DESTINATION: Lake Macquarie, NSW
IT'S truly a golden time to be a keen recreational angler if you live in the vicinity of Lake Macquarie on the NSW Central Coast. The picturesque waterway, which is Australia’s largest coastal lake, was zoned a Recreational Fishing Haven in May 2002 and with the removal of commercial netting operations has now enjoyed more than 15 years of continually improving recreational fishing opportunities. To truly appreciate the dramatic improvement in the lake’s fish stocks you really need to have fished the waterway prior to the commercial fishing closure, as many of my long time local fishing mates and I have. It really is a good news story that provides proof that fisheries can bounce back remarkably when managed effectively.
Another key moment for the lake came with its declaration as a trophy dusky flathead fishery in September 2017 after local anglers, angling clubs, businesses and members of parliament lobbied for this recognition. This followed on from the efforts of dedicated NSW South Coast recreational anglers who worked with NSW DPI Fisheries to have both the St Georges Basin and Tuross Lakes declared trophy flathead fisheries the previous year. Lake Macquarie has long been famed for its excellent flathead fishing and the Swansea Channel was renowned as one of the hotspots in the earliest days of soft plastic lure fishing in this country. As part of the trophy flathead fishery a tagging program of large breeding sized flathead of 70 cm and over is being undertaken by a group of dedicated local lure fishers. This has resulted in the tagging and release of over 100 big crocs between 70 and 95 cm in the first nine months, a terrific result. At the time of writing eight tagged dusky flathead had been recaptured and most pleasingly six of these important breeders have been released again, so the message is definitely getting across about the importance of releasing large breeding sized dusky flathead to help maintain stocks for future generations.
The following is a rundown of the current recreational fishing opportunities on Lake Macquarie, which hopefully will help readers get amongst the great fishing action available on this waterway.
The most significant change since the commercial closure has been the rise in jewfish stocks in the lake. Prior to the closure, all the keenest lake lure fishers I knew primarily targeted dusky flathead as jewies were few and far between, although I’ve heard commercial fishers did get good catches in their nets at times in the old days. Now all the keenest local young guns chase jewfish in the lake using either bait or lures. Live squid is the preferred bait rigged either on a snelled two hook rig or circle hooks if fishing catching and release. My preference is to chase them with lures and I’ve caught them on soft vibes, soft plastics and hard bodies in recent years. Most lure caught jewies in Lake Macquarie are caught by anglers working soft vibes around bait schools in the deeper areas of the waterway. The Samaki Thumpertail is my weapon of choice on Lake Macquarie’s jewies and I’m not alone as this soft vibe has an unrivalled popularity with local lure fishers. Lure colour is not important on jewfish in my opinion, but a good quality fish finder is vital to success. My Lowrance Carbon unit with the recently developed Fish Reveal technology allows me to scan bait schools and differentiate between bait and predatory fish like never before, it truly is a game changer.
I had the opportunity during my time working in the local tackle trade to talk with long time lake anglers such as John Frith who recounted catching large numbers of sizeable snapper in the lake back in the 1960s off locations such as the famed Toronto barge. Well, the really good news of the last year or two has been the increasing numbers of reports of good sized snapper being caught by lure fishers in the waterway. Most really keen local lure fishers I know have caught 50 cm plus reddies in recent times with the 66 cm beauty caught and released by local gun angler Dan Guilfoyle this season being the biggest I’ve seen. I’ve had most of my lake snapper success using 70 mm Samaki soft vibes and they’re usually found where there is a bit of structure on the bottom.
Lake Macquarie is regularly host to bream catch and release tournaments for both boats and Hobie kayaks. It’s renowned as a deep water blading fishery, particularly the southern end by anglers using lures such as the ever reliable Ecogear VX or ZX series. Plenty of good bream are also caught by anglers fishing soft plastics around the ubiquitous boat hulls that can be found moored in many of the lake’s sheltered bays. Flats fishing opportunities also abound for anglers wanting to throw hard bodies or surface lures around the Swansea & Belmont areas.
Interestingly, the last big bream tournament held on the lake was won by a canny angler fishing Cranka Crab lures around Swansea Bridge. He streeted the field with record bags in excess of 5 kg weighed and released. However, it must be said the most consistent local tournament bream anglers such as Peter Macor are renowned for their deep blading skills.
Sand whiting can be caught throughout the lake, but the most consistent action occurs during the warmer months on the sand flats in or adjacent to the Swansea Channel. Live marine worms such as tube, blood or squirt worms are the gun bait, but live nippers or prawns can produce good catches too. Throwing surface lures such as the ever popular Bassday Sugapen or Saku Snoop Pop can provide some exciting whiting action when they’re on as well as the chances of some bream or flathead by-catch.
I spend most of my time on the lake these days chasing large dusky flathead to tag & release for the Trophy Flathead Fishery Research Program. Of late my fave lake flattie lure would have to be the Samaki Vibelicious in UV Squid colour. I also always dose my flatty lures up with Sax Scent Crab or Gold Prawn flavours. When I’m fishing snaggy areas or around weed beds I’ll change over to a soft plastic rigged on a single hook jig head. I prefer to use paddle tail soft plastics such as Samaki Bomb Shads or Shimano Squidgey Fish. To my way of thinking consistently catching and releasing big dusky flathead offers the greatest lure fishing challenge on the lake and I really enjoy striving to become a more consistent catcher of big crocs.
Pelagics, cephlapods and exotics
Trolling deep diving hard bodies such as Rapala Tail Dancers for tailor is something of a tradition on the lake during the cooler months of the year. Australian salmon are common and reach plague proportions some years. The Salts Bay area of Swansea Channel is the hot spot during winter for light tackle lure and fly fishers wanting to get in on some hot sambo sessions.
Yellowtail kingfish can be targeted around Swansea Bridge, the drop over where Swansea Channel meets the lake and around various marker buoys at times. Down rigged live squid will produce good results as do surface lures and big soft plastics at times. We sold a lot of Halco Roosta poppers to kingie fanatics during my time in the local tackle trade. Cobia and dolphin fish are also caught in the lake during the warmer months each year too.
Squid numbers fluctuate from year to year, but when they’re on the jigging is incredible for them and huge numbers are caught. A lot of local anglers feel the healthy squid stocks are at least part of the reason the lake has developed this wonderful mulloway fishery. I know from personal experience that it’s relatively common to have jewie’s and large flathead throw up partially digested squid at the boat when you’re about the land them. Murray’s Beach and the “drop over” are renowned as good squidding locations when they’re on.
Lake Macquarie has always had a reputation for producing tropical species such as giant herring, big eye trevally and pennant fish. I was out on the lake yesterday chasing big flatties with a mate and we had a beautiful pennant fish follow a soft plastic lure back to the boat. The southern end of the lake’s water temperatures remain relatively warm throughout the winter months courtesy of the local coal fired power stations allowing these species to survive. I’m predicting these exotics species will unfortunately vanish when local power generation comes to an end in the future.
It’s been extremely interesting to watch the way Lake Macquarie’s fish stocks have continued to improve and evolve since the cessation of commercial netting. The incredible rise of the lake’s jewfish stocks and what seems the beginnings of a snapper recovery are tremendously promising. Really the whole ecosystem has benefitted with dolphins, seals and even great white sharks becoming regular visitors to the waterway.
The key task for the future will be to manage this wonderful fishery to ensure it remains sustainable and abundant for future generations. Long time local Lake Macquarie anglers whose opinions I respect have said to me that they feel that dusky flathead stocks are beginning to come under pressure due to the increasing numbers of people fishing the waterway as a consequence of the population increases both locally and in the neighbouring Central Coast and Newcastle areas. I have no doubt in my mind that the key to maintaining the superb fishing opportunities currently available in this recreational fishing haven will depend on local anglers working together with NSW DPI Fisheries to manage the fish stocks appropriately for the long term.