How to catch big winter jewies
WINTER is big jewie time and Kevin Savvas reveals his secrets for catching trophy fish over the cooler months. Images by Chris Cleaver.
MULLOWAY are high on the priority list of most estuary anglers and it doesn’t get much better than landing one over the magic 50lb mark. If this article was written 30 years ago that mark was more in the 70lb region, but times have changed! Regardless, that class of fish is nothing to snicker at. It’s a worthwhile opponent and doesn’t come along all too often. That is unless you know where and when to look... And therein lies the reason why I've been so obsessed for the past 10 years. I needed to consistently catch this class of fish before I moved on.
And I reckon I’ve done it! While I haven’t figured out the whole picture, what happens now is I tend not to waste effort on hunches in less productive times and instead focus my attention on four very specific months of the year. If you want to catch Mr Big then read on.
The winter theory
Over the years I’ve heard just about every incantation relating to when big jewies are best caught and most of them in some part are true. You’ve got the new moon theorists, full moon theorists, high tiders, bottom of the tiders, high barometers, falling barometers and night timers all pushing their own barrows. The fact is big jewies can be caught during any of these conditions, but in my experience, it’s usually a mix of a few of them that yields success. That said, I tend to focus my attention elsewhere.
When it comes to the big boys it’s all about food. A healthy 25kg plus jewie needs to eat a fair whack of grub to sustain itself so if you’re looking for one common denominator to underpin your approach for trophy fish then become single minded about its food source. Track the bait, find the fish, it’s a simple philosophy!
Their dedication to eating is magnified even further when jewies are conditioning themselves to breed. The hunger pangs are in full overdrive and the fish become obsessive. So much so, that they go to great lengths to eat as much as they can in areas you would least suspect.
Winter, in fact, presents the perfect feeding conditions and will give you your best hope of encountering that fish of a lifetime. The prime time is between July and September but October can be productive if the cold water hangs around longer than expected.
During these colder months the tides reverse order and the highest highs occur at night, unlike in summer when the spring tides occur during the day. This allows large predatory fish like jewies access to new territory by entering shallow creeks and tributaries to hunt. Mullet are usually the drawcard as they school up in these areas during winter and are substantial enough for a jewie to make an effort chasing them.
If you consider a small creek with a depth of about a metre during times of peak two metre high tides, the depth doubles and even the wariest jewie will make forays into these systems to feed, especially on the turn of the tide as the bait starts to move back out. If you parallel this same scenario with summer, the peak highs are negligible and the depth of water isn’t to the liking of these big fish. The mullet have also moved on to other areas during these times. Therefore they are elsewhere looking for a meal – my hunch is inshore reefs and on nearby beaches.
In 1-2m of water, jewies have a far greater chance of ambushing and capturing a feed than in 10m of water so there’s a reason they are hunting at this time in these locations. We do chase them in these creeks land-based and it’s not uncommon to see a jewie finning around on the surface. They don’t seem at all perturbed by the shallow water.
Where to look
Now don’t go looking for a small creek to fish at night during winter, as you’ll still be looking for a needle in a haystack. Exact location details is not what this article is about. In the Hawkesbury River, like many of our great NSW river systems, there are thousands of small feeder creeks that fit the description so picking and choosing, then hoping you have the right one is problematic.
To make nightly forays into these small creeks on the big tides jewies need to station themselves nearby during the day in deep holes resting up out of the current. That’s where you intercept them. Look for deep areas back in the main river close to the entrances of creeks, especially if it has good water flow. If the current races through the area then the deepest section will have the least current exposure and usually a jewie will be found in these zones. It means they can still feed during the day if bait happens to be swept by but they are exerting the least amount of energy ready for their night assaults.
I've always been a massive advocate of daytime fishing for jewies for this very reason. At night they’re hunting and can be pretty much anywhere looking for food. You need luck for them to find you. In the day they are inactive and in very specific locations so finding them is much easier. While they aren’t feeding as actively as during daylight hours, a big fish still has to eat and putting a well-presented lure in front of their face won’t be refused.
The beautiful thing is during winter the big jews mingle with the smaller class of resident jews, so there are more fish competing for the same amount of food. This ramps up the aggression and makes those big wily fish easier to catch. They tend to lose their inhibitions a little and throw caution to the wind. In warmer months I can mark big isolated fish and find it near impossible to get them in the mood to eat. They’ve got the food to themselves. The smaller fish can often prompt them to feed or they’ll miss out.
Obviously the largest tides occur around times of the new and full moons so this is when I would recommend flicking some lures. Debate rages about which moon phase is best but either produces good fish. I do tend to find the new moon is slightly more productive as this coincides with the prawn runs.
What to use
I'm a huge fan of soft plastics which probably doesn’t come as a surprise to regular readers. I have used soft vibes such as the Jackall Transams, Spanyid Snipers and River2Sea Fish Candies and while I can guarantee they catch fish, they don’t attract the same class of jewies as a beautifully presented five or six-inch plastic.
What all successful plastics have in common is a slender jerk minnow-type profile with pulsating tails. These lures swim beautifully on a straight retrieve, can be lift and dropped like a fish profile or can be twitched like a jerk minnow. Typically I use them with Berkley Nitro heads which should give away my approach. I find the best takes come when the lures are twitched mimicking a wounded fish rather than other presentations. However, if I need to vary things on the fly, the lures can easily handle it with their versatility.
If I’m fishing dark of the moon on the prawn run, I’ll use greenish-colured lures. At first light I’ll go something more pronounced like a fluorescent chartreuse colour and back it off during the day to more natural hues. At other times, I tend to stick with browns and greens and don’t get tempted with unnatural coloured lures like pinks, yellows and reds.
Due to the depth of water I tend to use 1/2oz jig heads and go up or down depending on the strength of the current. Obviously the lighter the better but it’s a trade-off between wasting time waiting for the lure to get into the strike zone which limits your ability to work more ground or too heavy and putting fish off. A half ounce head is about perfect and jewies don’t shy away from it. For reference I’m fishing in water around 50-70 feet in depth.
When it comes to rod and reel, you don’t need to go extra heavy if you’re fishing out of a boat. You can chase the fish and tire it meaning you can fish lighter. I tend to use a G-Loomis NRX 10-20lb rod but it feels much lighter than that rating, probably more like an 8-15lb. I run one of the new 3000 Stella FIs but any decent 2500 to 4000 sized reel will suffice. The reason for the smallish reels is because you don’t need line capacity when fishing from a boat. And the drags on modern spin reels can easily handle decent jewies.
I use 10lb PowerPro Bite Motion braid mated to 16lb Ocea fluorocarbon leader and find this is adequate for any of the big jewies I've pulled. Once again I know it sounds light but gear these days is more capable than it used to be so 30lb lines are not recommended. I have worn through a 14lb leader on a jewie well over 30kgs some 45 minutes into the fight but that’s the way it goes sometimes. I’ve upped it to 16lbs now so I hopefully won’t have a repeat disappointment. I’m still secretly burning!
Lastly, you need to use scent. If I’m not the largest user of S-Factor on the eastern seaboard then I’ll walk backwards down Bourke Street. I near on use this stuff for cooking I love it so much. There’s no denying my catch rate on jewies has multiplied since using it and where I once scored fish three out of every 10 trips, I’m scoring fish seven out of 10. It’s that good.
Nowadays a new player is on the market and is showing good promise. It’s called Sax Scent and the crab and bloodworm flavours are proving to be productive. It’s early in my experiment in comparison to S-Factor but worth a look.
So there you have it, the jewie secret is out. So go buy yourself some thermals, a scarf, a balaclava and a decent waterproof jacket and gear up for winter. While most of the part-timers are packing away their boats during the cold snap, the clued-up anglers know it’s almost time to catch the trophy fish.