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Some are prawn with greatness
  |  First Published: December 2016



Who doesn’t mind a feed of prawns for Christmas? Not those frozen things you get at the fish markets, but fresh ones caught and cooked at home and iced ready for a feed the next day, washed down with a cold beer. The best prawning time this month will be right on queue for the Christmas and New Years period, with the new moon on the 29th. The week leading up to Christmas and the week after will be excellent.

Since Lake Illawarra was opened to the ocean permanently a few years ago, the prawns haven’t been as numerous or as big, because they go to sea each year rather than stay in the lake for an extended time to fatten up. They still move in good numbers each dark over summer and provide a tasty feed for those who like chasing them in the shallows after dark.

For the serious prawners, a drag net is employed, but it’s hard yakka with two people dragging a big heavy net for hundreds of metres in chest deep water many times for a load of jelly blubbers. For many, a scoop net and light is quite effective in most situations and less tiring. Kids love it and a night out on the prawns is always a memorable occasion. Don’t forget to save a few for bait – used live, they’re the best bait for everything in the lake and just about everywhere else.

Some of the better spots are the sand flats at the entrance, the shallows at the southern side of the lake from the bridge all the way to Mount Warrigal, all along the Primbee area and west of the boat ramp at Berkley. There are plenty of other spots if you look around.

You may also run into a few blue swimmer crabs, so it pays to keep a small short handled landing net clipped to your belt when scooping, because a big crab in with your prawns is not only hard to get out of the net but makes holes and chomps up your hard earned prawns.

On the subject of crabs, it will be almost impossible to navigate in the lake in a straight line due to the massive amount of crab trap cords and floats. When in the boat, keep a good watch to keep them from tangling in your propeller. Even with all the traps in the water, there are still plenty of crabs to go around with the odd fat muddy as well.

With prawns on the move, flathead and bream move too. You guessed it – prawns are the best bait, or something that looks like prawns in the plastic department. The drop off is so popular you’ll struggle to get a spot and the traffic will be a nightmare. At this time of the year, look a little further afield. It only has to be a few hundred metres and you’ll catch plenty.

The main channel will be busy, but a lot of flathead will be there all the way down to the entrance. Bream will be down around the bridge pylons during the evenings. Lightly weighted live prawns drifted into the structure on the run out tide should be deadly. Whiting are on the flats from the bridge to the entrance and up on the flats before the drop off – worms and live prawns are prime baits. If you get up early, poppers will bring a few bigger fish undone, but the boats will soon put them off the bite.

Minnamurra is pretty much the same with a few prawns running in the shallows, but nowhere near as many as the lake. You can get plenty for bait and at times a feed. The same areas work in this stretch of water as the lake. On the rocks, decent fish are starting to show for the land-based game anglers.

Most of the deep ledges have some solid kingfish travelling along them this month. Early morning and live squid or slimy mackerel fished close to the rocks will bring them undone. A few bonito have fallen to lures and the odd fish on live baits while salmon have been consistent on live baits, lures and pilchards.

It won’t be long before the really good warm water pushes in down around Kiama, with the chance of a marlin very much on the cards. It’ll more likely be next month when that happens, but they’ve been known to be early. You’ll never know if you don’t have a bait in the water. There have been plenty of bream, drummer and trevally in the white water along the coast lately. With the help of a little bread, pilchard and bran berley, you should score a few fish.

Good news on the beaches – whiting move along every beach in the Illawarra now. All you need to do is get your hands on some beach worms and work the shallow gutters on the falling tide. This concentrates them into a smaller area, as opposed to the high tide, when they move out over the greater area of shallow sand banks. A few dart are mixed in with them.

Flathead are on all the beaches too, taking fish baits and plastics around the 10cm mark in baitfish patterns. If you’re lucky, you might score a school mulloway in the deeper gutters as well. At the end of the month on the big tides, big mulloway will be patrolling the beaches. Big fish come in every year around Christmas and this year should be the same. They’re often caught by the dedicated anglers who fish hard around early mornings.

Every year, a few fish fall for baits fished for other species in the middle of the day. If the angler stays connected, it’s usually a headline fish. Salmon are on all the beaches at one time or another grabbing pilchards and fish baits. A few better tailor are being taken just on dark on the northern beaches as well.

Offshore, it’s hot and cold this month. The current is holding us all to ransom with hot blue water one day full of life, and the next, freezing cold and void of any forms except barracouta and leatherjackets. If you find some good water out on the shelf, early indicators suggest you will, there are striped marlin, yellowfin tuna and solid mahimahi. The way the currents have been the last couple of years, anything is possible. Striped tuna are about from the 50 fathom mark to the shelf, but they’re just a shadow of the schools that used to swarm over the ocean at this time of the year, only a few short decades ago.

A few snapper have been taken in close, but they seem to be single resident fish. Most snapper have moved out to deeper water of 40-60m, so if the current is running, you’ll struggle a bit to get down to them. If there’s current then kings will be on the chew.

A few better fish are about the islands and the deeper rock ledges. A bit of current will get them going over the usual reefs they like to frequent. Many are just over legal length or just under, but next month should see them put on a bit of bulk and length. There’s plenty of bait about, so they’ll grow fast.

With all the bait about, salmon have been up on the surface and into them along with a few bonito, rat kings, trevally and a few barracouta when the water temperatures drop. The frigate mackerel haven’t shown up yet, but they won’t be far away. As soon as the water temperature rises and stays constant, or gets even hotter, they’ll be here along with all the other northern pelagics.

Flathead are on the bite with the bottom bouncers scoring well so far – there are plenty of nice fish to 60cm. Leatherjackets have become a pest again, but they’re not everywhere just yet. There are a few nice mowies still hanging about over the gravel, but not too many snapper over the shallow reefs. A few pig fish, trevally and samsonfish are rounding out the bags. Next month will be even better. Merry Christmas.

1

This is about average for the kings at the moment, but there are some much bigger ones around too.

2

A few schools of striped tuna still move along the coast this month often in really close to shore.

3

A few bonito have started to show. They eat bait as well as lures.

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