• Toby Grundy (first published July 2021)
I live in Canberra, which means I deal with very cold winters. Not crazy cold but we do get a lot of -5ºC through the winter months. Now, while I do fish at my local haunts all the way through winter, I do, from time to time like to escape to warmer climates and target a few fish while I’m at it.
Some of my favourite spots to visit through July and August are the wharves, which sit in coastal towns along the South Coast of NSW. These pieces of artificial structure provide a refuge for bait fish and a prime hunting location for a variety of species ranging from bream, flathead and snapper through to salmon, tailor and the odd tuna and kingie. There are also often big squid. This means that the fishing is always interesting due to the number of species on offer but also because even though the water is cold, the action around these areas is usually quite good because of the high concentration of food swimming about in the water.
I like to fish these areas in a few different ways to maximise my chances of landing as many fish as possible and as many different species as possible (always with landing big fish as the primary goal). So, outlined below is my approach to fishing these easily accessible locations.
The wharf is the structure. Yes, there may be structure sitting out from the wharf ranging from weed beds through to rocky edges but the best place to start looking for fish when arriving at a likely wharf is to drop a line right at your feet. Some of the largest winter salmon I have hooked and landed came from the pylons directly below my position and more often than not, most of the bread-and-butter species (flathead, bream, snapper, whiting) stay close to the pylons or sit directly under the wharf as the cover provided overhead makes these fish feel far more comfortable and less wary and therefore more willing to bite.
If the bite isn’t at my feet, I then start looking for any structure, which is close to the wharf. Half-submerged rusty pylons, drop offs, weed beds and isolated crops of rock all represent prime pelagic territory with salmon regularly patrolling these areas along with tailor looking to pick up an easy feed. These areas also attract baitfish like slimy mackerel, which can be a lot of fun to target when the fishing is slow and the larger specimens can rip drag from a light spin set up.
Often the action will be out wide and fishing from a wharf allows an angler to get in on some deep-water action especially if fishing a wharf which runs out a long way from the shore. It pays, to keep an eye on the far end of any wharf even when fishing in close on a pylon as sea birds will often give away the presence of pelagic fish in the deep as will surface activity ranging from jumping fish through the areas of isolated foam. This, for me, is the most exciting situation because you never know what is under the surface and sometimes it is possible to cast right into the chaos from a wharf that would otherwise be impossible if fishing from land.
If fishing the pylons, I like to drop metal blades and plastics down the water column as close to the pylon as possible. Usually, I get hit on the drop but the first few taps are often small bait fish so I don’t set the hook unless I feel a solid whack through the butt of the rod. Instead, I allow the lure to reach the bottom and then I jig the lure. I like to rip the lure off the bottom and get it moving right back up the pylon and I repeat the process until I get a solid hit. It is essentially the same jigging tactic practiced by those fishing from a boat but instead, land-based. Lures like the Ecogear ZX 43 or the Halco Twisty 20-30g are perfect choices when jigging a pylon as they both represent the types of prey that use the pylon as shelter.
I use a variety of surface lures when casting to the structure, which sits just out from the wharf. Working surface lures over a likely weed bed or near a half-submerged, rotted piece of mooring is a sure-fire way of getting the heart racing as salmon and tailor appear almost out of nowhere and hit the lure with abandon. In this situation, I use a Bassday Sugapen (120mm) or a Jackall Jockey and implement a ‘walk-the-dog style’ retrieve, twitching the rod tip up and down while winding at the same time. If I don’t get any surface action, I switch to a plastic (usually grub tail) and allow the lure to sink down close to the structure before gently twitching it back to my location.
When casting out wide, it is all about distance. I use metals as I can cast metals enormous distances; often reaching schooling fish that would otherwise be out of range if using anything else. I use Surecatch Knight metals in weights 40-85g. I like to bring a variety of different sizes as the schooling fish in the deep are often homed in on one particular prey item and it is a matter of trialling different sized metals to find what size they are keen on. Once I’ve cast out as far as I can, I wait 10 seconds or so and bring the lure back as fast as I can. When the lure reaches the surface, I let it drop back down and repeat the process. I’m targeting moving fish in this circumstance and therefore fish close to the top of the water column.
The species list on offer when fishing wharves through winter must be experienced to be believed. I’ve had days where I have caught kingfish, trevally, salmon, tailor, pike, barracoota, bream, flathead, snapper, and tuna. It does come down to the day but one of the real highlights of visiting and fishing a wharf through winter is you never really know what will turn up and most species hanging around a wharf will eat a lure.
Dawn and dusk along with the turn of the tide represent the best times to hit a wharf and catch some fish. There is no trick to it and while I’m sure there are times that are kept super-secret by those in the know, if you head to a wharf and fish the turn of the tide, you are putting yourself in prime position to catch a big winter pelagic.
I travel light when fishing a wharf. I carry a backpack with a handful of lures, water, food and my camera and two fishing rods which are capable of handling anything up to an enormous kingfish.
I run a 7’3 foot 3-6kg rod matched to a 3000 sized reel spooled with 15lb braid and 20lb leader. I use this outfit when fishing around the pylons and other structure like weed beds. ZX 43s, smaller metals and plastics do require a lighter outfit and I find the 3-6kg works well for fishing these types of lures as it is light enough for me to feel the action of the lure but heavy enough for me to fight medium sized pelagic fish. I will say that if fishing the wharves regularly, it is important to purchase a reel, which is fully sealed. Wharves are where cheap tackle goes to die as sand, saltwater and all sorts of other stuff buries itself into a reel throughout a session. A good, sealed reel retails for around $150.
I use a 7’ 5-8kg spin rod matched to a 4000 sized reel spooled with 50lb braid and 50lb leader when casting out wide for the big stuff. I know a lot of anglers use really long rods and far heavier reels but I have found that I can cast a long way with this outfit.
Merimbula Wharf is always worth a look through winter and has been one of my favourite fishing locations for over a decade. Through summer, the wharf is packed with fishos but through winter, the wharf doesn’t see the same amount of foot traffic. In fact, I have often had the whole wharf to myself during many winter sessions.
Tathra Wharf is also a great spot to visit as the pelagic fish come in big numbers even through July and August and there are instances where some really cool stuff happens. I have been there when the mac tuna have come through making for some of the most exciting wharf fishing I have ever experienced. It is a place where anything can happen so expect the unexpected.
The Eden Navy Wharf is another great wharf but is increasingly closed to the general populace as it is a munitions drop off point for the Australian Military. Check to see if the wharf is open before visiting this location.
Wharf fishing through winter on the South Coast is family friendly, easily accessible and genuinely exciting. Some of my most memorable fishing experiences have come when fishing off these artificial structures so I recommend getting down to a wharf and casting for big pelagics over the coming months.