How to hook a big fish this summer on the South Coast

All roads lead to the south coast this summer.

Cars will soon be bumper-to-bumper on the Clyde and Brown mountains as Canberrans pour out of the capital to feel the sun on their backs and the sand between their toes.

If you’re lucky enough to be among them, there’s a fair chance you’ll also have a fishing rod or two stowed somewhere in the boot in between the bogey boards, beach towels and camping chairs.

The south coast, after all, is blessed with some of the most pristine estuaries and beaches in the state.

Eurobodalla (the stretch of coast from just north of Batemans Bay to just south of Narooma) means “Land of Many Waters” in the local Aboriginal dialect.

It’s a haven for anyone who likes to wet a line, whether you’re an experienced angler or someone who fishes just once or twice a year.

Dedicated Recreational Fishing Havens – inlets, rivers and lakes completely off limits to commercial fishing – have helped boost fish numbers in a number of estuaries, resulting in enjoyable sport for anglers of all abilities.

But that doesn’t mean the fishing is always easy.

In fact, I know what a lot of you did last summer; many of you probably struggled on the fishing front, right?

Catching fish on the coast isn’t always straightforward, especially across the manic Christmas-New Year period.

That’s hardly surprising when you look at the population explosion that occurs on the coast over Christmas.

To give you an idea, Batemans Bay swells from about 16,000 people to more than 50,000 at the peak of summer.

Other popular towns, including Ulladulla, Moruya, Narooma, Bermagui and Merimbula also burst at the seams.

You can imagine the impact this sudden influx of people has on the coastal waterways.

If I was a whiting or flathead, and my normally placid home was suddenly invaded by boats, outboards, kayaks, jet-skis and hundreds of fishing lines, I’d go into hiding.

And that’s exactly what happens in and around the popular coastal holiday spots, especially in late December and early January when hot spots like the Clyde River and Tuross Lake look more like Sydney Harbour on New Year’s Eve!

It makes fishing a challenge and, unfortunately, holidaying anglers can draw a complete blank during their coastal break.

Experienced south coast angler and Bermagui tackle shop owner Scott Bradley witnesses visiting fishers struggle every summer.

“The influx of Canberra anglers is certainly noticed by us all along the coast,” Bradley says.

“Whether they’re regular fishos or first timers, we want to make sure they have the best chance to catch a fish in these waters. Obviously, we want to see them again and enjoying the experience is a big part of that.”

Bradley says there are a few simple things holidaying anglers can do to stack the odds in their favour over the silly season.

You snooze, you lose

Summer holidays and sleep-ins go hand-in-hand, but if you’re serious about bagging some fish over the break, it’s time to rise and shine. If you can’t get away from other anglers, Bradley recommends getting on the water before them.

“That half-hour window at first light is peak feeding time for a lot of popular summer species, including bream, whiting and tailor,” he says.

Better still, boat traffic and other noise isn’t an issue at dawn as fellow anglers enjoy a sleep in while you reel-in breakfast.

If you can’t bear to drag yourself out of bed before sunrise, the hours around dusk and after dark can be just as fruitful. It’s amazing how many times you see fishers packing up their gear and heading home because it’s getting close to dinner time. Remember, sundown is dinner time for the fish as well!

Watch your weight

If Bradley could give holidaying anglers one piece of advice in the lead up to this summer it’s to lighten their approach.

“Simple things like fishing light enough line and weight to not discourage a bite is important,” he says.

If you’re bait fishing this summer, focus on using the smallest sinker possible for the conditions. Sinkers shouldn’t be thought of as ‘anchors’ to keep your rig on the ocean floor. Sinkers should be used to get your bait into the ‘strike zone’ and keep it there for as long as possible. Big sinkers are really only for very deep water or very strong currents.

The same applies to fishing line. If you’re fishing for popular estuary species like flathead, bream and whiting, don’t use thick 30kg breaking strain line. You won’t catch a thing. Heavy line spooks fish. Use light line matched to a nice, light, balanced rod and reel. You’ll enjoy better results and have, ultimately, a lot more fun.

Beat the crowds

During the peak holiday period, successful anglers make a point of getting off the beaten track in search of a fish or two.

“The beauty of this region is there are many parts of our estuaries and beaches where you will still find isolation, or at least fewer people,” Bradley says.

Take crowds out of the equation by walking, driving, kayaking or boating into more secluded locations. It’s amazing how rapidly your fishing fortunes can turn when you find a spot to yourself. Sure, it takes a little time and effort, but if you get an opportunity, try to get ‘off the grid’ this summer and see what a difference it makes.

The most important thing, of course, is to enjoy your fishing this summer, whether your results are mediocre or marvellous.

Bradley sums it up well with this final piece of advice.

“Just be sure to hit the coast prepared to fish for the variety of species on offer,” he says.

“Whether it be garfish, bream, flathead and whiting in the lakes and rivers, salmon and tailor off the rocks and beaches, a little thought in your approach, some adjustment to your tackle and a dose of expert advice will help.”

Tight lines everyone!

Top tips for summer holiday fishing

Fish light – use the lightest sinkers and lines possible.

Don’t sleep in – the best fishing occurs at first light. Dusk is also productive.

Avoid crowds – walk, paddle or motor to less crowded areas and you’ll be rewarded with more fish.

Get fresh – fresh and live bait gathered yourself will always out-fish frozen or day-old bait.

Seek advice – ask tackle shop staff (like Scott and his team), local anglers or fellow holidaymakers for tips.

Things to remember

Anglers 16 years and over fishing the south coast require a NSW Recreational Fishing License. These can be purchased from most tackle shops or via Licenses cost $7 for three days; $14 for one month; $35 for one year; or $85 for three years.

Sections of the NSW south coast are designated Marine Parks and include ‘Sanctuary Zones’ off limits to recreational fishing. Before you fish, check out for details on these ‘no go’ areas.

Size and bag limits apply to many popular south coast species, and fisheries inspectors are often out checking catches over the peak holiday period. So make sure you’re across the rules and regulations, which can also be found at


Written by: Ben Caddaye
This article was first published by Fairfax on December 18 2016

Time for a reel adventure

At first blush, Canberra isn’t the obvious city to base yourself if you’re a keen angler.

But this landlocked city has a lot to offer the fishing enthusiast. I’ve lived here for 38 years and can’t think of a better capital city to live in from a fishing perspective.

A lot of Canberrans fish. Some are diehard addicts who eat, sleep and breathe the sport.

Others are casual or weekend anglers, who dangle a line when they can – sometimes just once or twice a year.

One thing’s for certain, though, in the next six weeks or so, more Canberrans are likely to wet a line than at any other time of the year.

The vast majority will make the pilgrimage down the Kings Highway and Clyde Mountain, headed for Batemans Bay or holiday spots to the north and south.

The fishing in this part of the world in summer can be nothing short of sensational. Holidaying anglers are spoilt for choice, too.

There are estuarine rivers and lakes for those with kayaks or children, rocks and beaches for fishers with a sense of adventure, and bountiful offshore reefs for anglers with access to a boat.

Regardless of where you fish, there’s a variety of species on offer.

In the estuaries, bream, flathead and whiting will dominate anglers’ bags over Christmas. All three species can be caught quite easily on baits or lures and all are great on the barbecue.

On the beaches and rocks, hard-fighting tailor and salmon will provide plenty of thrills and spills in the white-water.

While not everyone’s cup of tea in the culinary stakes, both fish are spectacularly fun on the end of a fishing line and will hit a variety of baits and lures with gusto.

Out in the deeper water, those with boats will find lots of snapper, flathead, leatherjacket and other tasty reef fish.

At this time of the year, tongues of warm water also lick areas off the far south coast, bringing with them exciting game fish such as tuna, kingfish and even marlin.

It means a trip offshore on the south coast can be very much like a lucky dip – you often never know what’s going to eat your offering next … and that makes it all the more appealing.

While there are plenty of fish in the sea, if you are going to try your luck on the south coast these holidays, don’t always expect the fishing to be easy.

Crowded waterways, increased boat traffic and anglers lined shoulder-to-shoulder at popular locations, can all make summertime fishing on the coast a real challenge.

People, boats, outboard motors, noise and splashing scare fish – it’s as simple as that. So, this summer, try to make the effort to head off the beaten track a bit – where there are fewer people and more fish.

One of the best ways to avoid the crowds is to grab a kayak or canoe and invest some time and energy into exploring the many secluded south-coast creeks that are off limits to holiday-makers with bigger boats.

This can be a really enjoyable form of fishing – you’ll get some exercise, experience some picture-postcard scenery and, importantly, catch more fish. You will also have greater success if you can time your fishing trips for the very early morning or late evening. Not only will you have the waterways to yourself at this time of the day, it also coincides with the peak period of activity for most fish species.

To fish successfully, you need the right tools for the job.

Judging by what I see every holiday season, fishing with inappropriate tackle – usually in the form of thick lines and heavy sinkers – is where most ”weekend” anglers go wrong. For the most part, fishing with light tackle is the best way to guarantee success on the water this season.

Fish hate feeling anything untoward when they pick up a bait – and a big lump of lead on a heavy line creates resistance that is guaranteed to put fish off the bite.

When it comes to choosing your fishing gear this summer, select the lightest tackle you can get away with.

Don’t be afraid to seek a bit of local knowledge. If you don’t fish the south coast regularly, it can easily take days or weeks to find fish. By this time, the trip could be over.

Seek guidance from tackle shops or hire a charter or fishing guide to show you the ropes.

Alternatively, hook up with a local resident or someone extremely familiar with the area; they can show or teach you in minutes what would otherwise take you days to discover on your own.

Summer is the ideal time to introduce kids to the joys of fishing and the best way to make it a ”joy” is to catch fish – any fish.

Kids getting started in the world of fishing don’t care if it’s a tuna or a toadfish – as long as they catch something.

Bread-and-butter species that are easy to find, easy to hook and easy to wind in are ideal. Whiting, mullet, yellowtail and slimy mackerel spring to mind – but there are plenty more.

Even species we regard as pests, such as toadfish, can bring joy to the face of a junior angler.

Bait fishing is probably the best option for children, as it tends to result in more action, even if it is in the form of tiddlers.

As always, fresh is best. In fact, why not involve kids in the bait-gathering process. You will often find that youngsters enjoy pumping nippers, chasing crabs or trapping poddy mullet as much – if not more – than fishing.

If you’re fishing the NSW south coast you will need a NSW Recreational Fishing Licence. These can be purchased at most tackle shops, Kmart stores or online at

Fishing licences cost $6 for three days, $12 for a month, $30 for a year or $75 for three years. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, pensioners and under-18s are exempt.

Bear in mind that the areas to the north and south of Batemans Bay are within the Batemans Marine Park, and there are sections within the park that are off limits to all forms of fishing. Maps of the marine park are available from tackle shops.

Tight lines!


The best fishing spots along the South Coast

The best south coast fishing spots

BEN CADDAYE looks at some of the best places to wet a line on the south coast this summer.

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.

Lake Conjola

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.

Durras Lake

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.

Lake Tuross

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-Wagonga Inlet

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.

Bermagui-Wallaga Lake

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.

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