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First Hairtail


wazatherfisherman
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Back in the mid seventies, one of the fishing ambitions was to catch a Hairtail, we'd had them on while fishing Sydney Harbour quite a few times without managing to land one, so up to Coal and Candle Creek- one of the big tributaries of the larger Cowan Creek system- we went and hired a boat from the now long gone Illawong Bay marina. 14 ft aluminium boats, with 2 oars and an anchor, if you were lucky and got a "good" boat, the anchor would have 2 feet of chain (some had none though) and the boat would have some sort of plastic bottle fashioned to be a "bailer". Nothing fancy, but they got us on the water and were pretty cheap to hire.

About a mile and a half further up the creek was the place to go, past what's now Akuna Bay marina and into the last bay before the big sand-flat at the bay's end. It took about a half hour or so to row up with the often uneven length oars, with 2 of the four of us on board pulling an oar each and we'd wobble our way up river, heading "straight" for the spot known as the "Y" tree, which was marked in just about every book and fishing map as "THE" spot. Some publications went as far as to call it "The Home of the Hairtail"

Once up in this last bay, we'd try and anchor a couple of boat lengths out from the tree, but you had to be satisfied with whatever spot you could get, as it seemed nearly everybody must have had one of those maps, often there'd be a stack of boats there by the time we rowed up, after hiring the boat about 6.30 am.

The first couple of trips yielded a few Flathead and Tailor, but not a Hairtail was caught by anyone, you would have known, because with the steep mountain range of Kuringai Chase encircling the bay and no noise to be heard other than fishers in the many boats, there was no chance of anyone "sneaking" one over the side of the boat without someone spotting it being caught and voices carry quite a distance over the water in locations such as this.

After 2 trips with none of the target species even sighted, the fishing report in the Friday paper noted that a "few" Hairtail had been caught in Cowan Creek (Cowan is a massive expanse of water!) so hopes were once again high and we left on a bleak, cold and drizzling-rainy Saturday morning. On arrival at the marina, there were no other cars and due to the rain, no other boats to be seen. As we started to row up the creek, the rain came down a bit harder, but we had raincoats, beanies and had made waterproof "pants" out of large industrial plastic bags, so although a little wet and pretty cold, we headed for the tree.

I can still remember how disappointed we were, when on rounding the last corner and in sight of the tree, there were 3 really big sailing boats anchored close to each other and right in the spot. They'd obviously been there all night, so we decided to try along a steep edge about a hundred yards away. Without a sounder, to get an idea of what the terrain is like underwater, you just have to look for the steepest looking bits of the mountains going right down to water's edge and imagine them continuing on as they are, down and under the water. This strategy proved to be good logic and we were soon anchored up in nearly 40 feet of water about 15 or so yards out from the edge.

For bait we had a block of pilchards, a big ball of mince for "Yakka" bait but no burley, we'd left the 2 loaves of bread in the car, along with the sandwiches we'd made the night before. Rigs were pretty basic, just a 12 inch shop bought wire trace with a 5/0 "suicide" hook for the Hairtail, and a tiny size 14 long-shank on a fine hand-line for the Yakka's. No lead on the Hairtail line and just a small split shot pinched on about a foot above the hook on the Yakka line.

Yakka's were there in numbers and it was easy to catch a couple and throw them over on the Hairtail lines, but after quite a few tangles that resulted from the Yakka's swimming 'laps' around each other, half a pilchard was substituted instead. No action from anything other than the bait fish though and by lunch time, being a bit wet, cold through and through and now hungry, we talked about going home early. Then the breeze got up and other than making us even colder, pushed us pretty much into the bank. 

Then, as if by magic, all four Hairtail rods bent over slightly- virtually at the same time. Action stations, everyone feeling the slow pull and the weight of something decent on the line. They felt like squid, which we had caught plenty of times before. Same distinct movement pulling gently but firmly away. After reading everything possible on Hairtail though, we knew that they could well be what we were after. "Give them a few feet of line" was the general consensus from our information and then strike hard, so within a few seconds of each other we all struck and 3 rods bent over with hooked fish. The fourth rod had the line bitten off before there was even any weight on it. A few minutes later and 3 Hairtail were pulled over the side. Joy! 

Only the bitten off line was quickly re-rigged and thrown back over, we other three spent time checking out our captures and making sure they were dead before attempting to handle one. For those who've never seen a Hairtail that's come straight out of the water, they are an almost "surreal" creature, with "teflon-smooth" skin that appears to have been chromed and polished to an almost mirror-finish, a flat body that tapers down to a quarter inch tail-strand, near full length dorsal fin and of course their infamous teeth, flat sided, pointy-ended and super sharp.

While we three mucked around with our fish, the one line in the water was quickly grabbed and a fourth fish landed. Mission successful! We all got one and then they were gone. About 15 or 20 minutes or so passed and they were back and we caught a few more. Another "burst" about half an hour later and a few more came in and we ended up getting 14 or 15, before it really started pouring rain and we decided to go home.

These trips were of course, all in daylight hours, as the boats only had a "sunrise to sunset" availability and the Hairtail often bite very timidly in daylight hours- not always, but on this occasion and the next, the bite was really gentle and subtle. 

We enjoyed the trip so much, we made another booking for the next week, making it our fourth weekend in a row. The next week, the word was out, the Hairtail were "on" and by the time we rowed up into the last bay, there were probably 40 or 50 boats already fishing. We anchored in the same spot as the previous week and started catching them pretty well straight away. It was simple fishing, you just lowered your bait over so you could just see it and several fish would approach and you could be selective of the one that took the bait, by just moving it away from the smaller ones. Ended up with 63 (there were no bag limits back in the 70's) and all those other cold, wet and disappointing days on previous trips now all but forgotten. 

Over the years, techniques have changed a fair bit, but the strange "chrome fish" are pretty much as they've always been, however, these days night time produces far more fish than day time. Not saying you won't get them in the day but from dusk on, is when they're really hunting.

For anyone who's never fished for them, they should go on the "bucket list" as they are unique and interesting to catch, they can swim backwards or race across the surface. They also almost always come back to your bait if you lose one and have any bait still on the hook- even after fighting one and it getting off, they'll usually re-take whatever is left.

They are also really easy to fillet, leaving virtually no meat on the skeleton and no bones. They also cook well via a variety of different methods, and are one of my favourites to eat.

After a really poor season for them last year, lets hope they return in big numbers this year. Hope you get a few if you try!

 

 

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Waza. Another fantastic read. I can relate to many aspects of your story. I first started catching Hairtail in botany bay in the late 60's before the container wall was built there was a top reef what is now known as Molineux point .

Neil, Why not this season mate ? . This winter may well be my last Hairtail session as I intend to sell all related fishing equipment around this time next year, except for the outfit that is going to sit on top of my coffin when I go to meet my maker.

Frank 

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Thanks for the post Wazza,

Brings back memories from my land based days in Coal & Candle Creek- certainly not as challenging as your experience... The car was close by for shelter from the rain and you could watch your glow sticks from the relative comfort of the front seat with the heater on!

They are a great fish and reading your account just makes me keen to go out and catch one again.

Cheers

 

Jim

 

 

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We used to have some great fishraider hairtail socials. It was legendary and always reported by journalist David Lockwood in his fishing column. 
I had never heard of these mythical creatures either. 
Have a look in the Socials section here on fishraider for pics and stories. 
Good write up again @wazatherfisherman thanks. 

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8 hours ago, frankS said:

Waza. Another fantastic read. I can relate to many aspects of your story. I first started catching Hairtail in botany bay in the late 60's before the container wall was built there was a top reef what is now known as Molineux point .

Neil, Why not this season mate ? . This winter may well be my last Hairtail session as I intend to sell all related fishing equipment around this time next year, except for the outfit that is going to sit on top of my coffin when I go to meet my maker.

Frank 

Frank I really hope you are with us for many more years yet mate and you get into the Hairies again when this current situation is finally over.

Those Botany Hairies were some of the biggest there ever were

Regards Waza

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5 hours ago, fragmeister said:

Thanks for the post Wazza,

Brings back memories from my land based days in Coal & Candle Creek- certainly not as challenging as your experience... The car was close by for shelter from the rain and you could watch your glow sticks from the relative comfort of the front seat with the heater on!

They are a great fish and reading your account just makes me keen to go out and catch one again.

Cheers

 

Jim

 

 

Hi Jim I went up 3 weeks ago to that very spot, but no takers on live Yakka's or pillies.

Did you ever fish the land based spot down the steep track in Akuna Bay itself? Caught a few there and spent a few nights under the high ledge out of the rain. National Parks have blocked the parking there now by placing a "boulder barrier" in the entrance to the only available spots

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6 hours ago, Green Hornet said:

Another great read Waza, thanks for going to the trouble of posting.

I've never seen a hairtail in the flesh, but they certainly look to be a unique creature.

Hi Pete they are one of the coolest looking living creatures you're likely to see

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7 hours ago, frankS said:

Waza. Another fantastic read. I can relate to many aspects of your story. I first started catching Hairtail in botany bay in the late 60's before the container wall was built there was a top reef what is now known as Molineux point .

Neil, Why not this season mate ? . This winter may well be my last Hairtail session as I intend to sell all related fishing equipment around this time next year, except for the outfit that is going to sit on top of my coffin when I go to meet my maker.

Frank 

Just being realistic Frank. Highly unlikely that normality will resume by Winter's end and even if it were I have my wife to consider. If it happens, it happens. If not we all depart this life with a lot of achievements and some things "yet to do".

Just get busy making my bowl on your lathe...here's the one I made for you. Cheers bn

IMG_2614.jpgrs.thumb.jpg.aa581df2242b2ffceac9f530ce5b3cd7.jpg

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1 minute ago, frankS said:

Neil. Don't mean to hijack Waza's thread but here's a few that I have done so far. will get better as I learn and get some decent wood.

 

1281380582_bowls2.thumb.jpg.f23e8b8637f8f7a42aaa9048d70e9edb.jpg

1798930055_bowls3.thumb.jpg.d9119c870c95a38f0327c0734c570789.jpg

Frank

Hi Frank like everything you make, they look great. Maybe make a couple of hand-line spools, I'm sure they'd turn out great and there's always a demand for them too

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29 minutes ago, big Neil said:

Just being realistic Frank. Highly unlikely that normality will resume by Winter's end and even if it were I have my wife to consider. If it happens, it happens. If not we all depart this life with a lot of achievements and some things "yet to do".

Just get busy making my bowl on your lathe...here's the one I made for you. Cheers bn

IMG_2614.jpgrs.thumb.jpg.aa581df2242b2ffceac9f530ce5b3cd7.jpg

Neil. Looks great mate. We are going to have to get together at some stage to exchange these things. Bit hard at the moment with lock downs but things will improve.

Frank

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38 minutes ago, frankS said:

Neil. Don't mean to hijack Waza's thread but here's a few that I have done so far. will get better as I learn and get some decent wood.

 

1281380582_bowls2.thumb.jpg.f23e8b8637f8f7a42aaa9048d70e9edb.jpg

1798930055_bowls3.thumb.jpg.d9119c870c95a38f0327c0734c570789.jpg

Frank

Plenty of room on here to post your pics Frank. These look great. Plenty to choose from. Cheers, Neil.

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1 hour ago, GoingFishing said:

Wazza.....absolutely great read. 

I take my hat off to the writing and detail and especially the memories.

Thanks GoingFishing, as a young bloke these were the first "independently organised" trips where we caught a great bag of fish and had a heap of fun on light line I was using 5 lb Shakespeare "Noryl" mono and a Blackfish rod on the trip we got 63.

Used to get them in both Botany and the Harbour during the daylight hours as well.

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last august I was on the end of my uncles jetty on McCars creek and a massive hairtail came from out wide and underneath the jetty. I only saw it because I saw a bit of movement form under the moonlight and then shined my light on it. Any chance of targeting them there or would have that sighting been a one off?

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You lot are unreal. I have read the whole thread. I love the nostalgic and very informative fishing trip from the "good old days" to woodturning bowls. Frank you have many more fishing trips and bowls left in your bucket. We WILL all fish again and hopefully in the not too distant future (just spent $650 on the boat motor).

It's these fishing trips we hear about that gets our interest & gets us going to go out & explore. I don't think age matters. When I was a kid it was stories of Murray Cod as big as a wagon in the 'Bidgee, then it was 12lb in trout in Eucumbene, record Tailor from Diamond Head, Marlin off the rocks, now the young fuller is catching 15kg Spanish mackeral off the rocks on the mid north coast.

There's always time for one more cast.

These discussions are the ones that keep me logging in to share and care and see what is going on in the world of fishing.

Thanks heaps.

Hoods

 

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1 hour ago, James Clain said:

last august I was on the end of my uncles jetty on McCars creek and a massive hairtail came from out wide and underneath the jetty. I only saw it because I saw a bit of movement form under the moonlight and then shined my light on it. Any chance of targeting them there or would have that sighting been a one off?

Hi James you never know where Hairtail are going to turn up. Back in the 60's and 70's they turned up in both Botany Bay and the Harbour pretty much every year and there were plenty of genuinely huge ones amongst them,

In 1978 they were all over Sydney Harbour and we caught them at all the following places: Clifton Gardens- both the deep hole and the wharf, Sow and Pigs, both the "Green Wedding Cake" and Red one, hole at east side of Shark Island, Yellow blinker off Neilsen Park, Fort Denison, Walsh Bay, Zoo wharf, Kurraba wharf, Athol Bay and even up at Drummoyne and Iron Cove wharves. North Harbour sees them sporadically- they were there last year.

Other years they've turned up at Port Kembla and Coffs Harbour- where they were in absolute plagues one year. Newcastle Harbour gets them annually also, as does Box Head and Flint and Steel sees the big migrating schools travel past and it's become a reliable spot when they are on the move.

Closer to your uncle's place was another good spot called the "Pittwater Targets"- a series of Naval fixtures where the torpedo's were "aligned" during world war two. Many good fish including Hairtail and John Dory were caught in the vicinity of these structures as they became "natural" fish attracting structure. The targets are long gone, but the fish had to be in the area to be attracted to the structure in the first place.

So there's no reason you couldn't get one, especially if the water is clean and 4-5 metres deep. Add a food source for them to be hunting and you could be in business. In those sort of areas, a small live bait under a bobby cork is what I'd try if fishing for them 

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3 minutes ago, wazatherfisherman said:

Hi James you never know where Hairtail are going to turn up. Back in the 60's and 70's they turned up in both Botany Bay and the Harbour pretty much every year and there were plenty of genuinely huge ones amongst them,

In 1978 they were all over Sydney Harbour and we caught them at all the following places: Clifton Gardens- both the deep hole and the wharf, Sow and Pigs, both the "Green Wedding Cake" and Red one, hole at east side of Shark Island, Yellow blinker off Neilsen Park, Fort Denison, Walsh Bay, Zoo wharf, Kurraba wharf, Athol Bay and even up at Drummoyne and Iron Cove wharves. North Harbour sees them sporadically- they were there last year.

Other years they've turned up at Port Kembla and Coffs Harbour- where they were in absolute plagues one year. Newcastle Harbour gets them annually also, as does Box Head and Flint and Steel sees the big migrating schools travel past and it's become a reliable spot when they are on the move.

Closer to your uncle's place was another good spot called the "Pittwater Targets"- a series of Naval fixtures where the torpedo's were "aligned" during world war two. Many good fish including Hairtail and John Dory were caught in the vicinity of these structures as they became "natural" fish attracting structure. The targets are long gone, but the fish had to be in the area to be attracted to the structure in the first place.

So there's no reason you couldn't get one, especially if the water is clean and 4-5 metres deep. Add a food source for them to be hunting and you could be in business. In those sort of areas, a small live bait under a bobby cork is what I'd try if fishing for them 

Thank you for that great information. I believe that  4 metre deep water in within casting distance although where the Hairtail turned up was actually in around 1 metre or even shallower. I also I believe i have seen big head-wakes on that same say in winter. Would large kings come that far inshore in late august?

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