Australian Salmon or Kahawai are a common species in the Pittwater / Broken bay area particularly during the spring & early summer months. Seeing large schools of Australian salmon feeding on the surface on plankton & schools of tiny whitebait is common during this period. Australian Salmon are a great sport fish & can also be one of the most frustrating fish around too hook particularly when they are feeding on these schools of plankton & whitebait. They generally start showing up during early September & get thicker reaching a peak in November /December then tapering off & the majority are gone by the end of January. The most reliable method of hooking up an Australian salmon is in fly tackle but small lures can score as well. Salmon have made a great comeback over the last ten years after being almost wiped out by commercial fishing methods like beach hauling. Australian Salmon are not highly rated as a table fish but I do enjoy enjoy taking the odd one for the table. Please consider the future of our fish stocks & release any fish you do not intend to eat they are too good a sport fish to be wasted.
The last couple of years the salmon have been really getting up inside Pittwater & the areas around West head & the western side of Barrenjoey have produced well. Further up you can look out from Portuguese Beach & around the north eastern side of Scotland Island. All these inside areas produce fish especially on a rising tide. The main areas are the entrance to the river between Barrenjoey & Lion Island & back up as far as Flint & Steel reef. Where the fish are in this area depends on the tide & I have found Salmon up around the area of West Head on a rising tide & up to 500 meters out from Barrenjoey on a run out. it just depends where the tide takes the bait. Along the back of Palm Beach is always worth a look with some good schools normally in that area. The fish often congregate around Lion Island as well particularly in a westerly wind & it is always worth a look. Where they feed of course depends on where the bait is & salmon can turn up just about anywhere so keep your eyes open & you should not have any trouble finding them.
To get the most out of an Australian salmon you need to fish pretty light as the average fish in this area is around 2.5 kilos. If I am using conventional tackle I use either a threadline outfit around 2 meters in length spooled with 4 kilo line & the same on my bait casting outfit. I use this breaking strain line as although you can catch salmon on line as light as 2 kilo the fish are exhausted when they get to the boat & are in no condition to release. Any good quality tackle will do the job & I use an Okuma threadline & Shimano bait caster & they are both excellent reels & do the job well. For line I use Berkley Fireline on nearly all my reels & find it great to use for all applications. On fly tackle a good quality 6 or 8 weight outfit is the go on salmon & I prefer an intermediate line but a floating line will be fine as well. I stick to an intermediate as I find them a bit better to cast particularly on windy days. As far as lures & flies go for salmon you need to think small. The smallest size Raiders work well & little 10 gram chrome slices plus the Nat Nat lure called "Bills Slugs" in the 10 gram size are also effective. As for flies any tiny baitfish pattern will go well & the ones I use are tied on hooks from No.1 down to No.8. These tiny hooks will cause you to drop fish but some days tiny no.8's are the only way to get a strike. There are a few pictures at the bottom of the page.
I prefer to fish a rising tide for salmon & prefer one that is high about an hour after sunrise. I prefer this time as generally there is not too much wind around to interfere with my fly casting. Look for schools of fish feeding on the surface. What they look like when feeding varies from barely rippling the surface & just making a few swirls through too big splashes & boils. Do not rely on birds too much to show you Salmon as often a large school of fish feeding may only have a couple birds on it. Reason being salmon don't leave much in the way of scraps for them to feed on. When you find the find the fish watching the way they are feeding will give you a good idea of what they are eating as well as what your chances are of getting a strike. Salmon that are chopping hard at the surface over a wide area are generally on large white bait & are easy to catch. Often you will be able to see little baitfish jumping clear of the water trying to escape. Salmon feeding like this are generally an easy target & will take metal lures & flies with no problems at all & you should have an enjoyable session. Schools of salmon that are sitting in one spot & swirling around the one area & appear to be sucking or sipping bait of the surface but you cannot see what they are eating & there are no little baitfish jumping generally means they are feeding on plankton & you are in for a frustrating day. In my opinion trying to catch Salmon feeding on plankton with metal lures is a waste of time & you would be better off looking for something else to catch. It is common to go through schools like this 30 or 40 times & still not get a strike. These are really only a fly rod proposition & even then can be very hard to get a strike. You need to use the tiniest flies you have & even then numerous casts are often needed for a strike. I made a fly that was very successful on plankton feeding Salmon during the 2001-2002 season. I opened up a salmon to see what it was eating & it was full of crab larvae known as Megalops. Tiny little crabs that were blue in colour with 2 little black eyes & about half the size of your little fingernail. I tied a fly to imitate them on a No.6 hook & cast it to the schools of salmon feeding on plankton & retrieved it as slowly as possible & it got hammered every time I threw it in. I will post a picture (bad quality below)
I find positioning the boat to be very important as well. Salmon are pretty tolerant of boats most of the time but on weekends where a lot of people are hunting them they can get spooky. I find Salmon generally feed into the wind & try to position my boat up wind & to one side of the school & let the fish come to me. Whether you are casting lures or fly at the salmon try to get a cast along the edge of the school rather than at the centre. I think the biggest mistake people make is tossing right at the centre of the boiling fish & the reason for that is very simple. You are tossing a lure or fly into water that is being chopped up by fish & there are Salmon & large amounts of bait going in all directions & realistically what hope is there that a fish will single out your lure of fly & strike it. It is far better to cast along the edges of the school where your lure is not competing so hard to be seen. Another tip is to let your lure or fly sink for a few seconds before retrieving as this will also get it out of that broken water & allow the fish to spot it better plus often there are nice Kingfish & Trevally under the schools of salmon.
Once you are hooked up salmon go pretty hard & will make a run or two then a couple of jumps then go deep & slug it out. They are a strong & stubborn fish & never come easily but after all that's why you are after them. If you are losing fish when they are jumping & tossing the lure you can try backing off the pressure you are applying to the fish when you feel him angling up toward the surface & often he will go down again without jumping. Another thing I do when the fish is deep I like to position the boat down wind of the fish so as I am working him the boat is drifting away from him& it planes him back up to the surface instead of him sitting down deep & circling away for ages.
If you intend to keep a salmon for the table cut his throat to bleed him then clean it as quickly as possible & get it on ice as soon as possible & it will taste OK. If you are releasing the fish do so as quickly as possible & try not to touch the fish at all if possible. Mostly the lure or fly can be grabbed with pliers when the fish is alongside & shaken out but if the salmon must come in the boat release it ASAP.
All in all the salmon is a great sport fish & a fish that is accessible to nearly every one as they come right inside Pittwater. Provided suitable tackle is used a great day can be had catching Salmon if they are striking lures & flies but if they are not it can be extremely frustrating so just sit back & enjoy the scenery. Tight lines!
Lures & Flies for Salmon
Crab Larvae (Megalops) & my imitation.
The fly picture is bad quality but the hook size is 6 & I made the body using blue thread with the eyes being plastic spikes out of a cheap hair brush bound into the fly. There is a short tail of sparkle flash as well. These flies worked very well.
School of Salmon
Average size salmon for the area