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ARTICLE - Koalaboi’s Blackfishing Tips

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Koalaboi’s Blackfishing Tips

I have been fishing for blackfish since about 1969. I am sure that other experienced luderick fishers may not fish the way I do and, that they would certainly have many tips and ideas that would improve my fishing that I have never considered. 

This is no way a complete guide to the dark art, but, these techniques and tackle have worked well for me and I hope they help some FRs get onto a feed or two.

1. Tackle: 

I prefer a 2-piece rod for ease of transport. I have lots of rods; find one that has lots of give in the top third and a bit of muscle below. Fishing the ocean rocks will usually need a longer stronger stick than in the estuaries. The Velcro hand attachments from childrens’ body board leashes are great for keeping your two-piece rod together when travelling.

I recommend using a centrepin reel for their direct feel and ease of giving line quickly as well as, applying drag by finger or palm pressure to the rim of your reel.

Casting tangle-free, accurate throws with a centrepin is simple but requires practice. Basically, hold the rod with your bottom hand so you can rest a finger on the spool to check it. Bring the rod back over your shoulder with your top hand and load the rod by moving it forward. Take your finger off the spool and let it fly. Dampen the spool with your palm to prevent an overrun once the float hits the water.

You don’t need to cast too far so don’t be too powerful, a gentle lob does the trick in most situations.

In time you will learn to improve by loading your rod with your backswing to enable greater distance and power to deal with adverse winds as well as cast both sides and, with one hand etc.

By using a centrepin you are continuing the old tradition of blackfish angling and its ancestor, coarse fishing.

Don’t knock the humble Steelite! My first centrepin was a Steelite reel and the rattle of the handles when you stop a cast is a familiar and comforting sound. My oldest fishing mate still uses nothing but his old Steelite; it’s going well and still catching lots of fish after 40 years of use. You can pick one up cheaply at markets, online and garage sales.


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Just the same, many people do well with side-cast (line twist a problem) and thread line reels (hard to give line). Both can be the best option if you need to make a long cast out to where the fish are.

I use a 12 to 15lb monofilament mainline (easier to sort out tangles than braid) and 6 to 8lb fluorocarbon leader.

How long is your leader? I prefer a leader from 30cm to 50cm or thereabouts long. A longer leader is often a good tactic for shy fish as well as, giving you some leeway to replace hooks or remove wind knots without having to replace the whole leader.

I use Mustad size 8 540-BR hooks.

Leaving a little tag of line above your knots in case they slip when the strain of a fish pulls the knots tight is a good precaution.

A sliding stopper knot above a running float makes it easier to cast and adjust the depth of your bait. I have found the rubber stoppers you can purchase to slip and perish and a stopper knot is much better

I like to make my own floats and the two on the left in the picture are mine. Shaped cedar pencil style float and the other, a shaped champagne cork on ¼ inch dowel.

I can convert the running dowel-based float to a fixed float with a couple of pieces of plastic tubing cut thin sliding over the line to jam it onto the top and bottom of the float. Be sure to twist your line around the float a couple of times to stop it slipping when you strike.

I place the all lead just above a swivel or ring with the leader tied below the swivel. Lead spaced evenly between the float and the trace can leave you with tangles that are difficult to sort out.

I often find that missed downs are usually due to not enough lead below the float. Try adding tiny bits of split shot (00 or 000 sizes) one at a time till your float is so delicately balanced that just a little is above the water, it may even submerge briefly as a wave comes through where you are fishing.

Greasing your line. Is your line greased with Vaseline above the float to your rod tip? I grease it every time before I go fishing to make sure it floats. It makes it easy to lift the line from the water when you strike and, it is one of the best tips that I can give you. If your mainline sinks, the drag makes an effective strike difficult. Keep your Vaseline in a tightly sealed container as it can melt on hot days and seep through your fishing bag.

Non-slip shoes may be necessary and, I use waders when needed if fishing in the lake in winter (don’t scrimp on cheap gear when buying waders, it is a false economy). Waders keep you warm and protect against pelican itch.

Other tackle: my bag has a small tackle box with spare hooks (WD40 to stop them rusting and the taste doesn’t seem to put the fish off the bite), swivels or rings, a range of split shot and ball sinkers, scissors, spare floats, pliers, bait creel and belt, knife (must be really sharp), scaler (get a stainless steel one), spool of trace/leader, small container of Vaseline (the little round lip balm containers are great for this) and a keeper net. I thread some venetian blind cord through the top of the net and use a 2inch length of plastic tubing to slide down the venetian blind cord to secure the opening. I add about 8 feet of heavier cord to the net to tie off in a rock pool or to my waist belt when wading. A rag is handy to clean up (or hold a fish if you prefer) and a bucket to carry your fish back to the car. I carry a fishhook remover but rarely use it preferring to use pliers or just push a finger down to the bend of the hook to release it. A pair of sunglasses and a hat for days when the glare makes seeing the float difficult. Matt black paint instead of a light or fluoro colour on the stem of your float helps greatly in these conditions.

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2. Time, tide, location

Blackfish bite year-round in most places I have fished. Local conditions and recent weather events can affect the fishing so it’s a matter of gaining experience over time in your area so that you know when and where to fish

Some spots are better in winter etc. You just need local experience to figure these things out.

Time of day: any time is generally OK. The general wisdom is that cloudy days are better than bright sun but, the best day I ever had, saw us fishing in crystal clear water on a bright sunny day.

Tide: this is critical:

i. Fishing off the rocks we always did better on the runup and the first hour or two of the ebb.

ii. In the estuaries it seems to me that as long as the tide is moving, either in or out, you’re in with a chance. Sometimes the run-in is more consistent and vice versa. You need to gain experience by fishing your local spots.

Location:

i. Off the rocks: you’re looking for an area where weed/cabbage covered rock is washed by waves in the top half of the tide. Watch where the water drains off the platform and the fish will be waiting around there. They will come up onto the platform to feed at high tide and can be found in the most surprising spots. Milky water is often better than clear, but, not always.

ii. Off the beach: The corners of beaches near rock platforms with plenty of weed/cabbage are often worth a try. Fish will move to sheltered spots in very large seas including rock swimming enclosures, sheltered bays and beach corners as well as the mouths of estuaries and lagoons that open to the sea.

iii. In the estuaries: I find estuaries much harder to read than the rocks and it’s a matter of getting to know the systems that you fish. I look for structure like rocks, jetties, holes and channels that provide some sort of cover as well as a location where food is likely to be found.

3. When Fishing

Before each session: re-tie all the knots in your terminal tackle, grease your mainline, replace a rusty or dull hook and tie on a fresh length of leader.

Work out where you wish to land the fish: is it easy and safe to access? Will it be easy to wash the fish onto the shore close to you to land, grab or guide into a landing net?

Cast into the drift and let the current take your bait to the area where the fish are feeding.

I’m a left-handed caster but have taught myself to cast from both sides (backhand if casting one-handed from either side). This helps when there is a crowd or a difficult wind.

Holding your rod and reel: Tuck your rod under your left arm (if right-handed) and, keeping the rod down, point the rod tip at your float as you feed line out.

Keep your right hand on the reel ready to control the release of line or take up slack as needed.

Control your mainline: Ensure that there is not too much slack line (you do need a little) between your float and the rod...if you can have a reasonably straight line to the float it's much better when you strike as you have direct and instant power to set the hook.

Don't let your line be too tight or you will be dragging the float (and bait) which the fish will feel. 

Belly and loop on the mainline: On days when currents or wind see the line quickly develop a belly between rod and float, it pays to lift the line and straighten it when needed during each drift. If your line sinks, the drag on striking will see you fail to hook up.

Try varying the depth, sometimes they can be feeding surprisingly close to the surface, but more often deeper. My default is between 4 to 8 feet. Sometimes shallower, very occasionally deeper.

Burleying. I know that many blackfishers swear that burleying with chopped up weed mixed with sand etc. helps but really, I have not witnessed it actually make a significant difference. Fishing the rocks, I will scrape some cabbage with my cleats into the wash now and again, but to be honest, it’s just a habit and I reckon the fish are either biting or they are not and burleying makes little difference. Just the same, give it a go if nothing is happening.

Check the leader: Is the leader in good condition? It may be frayed or even have a wind knot from casting, so you need to check and replace it as needed. I often re-tie the hook after landing 4 or 5 fish as the last couple of inches of  the leader (I half hitch my bait onto the line above the hook) as well as the knot, weaken after catching a few fish.

4. Striking

The most common reasons for a failure to hook-up after a down are premature striking, too much belly in your line between the rod and float. Incorrectly tied knots and a jerky strike which telegraphs resistance to the fish before the hook can set.

Identifying a down: To start, not all downs are actually downs. Sometimes the float can pop up or jiggle sideways so, you need to be on the lookout for that. If the float is popping up, it means the fish is taking the bait and swimming up; an immediate strike is often the best option in this case. If an immediate strike does not result in a hook up with a rising type of down, decrease the depth below the float. 

Sometimes if the float sits flat on the surface it may be that your lead is on the bottom indicating that you should shorten the depth below the float.

When you get a normal down, ie. the float sinks below the surface, how long do you wait till you strike? My default timing is to count slowly to around 8. Sometimes longer sometimes shorter. I once saw a local FR count to 20 before striking. The longest wait I have ever seen but, he landed the fish! Each session can be different so experiment.

If the down is fast and deep, you can usually strike within a few seconds or less.

While waiting between down and strike, do you gently take up any slack and have the rod tip down and pointed at the float? If not, you should. Doing so ensures a clean, smooth and effective strike. Make sure that you do not pull on the float till you strike. It must be one smooth motion.

When you feel the weight of the fish, be ready to give line immediately. The first run is often hard.

Some of the respected luderick fisherman up my way used call me the dentist (they still do) because they reckon I strike so hard, I'll pull the fish’s teeth out! (I learned to fish for luderick off the rocks where a harder strike is often needed to take up the slack in rougher conditions than still water fishing to ensure I hook the fish). It's taken me a while to break the habit but, as I now fish more in the still water of Tuggerah Lakes, I strike with one smooth but continuous lift of the rod, while reeling in the line and have found it a much more effective and economical way to hook fish.

Sudden muscular strikes that fail to hook up, will see your float come flying back at you and anyone else fishing with you. It may be OK tangling up mates (for a while) but, it can be a real problem with your usual crowd of luderick fishers.

It often happens that at the end of a drift, just when you decide to reel in and cast again, that a fish might be at your bait and you have not noticed. It pays to assume that you may have a down, so take up the slack and gently lift your rod at the start of your retrieve just in case.

Check your bait: Is the presentation still intact? bait that comes back reasonably intact after a missed down still needs to be replaced.

5. Playing and landing the fish

Most fish that escape once hooked, are caused by the fisher trying to drag them in too quickly. Don't rush. Using a centrepin reel, it is easy to let the fish take some line at the start and during the fight. 

If fishing where there are waves, you need to be careful as they will use the power of the wave in close to make a dash for freedom right at your feet. Give line whenever they take off and, by the time they are ready to be netted or grabbed, they're lazy on the surface, tired and easy to grab, net or wash onto the shore.

Exceptions to giving line include steering them clear of rocks, barnacles, clumps of weed etc. 

Keep your rod up high when playing a fish so that the flex in the rod cushions any sudden lunges.

Using side strain: dropping your rod to one side is a great tactic to turn a fish. Remember to keep the rod at right angles to the fish so that your rod takes the pressure.

When holding a live fish, hold it on its side flat in the palm of your hand. They seem to stay quieter.

A fish brought in too green is a good way to get spiked by the anal spike and have it escape when it wriggles causing you to lose your grip on it. Play them out, it is a lot safer and you lose less fish.

The gill cover is also very sharp so be careful handling them.

6. Bait

Sometimes the fish prefer cabbage (especially if near the ocean) and I use it 99% of the time. I prefer cabbage that is a bright, shiny green but usually, if the fish are biting, they are not too fussy (most of the time!)

There are different kinds of weed: wire or soft, and some of the soft weeds can vary greatly too in colour and texture.

Sometimes brown algae or ribbon weed seem to do the trick though I do not use these baits much.

How to present the bait on the hook: I nearly always use cabbage and every fisher has their own way of baiting up:

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i. I push the hook through the bottom of the cabbage twice leaving some below the bend of the hook, then gently twist or fold the top of the bait around the top of the hook and secure it onto the leader with 2 half hitches above the eye of the hook. 

ii. Some fishers just fold a bait a few times into a little parcel and push the hook through leaving most of the hook bare

iii. You do not need a lot of bait on your hook, in fact too much can be a problem.

iv. When baiting with weed, select a length of strands, 3 to 4 times the length of the hook shank. Leaving a centimetre or so below the bend, wind it around the shank to above the eye then wind it in the opposite direction back down, leaving a centimetre or two below the bend of the hook. Different kinds of weed determine how much you need, how many times you wind and how tightly you wind the weed onto the hook.

 

Storing Cabbage 

It will keep well in the ‘fridge but the family won’t like the smell!

It freezes exceptionally well: just shake off excess water, place in a plastic bag and freeze.

Well worth while bringing some home to keep for future use.

Storing weed: 

I have never frozen it. It keeps well in the fridge in some absorbent material. I rarely use it so I don’t bother keeping it.

Nippers, prawns, worms, bread etc also get blackfish but cabbage or weed is generally the best.

7. Other Ways to Catch Blackfish

Pussyfooting. Many, many years ago, my fishing mate and I tried to adapt our fly fishing experience to fishing for luderick by using a spinning rod, thread-line reel, light line with a hook baited with cabbage to rock fishing the Long Reef rock platform. As the tide retreated, we would follow it out casting the unweighted cabbage (sometimes a small split shot about 40cm above the hook) into the water flowing out through the channels and gutters that drained the platform (a tail wind helps with casting as does wetting the bait to add to its weight). We would leave the bail arm open and let the line feed out with the current. We called it pussyfooting and the name seems to have stuck.

Pussyfooting is great fun: bites can be a sudden headlong rush, or a subtle unexpected movement of your line floating on the surface, sometimes it was just a matter of lifting your rod and tightening your line after drifting the bait for a minute or two and a fish would be on.

Have tried pussyfooting in Tuggerah Lakes and it worked well though it is generally easier to use a float.

I have caught fish using a weed fly under a float but, flies do not perform as well as bait.

Fly fishing for black fish would be a fun thing but I couldn’t be bothered with all the gear when I have so much already and, I don’t want to expose my expensive freshwater fly fishing gear to salt water and the inevitable corrosion.

Bottom fishing. Some people tie on a hook, a sinker and some weed or cabbage and fish the bottom and they get fish too.

8. Same gear other species

Once you have cleaned the fish, luderick gut makes excellent bait for bream under a float or unweighted on the bottom (use a 1/0 suicide hook). You can freeze it too.

Drifting live poddies under a float during the last half of the runout in the channels near the mouth of an estuary in summer is a great way to score a feed of flathead….getting the poddies is more often the most difficult part of the process. I usually pick up a few 40cm plus bream each summer too.

Flatties will come up from the bottom to take a live poddy which means rocky areas can be fished without losing a lot of hooks as happens when bottom fishing the same location.

I use the same float fishing technique when live baiting for flathead. Some differences:

Slightly heavier rod

10 to 12lb fluorocarbon trace

Mustad 2 or 3 Big Mouth Hook

Pigs or black drummer can be a welcome and exciting bycatch when fishing off the rocks. I’ve found that it’s better to let them run at the start of the fight rather than try to bring them in quickly to avoid them reefing you. They are a great challenge and a top feed to boot.

Rock cale are a not so welcome by-catch off the rocks but at least you know you are in the right area.

Black trevally and surgeon fish go like rockets and are hard to handle with sharp and/or poisonous spines. But, to be honest, I have only ever caught a few.

Sometimes when reeling in, fish like tailor and bream etc might grab your cabbage or weed bait. Lots of fun, especially a decent tailor.

9. Keeping, killing and preparing luderick for the table

Keep your fish alive in a keeper net and, when you are finished, choose your keepers and let the rest go.

Do not take too many as they only freeze well for a month or two.

Do not put undersized fish in your keeper net as you can still be in trouble with fisheries even if you intend to let them go.

Killing the fish: I cut the fish through the throat and then break the neck to kill them by pulling the head up with two fingers hooked below their mouth in the throat and the heel of my palm over the fish’s snout (watch the gill plates). Let them bleed out for a minute or two.

Scale, then gut the fish and remove the head. When scaling blackfish, I like to be sure to carefully remove the scales along the dorsal and anal fins to make filleting and skinning easier.

Refrigerate and/or freeze your fillets in a plastic food quality bag.

I used to carry an old kitchen brush to clean out the black stomach cavity lining but no longer bother as when I get home, I skin and fillet the fish leaving all the bones and stomach surrounds on the frame which make good burley for beach worms, crab traps, pelican food etc.

10. Cooking blackfish

All your favourite recipes work. I like to cook the fillets using these basic recipes:

Coat with beer batter or egg and breadcrumb and deep fry for fish and chips with lemon juice, some mayo and chilli sauce

Deep fried fish also make great fish tacos

Curry them: Thai green curry of blackfish is an amazing dish but, most curry recipes work a treat with blackfish.

Poach in milk with a little tarragon; the cooking milk can be used to make a white sauce to dress the fish.

Wrap fillets in foil with a dab of butter, salt and pepper, some fresh green herbs and a couple of slices of very thinly sliced lemon and cook in the oven on 180 for 10 to 12 minutes.

Sashimi blackfish work well for me too.

Pan fry fillets in butter with a little powdered ginger and soy sauce.

11. Luderick Lore: A Word on Etiquette

Blackfishers are often a secretive lot and can seem a little aloof at times, they had to learn all the specialised skills over a long time and as a general rule, like to see beginners showing a little respect for them and their skills. As a beginner you need to remember:

Just like surfing there are unspoken rules:

Do keep a reasonable distance from other fishers.

Don’t take another fisher’s position unless they have finished fishing.

Don’t drop in, wait to cast your float out so that you don’t cast over another fisher’s line. Let the drift move their float out and then you cast behind them into the drift.

When someone else has a fish on: If a tangle looks possible as another fisher plays a fish, reel in and let them have the field to land their fish without complications.

It’s not a competition: we’re all (well most of us anyway) there to get out, have a fish, talk some rubbish and hopefully go home with a feed feeling good about the world.

Show respect for the locals. If you do so, you’ll find that in time, they will share knowledge and local tips with you. This can mean sitting and watching rather than turning up and immediately trying to assert your place in the line-up. 

Share a bit: maybe some bait, hooks or other gear; especially if someone is caught short.

Clean up after yourself, hooks, line, rubbish etc. including sluicing down your cleaning site to wash away scales and blood.

Clean up after others. We shouldn’t have to but, really, do you want to go to your local possie and find it a rubbish tip? The locals will notice and approve.

Fish are animals just like us. Treat your catch humanely at all times.

Fish sustainably: don’t kill more than you need.

Racism: Luderick/blackfish have been known for many years by a name that we associate with the worst aspects of racism towards people of colour around the world. Don’t go there. It is disrespectful, unnecessary and very hurtful. Call the target species blackfish or luderick.

Sexism: I have seen men swear at and abuse women for having a go at fishing for luderick. I was both embarrassed and ashamed.

Elitism: once you get it, remember we were all beginners once, so show some patience, some understanding and give some support to beginners who are respectful and committed. BUT, if as a beginner you are not humble, do not expect help to be easily forthcoming. You’ll have to figure it out, or not. You need to pay your dues to master the dark art.

12. Stay Safe

When fishing off the rocks, be sensible, no fish is worth a life or serious injury. Generally speaking, when the seas are big, the fish concentrate in safer spots to fish anyway.

Wear non slip shoes. If there’s weed and cabbage around you can bet that the rocks will be slippery.

Life jackets may be mandated for your area.

Fishing tackle has lots of sharp stuff. I keep my knife razor sharp and have cut myself many through being careless.

Be sun safe: hat, long sleeves, sunscreen and sunglasses are important.

Waders can be dangerous.  A man was lost up here recently prawning on the outgoing tide. They didn’t find him till a day later about 10km up the beach.

Conclusion

Hope all of this helps FRs. After a while, you will start using these tactics and others that you devise yourself, as a matter of course.

Some days the fish are difficult to catch. I often find when getting downs with no or few hook-ups, that when I finally do catch one, I realise I have been fishing for mostly undersized fish (though not always).

Whatever you do, do not keep fishing with no result for too long. Change it up. If you are not getting bites after 40 minutes or so and, you have tried a few tweaks, change locations or go home and wait for a tide change, mow the lawns, spend time with your family or do something else. 

The idea that you must be ultra-patient to be a good fisher is silly. Keep trying to change it up. Sometimes a simple tweak to the depth of your bait, length of your leader or a tide change etc. can make all the difference.

Float fishing for luderick is the most engaging and reliably productive kind of fishing I know. It has a great history and long tradition which I love continuing. 

For me, it is an art that is up there with dry-fly fishing for trout in a mountain stream. It demands constant attention, strategizing, concentration and, it is rarely boring.

Keep at it, blackfish are a challenging fish to catch, dogged fighters and a much better than average table fish. The gear is relatively inexpensive, it is productive, the bait is free to gather and it is great fun. But, remember mastering the dark art is a journey.

The famous game fisher and author, Zane Grey, described blackfish as the best pound for pound fighting fish he’d caught.

The effort you put in will be very well worth it in the long run.

Tight lines.

KB

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Extremely generous, thanks KB.

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One of the best Blackfish posts I have read top work 

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Well done @Koalaboi, an extremely helpful and well written article!

Couple this with Roberta's pinned tips . . .  beginner (and experienced) blackfishers could not ask for any more info and help.

Cheers, stu.

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I will dust off my Steelite and Avley and re-spool them. Thank you so much for this post

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I'm off to rebind my old luderick rods now,haven't fished the rocks for years but now feel the urge.Many thanks for a top-shelf post.

Cheers,Dave.

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Well done. Great info. Thank you.

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