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Huge school of fish


wazatherfisherman
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Sitting at home talking to mates of fishy times past and often the topic comes up- "remember when we saw that huge school of such and such?"' Over the years I have seen some amazingly huge schools of fish.  

Biggest ever was when we were going to the famous "Peak" out off Maroubra on a midweek trip, 3 boats from the club.

Long before GPS, and sounders were the old paper type, you needed to be at least close to the area you were going to fish right on dawn, as when using "visual" marks offshore from Sydney, the brown pollution "haze" (from cars I think) would sometimes block you seeing what ever marks you had. This was one of those days, we putted around the general area slowly- you couldn't go real fast or you wouldn't get a decent reading on the sounder- but we just couldn't find the Peak. It was a really flat ocean and we were keen to fish for Kings, but due to not being able to see the shore marks, we never located it and eventually decided on a plan "B"- troll for Striped Tuna and hope the haze lifted enough to see the marks on shore.

We trolled for about 15 minutes all within sight of each other and all of a sudden the motor started coughing, so club President John who owned the boat, gave it a few revs then decided to turn the motor off and have a look at it. Don't know what it was, but that was it, couldn't get started again, so we radioed the other two boats to let them know and they came over for a chat.

As it was early morning, it was decided that we should drop anchor where we were and the other two would have a troll for a while before towing us back in. So off they went and we decided to drop a jig over, regardless there was nothing on the sounder and we were not over anything structure wise. Better to do something than just watch the others through the binoculars.

After sitting there in the early morning sun for a while, not getting any action, in the distance the water looked like it was rippling. Wasn't long before the rippling was close enough to distinguish it was fish and heaps of them. As they got closer, they appeared to be giant Yellowtail, swimming slowly along the surface, the "rippling" was them "mouthing" the surface. If they were feeding, whatever the food was, it wasn't visible to us. We only had Kingfish jigging gear with us, but John had some Yellowtail hand-lines on board and we used a bit of sandwich for bait and caught one pretty quickly. Wasn't a Yellowtail after all, they were Cowanyoung, which are like an oceanic version of Yellowtail except larger- these were around the pound, pound and a half mark and were easy to catch, first on the sandwich, then on bits of themselves after we cut one up for bait. 

This first school was bigger than a football field and just kept swimming past for about five minutes, leaving the ocean smooth again after they'd gone past. Then, in the distance, more rippling coming our way. This time, the school was much larger, doing the same "mouthing" at the surface as they swam past. After catching a couple of dozen between us, one of the other boats came back to check on us and show us some big Stripey's they'd trolled up. They said there were heaps more fish coming and after seeing we were at least catching something, headed off on another trolling run.

Then the next lot started getting closer, this time, as far as the eye could see, there were these Cowanyoung rippling and mouthing the surface. We now had enough for bait, so just sat and watched them swim by as we ate some breakfast. They were heading north and the sound of the "mouthing" was like the sound of rain on the water.

Pretty soon, the other boat came to see how we were and show us some of their fish. They were trolling up heaps of nice fish, all around us, but there we were with no motor. They then went off on another run, promising to be back in half an hour or so- it was going to be a long tow back, even in oily smooth seas.

As they moved off, a huge explosion of fish not far from the boat, showed something big was attacking the Cowanyoung, so we threw the jigs over, let them sink for about 10 seconds and ripped them in quickly. To everyone's surprise, we got strikes on the jigs (they were large 8 oz jigs) and Slimy Mackerel were quickly dragged in. These were large Slimy's a bit bigger than the Cowanyoung, but a relatively small fish to attack a large lure and we caught quite a few while watching for more big stuff. 

The Slimy's were under the Cowanyoung and we probably should have thrown a live Slimy over that day, or a Cowanyoung, but we didn't, it just didn't occur to us until we saw the big fish attack the surface school close to the boat. After a while, we were completely surrounded by this enormous bio-mass of fish, all heading north. By the time the other guys finally came back, they had a boat load of fish each and threw us the tow rope. 

That mass of fish swam past us for more than 2 hours and although they weren't big fish, there were genuinely millions of them. Still remains the most fish I've ever seen and the only time I've ever seen Cowanyoung on the surface.

All this and we were only about 4-5 miles out off Sydney. The sight and sound of them was truly amazing.

Have since seen huge schools of Striped Tuna, Kingfish and more recently Bonito, also Tailor and the big schools of migrating Mullet, but nothing has ever compared to that day.

 

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Another great read Waza. I've never heard of Cowanyoung and will have a bit of a look later on Google. Whenever I watch Blue Planet or suchlike I'm always amazed at the numbers of bait fish that are consumed by predators. Obviously the ecological aspect of the marine food chain works otherwise we wouldn't have increases in the numbers of predatory species...the types most sought by anglers. Cheers, bn

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Many many years ago, I caught some cowanyoung in Yowie Bay. They were around the 40cm mark, caught on a little rod with 3 pound line, and they fought rather hard. There were never many of them.

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I have seen schools like that, no idea what they are up to, breeding maybe? Probably the strangest one I have seen was a school of big Sea Mullet, right out past the shelf, swimming in almost single file, nose to tail, the "line" was probably more than a mile long, never seen it before and don't know anyone who has. Spend time on the water and you see "stuff"

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Waza. I remember those days well. We would head for the peak in the dark and estimate the time taken on a certain compass bearing to get somewhere close to the mark, then start spotting the landmarks as the sun came up behind our backs. I remember the day we ventured out to the peak and looked for our marks, ( don't know what marks you used ) but I used a couple of smoke chimneys over another set landmark and something else ( can't remember details now ) BUT to my surprise the chimneys were no longer visible, I thought I was going mad and gone to the wrong spot. Anyhow fished blind and still managed some decent Kingies ( which were a by catch for me as I used to target Yellowfin Tuna mostly ) . On returning to shore I learnt that a few days prior to this that they had demolished the chimneys. Think for memory it was the old brick pit OR something like that .

Anyhow had to find new marks to go by and it took some time to find the north peak even with new marks. By the time GPS came available I had ventured to different areas to call my favorites.

I remember seeing boils that covered half of Botany Bay, now you see 1/4 acre boil and think it's large.

Frank

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Last year I got the surprise of my life. Motoring slowly up the channel at Sussex Inlet I was amazed to see thousands of sea blackfish congregating in schools over the sand patches. They were waiting to do their thing when the females spawned. Of course they had a one track mind and were not feeding. Two days later they were all gone. This species did not look threatened. It was an incredible sight to witness.

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Another great tale Waza. When I lived at Hyams, I'd watch the slimies swimming around like that with their mouths just out of the water, definitely not the size of the school you refer to.  Before it was made a marine park the long line boats came in to bait up daily.

I remember as a kid in the mid 60's, my Dad took me out to Big Beecroft and the size of the southern bluefin schools were mind blowing. I was too young to fish, but Dad and his mates would just sit around and wait for the fish to come cruising past, then all hell would break loose and it was a fish a cast. There was huge schools of stripeys as well, but they'd just let them swm on by.

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It’s amazing what fish will take when they’re in the mood like the  slimy’s going your 8oz jigs & I have also experienced that sound of rain on a calm sunny day & then seen the school of baitfish mouths wide open moving along the surface, also saw a school of salmon doing the same travelling along north head close to the rocks for about 11/2 hours this time though there was heaps of micro plankton & it was like a never ending line of fish no more than 2 meters wide heading south

another good read Waza cheers 

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6 hours ago, big Neil said:

Another great read Waza. I've never heard of Cowanyoung and will have a bit of a look later on Google. Whenever I watch Blue Planet or suchlike I'm always amazed at the numbers of bait fish that are consumed by predators. Obviously the ecological aspect of the marine food chain works otherwise we wouldn't have increases in the numbers of predatory species...the types most sought by anglers. Cheers, bn

Hi Neil before knowing what Cowanyoung were, we just thought they were monster Yellowtail when sighted in fish shop windows, but they are an important food for large game-fish. 

 

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6 hours ago, Yowie said:

Many many years ago, I caught some cowanyoung in Yowie Bay. They were around the 40cm mark, caught on a little rod with 3 pound line, and they fought rather hard. There were never many of them.

Hi Yowie I remember seeing Ned Kelly fishermen catching what I thought were giant Yakka's off the end of the Cooks River breakwall and have often wondered if they were Cowanyoung

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5 hours ago, noelm said:

I have seen schools like that, no idea what they are up to, breeding maybe? Probably the strangest one I have seen was a school of big Sea Mullet, right out past the shelf, swimming in almost single file, nose to tail, the "line" was probably more than a mile long, never seen it before and don't know anyone who has. Spend time on the water and you see "stuff"

Hi Noelm spending time on the water you do see awesome sights, I reckon they might have been spawning but will never know. You never hear much about Cowanyoung these days

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5 hours ago, frankS said:

Waza. I remember those days well. We would head for the peak in the dark and estimate the time taken on a certain compass bearing to get somewhere close to the mark, then start spotting the landmarks as the sun came up behind our backs. I remember the day we ventured out to the peak and looked for our marks, ( don't know what marks you used ) but I used a couple of smoke chimneys over another set landmark and something else ( can't remember details now ) BUT to my surprise the chimneys were no longer visible, I thought I was going mad and gone to the wrong spot. Anyhow fished blind and still managed some decent Kingies ( which were a by catch for me as I used to target Yellowfin Tuna mostly ) . On returning to shore I learnt that a few days prior to this that they had demolished the chimneys. Think for memory it was the old brick pit OR something like that .

Anyhow had to find new marks to go by and it took some time to find the north peak even with new marks. By the time GPS came available I had ventured to different areas to call my favorites.

I remember seeing boils that covered half of Botany Bay, now you see 1/4 acre boil and think it's large.

Frank

Hi Frank can't remember if it was the chimney over the jail or hospital or the big tree and the block of flats- something like that, but same, needed new marks. 

The huge boils of Tailor always excited me when I was younger- you just knew you were going to get some on anything silver

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5 hours ago, JimC said:

Last year I got the surprise of my life. Motoring slowly up the channel at Sussex Inlet I was amazed to see thousands of sea blackfish congregating in schools over the sand patches. They were waiting to do their thing when the females spawned. Of course they had a one track mind and were not feeding. Two days later they were all gone. This species did not look threatened. It was an incredible sight to witness.

Hi JimC witnessed the beach haulers netting Blackfish at Yamba, there were thousands of fish sitting off the beach and they filled up several ute's with boxes of them. The haulers just had a small boat and ran the net out from the beach around a mass of fish and pulled it in by hand. Filled up every box they had

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When I was little, my father had several displacement boats ranging from about 20' to 36' , everywhere we went, there was always a couple of "spinners" out the back, most were on cord about 6mm thick and a bit of mono "leader" of about 30-50kg, lures were either a Smiths jig, or some kind of home made feather, we would be motoring along, and dad would yell out "bloody big school of Kingfish up ahead, get the lines back in the boat" no one wanted them, and they were too much trouble pulling them in, we would motor through a school for maybe 5 minutes before we reached the other side, don't know how big they were, but as a kid, they were gigantic, how times have changed hey?

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30 minutes ago, wazatherfisherman said:

Hi Noelm spending time on the water you do see awesome sights, I reckon they might have been spawning but will never know. You never hear much about Cowanyoung these days

Yeah, haven't see them for years, we used to eat them, they are pretty good eating, they were common once.

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certainly have seen those big cowanyoung schools before-they were part of the target of the ""supertrawler"" and im guesing a pretty important building block of the foodchain-my understanding is they do get targetted in Tassie as ""jack mackeral"" so might be why they dont get up further north much now. Ive seen big schools of them off the shelf- even around the famous Carpark off Port Stephens but in huge schools down deep, we would avoid them if we could as the marlin preferred to eat slimies. Certainly the huge schools of striped tuna i used to see in spring  seem to be gone-massive football fields off Sydney and the Central coast starting around the August full moon- theyve been smashed by the purse seiners off PNG and the Solomons long before they move south. The baitfish still hatch at that time of the year-witness the huge muttonbird flocks but the tuna are gone.

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5 hours ago, Green Hornet said:

Another great tale Waza. When I lived at Hyams, I'd watch the slimies swimming around like that with their mouths just out of the water, definitely not the size of the school you refer to.  Before it was made a marine park the long line boats came in to bait up daily.

I remember as a kid in the mid 60's, my Dad took me out to Big Beecroft and the size of the southern bluefin schools were mind blowing. I was too young to fish, but Dad and his mates would just sit around and wait for the fish to come cruising past, then all hell would break loose and it was a fish a cast. There was huge schools of stripeys as well, but they'd just let them swm on by.

Hi Pete wonder what they're doing when they do that- none of the ones we caught that day had anything in their gut.

Those close swimming schools get rock hoppers pulses racing! Nice memories

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4 hours ago, 61 crusher said:

It’s amazing what fish will take when they’re in the mood like the  slimy’s going your 8oz jigs & I have also experienced that sound of rain on a calm sunny day & then seen the school of baitfish mouths wide open moving along the surface, also saw a school of salmon doing the same travelling along north head close to the rocks for about 11/2 hours this time though there was heaps of micro plankton & it was like a never ending line of fish no more than 2 meters wide heading south

another good read Waza cheers 

Hi Dieter just makes you realise how many fish are there when you're in "right place right time" Have seen Salmon full of those micro purple oceanic crabs a couple of times

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11 minutes ago, PaddyT said:

certainly have seen those big cowanyoung schools before-they were part of the target of the ""supertrawler"" and im guesing a pretty important building block of the foodchain-my understanding is they do get targetted in Tassie as ""jack mackeral"" so might be why they dont get up further north much now. Ive seen big schools of them off the shelf- even around the famous Carpark off Port Stephens but in huge schools down deep, we would avoid them if we could as the marlin preferred to eat slimies. Certainly the huge schools of striped tuna i used to see in spring  seem to be gone-massive football fields off Sydney and the Central coast starting around the August full moon- theyve been smashed by the purse seiners off PNG and the Solomons long before they move south. The baitfish still hatch at that time of the year-witness the huge muttonbird flocks but the tuna are gone.

Hi PaddyT great explanation, can't remember seeing those schools of Stripey's for years now either, used to be easy to get them for bait whenever you wanted them

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We used to spend a day trolling for Stripies for Snapper bait, a couple of hours trolling Bass Point near the gravel loader would see your bait supply well and truly replenished, most would fillet them, but I used to freeze them whole and cut baits off as I needed them, the left over flesh on the backbone was burley, great days indeed.

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17 minutes ago, wazatherfisherman said:

 Have seen Salmon full of those micro purple oceanic crabs a couple of times

Several times over the years, I have seen salmon in Port Hacking grubbing on the bottom for nippers or worms. I though they were mullet but then had a good look as the fish were in shallow water. Usually only single fish doing it.

I have also caught a couple of salmon in the shallow water on nippers and a whiting rod, and those salmon really take off when hooked. One was just over 6 pound, on 6 pound line and I started the motor and followed it. I would have been spooled if I did not.

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7 hours ago, noelm said:

I have seen schools like that, no idea what they are up to, breeding maybe? Probably the strangest one I have seen was a school of big Sea Mullet, right out past the shelf, swimming in almost single file, nose to tail, the "line" was probably more than a mile long, never seen it before and don't know anyone who has. Spend time on the water and you see "stuff"

I mentioned somewhere else, that many years ago I saw a school of sea mullet swimming from the ocean up the main channel of Lake Illawarra and into the lake itself.

The school was about 3 foot across and a couple of feet deep, packed solid and there was a continuous jumping of these mullet. The school was constant for a few hours, and I would not be exagerating if I said there were a million mullet.

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