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MULLOWAY OFF THE ROCKS

Cameron Cronin

In recent years there is no doubt that mulloway have received a well-deserved surge in popularity as a light tackle sports fishing target for lure anglers. Just one look at my local estuary system of Sydney Harbour confirms this, with most promising jewfish (mulloway) haunts carpeted with hopeful anglers looking to cross paths with what is no doubt one of the most coveted species in Australian waters. However, whilst the light tackle estuary scene booms, there is one form of mulloway fishing, unbeknownst to many, that seems to fly under the radar, despite its incredible consistency and easy accessibility for lure anglers wherever they are found. That form is targeting mulloway from the ocean rocks.

In recent years, the jewfish (mulloway) rock hopping game has become a personal obsession of mine, to the point where it is now no doubt my favourite form of fishing. At the risk of sounding clich├ęd, there is literally nothing else like it. Countless hours of pouring over Google Earth, navigating overgrown trails and scaling crumbling headlands suddenly comes to fruition with that tell-tale crunch and screaming opening run as you fight to control a rampaging mulloway, in an area no larger than your backyard swimming pool, ticks all the right boxes for me and is most certainly a style of fishing that I think many would be interested in getting into. In this article I'll be outlining how I go about finding and fishing for mulloway on the ocean rocks of coastal NSW, as well as sharing a few small tips that will hopefully help fast track your mulloway success.

Probably the toughest hurdle for any bourgeoning coastal jewfish angler to overcome is the initial difficulty of finding a suitable location to hunt their quarry. In most cases you'd have a better chance of winning the lottery than having a successful mulloway angler divulge their favourite locations, so you're generally far better off finding your own sweet spots. Fortunately, with the advent of satellite imaging programs such as Google Earth, this is easily achieved from the comfort of your own home. By scanning the coastline at an altitude of around 1km, it becomes easy to pick out potential hotspots that can then be magnified for closer inspection and "pinned" for future investigation. Personally, this program has been instrumental in my mulloway success, whilst visiting new stretches of coastline and anyone without Google Earth should definitely get on it (it's a free download). However, no matter how proficient you are at Google-Earthing, there isn't really much you can do without a solid understanding of the kind of rocky structure that these fish call home.

Whilst admittedly difficult to describe in the text format that is this article, I find there are three different types of rocky structure that seem to hold mulloway wherever I go. The first of these, and perhaps the easiest to find on Google Earth occurs anywhere a bommie forms a wave break, creating a deep (although depth is not always necessary) foamy gutter between itself and the coastline. In my experience gutters of this type, with two distinct points of entrance or exit, fish far better than those without as schools of mulloway likely feel safer entering the confines of a gutter with an alternative escape route in the case of predation.

The next type of successful structure is formed by any kind of crack or crevice in the coastline, creating a whitewashed hole that mulloway use to shelter from the brunt of the swell. In order for this type of structure to be successful, a mix of rocky and sandy bottom structure and constant wash cover is optimal.

Finally rock platforms at the end of beaches can also be extremely successful, allowing for casts to be made into the back of deep surf gutters, which are excellent producers of mulloway in their own right. Once again, I can't stress the importance of whitewash cover enough, so make sure your location of choice has plenty in that department. In fact, with your own safety in mind, I would even go as far as fishing locations that receive the largest and most direct swell when the conditions are calm to ensure constant whitewash coverage. This is why having a wide variety of locations to try as a result of your Google Earth exploits is incredibly beneficial. It allows you to almost always have a location that will fish well, regardless of the prevailing conditions.

So now you have the location factor down pat, it's time to gear up. Whilst light tackle mulloway fishing is no doubt possible in some cases from the ocean rocks, you're usually far better off leaving the bream gear at home. For lure fishing, braided line between 30 and 50lb connected with an FG knot to a long fluorocarbon leader of at least 40lbs is ideal, with 50lb being a good starting point.

Daiwa spinning reels from 3500-4500 size and Shimano reels from 5000-8000 are perfectly matched with a powerful graphite rod of at least nine foot, rated somewhere around 5-10 kg, although personally I use heavier rods that are rated 10-20kgs. Keep in mind that while all this may seem excessive, in many locations your combination must be capable of lifting undersize (sub 70cm in my part of the world) jewfish without the aid of a gaff, as well as be able to stop a mulloway potentially in excess of 30kgs with minimal line taken. This is why I generally lean towards the heavier side of things.

Lure wise the possibilities are almost endless, although nine times out of ten I find myself fishing soft plastics from four to seven inches in length. Out of these, by far the most successful lures for me have been the ZMan 5" Scented PaddlerZ and ZMan 6" SwimmerZ, with the ZMan 4" SwimmerZ, ZMan 5" Scented Jerk ShadZ and ZMan 7" Scented Jerk ShadZ also accounting for plenty of fish in their own right.

I find the ZMan brand of plastics especially successful from the ocean rocks, given their 10X Tough construction, allowing for increased resistance to the plastic destroying swarms of tailor that frequent most east coast rock ledges. This ultimately means less wasted time and money changing plastics.

When it comes to jigheads I find it hard to go past the super heavy duty TT HeadlockZ HD variety. These can be fished under heavy drag pressures, without fear of opening, as well as providing an effective means to lock your soft plastic of choice to your jighead, with no chance slippage during aggressive retrieves or missed strikes. It is important to carry a wide range of jigheads to suit the conditions, with hook sizes from 5/0 to 8/0 and weights from 1/4oz to 1oz covering most bases. Despite the negative stigma sometimes associated with keeping larger mulloway, it is usually impossible to land any sizable fish from the ocean rocks without the aid of a gaff. If you intend to land your prize a 2-3 piece pole gaff of at least 14 feet is an invaluable tool, although be sure to take only what you can immediately eat to ensure the long term survival of this incredible species.

Now that you're all geared up, there's nothing left to do but go out and catch a few jewfish. When first arriving at a new spot, regardless how productive/unproductive it looks, I always scour the area for scales. Recently landed mulloway almost always loose a few scales flapping against the rocks, and with a little practice it is possible to estimate the approximate size and date of capture from the clues left behind. If there are mulloway scales in the location you intend to fish, you can be almost certain that at some time or another your spot has produced a fish or two, so even if you aren't successful on your first session be sure to visit the spot under different conditions until the successful pattern is discovered. It is worth noting though that scales can be easily dispersed by wind, waves or even other cautious anglers, so never be discouraged if their presence is lacking from your spot of choice.

When rigging up I use the lightest possible jighead that can comfortably be hopped close to the bottom without being washed around by the swell too much, although in big swell or around a rocky bottom it can pay to use a heavy weight and maintain a slow roll just off the bottom, with the occasional pause to keep the lure in the zone.

When choosing a time to fish there is no doubt that dawn and dusk are the best times to target mulloway off the rocks, with tide changes a relatively distant second. However, combine any low light period and a tide change and you have a recipe for success. Finally, if there was ever a saying that applied to rock dwelling jewfish, it would be that they are like clockwork. Through time and effort, it is possible to pinpoint exactly what conditions cause certain locations to fire and then, after accumulating a quiver of different and productive spots, it is simply unbelievable how consistent results can be on this seemingly illusive species.

Good luck and happy hunting,

Cam

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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2017