Winter Warmers in Sydney

I was wearing every layer I’d brought with me, but as Stephen, Steve and I cruised up Sydney Harbour in the pre-dawn light, it wasn’t enough to keep comfortable. Although I think of Sydney as a winter oasis of sorts for a Victorian central highlander like me, a cold snap enveloping nearly all of south-eastern Australia hadn’t spared the Harbour City. West of the famous bridge, it was a ridiculous 3 degrees, with a ‘feels like’ close to zero. So much for BOM’s ‘warm June.’

Cold morning on the harbour. (Steve Dunn pic)

But as I waited for the rising sun to add its meagre warmth (anything would do) I reflected that it had already been a fine couple of days of fishing. Day one had seen us hastily rejig the salt itinerary for trout fishing on Thompsons Creek Dam (and a day off for Stephen) while we waited for the wind and huge swell from a Tasman Sea low to dissipate.

Some success at TCD, although the action wasn’t frantic.

After a frosty start, TCD was (in my limited experience) its typical self. On the one hand, it was absolutely beautiful to look at, with its stunningly clear water, and everything from marshy shallows to scary drop-offs. But on the other hand, the fishing was a challenge. I managed to land three rainbows, lose another, and miss two more on the strike. While the takes might have been evenly spread across the day, the fishing never threatened to become frantic.

Miles of beautiful water.

Back on a brisk, blue-sky Sydney Harbour the next morning, the action took a little while to build. However, with Stephen’s encyclopaedic knowledge of this vast waterway, it wasn’t long before we were introduced to the chaos of salmon and kingfish annihilating jelly prawns in about a metre of water. I’ll probably never get used to the contrast of a scene straight from an Attenborough documentary being played out in front of urban dog walkers and cafes.

A bust-up salmon.

When that action finally dissipated, Stephen seemed to sniff the breeze, and announced it was time to investigate one of his ‘marks’. These often innocuous features like buoys, poles or some hidden subsurface structure, hold fish and opportunity – but only during certain tides and at certain times of the year.

It is fascinating to watch local knowledge in action, and on a waterbody as expansive as the Harbour, Stephen’s belief in a certain few square metres at a certain point in time, was something to behold. Simultaneously though, a supposedly identical feature half a kilometre away was dismissed with a shake of the head. For whatever reason (and sometimes Stephen freely admitted he didn’t quite understand the difference) mark X was the spot to be; definitely not mark Y.

On the move to the next spot.

Faith is infectious, and as Steve and I began prospecting around mark X according to Stephen’s exact instructions, “Let the fly settle… that’s it… now two sharp strips and a pause… no, a bit a longer on the pause,” the tension was building. “And don’t bloody trout strike!” he added with a grin.

After a few casts, I imagined a bump. “Yep, I reckon I had a bump too”, announced Steve. Two casts later, a distinct but unremarkable pull quickly transformed into something heavy and strong. Soon I was fighting an unseen fish which kept oscillating from pulling away with a lot of power, then coming towards me so quickly, I could barely maintain contact. Eventually, Stephen was able to slide the net under a large bonito – a new species for me and apparently a very big one. Like all the fish we caught, the bonito felt warm to touch, reflecting the autumnal water temperature a short distance below the much colder surface.

This bonito felt warm to touch – but watch those teeth!

We’d barely finished celebrating when Steve hooked something even stronger. He applied maximum drag from the start, but even so, whatever was hooked moved away against the protests of his reel. We’d seen this movie on a previous trip years earlier, and we hoped for a happier ending. Sadly not. The fish (probably a big kingfish) found some unseen obstruction and broke free.

Uh-oh… unstoppable.

The rest of that day and the next provided chances at more bust-ups, as well as bream, pinky snapper, tailor and luderick – more about this last species from Steve in a future article.

Pretty pinky.

Even in the depths of winter, in the middle of a cold snap, Sydney Harbour and its adjacent waterways offer a remarkably diverse saltwater fishery – both in terms of species and techniques. It was a fascinating trip, and yet I couldn’t help thinking that with only two days on the water, we’d barely scratched the surface.