Harbour City Highlights

Jonathan Jones talks up Sydney Harbour

Sydney, the Harbour City with over 5 million people, has a fly fishery to retire for. Sounds crazy, right? Everything from casting at surface feeding yellowtail kingfish and salmon to sinking flies for bream and flathead. You might even get your ass handed to you a time or two as Sydney is home to some hard-hitting fish that sure know how to put a fly rod and reel to the test. I grew up on Sydney Harbour and have spent the best part of my life up to no good on these amazing waterways. In between part time jobs, skateboarding and snowboarding, I can truly say that the fishing just gets better and better every year. It was as though fly fishing was a myth out here in the concrete jungle just a few years back, but nowadays you’ll see many other fly-crazed people out and about on the harbour. When I’m not travelling or filming you’ll find me on the water most days, casting flies at all types of species right outside my doorstep and in and around the bays and headlands that surround this big city. A highlight is the amazing run of salmon from July through till January. This is the time of year when the harbour comes alive with huge bait schools and line burning action. Everything comes into the mix. You can be casting at a big school of salmon and — bang — out of nowhere your fly gets blown away by a kingfish… Show me another major city where you can have a fish to hand by 8 a.m., coffee and a bacon-and-egg roll by 8.30. Some say Sydneysiders live the good life — undoubtedly, it’s a fishery to lose sleep over, and well worth taking the odd sickie off work just to get a fix of kingfish. CRUISING THE HARBOUR Amidst the chaos of Sydney’s traffic and bad drivers, an early start is the only way to ensure you get the most out of your day. For me, normally after a few beers the night before, this means dragging myself out of bed at 4:30 and putting the kettle on before heading out the door, coffee in hand, bound for the local boat ramp at Roseville or Little Manly. With good mates Ben and Chris aboard, we hit the water in search of birds and fish. Those working schools can be anything from salmon and bonito to kings and tailor, and tucked in close to boats and tight up to the foreshore they can be hard to spot, so keep your eyes on alert for ripples and nervous water. First thing, I like to check out a few of the bays and shallow flats throughout Middle Harbour. Some of these can be little gold mines, filled with bait and feeding fish. At the right times of year you can find the kings and salmon and even frigate mackerel crashing whitebait and anchovies in water less than waist deep, so when you push up into the bays make sure you keep your eyes open for fish cruising the shallows. Then we’ll head out into the main harbour, scouting for birds and more fish activity. Year-round you’re likely to find fish running amok somewhere, and they can pop up anywhere, so it always pays to keep on the move. We like fishing the last few hours of an early morning run-out tide as the bait gets flushed out of the shallows and into the deeper water where the predators await, and then in the arvo we tend to fish either side of the high. This way you can have a great bite up in the bays and shallows in the morning and a great top-water bite later in the afternoon in the main harbour, and if you’re lucky you’ll be casting at fish as the sun disappears behind the Sydney skyline. I like to put in anywhere from 6 to 10 hours on the water, just to see what’s going on. The more time you can spend out there, the more you will learn and come to know what the fish are doing, what they are eating, and where. Then it’s home to wash the boat, sink a few cold ones and work on the next day’s fishing plan. BIG CITY TACTICS Once you spot what you are looking for, push on over towards the school and just spend a minute or so assessing the scene, to get a feel for what the fish are doing and where the school is heading. Then you just need to creep on in for a sneaky opportunity, find the fish you want, lay a cast out and start working that fly through the school of feeding fish, fingers crossed. Within the first few strips you’ll feel the take; then just strip-strike and set the hook, clear the line, and enjoy the ride. When you get the eat, remember to keep the rod low on the strike, as this will help set the hook and save you from snapping a few rods. You don’t want to be trout-striking these fish, as they will just give you the middle finger. Getting enough life into the fly can be a bit of a task. I just think about how you would work a stick-bait or popper on a spin rod and apply the same movement to the fly line. A few short strips will get the fly darting from side to side, and a few long and quick strips will have it swimming fast like a fleeing baitfish. Hopefully you will trigger a fish to be fired up and ready to tangle. If they’re being a bit lazy and need some convincing, once you know where they are it can pay to give them some time to chill. Then have another crack and see if you can get a reaction bite from an angry fish. MATCHING THE HATCH One of the major things to keep in mind is that Sydney Harbour fish can become very fussy when honed in on particular types of bait, so you need to truly match the hatch as best you can. This means having a good selection of fluff in your tackle box, in a range of sizes and baitfish patterns, including some with bright colours for the darker water and some lightweight patterns for the shallows. Not wanting to get caught short, I carry bait patterns in hook sizes from #2 all the way up to a 9/0 — you’ll want the big guns just in case the big boys come out to play. If your fly is just getting followed and played with, not engulfed, then it helps to switch it up and try to crack what they’re keyed into. I like starting my day off casting a small whitebait imitation or a Gummy Minnow, as nine times out of ten the fish love one of these. On standby I’ll have other fly rods rigged with an EP Squid and a small slimy-mackerel imitation, and when I really want to stir the kings up and get them chomping I’ll rig a nice white pusher head with some flash to fire things up and make some noise. Another favourite is something I call a Kingy Candy — it resembles a squid tentacle, and the kings seem to get frisky over this fly. You’ll also have to consider rods, lines and leaders to suit the particular circumstances. Salmon and tailor, for example, are great fun on light tackle, but while hooking an unexpected Sydney king on a 4-weight will get your heart pumping, you’re going to get smoked. For this reason I like to have a few different fly rods set up and ready to go, ranging from a 4-weight all the way through to a 12-weight. If you don’t have a full arsenal, a rod or two in #7 up to #10 should have you covered amongst the madness. There are endless options these days when it comes to fly lines, but I love a good sinking line. I will test the waters with a floating line first, but if I see bigger fish hanging deep, I always have my trusty sinking line ready to roll. My lines of choice, and those I use most for all my saltwater antics, come from the Sonar Big Water Taper series, with 100-lb mono cores — the Max Sink is built for the blue-water beasts of your dreams (or nightmares). With a super-fast sinking head and a core capable of pulling semi-trucks from the depths, this is a line for tangling with monster kingfish in and around structure. As for leaders, you need material that’s easy to manipulate and has great strength. Fluorocarbon saves me a few headaches with big fish — it’s tough and robust, so it stands up to the roughest of the rough. I carry a range from 8 to 120 lb. HOOKED ON SYDNEY It has been an amazing journey, seeing my friends Ben and Chris get so hooked on casting flies and tangling with some of Sydney’s finest. As you can see, the thrill of chasing fish on the doorsteps of the biggest city in Australia is just too much fun. It’s all about getting out and having a few laughs, making mistakes, and learning how to overcome the trials and tribulations of fly fishing. There’s no better feeling than hooking a fish on the fluff with the city in the background. Like any great fishery, Sydney Harbour has had its ups and downs, but it’s now healthier than ever. We are finding fish in places that years ago were full of rubbish, waste and dirty water. Now, in these same places, we are sight-casting to kingfish in less than five feet of crystal clear water. Thanks to recycling, and education, Sydney Harbour is fast becoming one of the most talked about fishing destinations in the world.

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