Rediscovering the NSW south coast estuaries; Merimbula lake fishing report

Down in numbers, but all of good size – early spring fishing in Merimbula lake

What a treat to be able to spend the labor day long weekend down on the NSW south coast at Merimbula. Our extended family had gathered to celebrate the old man’s 70th birthday and accordingly we had splurged on some nice cabins and were treated to a small private jetty to moor up the boat over the four days.

Of course our normal fishing routine (dawn to dusk, every day) was tempered by family time, walks along the excellent Merimbula board walk, trips to the beach with the kids, national park time and just hanging about eating and drinking. But this wouldn’t be a fishing blog if we hadn’t found the time to catch a few fish or have a brief spring fishing report to share…

img_5198 Family
Sometimes fishing has to take a back seat to sight seeing and joy rides

Our accommodation and the public boat ramp were on different sides of the lake so while dad drove back over the bridge after launching, I motored across the lake in the boat for the rendezvous. I arrived a few minutes before he did and started to cast around the nearest point to pass the time. Imagine my surprise then when on the 5th cast my soft plastic was belted on the drop and I was connected to a surprisingly feisty (and large) dusky flathead. As dad arrived to be picked up my rod was bent over double. A little over 5 casts earlier I had decided to switch from winding with my right-hand to my left hand (more on this in a later post) and I was now feeling incredibly nervous, as well as uncoordinated, about netting the fish by myself. Fortunately everything went according to plan, the line remained tight and the fish swam calmly into the waiting net. Day 1 – 15 minutes in and I was already on cloud nine. It was great to be back after 6 months overseas.

Who’s a happy boy then?
Fat across the shoulders, this fish was in fantastic condition
Released to continue terrorizing the local baitfish

We let the fish go as it seems such a shame to kill a fish of this size as it is likely to be a breeding female. Without so much as a bite for the next hour or two and still nothing in the esky though, it was pretty exciting to spot some birds dive bombing in the corner of the lake. We raced across and cast into the melee with 20 and 40 gram metal lures and were rewarded with three better than average (40cm) tailor. The tailor seemed to have a beat, much like a trout, roaming an area perhaps a hectare in size. As it turns out this hectare is where the artificial reefs have been installed and they seem to be working well in attracting the bait and predatory fish to that area.

img_5172 Tailor 20gram slice
Tailor; the angriest fish in the sea

Day 2 – The next morning we we would begin a pattern of getting up very early (before first light) and fishing until breakfast at 8am with family activities to follow during the day. Thus for the next few mornings we would experience fantastic sunrises but also brave freezing temperatures and numb fingers. It also meant we were very restricted in what tides we could fish. Incoming, incoming, incoming, or dead low before incoming.  It can be hard to know where to fish on an incoming tide in winter and early spring as the flats and weed beds haven’t yet been invaded by prawns, with no bream or whiting in hot pursuit. One spot at Merimbula I’ve experienced modest success is the ‘front edge’ of the top lake. By this I mean the eastern edge that is lined with oyster racks, weeds and sand flats. On an incoming tide you can often see the water surging across the flats before dropping into the deep water of the lake itself – a prime ambush spot. With this in mind we fished these areas quite a lot but they were hit and miss.

img_5188 gurnard
This vibrant Gurnard was the only fish to reach the net on this day

Day 3 – Fishing one of the ‘spillways’ along the front edge, we were drifting amongst the discoloured water and debris when a big tailor busted up in front of us. I grabbed a rod with a metal lure and cast to where the water was still disturbed and immediately hooked up – only to lose the fish a second or two later. I cast again and again in the glassy conditions and saw a huge bow wave gaining on my lure as it waggled and darted across the surface. The lure won the race back to the boat and the big tailor veered off. It is a sight that I won’t soon forget – it was awesome to see. We continue to fan casts out in all directions assuming this big solitary fish was still hunting nearby and that proved correct as dad connected with it in the opposite direction. It put up a great fight and dad’s anxiety levels were in no way helped by my commentating on the impressive size of the fish swimming around under the boat. It measured nearly 52cm to the tip of the tail. In short, a ‘horse’.

img_5201 big tailor
The biggest tailor are often solitary hunters or cruising in small groups of 2 or 3
img_5199 Dad big tailor
Glassy conditions and big hungry tailor are a recipe for good fun

This big guy must have been leading the charge as the tidal water poured into the top lake. After the drama of landing him, we could see tailor schools busting up in several locations across the lake. It was glassy and they were extremely flighty, going down deep for short periods before popping up a hundred metres away. When we motored towards them with the big motor, they went down and our casts were in vain. In the end, the stealth of the electric motor and long casts with metal lures were the only way to connect to these fish which were consistently around 40cm. After adding a couple more to our esky, we called it a morning and headed back in. That night the family enjoyed a lovely meal of Goan-style fish curry.

img_5222 spice tailor
Looking for an easy recipe option for a big family meal, we couldn’t resist the ‘spice tailor’ for a lovely meal of tailor curry

Day 4 – Running a little low on ideas we started the session around the boat hire focusing on the edges and changes in depth. We had a thoroughly enjoyable time cruising along and mixed up the soft plastic fishing with some hard-bodied lures over the weed beds, but didn’t raise a fish.  We returned to the eastern edge of top lake and bounced soft plastics down the transition from 2 to 6 metres. I hooked a nice flathead around 50cms on a 70mm paddle-tail plastic which dramatically raised our spirits. Working on the theory that where there are one, there are many, we fished this area with a newfound energy for the next twenty minutes. We landed 3 more flathead and had several more bites. This little spot saved the day and was a timely reminder to cover fish-holding spots thoroughly.  With daylight savings having just kicked in for the year, 8am came around earlier than before (relative to sunrise) and we retreated back to the accommodation to pack up and check out.

We kept 4 flathead for the table between 40 and 50cms and happily fed two families

The long weekend was a timely reminder of just how special the coastline of Australia is. Having lived overseas on Oahu for the last 6 months it highlighted how pristine and relatively uncrowded the estuaries and beaches right around the country and particularly the NSW south coast are. The water is crystal clean, they are full of fish and rarely netted for commercial harvest.  The areas around these small coastal towns are largely forested or protected in national parks.  We walked in nearby Ben Boyd and Mount Imlay National Parks and saw a huge range of birds, wildflowers, echidnas and a goanna. We walked along the beaches and saw whales splashing about off shore. With the exception of the whales on Oahu, it really hit home that all of the other things we take for granted when fishing, such as the native plants and animals, are missing in so many places around the world. While the fishing certainly wasn’t hot, the average size and condition of the fish was excellent. As the water warms up and the prawns start running it is only going to get better and better. At the end of the day we were able to balance our fishing time with family time (something we may have struggled with in the past) and enjoyed two meals of fresh fish shared amongst us all. Sounds like a pretty good weekend to me.

Tight lines!


img_5191 echidna

img_5217 goanna lace monitor
Meeting the locals
Spring is a great time for native wildflowers
Spring is a great time for native wildflowers
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