Five Islands off Port Kembla
by Ron Williams
Claude, Andrew and I headed out around the islands and see if we could get some kingfish berleyed up, or maybe find some surface action. We launched Claude’s 17ft runabout at the ramp on the southern breakwall and motored over to the big loading jetty on the northern wall to get some livies. We got plenty of small tailor and a few yakkas and mackerel, so we were set. There wasn’t much swell and the wind was offshore, so we sped out to Pig Island and anchored on the ocean side,(east) in lee of the light wind. I cut up some pillies and dropped a few cubes over the back. There was a bit of current moving out from the rocks, so things looked good. After only about 5-6 cubes had descended down behind the motor, 3 or 4 gourami species immediately appeared and started slurping up our berley trail! Needless to say it was a rush to get the fly rods in hand and a fly in the water – I had a small squid pattern while Andrew and Claude tried some prototype pilchard head flies. The kings were about 50-70cm long and hung around the motor, sucking down the cubes as soon as they hit the water, but were not interested in our flies. Andrew had one pick the fly up on its nose and push it along for 1/2 a metre before turning away. Slightly frustrating, but awesome to watch as they were only a rod length away!
We picked up a few small kings on live baits before I decided to have a cast out the back with a small white surf candy at Claude’s advice – I let the fly sink down for about 20-30 seconds to get it fairly deep on the type 3 shooting head, then stripped as fast as I could back to the boat. I tried the double-handed strip, but it was a little awkward, so I stuck with the fast single-handed strip. After about 15 or so casts, I came up tight and struck into a good fish which zoomed off before the hook pulled and I started swearing. After Claude and Andrew had a go for no result, I moved into Andrew’s position at the back of the boat and tried again. After another 10 or so casts, I hooked another fish, but again the hook pulled. I was beginning to wonder if the #1 hook was too small, but after a few more casts, I was tight to a good fish that wasn’t coming off. After some awesome dives and powerful runs, the Nautikos/Fenwick 8-weight outfit started to earn its money and I landed my first kingfish on fly. At about 45cm, it wasn’t huge, but the pulling power of these fish on a fly rod has to be experienced.
We noticed that the kings weren’t hanging around the trail, so we pulled anchor and decided to have a look around the island off Hill 60 one of my favorite fishing holes. When we got there, the sounder read 14m of water about 30m off the rocks, with a big hole that got down to 22m, so we anchored there for a while, but didn’t raise any fish or get any bites on bottom baits, so Claude suggested that we move over to a known snapper haunt out off Port Kembla beach. We thought we would maybe see more large size silver dollar fish but we didn’t. We pulled up in 9m of water on the edge of the reef where it met the sand bottom. It looked good, and almost as soon as the first cubes hit the water, another school of rat kings had appeared.
This time there was about 5-10 in view at any one time, but they weren’t keen on the pillie head flies, so we tried the long cast/let it sink/fast retrieve on them. I hooked up after about 7 or 8 casts to a hot running fish that had me battling for about 6 or 7 minutes before we got a look at it. A nice bonito about 55cm long (~ 4lb) which was followed by a procession of rat kings, lit up and fully excited by the struggling bonnie. Andrew tried dropping his fly in amongst them, but they mainly followed and turned away at the last second. I got a nice king a few casts later, and as I brought him to the boat, Andrew flicked his Polafibre minnow in next to one of his lit up mates and he gobbled it down just under the surface without hesitation! Once I landed my fish, Claude stepped in and we basically took it in turns catching fish, as the back of the boat could only fish two comfortably, though I suspect that Claude let Andrew and I do the lions share of the fishing through the day. I guess he gets as much out of watching us catch fish as he does out of getting them himself.
The funny thing was that there was a big school of yakkas hanging around, but the kingfish weren’t interested in them until they grabbed one of our flies. Then the kings would follow them up, but they still didn’t attack them – they just seemed to be attracted by any struggling fish. If the action was slow, someone would rig up a livie and hook a king and leave him out the back of the boat while flies were cast at his excited mates milling around the hooked fish!
At one time I suggested that we needed a big popper to stir them up, so Andrew went to work looking for a popper in Claude’s lure box. He came back with a fugly Heddon bass popper, so I put it on a spin outfit and sent it out. The first 2 retrieves saw the popper dive under the water due to its stupid face design, but I slowed the 3rd retrieve down and after about 5 cranks, the popper got nailed. I set the hooks and the fish flashed silver – bonito! Around it, the water was alive with yellow, green and silver as half a dozen kingfish darted around the hooked bonnie, so Andrew lobbed a fly out and was onto one within seconds. The hooked bonnies got the kingfish going berserk, much moreso than the hooked kingfish, though we don’t know why. A big hookless chugger-style popper would probably be just the thing to get the fish psyched up to attack flies, so next time we will have to bring one along. I even had a kingfish take a green surf candy that I had dangling in the water while I looked for a fish to cast it at! Andrew was using Polafibre minnows, but I seemed to have more success with the surf candies, which I thought was strange.
This action was frantic for about 3 hours or more, and we ended up leaving them biting! The biggest king was about 55cm, and all of them were caught on surf candies/Polafibre minnows in white, yellow and green, stripped very quickly after a long sink down near the bottom. I caught 3 of the bonito that were interspersed with them, and they went very hard and fast, whereas the kings (which I lost count of) went hard and strong down deep. In total I suppose we got about 25-30 fish, with 15-20 kings, 5 bonnies, a couple of yakkas and I got a lone trevally right at the end of the session.
The Nautikos rod really got a workout, and I can really see the advantage of a large arbor reel, more for the excellent pickup speed when running line is around your feet and the fish is just slugging it out after taking your fly in close. We all fished 10lb tippet, which was thin enough not to put the fish off, but stood up to a surprising amount of pressure when you consider that the fly rod were bending from the grip! On one occasion I hooked a good king and a nice big knot in the running line leapt up through the guides, which instantly broke the tippet, and Andrew hooked a good fish in close and was busted off in a similar fashion when the running line got caught in his watch band. Running heavier tippets might give you a bit of an advantage in this respect, but I guarantee that in a tangle or sudden dive from a fish, I will always rather break off a fly than your rod. An excellent day’s fishing.