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Sydney Systems – Part One

BIG CITY FISHING

Australia’s largest city is surrounded by fishy waters. In the first instalment of a three-part estuary fishing special, local angler KEVIN SAVVAS checks out a couple of cracker systems in Sydney’s south.

IN Sydney we are blessed with fishing options. It might amaze some people to learn that only 65kms of coastline separates four of the most unique estuary systems on the east coast of Australia, three fed by great rivers. These include Port Hacking in the south, Botany Bay and Sydney Harbour to the east and the mighty Hawkesbury River to the north.

Each system is so unique that to understand their idiosyncrasies takes many years and for the first-time angler can pose some real challenges. The most astonishing facet about these fisheries, and I’m sorry to state the obvious, is their proximity to Australia’s biggest city. Usually waterways adjacent to such large urban and industrial centres are exploited and devoid of life. I can name many of the world’s large cities that fall under that banner. The difference here is we are gifted with fish-rich systems and with a population of more than four million, of which about a million are anglers living within close reach to at least one of these estuaries, it’s startling to announce they are in good shape, although some are better than others.

Mind you, three of the systems are now rec-only fisheries, so measures have been put in place to assure their long-term sustainability. What this means for the average  punter is Sydney should definitely be seen as a bona fide fishing destination for those looking to travel from interstate.

The ability to hop from one system to the other will test the ability of any angler and
offer a good opportunity to catch a multitude of species on lure, fly or bait.
In the process you will be treated to the full gamut of Sydney’s treasures and some
breathtaking scenery including untouched national parks, a buzzing metropolis with a
backdrop of the “coat hanger” and low flying jumbo jets.

In this three-part special, we will showcase each of Sydney’s big four systems. Hopefully we will whet the appetite for those who wish to be challenged and those wishing to get their arms stretched!

Port Hacking
Port Hacking is located about 25 km south of Sydney and is fed by the Hacking River and several smaller creeks, including Bundeena Creek and The Basin. This is by far the smallest waterway compared to the others that are found in the Sydney basin and will challenge any astute angler. The Hacking is a rec-only fishery and has been restricted to commercial nets for quite some time.

The Hacking offers excellent beach, rock and boat fishing opportunities where anglers have the chance of catching a wide variety of fish, including tailor, kingfish, Australian salmon, luderick, snapper, bream, whiting, leatherjacket, flathead and mulloway. The trick is to pick the right times as this can be a challenging place to fish. Happily, it’s a pleasure to spend time in once you get the knack.

At the south of the entrance to the Hacking is Jibbon Beach and Bundeena Beach. This is a great area to prospect for bream and whiting during summer. Just about any modern gun bream lure will work in this vicinity, however, pink nippers are the choice bait to bring some kidney slapping whiting undone. You can either drift or anchor up. If you decide to anchor, berley will be necessary to bring the fish to the boat. Expect trevally and tailor here as well in the warmer months. It’s also a great spot to jig up some squid for the table or to use as live baits for the resident kings further in the system. Look for sand and weed patches to source these tasty creatures.

To the north of the entrance is Salmon Haul Bay, another gun squid ground if the south side is failing to produce. Once again, target the fringes of the weedbeds adjacent to shore for success. West of Salmon Haul is Darook flats at the mouth to Gunnamatta Bay. During summer this is your best bet to catch both bream and whiting on topwater lures. The interspersed weed makes this sand flat particularly deadly and shallow enough for topwater action. A lot of fish move through these flats so position yourself
upwind so you can use the wind to make long casts. The Stiffy popper is great here
as it has some body to it and can be cast a mile. Try a Lucky Craft Sammy if the fish are acting shy.

Heading further west is Burraneer and Dolans Bay which is characterised by deep water and little tidal movement. This is one of the prime jewfish haunts in the Hacking but
the jewies are never easy to find. The jew stay fairly mobile here chasing bait schools and seem to be transient fish, not residents. For this reason you’ll need to sound out the bait before deploying your lures or livie. Dolans Bay seems to be a more consistent producer for jewfish; late afternoon and night are the pick of the times. A rising tide is usually preferred by serious jewie specialists.

Southwest from here is the expansive sand flats of Maianbar. You can’t miss it. It’s
smack bang in the main channel heading upstream from the mouth. This location is
home to Sydney’s most productive nipper grounds and some of the bigger specimens
here are rumoured to have taken an index finger or two from fishos. While that may
be pushing the boundaries of imagination a little, they are big suckers and it won’t take
long to rustle up some premier bait at either low or high tide. At high tide use a sieve to
speed up the process.
The good news is you don’t have to move far and can anchor over these flats on a high tide and fish the nippers for flathead as well as the standard bream and whiting. As the tide recedes, try fishing the edges of the flats as the fish are drained off. This area will become fully exposed on a low tide so be careful if you’re a first time boater. Also in this location is the Ballast Heap. It’s a rocky outcrop on the flats that is easily identified and a great place if you want to flick a few hard-bods for bream on the top of the tide.

This whole area can be fished by foot and is a great place to bring the kids. Night time is also another option here as the big whiting are caught in shin deep water. The channel outside these flats is known as “The Golden Mile”. It spans from Ship Rock near Caringbah and west to Lilli Pilli. This area is a good drift for flatties. It shuts down due to boat traffic later in the day so get there early for best results. The water here is gin clear so scale down your lines and lures for a more finesse approach. At Lilli Pilli there is also a large sand flat that fishes slightly differently to the others. On an  outgoing tide, the northern edge creates an eddy which holds good numbers of big kings, bonito and tailor in summer. This area seems to congregate baitfish and the
predators are not far away. Jewies are also caught near here on both lures and baits
but closer to the moored boats in the adjacent bay. The southern edge of the flat
has good numbers of trevally and tailor throughout most of the year.

North West from Lilli Pilli is the area from Grays Point to Audley Weir. This whole stretch is a bream fisho’s dream. It has all the typical cover such as fallen timber, rocky shoreline and reef. Either baits or lures will work, however, fish your baits close to shore where the bream will be hiding. Near Audley Weir mullet and EPs start to become more prevalent and Audley has some great camping grounds for a family day out. It’s easy fishing here and a basic float rig with bread will see plenty of mullet for the kiddies.

South West Arm is another key area in  the Hacking. This is also another deep region which is best known for its kingfish. The best bet here is to downrig a few live squid at various depths. Some sections here get to 80 feet so one close to the bottom and mid-water is a good starting point. Further up the channel are more jew grounds. There are a few patchy reefs here but I am sworn to secrecy so keep a keen eye on the sounder if you’re adventurous enough to go looking.

Botany Bay
Botany Bay is located south of the CBD and is Sydney’s major shipping port. As such, the entrance to the bay is deep but shallows out abruptly towards the eastern and southern expanses. Botany Bay was declared a rec-only fishing haven, which basically means it is closed to commercial fishing with the exception of abalone gathering and rock lobster trapping. Botany Bay is fed by both the Cooks River to the west and the extensive Georges River to the south-west.

Botany Bay itself is characterised by large expanses of sand flats in depths of water ranging from 1 to 10m. It has a good cross section of structure such as drop-offs, channels and holes plus a good smattering of man-made cover. As you enter the bay, immediately you are confronted with both Sydney Airport and Port Botany to the north and the Refinery Wharf to the south. Both areas concentrate baitfish and pelagic
predators such as kingfish, tailor and salmon almost year round.

From October to December, kingfish can be targeted on surface lures cast to any of the marker poles that dot the entrance to the bay in the area called “The Cans”. Try bloopers like Halco Roostas and stickbait-style surface lures like the Cultiva Tango Dancer. Later in the season, try live baiting with squid or yakkas at places like the famous Molineaux Point and Watts Reef at either sides of the entrance to the bay. Also try livies at the artificial reefs implemented by NSW Fisheries. These reefs regularly attract bait and can have some large kings sitting on them. The co-ordinates are available on the NSW DPI website.

If you want a decent feed of tailor fillets, just keep an eye out for diving birds inside
the bay, west of the mouth. These will signpost the whereabouts of tailor as they
smash whitebait and small pilchards on the surface. I recommend using small slugs for them as plastics will cost you plenty of dosh even though they are dynamite for  choppers. I sometimes use blades and they work great.

Bream are abundant year round but spring will see them congregate towards the mouth of the bay on returning from their spawning ground. Prospecting around the refinery wharf at Kurnell should get you onto fish. The water is around 40 feet deep here so don’t be afraid to use jigheads in the 6g range and lures of slightly larger profile like 65mm Squidgies Pro Fish. Bream are less spooked in deep water. This technique
also produces bream in the deep sections of the Georges River.

Heading south west, there is also an interesting fishery for bream over the flats off Towra Point. Towra Point is actually a marine reserve so study a local map to ascertain where you can and can’t fish. It’s clearly marked for those who want to wing it a little. The flats are interspersed with sand and weed and using a small hard-bod is a great choice. The better choice, in my view, is a super light jighead such as 1/50th oz mated to a 2” Gulp Shrimp. Working the plastic slow over the top of the weeds will see you connected to some quality bream and the odd whiting.

Further south west, at the mouth of the Georges River, try casting small hard-bodies in Woolooware Bay amongst the myriad of oyster leases. You could literally spend days in there without casting at the same rack twice. It’s a challenge, though; you’re not
guaranteed fish by any means, and the ones that call these leases home are brutes so good luck stopping them. Any of the quality shallow diving hard-bods will work. Also try the moored boats in the middle of the Woolooware Bay with plastics or blades.

The bread & butter fishery in Botany has to be catching flathead. If you’re a first time soft plastics angler who wants to learn the basics, the bay is definitely for you. Flathead are usually in abundance year round and are easily found with some basic sounder work. Look for gutters and drop-offs with sporadic weed in water up to four metres. Flathead like to hunt on the fringes of weedbeds and drop-offs and a craftily presented plastic will bring them undone. It’s a great activity for the kiddies if you have
promised the other half you would take them out. If you don’t have a sounder you
can drift around aimlessly in the middle of the bay dragging plastics and still have
some success. The better option for flathead is the area between both Captain Cooks Bridge and Tom Uglys Bridge which marks the beginning of the Georges River.

Heading west, if jewies are your thing Georges River will provide plenty areas of interest. For consistent action try any of the bridge pylons located throughout the river. There are many so be prepared to stay mobile and find which ones are producing on the day. It is normal to clock up 50kms a day in the hunt. Be prepared for annoying speed  restrictions along the way. Fishprofile plastics are dynamite as well as 5” Gulp Jerk Shads. Don’t focus too much on colour, even though I stick to natural hues. I find the up-current edge is more productive than the eddy behind the pylon and either side of the tide best.

Even still, make sure you work your way around the entire pylon just in case. As a secondary effort, prospect around any of the prominent points in the river, especially ones that have holes either side of them such as Kangaroo Point and Jewfish Point.
The Georges and Cooks rivers both play host to bass and EPs. The warmer months will see both species well up the system; EPs in the brackish sections such as Chipping Norton Lake and bass well into the feeder creeks like Woronora River, Cabramatta Creek and Salt Pan Creek.

I like to use my sounder to find the EPs. They school up in deep holes well away from structure and can be difficult to find without quality electronics. Bass, on the other hand, are found tucked well into submerged timber and are even known to be caught around the odd shopping trolley. Such is the cover in the upper limits!

In winter both species migrate down towards more saline water and can be found schooled up in the middle of the river. Please remember, though, that both species are regulated by a closed season from June to August inclusive. Any fish accidently caught during this period must be returned to water immediately.

There you have it; it’s like speed dating both the Hacking and Botany. While this is
only the tip of the iceberg, go online, bring up Google maps and do a bit of research.
Type in the areas I have mentioned and get your bearings so when you rock up you’re
ready to catch some quality fish.

Next month we travel north to the Sydney CBD to review Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River. If you’re serious about catching fish on lures, you won’t want to miss this!

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