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.
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 www.dpi.nsw.gov.au 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 www.dpi.nsw.gov.au 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 www.dpi.nsw.gov.au
Written by: Ben Caddaye
This article was first published by Fairfax on December 18 2016