It’s winter. It’s cold. The trout streams are closed, the ski fields are open and there is nothing better to do that curl up in front of the fire with a nice glass of something warming and hibernate until the spring. Right? It’s only a couple of months to go …
What if I told you the last few weeks across south east NSW have been filled with clean, crisp days and mirror-like finishes on the surface of the water. And that some of us humble folk at flick and fly journal have smashed a couple of our PBs (personal bests) during what is meant to be the quietest time of the year. Yellowbelly, murray cod, bream, tailor, flathead and the occasional trevally have all made it to the net. So before the rods are stacked up in a dusty corner of the house, here is a snapshot of some of the winter fishing options that we’ve enjoyed at the moment. Hopefully you might too.
Weeks of high pressure systems and clear sunny days have prolonged the ‘fattening up’ period for our native fish as they build condition for the (supposedly lean) winter months ahead and spawning in the spring. Wandering around my local lake (Burley Griffin) I used to feel pangs of envy when I would chat to someone launching a spinnerbait off the banks to discover that they had just landed a football-sized yellowbelly. They would happily show me the photo and describe the tussle. These days I’m stoked to hear about the fish, especially if it’s released again. “Really? Your first yellowbelly? Man, that’s awesome, well done!”. It inspires me to fish the lake again. So on a Sunday afternoon, after a couple of hours of frustrating maintenance and troubleshooting jobs to do, I pushed the boat in (I had to make sure it was still working right?) and started casting Rapala hard vibes in 5-8 metres of water. With a lift and drop technique I felt a sharp tug on the drop and my envy suddenly evaporated as I too was enjoying the run of fat winter yellowbelly. It measured 51cm and an estimated 3 kilos. A new best for me by about 6cm. A few small redfin later and there was a second sharp knock on the lure but this fish didn’t connect. I’m almost positive it was another yellow. Friends of the blog report one fish, sometimes two, in each session of a couple of hours. What a better way to spend a sunny winter’s afternoon?
Similarly Murray Cod seem to be feeding well leading into the colder months. A combination of small and medium sized fish have been attacking the usual bibbed minnows and spinnerbaits. But for that heart-racing adrenaline rush, it is hard to beat surface lures. A recent trip to the local tackle store reminded me just how quickly this style of fishing has grown. What started with a few surface walkers has exploded to a full blown array of water rats, ducklings, wake-baits and water dragons. These lures not only mimic the size of these animals, up to a whopping 400mm long in some cases, but are increasingly life-like and many are a work of art. For example, if you’ve got a spare $130 you can pick up one of these amazing creations from Barambah lures. (We’re not affiliated with Barambah – they are simply amazing looking lures).
Lee and I had a session recently where I hooked and dropped a little cod of about 50cm off the surface (I make a much better photographer of cod than angler apparently) and Lee landed this stunning fish just under the magic metre mark. His best on a surface lure. Despite it’s size it still fell to a relatively ‘small’ Cod walloper 95mm lure so it’s a good reminder you don’t necessarily need huge lures and broomstick rods to find fish of this caliber. Both fish struck on the pause, so my suggestion would be to slow down at this time of year.
The saltwater scene is mixed but as with previous winters, if you can find one fish and crack the code, you can often find a few and have a lot of fun. Recent trips to Durras lake, the Clyde river and Tuross lake demonstrate this point perfectly.
Fishing Durras lake recently in the kayaks, we spent a couple of hours either side of high tide searching for willing bream and flathead on shallow diving lures. We followed the fish up into the shallows, weedy flats and the edges of the basins. While flathead will attack anything that slowly moves past their nose, we found that sometimes a slow retrieve with a few pauses and twitches was required for the bream. And once we tired of casting from the kayak, which does take it’s toll on your back, especially if you’re sitting down, we enjoyed trolling a couple of lures along while enjoying the sunshine. We picked up a nice flattie to 55cm and a bream of 35cm. More on trolling from the kayak in the next post – it’s a deadly technique! As the tide drops you might like to try the usual drains, channels and holes where ambush predators like flathead will sit in wait as passing bait schools get dragged out to sea with the receding water.
A kayak is not the ideal vessel for the vast and fast flowing Clyde river system but it was what we had on the day. One advantage of only being able to explore a small amount of the 50kms+ of water, is that you tend to really focus on the bit you can access under paddle power. Add to the mix jet skis and wake boats and you’ll quickly find yourself in some out of the way spot looking for solace. Out of the way sometimes means shallow (inaccessible to boats) and protected from the wind. While this sounds ideal for fishing, we found the glassy conditions a mixed blessing, especially for bream fishing. If the water is clear, the sun is shining and there is no wind chop, bream become incredibly wary of lures. Even with one and a half rod lengths of 3lb leader and plenty of pauses of a neutral suspending lure, I could see fishing following the lure but carefully studying it from a safe distance. After an hour of this little cat-and-mouse game I gave up. Not to be outsmarted however, I changed tactics. The answer was to head to those areas where the tree-lined banks were casting shadows or dappled light on the water. During winter when the days are relatively short and the sun is at a low angle, these aren’t hard to find. A slow roll of the shallow diving lure over the top of the weeds and this beautiful bream came to the net. As the tide turned and started to run out, we repeated the pattern of the day before and focused on the drains and channels for flathead with modest success.
Last weekend we spent many hours traversing the length and breadth of Tuross lake looking for flathead, bream and any palaegic fish that might meander into the estuary at high tide, specifically tailor and salmon. Many of these plans took a back seat however to my somewhat childish dreams of trophy fish. The new moon and huge tides suggested that there might be Mulloway around. We threw big plastics into the normal haunts around high tide and picked up the odd tailor and flathead as by-catch. One of our neighbours at the caravan park reported his first mulloway that day, so they were around. Unfortunately the closest we came was when a school of bait around 15-20cm started fleeing in panic as something chased them from underneath. Given the size of the bait, the moon phase and the timing of the tide, my money was on a small school of mulloway, but they could have just as easily been big tailor I suppose? They were only 50 metres away and we cast and cast in every direction but couldn’t intercept them. It was still a heart-racing experience to get so close to the ghosts of the estuary and I felt justified spending so much time chasing these often elusive top-line predators.
A welcome addition to the winter party was a couple of silver trevally. As soon as these guys hit a lure and get their bodies side-on you know you’ve hooked something different. One of the most powerful fish in the estuary by weight, they are also one of the most stubborn to bring in. They are a lot of fun. Trevally are not generally considered to be that tasty when they are cooked but I really like them as sashimi or the Hawaiian dish poke. What I don’t like is when I put one in the bottom of the esky and the tongue parasite drops off its host and starts crawling around. If you’re not familiar with these fascinating (and quite disturbing) creatures, check out a post Dan wrote here a couple of years ago. It is still one of our most popular posts.
Apart from one 55cm fish we could only catch undersized flathead. About 14 of them in total, ranging from 30-35cms. They were everywhere. In the shallows, in deep water and patrolling the drop-offs. They had no problems swallowing big lures suggesting they were hungry but word has obviously got out that we were keen for a feed and the bigger fish were gone! We did spook a big female around 70cm basking in no more than 40cm of water in a very remote part of the lake but that was the only action to report on what is normally a very reliable fish to catch.
The bream switched on and off like a switch. Shallow diving lures on a rising tide found a couple of nice fish around the weedy and rocky edges one day. The next day they were in full kamikaze mode and we pulled in 10-12 fish in about 90 minutes. It was early in the morning, the skies were a little cloudy and the fish were hungry. As we came around for a second drift we got one or two more and then they completely went off the bite. It was still the best crank bait fishing for bream I’ve been lucky enough to experience, even if only 3 of the fish were legal sized.
With the occasional tailor off the beach and in the estuaries, and lots of sea eagles, bower birds and masked lapwings flying overhead, it was once again a very enjoyable weekend on the water. So whole winter is not a time for cricket scores of fish, there are still lots of good fishing options and plenty of sunshine to enjoy. For us personally it has provided an opportunity to catch some cracking fish, especially the freshwater natives. But the best part of all is that when the sun sets around around 5pm you can be back in front of the fire with that glass of something by dinner time.