A lot of Canberrans will throw the rods, reels and tackle box into the car this summer. Some will genuinely fancy their chances of a regular fresh fish barbecue; others will be happy to simply dangle a line.
Regardless of which category you fall into, here is a guide to fishing some of the more popular south coast destinations.
Hopefully, this advice will help you land a few fish for the table and have some summer fun with family and friends.
Jervis Bay-St Georges Basin
Road upgrades between Canberra and Nowra mean the beautiful Jervis Bay region is a little more than two hours away from the nation’s capital. This area is a angler’s paradise: beach, rock and estuary fishing are within easy reach.
Because of its geography – the bay on one side of the peninsula and the basin on the other – anglers are spoilt for choice in any weather. St Georges Basin is the most popular fishery in the region and is a great place for holidaymakers to chase a feed. Flathead, bream, whiting, tailor, snapper and blackfish abound throughout the system.
Access to a boat is definitely an advantage when fishing this vast, open estuary. Concentrate on the ”edges”, where the water drops from less than a metre to about four metres. That is where you will find flathead, bream and whiting on lures and bait. The deeper water produces trophy tailor and pan-size snapper.
Shore-based fishos should head for one of the many jetties at places such as Erowal Bay, Sussex Inlet, Basin View and on the other side of the peninsula at Huskisson.
An estuary that boasts a town on its shores named Fisherman’s Paradise has to be a handy fishing spot, and Lake Conjola does not disappoint.
A few clicks north of Milton, the lake is a noted haunt for big flathead, large tailor, fat whiting and solid bream. It is also very popular with water-skiers, so your best bet is to get on the estuary nice and early in the morning, or try some of the bays and inlets away from the main basin. Conjola is a mostly shallow lake, so most of the fishing action is in the area known as ”the Steps”. This is the deepest part of the system and home to a good number of flathead and tailor.
And do not ignore the shallow margins and weed edges, which are very productive areas to stalk whiting and bream. Infestations of caulerpa weed have been a problem in past seasons. Let us hope they are not this summer.
A small, shallow estuary north of Batemans Bay, Durras Lake punches well above its weight in the fishing stakes. Flathead and whiting are summer staples.
Anglers working the shallows with fresh nippers and worms will catch plenty of these fish. The holes and drop-offs are ideal for exploring with soft plastic lures for large flathead. Just because Durras is small does not mean the flathead do not grow big, and every season a handful of fish about 90 centimetres is taken.
Because of its size, Durras lends itself well to kayaks, canoes and small boats – it is certainly not the place to launch your seven-metre cabin cruiser. Parts of the system are marine park sanctuary zones, so consult the Batemans Marine Park map to avoid a hefty fine.
Batemans Bay-Clyde River
Batemans Bay will be the most popular port of call for holidaying Canberrans this summer. The population of this usually sleepy town swells to overflowing from Boxing Day, but despite the influx of visitors, the area boasts some great fishing.
The majestic Clyde River is the focus for most anglers. This huge estuary begins in the hills as a tiny, crystal-clear, freshwater stream and winds its way about 100 kilometres and spills into the Tasman Sea.
The upper reaches are great bass country, but it is between the two highway bridges – at Nelligen and Batemans Bay – that has most of the action for holidaymakers. Flathead, bream and tailor are abundant and can be caught from a drifting boat on soft plastic lures and fresh and live bait.
Deep water and a strong tidal flow can make the Clyde difficult to fish for newcomers. Try your luck towards the shoreline, and focus on where the shallows give way to deeper water – that is where most of the fish feed.
The Clyde is also renowned for its monster mulloway. These are taken by experienced anglers fishing the deep holes and ”bait balls” using big, soft plastic lures and fish-flesh baits. If you do not have a boat, several jetties and breakwalls on the river provide shore-based anglers with good access to fishy water.
It is often overlooked by holidaying anglers, but the Moruya River can compete as a fishery with some of the more glamorous waterways to the north and south. Unlike a lot of south coast estuaries, the Moruya River has lots of great shore-based options. Near the river mouth, breakwalls on the northern and southern sides provide a relatively safe and accessible place to chase tailor, salmon, bream and flathead. The wharf near the historic quarry has been upgraded and is a great fishing platform for bream, flathead and tailor. So is Preddys Wharf near Moruya Heads. Try a peeled prawn on a light rig – there is a good chance you will hook up.
Boat anglers can drift the flats in the lower reaches and expect to catch lots of flathead on soft plastic lures. Whiting abound throughout the river and can be caught on fresh nippers or worms. One of the best patches to fish is the stretch of river upstream of the highway bridge. The upper reaches produce estuary perch and bass.
Few places on the south coast have received as much hype in the fishing media as Lake Tuross. Since becoming a recreational fishing haven more than a decade ago, Lake Tuross has been the poster child for ”rec only” fisheries on the south coast.
Now netting is a distant memory, species such as flathead, bream, whiting and mulloway have thrived in the lake, and anglers have flocked from all corners of the country for a slice of the action.
Flathead are the main drawcard. Each year, Tuross produces a handful of huge fish over the magic metre mark. You do not have to go far for these fish, either. Many are caught within a stone’s throw of the popular waterfront cafes and eateries that swarm with tourists over the Christmas break.
Try casting and retrieving soft plastics around the drop-offs. Anglers employing this technique are also in with the chance of a prized mulloway. Big whiting are on offer towards the mouth of Tuross on fresh bait, vibe lures and surface poppers.
The oyster racks throughout the system are magnets for bream, and fishing small, soft plastic and minnow-style lures around the leases on a boat or kayak can often result in an action-packed session.
A number of well-known anglers from television and magazines fish Tuross regularly, and a day spent on the lake during the holidays can be a bit of a celebrity-spotting exercise.
Narooma’s Wagonga Inlet has been described as the jewel in the south coast’s crown, and it is not hard to see why. Wagonga has been a rec-only fishery longer than any other estuary on the south coast, and it shows. Its reputation for monster flathead is legendary. These fish live around the drop-offs, where the sand flats give way to holes and channels up to 10 metres deep. Big, soft plastic lures on relatively heavy jig heads are often the go for the trophy flathead. Experienced anglers tend to follow the schools of bait and feeding tailor.
Mulloway are also on the cards in Wagonga and are often caught by anglers fishing for flatties. The front of the system, between the lake and the entrance, is a great spot for big whiting. Target these fish with fresh nippers. The oyster racks up the back of the inlet are a noted haunt for big bream.
Shore-based anglers can walk the Boardwalk, which boasts purpose-built fishing platforms. Expect to catch bream, flathead and leatherjacket in this area.
Note the sanctuary zones within the system.
Adjacent to the famous fishing town of Bermagui, Wallaga Lake has long been a popular location for visiting Canberrans. Boat anglers can drift a live nipper or prawn in the middle of the lake for a feed of flathead or whiting. Soft plastic lures, naturally, are also worth a shot.
Wallaga is also a really productive estuary for tailor. You can troll a small metal lure from a boat or have a flick around from the shore near the road bridge, near the mouth of the system. The bridge area is also a great land-based location for bream, flathead and flounder.
Visiting anglers will have to share the lake with plenty of water-skiers over summer, but finding a quiet location to wet a line is simply a matter of veering a bit off the beaten track. The nearby Bermagui River is a small but relatively productive estuary that fishes well for the usual bread-and-butter species.
If you do not have access to a boat, try the training wall towards the mouth of the estuary for luderick, flathead, trevally and bream. The luderick are especially plentiful around here and can be caught on weed baits fished under a float.
Written by: Ben Caddaye
This article was first published by Fairfax on January 12 2014.