I know that those of you shivering your way through what is laughably called the first days of Spring in the UK really don’t need to see too many smug pictures of Sunny Sydney where it is 28 to 30 degrees at the moment with the forecast for more of the same. As it happens they’ve had a pretty crap summer in Oz with heaps of rain which has messed up the runs of pelagic fish and the bigger predators by pushing too much dirty floodwater out of the estuaries and on to the inshore reefs. Luckily that was a few weeks back and now the water has cleared and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sydney Harbour so full of baitfish. There are yellow tailed scad, or yakkers, slimy mackerel and mullet absolutely everywhere. Trouble is there’s hardly a predator to be seen taking advantage of this free meal. I’ve walked and watched the water from my favourite vantage points and have hardly seen a bust up or a swirl. If the kingfish, tailor and bonito don’t turn up soon they are going to miss out on a feast of a lifetime. So whilst it seems that we have timed our holiday to perfection as far as the weather goes I’m a bit concerned that I could miss out on some serious big fish action.
On the first morning a combination of enthusiasm and jetlag saw me meet up with my mate Ollie at one of our favourite wharves for some livebait gathering. The water was thick with yakkers and Ollie decided to put one out under a float but typically forgot to loosen off his drag. Some ten minutes later there was a crash as his rod catapulted off the wharf and plunged 20 feet into the water. Despite some whinging about sharks he eventually agreed to dive in and as luck would have it his float surfaced and with some difficulty he was able to swim ashore towing a large but rather bemused tailor which we unhooked before retrieving the rest of his tackle. I was laughing too much to remember to take a photo of the fish but Ollie’s damp but triumphant torso didn’t escape the camera lens.
There are always plenty of fishing options in Sydney harbour so I linked up with my old mate, and fellow Fishing World writer John Newbery for a spot of blackfish bashing off the rocks. I’ve a soft spot for the Luderick, to give them their proper name, as this was the first fish I caught Down Under when I came out here in 2009. They are exclusively vegetarian so no lures or livebaits are required. In fact blackfish fishing is the closest to English coarse fishing that a visiting Pom is going to find in Australia with its groundbaiting, sliding floats and comparatively delicate tackle.
Luderick love weed and tend to patrol the drop offs and harbour structures like wharves, rock ledges and pontoons. The technique involves ‘berleying’ with chopped string and cabbage weed mixed in with soft wet sand as a binder. Hooks are either size ten or eight , which is considered miniscule out here, attached to 6 or 8lbs hook links under a top and bottom slider which looks much like a giant Avon float.
The bait is presented from half depth to just off the bottom depending on how they want it and the most productive period tends to be when the tide is running the strongest. There’s an old saying that I first heard amongst the harbour blackfish specialists ‘No run…No fun’ which can applied to plenty of other fishing situations.
The fish themselves average between one and two pounds with a three pounder considered a real specimen and a four pounder a fish of a lifetime. They look like a cross between bass and perch with a spiked dorsal fin and purplish black flanks. Best of all they bite freely and fight like stink on light tackle. John and I have just spent a very pleasant morning landing around 30 fish between us from the same rock platform near Manly. It was simple, unhurried fishing in the sunshine in perhaps world’s most beautiful city harbour. This is just one reason why I keep coming back here.