When I was in my early teens, growing up in Sydney's Inner West gave my mates and I plenty of fishing options. A single bus ride would get us to the water at Drummoyne or Fivedock and two buses would get you to Abbotsford. All three locations sit next to the water on the Parramatta River and were easy access with quite a few fishing destinations within easy reach of young fishermen.
Bream were readily available, in fact if you had live worms, you never missed out on a good bag. Whiting, Flathead, Luderick and Mullet were also there to be caught and were all caught on the worms, which we used to collect by turning over rocks on the lower tides. Green Nippers or "Pistol Prawns" were also found while scratching for worms and they are a fantastic bait, better than Pink Nippers I reckon, rarely hear of anyone using them these days. Both @Green Hornet and @Burleyguts shared great techniques they used to use for catching the nippers and no doubt there's still plenty around these days.
Pollution wasn't really a thing that we were aware of in those days either, occasionally the mud would release an oily film and smell pretty bad, but any mangroves seem to smell bad on the lower tides- it's a natural occurrence. The exception was the Leatherjackets, caught from about Gladesville Bridge upwards, always looked dull and lacked the colours of their same species that were caught further down the Harbour, so they weren't targeted by us up the river.
Fishing the river and it's bays was a pretty simple affair. A large sinker, bead, swivel and long trace was the rig for fishing either the strong tidally affected spots or the stiller waters of the bays, a size 2 hook would catch you all the above mentioned species and were ideal for the soft river worms that all the fish love so much.
Unfortunately for us, "Defacing the Foreshores" rules were adopted by several riverside councils and they outlawed the turning over of rocks and digging of worms, so the traditional (and free!) river bait was no longer an option. Of course you could buy worms from the bait shop, but there were a few problems with that. Firstly, the bait shop was the other side of the fishing spots and really necessitated a separate trip by a different bus. Secondly, you then had to base your trip around the bait shop hours and different bus and thirdly and most importantly when you're a kid- live worms were 40c each, which was too expensive when you only got $2 a week pocket money. So, sadly, the river became less of an option and we had to look further afield.
The lower harbour had plenty of options, Balmain, Pyrmont, Walsh Bay, under the Harbour Bridge, Bennelong, Lady Macquarrie's Chair, the Opera House (yep, we fished there plenty of times, casting out to the channel right opposite Kirribilli house) Farm Cove (nobody stopped you fishing there either and the "1st gate" was the Harbour's best Leatherjacket spot) and Elizabeth Bay could all be reached by train then walking and it was only 10c for a return ticket to the city. If you were 'cashed-up' and could outlay the 25c for a "child excursion" ticket- which gave unlimited train, bus and ferry travel each day- plenty more locations opened up. All the lower harbour ferry wharves were great spots, as was the Bradleys Head to Clifton Gardens stretch of Sydney Harbour National Park, but the standout location was the old Taronga Park Wharf, located in Athol Bay.
The first ferry to the zoo from Circular Quay was 6.10am every morning, except Sunday (9am) and it got you there early enough for the 'morning' species like Tailor, as the sun had to rise over the top of the long peninsula that is Bradleys Head. Due to there being a souvenir shop on the wharf, it was locked each night at 7.45pm after the last ferry for the night left at 7.15pm and not reopened until 6am, thus preventing overnight stays; much as we pleaded, the old security guard who locked the wharf each night could never be swayed to let us stay and plenty of times we had to make the long walk to Clifton Gardens to continue our night's fishing trip.
Walking up the traffic-less, dark and quiet road, past the zoo's lower side always gave that sense of excitement and a little nervousness. As we slowly trudged up the big hill, talk always went to the "what if's" - like "what would you do if a lion suddenly jumped the fence?" or "would you climb a tree or jump over the edge?" "what about a bear?"- that sort of banter and all the noises made by the unseen animals in the darkness on the other side of the zoo's fence, kept us on our toes for the whole half hour walk, until 'civilization' past the top of the zoo was reached.
It took plenty of trips to finally realise, that the old security guard was never going to let us stay on the wharf overnight, and the hope that he'd be off and his replacement on the nights we'd planned, might be more sympathetic faded also. So only day trips became the norm, as walking all the way up to Military Road for the only alternative way home was just too far- even for young legs. I can only remember walking it once and that was because one of the guys got spiked by a Catfish and was in agony, so we did the huge walk to the only available bus back to the city, then train back home.
It was a great place to go for a fish, with the ferry only coming in to interrupt fishing every half an hour and then usually only on the western side of the wharf. The offloaded passengers filed off pretty quickly towards the waiting buses and the returning passengers boarded quickly also, leaving all quiet again after just a few minutes.
Plenty of different species were on offer from the old zoo wharf and it was always one of the Harbour's greatest fishing spots. There were four different spots to fish for Luderick, plenty of pylons to attract Leatherjackets and allow John Dory to "sneak attack" their prey, a predominantly sand bottom on the eastern side held Flathead and Tailor, Squid galore on the western side, Bream and Trevally lurked under the floating section of the wharf and there were abundant Yellowtail schools, which in turn attracted whatever visiting pelagic species were cruising the lower harbour. Hairtail also turned up at times, but with a limited window of opportunity after dark before the wharf being locked, you'd only ever get one or two before having to go.
The greatest part about going to "The Wharf" as we all called it- was you only needed a ball of mince to go fishing for the day and back in the 70's, 20c worth of mince had you set for the day. Hamburger mince has always been the "supreme" Yellowtail bait for wharf fishing, not the superfine variety, plain old coarse type, as long as it wasn't all fatty, it was the best and a big blob could also get you a Bream. The mince was converted into Yellowtail, which were fished for 'straight down', due to the abundance of chopper Tailor in those days. If you cast your Yellowtail line outwards from the wharf, more often than not a pesky chopper would snavel it and often bite you off.
The Yellowtail were then used either live, filleted or cut into cutlets, depending on the species you were after. Burley wasn't necessary as the mince particles became their own attractant. So for as little as 40 cents, you could go fishing for the day and expect to catch a couple of decent fish.
Bottom set live Yellowtail would always produce a couple of good fish for we "jetty jockey's", mostly decent sized Flathead and a better class of Tailor to the surface marauding ones, who menaced the Yellowtail schools at will. In winter, John Dory were always lurking around and once we worked out how to catch them, they became the ultimate prize. Occasional visits by Bonito, the rare (in those days) Salmon and larger Kingfish, kept hopes high of something big.
Fillets of Yellowtail also produced some great fish. If you fished an unweighted fillet, Tailor of varying size were the usual culprits to attack, but if your bait made the bottom, then Flathead, Bream and some really big Silver Trevally were landed. Cutlet baits produced mainly Bream and Trevally.
Another great part of fishing the wharf was the camaraderie between all the regular fishers. Plenty of times someone would turn up without any bait or run out of hooks etc and everyone would give 'donations' to get them back in the game. Someone would call "donations needed" and whatever was needed was usually produced. The most common need were Yellowtail hooks, as they formed the basis of most people's trips, so plenty of good old size 14 longshanks were carried by all the wharf gang.
Didn't matter what nationality or heritage anyone had, we were all fishermen and thus brothers, going fishing to the wharf each week was always a great social day out. Amongst the regulars, there were some real characters; Drew who rarely seemed to put his line in the water, he'd rather walk around talking to everyone instead. Spiro would come down after going to church and pull a handline from one suit pocket and a plastic bag for his fish from his other pocket- never a less likely attired fisherman would you see. Another guy, who was Japanese and could only manage a few words of English at best, was known by all as "Happy Jap" as he was always laughing as he fished for Yellowtail, of which he caught plenty on his very clever and unusual rig- it was a paternoster rig, but instead of a sinker on the bottom, he had one of those tea-leaf infusion balls, which he'd squeeze open and fill with a home-made burley concoction, that sat below his 3 hooks. He often got 3 at a time, long before the advent of bait jigs.
Another character was Abby, known by the Luderick community as "the king of Sydney Harbour", he was a fixture on the narrow, freezing southern back-side of the wharf throughout winter and the best Luderick fisherman I've ever met. I spent plenty of time watching him and asking him questions about Luderick, he always answered with great explanations as to the why's and why not's of the art and instrumental in me becoming more interested in fishing for them myself. He caught that many fish that he brought a "net man" - Irish George, who made the burley, netted Abby's fish and made their "Irish coffee", which I suspected was more Whisky than coffee.
Practical jokes were often played and one that comes to mind was played out plenty of times with the unsuspecting zoo visitors. After watching the movie "Jaws" one of the guys started bringing a bit of rope with a piece of chain and huge 10 inch shark hook attached. A massive bait of anything from a chicken to a whole fish was put on and the whole lot suspended under a small buoy. The line would be pulled in each time a ferry arrived and we'd all try to look stone faced and just nod to each other. Might sound corny but we got tons of bites from tourists and it was all part of the fun.
Over the years, there were plenty of others who came and fished the wharf and it was always a place you could go and see a friendly face and find someone to fish alongside, never any dramas at the wharf. Such a shame that due to the actions of a few messy/lazy fishers that the spot was eventually deemed off limits to fishers, as I understand it, both the constant mess left behind including fishing line that caused more than one bad tripping-over injury to the public were to blame. It was such a great and safe place for young fishers and a spot that produced heaps of great fish