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The Old Zoo Wharf


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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

 

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Great story Waza,

I too have fond memories of that wharf, albeit in more recent times (but before the ban on fishing).

I'd imagine it would still be awesome these days, if you could fish there.

Mike

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3 minutes ago, Little_Flatty said:

Great story Waza,

I too have fond memories of that wharf, albeit in more recent times (but before the ban on fishing).

I'd imagine it would still be awesome these days, if you could fish there.

Mike

Hi Mike thanks! Having fished from most of the harbour's 'good' wharves over the years, the only one that compared was the old Neilsen Park wharf. The zoo wharf was a fish attracting magnet, with all the bait, deep enough water and a great protected (except in southerlies!) location. 

Other fish of note caught there were good sized Groper and some of the biggest Trevally caught around Sydney. In Autumn, Frigates would also zoom by and in the good years for Slimy Mackerel, they would be there in plagues. Plenty of Garfish in early winter also.

No doubt there would still be plenty of good fish cruising around it. I hope one day they allow fishing there again, it was such a good spot for younger fishers to get a chance of some quality fish

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Another great yarn Waza.

I vaguely remember that wharf when we visited the zoo on a school excursion. I bet it was cold down there on winter mornings but worth it when the fish were on.

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Thank you again for your amazing stories. You really are an amazing writer, all your stories captivate the mind and make you feel as if you were actually there.

I really enjoy reading these stories during lockdown it gives me something to do and something of such quality to read! 

Thank you again Waza! Keep em coming!

Jamo

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Another good story Waza.

I have never fished in the Harbour or any river associated with it, once in Botany Bay, a couple of times in Georges River.

As for fishing in Port Hacking, that would be a million times :074:.  (one of my workmates said to me "I told you a million times not to exagerate")

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6 hours ago, Green Hornet said:

Another great yarn Waza.

I vaguely remember that wharf when we visited the zoo on a school excursion. I bet it was cold down there on winter mornings but worth it when the fish were on.

Hi Pete it was genuinely freezing when the westerly's were blowing in winter and there was only one small section about 4 meters long that offered any protection at all.

The best Luderick spot offered no protection and saw not one bit of sun the whole day. Respect to the couple of guys like Abby who fished there much of winter.

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Another classic read Wazza which keep reminding me of things.

I to also used to collect those Worms from under rocks down the on Parramatta River, then ride my bike to Wharf rd or Punt rd and fish for Bream back in the day or take them up the Coast and fish for Whiting off the Beach at Umina as my Grandmother lived up there so we I could stay weekends.

Again you bring memories, thanks Mate.

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Reminds me of the best worm bait ever, Botany Wrigglers.  They were red worms with little leg like things down both sides much like a centipede.  They were very much like a squirt worm but were much tougher and stayed on the hook well.  They were only found on the Botany side of the bay and could be found by digging under the long piles of rotting grass weed piled up at the back of the beach.  All that area is now developed as the port and I have never heard of them being found anywhere else.  Ron 

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2 hours ago, campr said:

Reminds me of the best worm bait ever, Botany Wrigglers.  They were red worms with little leg like things down both sides much like a centipede.  They were very much like a squirt worm but were much tougher and stayed on the hook well.  They were only found on the Botany side of the bay and could be found by digging under the long piles of rotting grass weed piled up at the back of the beach.  All that area is now developed as the port and I have never heard of them being found anywhere else.  Ron 

Hi Ron the Botany Wrigglers were almost the same as one of the species of worms we got. There were several varieties- thick soft pinky-red ones, really soft green ones and the tougher variety like you mention. The tougher variety were found adjacent the sea grass, whereas the other two types were mainly found in the gritty mud. The wrigglers were sold for a while at a Sylvania tackle shop (not Mac's).

Another spot we got a different type of worm was on the Georges River behind Hollywood Park. These were easily pumped and were as thick as a pen, dark red and a reasonable strength. About 6 inches was maximum length for them and there were a few of the super soft green ones there also, but they broke up easily when put on a hook

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Thanks Wazza brought back a lot of memories from childhood. Used to make the long trek there with my mates from school over 40 years ago great times. Got the shock of my life one day not to mention cut up hands, landed a great blue groper at the zoo on a handline and humble prawn used to buy them at a shop at circular quay (milk run money). That zoo wharf educated a lot of kids how to fish with the old timers happy to coach us. Mores the pity kids these days miss out on these times for various reasons.

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I learnt my fishing at Yowie Bay wharf, back in the late 1950's. Very few boats on trailers then, maybe 1 or 2 a day. Headed there straight after school.

Caught a few nice fish then, but also plenty of yakkas. One afternoon an old bloke sitting on his veranda asked me what I caught, I told him a couple of yakkas, so he gave me sixpence for a couple.

Over time I sold him a few yakkas and spoke to him and his neighbour and received some good tips. He also showed me how to make my own squid jigs.

He took me fishing to a secret spot, which I still fish today. My fishing mate and I fished there often, our record there was 42 school jewies in an afternoon session. They were a bloody pest at those times, you could not get a bait past them to catch the reddies and flatties sitting underneath. Even the tailor had trouble getting to the bait, the jewies would be sitting 10 to 15 feet under the boat and grabbing everything dropped down.

Threw back a lot, but they just get biting. Swapped some with the neighbours for eggs, chocolate cakes, lamb, steaks, dead chooks and other goodies, so that was a change from just fish.

Edited by Yowie
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Gee that brings back memories too of fishing the harbour in the mid seventies when I was a kid. We fished around Milsons Point mostly. The tactics then were long cast out from directly under the bridge for bream and trevally and some big bags were taken, not so much by us but we had the odd day. It was a great learning curve for me as I came from a non fishing family, I pretty well was self taught up to then. The guys that were fishing there taught me a lot about rigging, knots and bait presentation. Stopped fishing there when one of has bought a car and we didn't need train transport.

I do recall  that for a few months each year, and I think it was early winter, there was a run of snapper in the harbour. Pan size to maybe a kilo and they were a regular by catch when fishing for bream.

Oh to be 14 again.

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5 hours ago, jordy said:

Thanks Wazza brought back a lot of memories from childhood. Used to make the long trek there with my mates from school over 40 years ago great times. Got the shock of my life one day not to mention cut up hands, landed a great blue groper at the zoo on a handline and humble prawn used to buy them at a shop at circular quay (milk run money). That zoo wharf educated a lot of kids how to fish with the old timers happy to coach us. Mores the pity kids these days miss out on these times for various reasons.

Hi Jordy yes was the greatest spot to learn things and the regulars were all really friendly. On your Groper, there were actually a fair few caught there. There was a real old bloke who came by ferry and fished purposely for them, brought crabs with him. When they were building the new wharf, once the fixed section was finished but before the floating part was added, he used to go and fish for them over off it and would catch 2 before going home, even if he had to stay all day. He used to trade one with his local shop.

If Mum wanted Leatherjackets (she loves them) she'd give me 50c to buy the smaller bag from that shop at the quay and if there were a few of us it was $1.20 for the big bag!

Coincidentally- I did a milk run after school too, used to get $3 for 2+1/2hr run and that was big money for a kid compared to only $1.50 for the 2+1/2hr paper run

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3 hours ago, Yowie said:

I learnt my fishing at Yowie Bay wharf, back in the late 1950's. Very few boats on trailers then, maybe 1 or 2 a day. Headed there straight after school.

Caught a few nice fish then, but also plenty of yakkas. One afternoon an old bloke sitting on his veranda asked me what I caught, I told him a couple of yakkas, so he gave me sixpence for a couple.

Over time I sold him a few yakkas and spoke to him and his neighbour and received some good tips. He also showed me how to make my own squid jigs.

He took me fishing to a secret spot, which I still fish today. My fishing mate and I fished there often, our record there was 42 school jewies in an afternoon session. They were a bloody pest at those times, you could not get a bait past them to catch the reddies and flatties sitting underneath. Even the tailor had trouble getting to the bait, the jewies would be sitting 10 to 15 feet under the boat and grabbing everything dropped down.

Threw back a lot, but they just get biting. Swapped some with the neighbours for eggs, chocolate cakes, lamb, steaks, dead chooks and other goodies, so that was a change from just fish.

Hi Yowie those were the days, catching tons of fish and trading them was the norm. I was lucky enough to have a butcher living just down the street and he had a big smoker and loved smoked Tailor. A "standing order" for two dozen each time we chased them- he gave us some really great meat as a thank you. The bread van, milko (my boss), grocer and even the 'egg man' all delivered to our street and were happy to swap- you'd get in strife these days.- wish I'd had a chocolate cake swapper!

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1 hour ago, Jiggy said:

Gee that brings back memories too of fishing the harbour in the mid seventies when I was a kid. We fished around Milsons Point mostly. The tactics then were long cast out from directly under the bridge for bream and trevally and some big bags were taken, not so much by us but we had the odd day. It was a great learning curve for me as I came from a non fishing family, I pretty well was self taught up to then. The guys that were fishing there taught me a lot about rigging, knots and bait presentation. Stopped fishing there when one of has bought a car and we didn't need train transport.

I do recall  that for a few months each year, and I think it was early winter, there was a run of snapper in the harbour. Pan size to maybe a kilo and they were a regular by catch when fishing for bream.

Oh to be 14 again.

Hi Jiggy that was another great spot and they still get good fish there including Snapper that size as you describe. Long rods and long casts caught great mixed bags of eating fish

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You guys have taken me back AGAIN!!!¬† ¬†ūüė䬆ūüėá

I had a paper run that server the local shops and then standing with my trolley near a bus stop till they were all sold . . 

I also later did a milk run working for a neighbour in the 70's and recall one house that used to put out a jar of 1 and 2c coins to pay for their milk.  That house always had a weird smell that this innocent teenager had never before encountered.

I asked the boss about it one day and he had a laugh saying "why do you think they pay in shrapnel? They're saving the real money for the special tobacco they're smoking".   I still didn't understand until he further enlightened me on what that 'special tobacco' was . . . . oh to be that innocent again . . . 

Oh and the freshest Iced Coffee milk at the end of the run was always soooo good!

Edited by Burger
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5 hours ago, wazatherfisherman said:

Hi Yowie those were the days, catching tons of fish and trading them was the norm. I was lucky enough to have a butcher living just down the street and he had a big smoker and loved smoked Tailor. A "standing order" for two dozen each time we chased them- he gave us some really great meat as a thank you. The bread van, milko (my boss), grocer and even the 'egg man' all delivered to our street and were happy to swap- you'd get in strife these days.- wish I'd had a chocolate cake swapper!

One neighbour was a butcher's wife, another owned a farm and the double layer chocolate cake was from a mate's mother. Eggs from another neighbour, and the dead chook was from my grandfather. He won a chook at bowls every week without fail, and did not eat chook, so I swapped him some fish for the chook. 

The barter system worked very well.

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Another place I just thought of, was fishing off Captain Cook Bridge over the Georges River (banned now)

Before I had my driver's licence, I would ride my pushbike from Miranda to the north-east side of the bridge ( I worked out where the pylons were underneath so I was not fishing in the middle of the channel) during winter time when the tailor were on the bite.

Drop a handline down until the bait hit the water then hang on. Feel a bite then haul the tailor up onto the bridge, a long way by handline. A couple of times the tailor fell off just as I was about to lift them over the railing, a long way to fall and probably a headache to go with it when hitting the water below.

One morning the handline had a big bite, but it was a bloody boat and the handline took off over the railing and GONE.

The tailor would only bite in the very early morning, then once a bit of light showed in the sky, they were gone. A ride home and off the bed for a while. Parents thought I was mad, but I had a bucket of fish for the effort. :yahoo:

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24 minutes ago, Yowie said:

Another place I just thought of, was fishing off Captain Cook Bridge over the Georges River (banned now)

Before I had my driver's licence, I would ride my pushbike from Miranda to the north-east side of the bridge ( I worked out where the pylons were underneath so I was not fishing in the middle of the channel) during winter time when the tailor were on the bite.

Drop a handline down until the bait hit the water then hang on. Feel a bite then haul the tailor up onto the bridge, a long way by handline. A couple of times the tailor fell off just as I was about to lift them over the railing, a long way to fall and probably a headache to go with it when hitting the water below.

One morning the handline had a big bite, but it was a bloody boat and the handline took off over the railing and GONE.

The tailor would only bite in the very early morning, then once a bit of light showed in the sky, they were gone. A ride home and off the bed for a while. Parents thought I was mad, but I had a bucket of fish for the effort. :yahoo:

I used to lower blaçk crabs down the gap for monster bream with cars tearing by my bum.  Ron 

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