the Stella 5000’s spool and I came tight to a nice 80cm dollie. After a typical acrobatic fight, the brilliant yellow, green and blue spotted dollie joined the kingie and bonnies in the ice box.

Ian rigged Tom up with a plastic and the young fella hooked and landed his first ever dolphinfish, a 64cm keeper. Very cool stuff!

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Young Tom with his first dolphinfish, taken off a FAD.

Around this time Guy, who was fishing due east of us aboard RNR, a 35-foot Carribean owned by Ralph Kaluscha, very kindly called up to give me the marks for the marlin. Due to the aforementioned lack of fuel we just couldn’t make it. As it turned out, the boys went 10-8-5 on striped marlin to christen the boat. They’d had an awesome day. Guy caught two stripes, while Andy Clark, Rob Cecere and skipper Ralph landed one each. Interestingly, all RNR’s fish were caught on trolled lures. Radio chatter revealed that other boats had only enjoyed success on livies. RNR’s stats of 10-8-5 are extremely good for striped marlin, which are notoriously hard to hook on lures and even worse when it comes to getting the hooks to stick.

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Another striped marlin takes to the air for the boys on board RNR. Image: Guy Jamison.

Although we weren’t able to get out there amoungst the billfish action, we’d had a pretty good day as well. It’s always a blast to watch a keen junior angler haul in some quality fish. Anyway, a day on the water sure as hell beats sitting in front of a computer bashing away at a keyboard …

And that fresh kingie, dolphinfish and calamari should make for some happy faces around the Harnwell dinner table tonight!

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RNR’s skipper Ralph with a tagged fish prior to release.  Image: Guy Jamison


Comin’ at ya! Image: Guy Jamison

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Another fish revived and about to be released. Image: Guy Jamison

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