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Seals and Sea Lions


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Seals and Sea Lions aren't something you see that often, but over the years we've run into them a few times and a few come to mind that provided really memorable experiences. The first time I ever saw one -outside of a captive one in Taronga Zoo- it just 'bobbed up', close in to the front ledge at the Mattens below Dover Heights. It was a seal and it hung around for a few minutes and put the Luderick we'd been catching, completely off the bite, before disappearing again. Eventually the fish came back on the bite and we caught a few without seeing the seal again.

Next seals I saw were down at Montague Island, mostly sitting on the rocks on the N/E side and although that was as close to them as we got, plenty of other fishers at the Narooma Sports Fishing Convention we were fishing, had tales of seals stealing both their live baits and hooked fish. One of our club's boats had problems with them and even when they'd move a hundred or so meters away, the seals would just watch and then swim over to the new position, again searching out the Yellowtail the guys were using for live bait. Eventually the seals won out and the guys had to leave the prime spot to them. Over the three days of the convention, there were plenty more tales of seals becoming a nuisance, but as the island has a fairly large seal colony, that's really only to be expected.

Back in Sydney, on a trip to jig for Kingfish at the famous "Peak" out off Maroubra, we arrived to find a couple of boats fighting fish as we approached and we saw the guys in a boat close to us frantically waving everyone out of the way. A guy on board had hooked a King and just as he was getting the upper hand, all of a sudden the rod really doubled over and line was pouring off his reel. "A Marlin, A Marlin, get out of the way!!" they were screaming, but it was winter and the water was too cold- maybe a big Yellowfin?

We watched for a couple of minutes as the line came towards the surface, but the culprit revealed itself- a really big Sea Lion. Plenty of cursing and swearing from the guys on board and laughter all round from other boats close by. The lion had grabbed a really nice Kingie- in the 15-20kg range- that the guy had been fighting for a while and refused to let it go. After about five minutes of to-and-fro the lion won out and the guy got the head of the fish, adorned with bright orange jig, back to the boat and the lion got the body of the big fish. He then proceeded to throw the headless body high into the air, before repeatedly chasing it down and catching it, only to do it again and again. This went on for as long as we watched, until a boat close by hooked up and we moved out of their way and started jigging ourselves. The big lion hung around with it's Kingfish for quite a while and was still playing with it's prize when we drifted near it again, about half an hour later.

Then there was the big lion we saw up REALLY close at Balmoral. The week earlier, my mate Ross D had been fishing with bait at Dobroyd Bombie and they got a good Mulloway about 17kg, so he was keen to have another go for them, this time with live bait. We decided to put the boat in at Little Manly instead of Rose Bay, but unknown to us, the ramp was locked in the early morning and we just had to wait until the ranger turned up to unlock the gate around 6.45am. This put us behind schedule for what we'd planned and as we wanted small Yellowtail, the best spot to get them quickly is Balmoral, either off the island or my favourite spot for real small ones- Balmoral Baths. At this stage, we hadn't discovered that there are ample small Yakka's close in to the heritage cottages of Fisherman's Bay- only a couple of hundred meters from where we intended to fish.

Knowing we were likely going to Balmoral to get live bait, I put a John Dory handline in my bag because Balmoral Baths and close-in moorings have always been one of the Harbour's prime Dory spots. Ross wasn't really interested in fishing for them though- they didn't fight and he'd rather catch 'big stuff', so I put the ready rigged Dory line in secretly the night before. Dory rig for Balmoral Baths is a small egg-sized running bobby cork, weighted down with about a 14gm ball sinker that sits on top of a swivel, then about 60cm of 3-4kg leader and a 2/0 suicide hook. The depth of the cork varies, depending on the depth of the Yellowtail schools- the general rule is if you can see the bait schools easily, then you set your cork about 3 meters deep and if you can't see them about 4-5 meters deep. John Dory are never far from these bait schools and the marine growth growing on the bars/netting of the saltwater baths provides perfect ambush cover for the Dory to prepare it's sneak attack.

The old public wharf at Balmoral adjacent the baths was being rebuilt, but there were a couple of people fishing off the back of the actual baths (which wasn't allowed) and we anchored on the N/E corner fairly close in to the baths fence. First small handful of squished bread burley brought the usual masses of Yellowtail up close to the boat and the 4lb 'Yakka lines' readied with a size 14 longshank and small piece of split-shot about a foot up from it and baited with mince-standard Yakka rig for the Harbour.

As soon as I caught the first Yakka I reached for my Dory line- much to Ross's objection! I remember him saying I was wasting a good Yakka, but it turned into a Dory, then another and another. In fact I got 4 Dory on the first Yakka. This might sound a bit far fetched, but for regular Dory fishers, it's a common occurrence to catch several fish on the one live bait when they're around. The suicide hook goes in through the Yakka's mouth and the point comes out through the front of the eye socket. As Dory always swallow their prey head first, once a bait has been taken, the Yakka on the hook slides up the line and remains alive, enabling you to simply slide it back down immediately to try for another one. Being in a "distressed state" (to say the least after being swallowed!) the returned Yakka is really attractive to the Dory and is often preyed upon immediately.

Another fact when looking for Dory is they always seem to be in even numbers. How does this work and how do you make a statement like this? Observation of Dory either sitting or 'cruising' the edges of structure, nearly always shows them together in pairs or groups of pairs- I don't know the 'scientific' explanation, but this is what I've observed multiple times over many years of fishing for them. It might be for mating purposes or similar, I don't know, but I do know that if you are quick to re-deploy another bait to where you've just caught one, chances are you'll get another really quickly and catches of Dory are usually in even numbers. Just my observations, no concrete evidence!

 Once you've caught 3 or 4 Dory, the Yakka is pretty much finished, as it needs to show some signs of life to get the Dory interested. As long as it has signs of life it's fair game to the slow swimming Dory. Mado's seem to last a bit better and I rate them the best Dory bait of all, but we were supposed to just be getting live bait to take back to Dobroyd and Yellowtail were what we wanted.

After getting Dory number 4, suddenly, the cloud of Yellowtail that was close to the boat disappeared completely, not unusual when predators are around, but I think the Yellowtail are well versed with living close to the Dory, as indicated by them only moving a few meters away from either a cruising or hooked fish and they are soon back, feeding in the burley. This time though, it was something really big that came fairly close to the boat- and a massive Sea Lion came into view. It came really close and right on the surface and I got my first up-close view of one. Pretty impressive! It then dived out of sight and was gone, but we marvelled at seeing it in the Harbour.

A few minutes later and the Yakka's were back again and Dory line baited (much to Ross's objecting- still!) and thrown back close to the bath's fence. Then we started hearing an odd noise that sounded like someone hammering. It was the Lion banging it's back against the side of a moored yacht some 30 meters away. We wondered what is was doing as it continued at it for a few minutes, only to disappear again.

Over the course of the next hour , I caught 7 more Dory- the most I ever caught and Ross decided he wanted to get a couple and finally threw a live bait over under a cork. He quickly caught 3 Dory before the Lion was back, this time coming as close as you'd ever want one to come near you- only a few feet away. It freaked me out a bit, because it was so massive, but it took off again scaring away the fish for the second time.

Balmoral always has early morning swimmers, often swimming along parallel to the beach and this particular morning there were a couple of older chaps complete with bathing caps, swimming along, not too far from us. As the lion disappeared in their general direction and it was such a massive creature, we started yelling out to these two old fellows in order to warn them of possible? danger. One of them heard us calling out and yelled out to us, but with the cap on, he didn't hear us properly, so he started swimming towards us while his mate waited. 

When he came close enough, instead of heeding our warning he called us idiots for interrupting his swim! He said "it's been here for weeks" before muttering something else and swimming off. You just can't please people sometimes.

A couple of minutes later and the hammering noise of the lion started up again on the same part of the nearby yacht as earlier, this time continuing for about 3-4 minutes, again we had no idea of what it was doing, but we'd caught heaps of bait and a great feed of Dory (my favourite fish to eat by far!) so we up anchored -much to my objecting- I wanted to stay and catch more Dory- that was a once in a lifetime opportunity!

We then went and tried for Mulloway over near the bombie at Dobroyd, but only got a few Tailor before we went home. Should have stayed with the Dory.

Less than two weeks later there was a news story about the Sea Lion, the broadcast said that it had been living on a pontoon in Mosman Bay and Taronga Zoo's staff had been trying to catch it as it had a bullet wound in it's back. Every time the staff approached, it simply slipped off the pontoon and they couldn't tranquilise it in the water or it would drown. A clever plan to use several divers pulling a large piece of net under the wharf finally snared it and they used a winch to lift it before tranquilising it for transportation to the zoo, where it was operated on to remove the bullet. The lion recovered from surgery and was released at sea some time later.

My final lion experience was at the famous "Tubes" land based game spot at the mouth of Jervis Bay. There were five of us staying at our mate Ross's at Old Errowal Bay on the south side of the bay and we did the drive to fish the tubes (north side) on a cool winter's day, hoping there wouldn't be anyone there on a weekday in winter- it's often packed both on weekends and particularly during summer can be just too crowded to fish happily and without drama.

On arrival at the car park above the location, there were no cars and on arriving there, not one fisherman either. The first ten minutes I was there, I walked around picking up heaps of tackle that had just been left on the ledge. Lures, game hooks, Sampo swivels (they're $5 each!) knives and an aerator were just lying all over the place, there were heaps of discarded Sabiki bait jigs and various lengths of line. In short, it was a real mess and stank of both urine and rotting bait. No wonder fishers get a bad name, and it's a world renown location.

Anyway, just one handful of burley had carpets of Slimy's, Yakka's and Garfish all swimming around and simple to catch. Our live bait babies pool was filled in a couple of minutes and I chose a Slimy to send out under a balloon. As the Slimy decided to head right out away from the ledge I let it go and it was still swimming strongly when I stopped it. Nobody else had got a bait out yet and Dave D spotted a massive lion to the west of the ledge, on it's way out of the bay and heading towards us, real close in to the shore. No time to get my Slimy back in and although it was out a fair way, I told Dave the lion would be straight on the Slimy and no doubt get it.

Sure enough, when it was nearly in front of us, it did a 90 degree turn and swam the 60 or 70 meters out to grab the Slimy, regardless it couldn't see it, it knew it was out there. On reaching the Slimy, the lion grabbed it and kept on it's way out of the bay as my reel started emptying. I tried to stop the reel, but the lion was massive and it just kept going, panic stations set in as I was going to get spooled and couldn't do much about it. Finally, with there only being the last row of coils left on the reel, the spool stopped turning and I wound everything back in bar the Slimy, and that was the last lion I've seen.

 

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Thanks Waza for another great story. The latter part reminds me of an experience I had when I was younger.

I was fishing off a breakwall at Port Stephens (think it was The Anchorage?) and something kept on taking my pillies for a run but I couldn't get the hooks to stick. After a while I saw the suspects - a couple of dolphins. They must have perfected their bait stealing routine for years. Looking back I think that was a pretty cool experience.

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Hi Waza. Another great read, thanks.

The seal population down here around Jervis Bay has increased dramatically over the last twenty years or so. When they first took up residency, there was only a handful and now there are two large colonies.

As a kid, I can't say I ever saw one and it seems these days you see them every time you head out for a fish. Even on the beaches you see them cruising just behind the surf line.

Just as you described, I've seen them throwing salmon into the air and chasing them down. I once saw a dolphin doing the same and it appeared it was teaching a young member of the pod to hunt.

 

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another great story waza, always love when you make a report like this

ive seen a few seals/sea lions over the past year, a couple times off the rocks, once cruising around inside the baths at clifton gardens and once off a wharf in middle harbour. always a shock, the first time i saw one it jumped out of the water going for a slimey i just pulled out of a school. scared the life out of me

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Another great story waza. Have often seen them out at sea, usually over the wrecks and reefs that I fish. I have had fish taken by them and it amazes me how they can shake their head and tear a snapper in half. You have a way with your stories that make them interesting, a true wordsmith. If i related the same story, it would only take one paragraph and look like an itemised shopping list.

Thanks waza

Grandad

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2 hours ago, little fisho said:

another great story waza, always love when you make a report like this

ive seen a few seals/sea lions over the past year, a couple times off the rocks, once cruising around inside the baths at clifton gardens and once off a wharf in middle harbour. always a shock, the first time i saw one it jumped out of the water going for a slimey i just pulled out of a school. scared the life out of me

Hi Little Fisho I used to fish Clifton Gardens a fair bit when I was young and we used to get some really good Bream and Luderick inside the pool, would've been cool seeing a seal in there! Wonder how it gets in/out? They maintain that net pretty well.

Simon Townsend's Wonder World crew came down and did a show on sea-horses one day, they told us the horses are living along the netting along with heaps of Fortescues

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1 hour ago, grandad said:

Another great story waza. Have often seen them out at sea, usually over the wrecks and reefs that I fish. I have had fish taken by them and it amazes me how they can shake their head and tear a snapper in half. You have a way with your stories that make them interesting, a true wordsmith. If i related the same story, it would only take one paragraph and look like an itemised shopping list.

Thanks waza

Grandad

Hi Grandad the one at Balmoral was as close as I ever want to get to one- they have some big teeth! The one at the Peak with the Kingie took the body off a genuinely big fish really quickly!

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Was fishing the peak one day and had the bait board clipped to the side gunwail with heaps of bait on it and up came Sammy the seal come out of the water flopped with one flipper resting on the gunwail and with the other flipper scooped all the bait and uncut slimies off the board into the water while looking at me with a big grin on his/her face.

The seals down on Montigue island sit on the rocks and actually watch the boats and when they see a rod buckle over they know a fish is hooked and dive in swim out and usually get a cheap feed. Yes they know a good fish from the small fry.

Frank

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Bloody hell waza ......

Every story I feel like I’m there with you!

Such terrific story telling. 

ūüĎćūüĎŹ

Edited by Burger
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On 8/21/2021 at 8:18 PM, wazatherfisherman said:

Hi Little Fisho I used to fish Clifton Gardens a fair bit when I was young and we used to get some really good Bream and Luderick inside the pool, would've been cool seeing a seal in there! Wonder how it gets in/out? They maintain that net pretty well.

Simon Townsend's Wonder World crew came down and did a show on sea-horses one day, they told us the horses are living along the netting along with heaps of Fortescues

still lots of luderick and bream about, can find octopus, crabs and even rock lobster on the net of those baths! the seal seemed to slip in and out of the net with ease so there must be a reasonably large hole there

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