10 Weeks Into A New Hobby
10 weeks ago I started fishing. First, with a hand line and a basic travel rod on the second day. A few small fish were hooked up, but the highlight of the day was meeting @DerekDand @Wes.
Derek's enthusiasm for fishing is clear and he has generously shared his wealth of knowledge and abundance of experience with myself over the last 10 weeks. I've learnt what can only be described as an insane amount, and am very fortunate that I've been able to pick all this up during lockdown and have a lot of great fishing spots within 5km from home. I've made a point to explore and found over 30 places to go, and have enjoyed being out in nature.
Over these 10 weeks, I've gone from knowing nothing to landing squid, flathead and a kingfish! Hopefully this will serve as inspiration or some useful information to the next person starting out. The Basics
I generally have an analytical approach to things, which resonated well with Derek's philosophy - if he couldn't answer any of my questions then he needs to go find the answer.
I've made sure to practice managing my tackle and knots, as getting the basics right makes you more efficient and means you can spend more time chasing fish.
At the same time, I've made sure to roll my sleeves up and learn by doing - I'm not going to catch anything if the rod is in the car, and every time I go out I can learn something - even if I don't catch fish, I'll still be trying to improve my casting or knots.
I've also found it's important to have a specific plan, for example: I want a fish to eat, so I'm going to try and catch a flathead. Flathead are bottom feeders and might be found on sand flats, so I need to work my lure across the bottom in these areas to have a good chance of catching one. Lures are effective for targeting specific fish, but you need the right approach and setup to match it. Rod & Reel
We spoke about a few different types of rod and reels, but Derek recommended my first rod is the Atomic Arrowz AAS-270UL 3-14g 2-4kg 7'0" 2 piece with a Shimano Sedona 2500, running 4lb braid and 8lb mono leader.
I absolutely love the setup, and get excellent casting distance and accuracy. The rod feels incredibly versatile. The 4lb braid actually has a much higher breaking strength than advertised, but this varies by brand. Knots
I use the FG Knot to tie the braid to mono. To get up to speed quickly, I spent hours with the TV on practicing the knot. It's really worth spending time practicing in easy conditions - it suddenly gets a lot harder when you're out in the wind with cold hands. I also used the knots to lift a dumbbell off the floor to test their strength. It's surprising how much weight a small line can take.
I've been using the uni knot to tie lures onto the mono without issue. Carefully doing the knot minimises line wastage, so I have to re-tie the FG / leader less frequently. Lures
We primarily started out with Soft Plastic Lures - Berkley Power Bait 3 inch minnows and grubs. Alongside this, I got some metal lures: the Halco Twisty and Ecogear ZX40, a range of Yamashita squid jigs, and more recently some hard body lures. Casting
Achieving both distance and accuracy is important when you're fishing off land. You've got limited places you can stand unless you know how to walk on water, and a 10% increase in cast distance means you actually cover 20% more ground, because the area is circular (radius squared).
I've also learnt to cast from different positions: forehand, backhand and over my left shoulder. This lets me counteract the wind with a different casting trajectory or work around obstacles wherever I'm fishing from. It's also become natural and efficient to cast this way, so I don't physically tire or strain myself. Retrieves
Derek has shown me several retrieves to get the best action out of the plastics. Whilst you can just run the plastics back, making the minnows twitch and dart like a scared baitfish grabs the attention of predators and both forces the fish to act and gives them the opportunity to do so. Fishing Spots
We've also spent a lot of time talking about fishing spots - how you deal with the wind and make it work in your favour, what makes an area good or bad at different tides, and how to look out for structure, how deep weeds grow, and so on. Blackfish - Week 1
On the first day I met Derek, it was my first day of using a rod, and I was sending bait out without much luck. Derek and Wes had come out to catch Blackfish using weed with a float. Derek was happy to share what they were up to, and he'd just begun teaching Wes recently. He made light work of taking a blackfish out the water. It was clear that having an effective plan was crucial: right place, right time, right bait. Then it was Wes's turn to land a fish. Under Derek's instruction, another fish came out of the water not long after. Wes kindly lent me his rod, and I got to have a go. Despite my inexperience, some basic tips from Derek (keep it away from the structure!) helped me land a fish too. Australian Salmon - Week 2
At the end of the second week of my fishing, Derek hooked up an Australian Salmon on a 3 inch minnow and kindly handed me the rod to see if I could land it. This absolutely hooked me. It was a lot of fun to bring it in, and by the time we got it in the fish was exhausted. It's important to me to treat fish we're not keeping correctly, and we promptly released the fish rather than taking a photo. Catching Squid - Week 3 & 4
I had my mind on some recipes involving squid (more on that in a future post), so decided I'd go hunting for them. Armed with some Yamashita Squid Jigs, I set out to catch some squid.
The general premise is to let the jig sink down, then twitch in back up through the water column. The squid come in and grab it, and I understand they have excellent eyesight and so prey in lower light conditions (e.g. dawn/dusk) and are fast swimmers. They also tend to travel in groups, so other squid might follow yours up, and if you're fishing in a group it's worth working together.
The Yamashita squid jigs have different sink rates (which is not just their size). Density determines sink rate, and my first jig was size 2.2 with 8-9s per m sink, which takes a while if you want it to drop down 5m.
There were several failed attempts going after squid - once in a strong wind where it was impossible to get a good cast in, and following a storm there was no activity (dirty water?).
However, practice makes perfect. After persisting, I landed my first squid (and my first solo catch). The squid was promptly killed and prepared for lunch as calamari with chips and salad. Thankfully Derek advised me on how not to get inked, simply by ensuring the jet isn't coming towards you before softly laying the squid down.
I now also have a size 2.5 jig with 4-5s per m sink rate. I strongly prefer this, as it lets me cover a lot more ground. Not only does it cast further, but the faster sink means I can work through the area better. The advantage of the slower sink rate is that it makes it easier to avoid snags if there are weeds present. I've also got a blacklight, but tend to only use it when it's darker.
You can expect a future post about my squid ink risotto: Flathead for Dinner - Week 5
After landing and preparing squid, I decided I wanted to chase Flathead - which is a great eating fish and abundant in Sydney harbour. Flathead is a bottom feeder, and I targeted it using the soft plastic grubs. By running it along the bottom with twitching and darting motions then pauses, the grub becomes an easy and attractive meal.
During this week, I fished a bit in Middle Harbour. I hooked and dropped a well sized flathead much to my dismay, when I was trying to figure out how to land it, and then landed a smaller flathead a couple of days later, which I returned to the water. And the end of the week, I got a legal sized flathead with returned home and got filleted. This went into a pasta dish which was delicious. Kingfish - Week 6
On the Monday of Week 6, Derek asked if I wanted to join him for an afternoon fish. It was low tide, and we went up to middle harbour and out on some rocks. Derek was aiming for some blackfish with his Fly Rod, and showing the rod to me in more detail, while I was using the Berkley Powerbait 3 inch minnows and working the water column. We noticed a splash about 15-20m offshore, and I cast in that direction and quickly worked the minnow back, making it dart with pauses. This is approach Derek used to hook the Salmon he handed me. On my second cast, the fish went for the minnow and was locked on.
The first couple of runs were strong, and Derek made sure I didn't try and rush the fish back in. At this stage, we didn't know what it was, but it was taking off a decent amount of line. Although there was some structure in the area, there was enough room to let it run. I made sure to lock the butt of the rod against my forearm, so I could fight the fish efficiently. If the fish was rushed in, it'd be very hard to control near the rocks, and we knew we'd loose it on the line.
After the first 3 strong runs, Derek suspected it was a king. You can feel the fish swimming along, and then almost pausing and "lining up" before it runs. Kings will try and scrape the line off against structure, or wrap the line around structure, which is why I needed to let it run and tire out in the open space.
The fight kept going, and after 6 runs my arm was burning and I was putting a good amount of effort in. I kept working the fish back. The 7th run felt tired, and was a lot shorter, but I didn't rush it, and as the fish got closer, it made a last ditch 8th run which was flat out, and significantly more aggressive, and then it was done.
Derek got a landing net from the car whilst I kept the fish swimming in small circles, but not letting it recover, and I then swam the king into the net and landed it. I took the king out for a photo, and it's about 55cm long. I then stepped into the water, and swam the fish, before holding it by the tail, when it then gave a kick and was released off. I felt sick to the stomach from the adrenaline, and my boots were soaked through, and I won't forget it any time soon. All in, it took about 15 minutes to land the fish (and all on a light rod and line).
Catching the king was the culmination of everything I'd learned - my casting range and accuracy, the retrieve of the minnow, the line and knots holding, fighting the fish patiently like the Salmon, then safely landing the fish, handling it and returning it to the water.
The next morning I woke up and my first though was... when's the next one? 2nd Rod and Hardbody Lures - Week 6 & 7
Over the next couple of weeks, we started practicing casting with my 2nd rod. The Shimano Raider 762 15-45g 5-8kg 7'6" 2 piece. Derek has kindly lent me a Shimano Sedona for practice, but I'm planning to get a Shimano Stradic 4000 on the weekend, with braid + mono leader. This rod feels like an absolute weapon, but has given me incredible casting range.
We also got started with hardbody lures - the Bassday Sugapen, the MMD Splash Prawn and OSP Bent Minnow. Each lure can be retrieved in a slightly different way to get the best action, and even though we were limited in the areas I could practice, I did land a tailor with the bent minnow. It can be retrieved to swim just below the surface and then float up like a dead baitfish, making it an easy target. Bigger Flathead - Week 8
Having got better with my casting, retrieves and general confidence, Derek and I were having a casual fishing session with a nice view of the bridge and the opera house, and I pulled a 48cm flatty out of the water. This was caught on the Berkley 3inch minnow, covering ground and running it along the bottom. I returned this to the water, but was able to directly lift it out on the lightweight setup without undue strain on the rod. The One That Got Away - Week 9
I hooked up a Silver Trevally, and got it under control and ready to lift out, then... dropped it and lost it. I was rushing because a storm was rolling in, and I didn't want to wait around, but lesson learned! Alongside this, I've been refining my casting and knots further, and practicing more with hardbodies. Kingfish in the Summer - Week 10
With Summer round the corner, I've been learning techniques for chasing Kings using freshly caught squid bait, and how we can prepare the squid to use strips or the head, how we cast that out and work it back, and the usage of floats etc for setting the bait at a desired height. Hopefully as the water warms up, we'll get some bigger kings moving in. Now that the travel restrictions have eased, I'm also going yabby/nipper pumping this weekend outside of Sydney Harbour, as another source of fresh bait to use.
Whilst I enjoy plastics and they're clearly effective, it's useful to have different tools depending on my objective, and how much time I have. Plastics are very low maintenance, and can just be left in the car with my other fishing gear ready to go whenever I feel like it.