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Sydney Harbour Jewfish

By Cameron Cronin

For many anglers that are fortunate enough call the bustling metropolis surrounding Sydney Harbour home, catching mulloway (jewfish) on artificials with any degree of consistency is little more than a pipe dream. Admittedly, if you were to wind back the clock to the start of my harbour jewfish escapades, a little over 4 years ago, I most definitely belonged to that same category of anglers. With a little persistence though and access to the correct lures and techniques, I was soon pleasantly surprised to discover just how consistent Sydney Harbour can be as a mulloway fishery. In this article I hope to share a few of the tactics and techniques that I believe to be instrumental when it comes to consistently locating and catching the jewfish (mulloway) that call Sydney harbour home.

As not to upset the slightly secretive bunch who partake in this form of fishing (myself included) I won't be mentioning any specific locations as such, although armed with the right knowledge and a will to devote some time to exploring, it can be astounding just how prevalent and widespread this species really is.

Firstly for the purpose of simplicity, it's worth noting that in this article, I'll mainly be referring to boat or kayak fishing, not land based fishing (which is an entire other story in itself!). With that in mind, we can start to break down some of the locations where we are most likely to find mulloway, and the most effective lures and techniques to target them in that specific scenario.

Reef and wrecks

Being such a busy waterway, it's hardly surprising that the seabed of Sydney Harbour is littered with artificial wrecks formed by sunken ships and other manmade products such as cars, pylons and even shopping trolleys. Whilst being an unfortunate reminder of the ongoing urbanisation surrounding the harbour foreshore, the good news is that all this artificial structure forms the perfect environment for mulloway to both shelter in and feed, while complementing the fairly limited natural reef already available.

The bulk of this type of structure is usually found in the main body of Port Jackson in fairly deep water, often exceeding 20 metres. There are many large shipwrecks in this section, which are personally my main port of call. They can easily be located with the use of a depth sounder and GPS co-ordinates from online dive sites.

Due to the general depth and open, windswept nature of Port Jackson, I find fast sinking lures such as the 1/2oz TT Lures Switchblade and micro jigs like the TT Lures Vector to be most effective, with a slow lift and drop jigging directly under the boat being the most effective way to fish these locations.

Gear wise I like to err on the heavier side of things, while fishing in such close proximity to such heavy structure, with 20-30lb braid and 30lb fluorocarbon leader being ample for most jewfish likely to be encountered, whilst still giving you a chance at stopping some off the sizable kingfish that frequent the reefs and wrecks of Sydney Harbour.

This lower section of the harbour seems to fish best in early autumn and spring, with jewfish schools reaching extremely large concentrations at times, especially after the freshwater from a heavy downpour concentrates upriver mulloway schools around deepwater wrecks in the more oceanic body of Port Jackson. These large concentrations, combined with deep water, makes it very easy to locate mulloway schools with the aid of the depth sounder, without the risk of spooking and fish. This allows for lures to be dropped down vertically for often instantaneous hook-ups.

Personally I prefer to fish this type of structure around the change of tide, although good results can also be had by fishing the down current side of the wreck or reef on a running tide, with the structure forming a current break that mulloway use to shelter from the brunt of the tide. It is also worth mentioning that when fishing reef or wrecks in Port Jackson on a weekend, it's probably better to restrict your fishing time to an early morning as this area can become extremely busy and rough from heavy boat traffic, making for a frustrating and potentially dangerous day on the water.

Vertical structure (rock walls, bridges, pylons, etc.)

Primarily located in the middle to upper reaches of tributaries such as the Parramatta and Lane Cove Rivers, as well as Middle Harbour, vertical structure is an abundant form of mulloway habitat, thus making it sometimes difficult to pick out the most effective location to fish this structure. However, with a few key factors in mind finding the right vertical structure becomes quite a simple matter.

Generally when it comes to mulloway around rock walls, it's best to focus around those that drop very suddenly off into deeper water. As a general rule, in my experiences in the harbour, it's often a case of the steeper the better, with all of the more consistent banks I fish being almost vertical in nature, hence their inclusion in this category. More often than not these rock walls occur on the deep outside bands of rivers, where sweeping currents have carved away at the rock over the millennia to create an ideal position for mulloway to both shelter from the tide and ambush passing prey.

On a similar token the same areas of Sydney Harbour also boast a plethora of manmade vertical structure in the form of bridge and marina pylons, both of which are excellent produces of mulloway in their own right. When selecting manmade vertical structure, the most effective areas are usually situated in areas of higher current flow and relatively deeper water, with a good starting example being the ever-popular marina and boat moorings surrounding Gladesville Bridge in the Parramatta River.

Tide wise this type of structure is generally fished around the tide change, where the current hits most directly. Although, when the tide picks up, there are plenty of good fish to be caught by locating and targeting the "eddies" or areas of slack water formed by the tide deflecting off the structure, which commonly occurs on the down current side of pylons or rocky points.

Mulloway often cling tightly to vertical structure, especially during periods of heavy flow, so accurate casts within a metre of the target are the key, coupled with heavier gear of at least 20lb braid and 30lb leader to extract the often larger than average fish that are caught in these locations.

In order to minimise lost lures I prefer to utilise soft plastic lures, with my personal favourites being the ZMan 4" and 5" Scented PaddlerZ, rigged on a 1/4 - 3/8oz weighted TT Lures HeadlockZ HD jigheads to ensure a relatively slow decent along the face of the rocks.

In order to fish this type of location most effectively, the use of an electric motor is most recommended. This enables a controlled and quiet drift along your chosen structure and the ability to hold position against the tide and pepper a location with casts.

Open water (cockle beds / gravel beds, changes in bottom composition and deep holes)

Perhaps the most consistent locations to catch mulloway in Sydney harbour, open water fishing for jewfish can initially be both a daunting and time consuming prospect. Again it can begin to feel a little like chasing a needle in a haystack without the appropriate knowledge and equipment.

First things first, in order to maximise your success and minimise time spent fishing dead water it's best to fit your vessel up with a quality sounder and GPS system. When I fish open water I use the inbuilt depth chart overlays, available through Navionics compatible units, to position the boat over suitable underwater terrain and the trail left by the GPS unit to track where I have drifted. Meanwhile, I scan the sounder screen for appropriate bottom compositions as well as bait and mulloway schools, which if interesting, are promptly "marked" in the GPS for further investigation next drift.

In the way of bottom composition, I find two of the most effective areas to be changes in sediment type, such as mud to sand, which is indicated by a colour change of the bottom in the sounder reading, or more so an area of deep water cockle beds. Although difficult to identify on the sounder, cockles often show up as a slightly bumpy and more solid colour bottom reading, and are often hooked on trebled lures like blades dragged across the bottom.

These areas are mulloway goldmines when situated in close proximity to deep water holes, and are commonly found throughout the Parramatta and Lane Cove Rivers. Similarly in the lower reaches of the harbour as well as in Middle Harbour, gravel beds take over, which are similarly identified and fished to cockles.

While fishing in the deepest hole you can find is a common mindset when it comes to mulloway fishing, and is without a doubt very effective at times, I find most of my open water jewfish coming from the shallower water surrounding these areas. This is especially so during the slacker periods of the tides where fish venture away from the shelter of deeper water to hunt in the surrounding area.

One thing I love about fishing these areas is the vast numbers of school size mulloway that congregate in open water and can easily be targeted on the lightest of gear with minimal danger of loss. Double figure sessions being far from uncommon. Although I like to use 6-10lb braid on these fish, I'll usually stick to a leader of at least 14lb to minimise annoying bite offs from croc sized flathead, which form a regular open water bycatch, along with silver trevally, bream and whiting.

Lure wise, my go-to presentation is without a doubt the ZMan 4" Scented PaddlerZ, rigged on a 1/2oz 4/0H TT Lures Tournament Series jighead (I prefer to use Tournament Series on light gear due to their finer hook gauge, with a tiny dab of super glue to lock the ZMan plastic in place), although in water over 15m deep I'll make the change to a 1/2oz TT Switchblade to ensure I keep direct contact with the bottom.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that although these areas are great fun on smaller fish, it's relatively rare to hook anything over 90cm in open water in the harbour, so if you're in search of that metre plus fish, you're better off focusing your efforts on the before mentioned structure types.

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