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Catching Familiar Fish


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Over your fishing lifetime, how many times do think you've caught a 'familiar' fish? By that I mean one you're pretty sure you've actually caught on another occasion, maybe even earlier on the same trip? How can you tell?  Did it have some sort of defining feature/s that made it an obvious re-capture, or was it exactly the same hole or spot that you caught it previously? 

In today's fishing world, with the tagging of so many species becoming more widespread, fish recaptures are becoming more common place. Game fish like Marlin, Tuna and sharks, being large fish, are common targets for tagging and both game and sports fishers often have the necessary tagging equipment at hand. With this growing trend of conservation in mind, tagging of smaller species like Kingfish, Mulloway, Snapper and even Flathead has also become more common. Tagged fish are an obvious way to let you know if you've encountered the fish before. Fish without the obvious fisheries tag poking out of them however, might need a different visual stimulus or some strange or unusual mark to lead you to think they are more than familiar to you.

Take the case of "Bootle" a common Wirrah Cod that was repeatedly caught by many of us. Fishing in a particular corner of the rocks at Dover Heights, "Bootle"- as we came to called him- was caught and released heaps of times over a long period. How did we know it was the same fish? Easy in Bootle's case- he had a deformed tail and was missing most of his left pectoral fin, he was always caught fishing 'straight down' in the exact same corner of the rocks and was caught twice on at least two occasions during the same day. More than once the captor was going to kill Bootle, because Wirrah's- also known as Old Boots- are pretty much a pest species, with no apparent eating value to most fishers, but due to 'peer group pressure', Bootle got a reprieve and was released each time.

Now although Bootle wasn't viewed as much of a catch, his own notoriety made him somewhat of a 'talk-worthy' fish to land. He was around a kilo in weight and although he only fought for about 20 seconds each time, his weight alone gave his captor 'hope' of something decent to take home, and Bootle became a 'celebrity' fish in his own right. Whenever someone was fishing in that corner (actually known as 'Yakka corner') undoubtedly, when things were slow, Bootle would turn up on someone's line. His celebrity status came about because most of the guys would ask whoever was fishing Yakka corner, had they 'seen' Bootle that day yet? Imagine a pest species being given that status!

Large Blue Groper, being another species that seem to have a short 'home range' and have become more of a catch and release target- particularly over the last 10 or so years- unlike Bootle, couldn't be positively identified exactly, any that I've seen released from the same location, regardless of suspecting they were 're-caught' fish, due to not enough individually defining markings.

When I was in my early teens and fishing all around Sydney Harbour, one of our favourite Leatherjacket spots was Elizabeth Bay, just below Kings Cross. Only really worth fishing there on the bigger high tides, as it's not that deep, or during a southerly, when it's pretty well protected from the wind. We either float-fished or sight-cast to the roving Jackets after slowly walking along the wall that hems the small bay. There used to be a lot of kelp there and while there was, there were plenty of good sized Leatheries feeding amongst it.

One of our favourite Jacket hooks were the small silver 'Limerick' pattern, which were sold by K-Mart and they were quite strong for their size, but more importantly- really cheap, which was always a consideration when you're a kid. Also, they were 'medium-length' shanked, as short shank hooks are no good (the Leatheries can bite you off easily if they take the entire hook in) and they were really sharp straight out of the packet.

One trip, after arriving at the bay, we quickly rigged up with just the hook and a decent sized split-shot for casting weight and started scouting along the wall for Jackets to sight-cast to. I was there with my mate Fraser L and we always had a friendly competition going- as kids do.

Didn't take long to spot a couple of Jackets that we could cast our small bits of prawn bait to and we landed the first few we got baits in front of. Then a really big one came floating up from deep in the kelp, and both of us desperately tried to get the first bait in front of him as he moved slowly around in front of us. I got my bait in the prime spot as cruised past me and got excited as he swam straight towards the sinking prawn piece, but at the last second he changed direction and approached directly between myself and my bait, before taking it. I hooked him as he inhaled the prawn, but as he turned the line went across his mouth and he bit me off. He disappeared for a while, but was soon back in view, with the small silver hook easily visible on the outside of his face. 

After we sighted him again, for the next hour or so, both Fraser and I focused solely on this fish, which still showed interest in the baits without actually taking one. To my horror, Fraser ended up getting him to take home and he was a beauty. So jealous! He still had my silver hook stuck in the skin next to his teeth. Funny that things like losing that big Jacket stay with you for life, as I've caught countless Jackets since then and plenty much larger also.

Another couple of recaptured fish come to mind, the first one was on our first ever successful Hairtail trip. We were fishing from a hire boat at the mouth of Akuna Bay in freezing cold weather, with intermittent rain squalls. After catching nothing for several hours, we actually got pushed by the wind, right into the shore against a deep edge opposite where the new Akuna Bay Marina now sits. The anchors supplied in these hire boats were really basic, mostly either not having any chain or only a couple of feet if any at all.

Within a couple of minutes of being pushed in close, all four of our rods bent over with Hairtail taking the four baits almost simultaneously and 3 fish were hooked and brought in. The fourth rod had the line "bitten off" and was quickly re-rigged and redeployed, resulting in Ross D getting one also, to join Fraser's, Doug's and mine in the boat. Ross claimed his first one had bitten him off, but in the next burst of fish a short time later, one of the captured Hairtail had Ross's green wire trace and 5/0 hook still in it's mouth and it was sticking out too far to have bitten him off. There was no line on the trace's swivel either, revealing that it was his crappy knot that lost the fish, not a 'bite-off' at all! The fact that the Hairtail took another bait while it still had a hook and wire trace hanging out of it's mouth is typical of the ferocity of these fish when hungry.

The other fish caught under similar circumstances- being lost and then captured shortly after- was a Black Drummer (Rock Blackfish) that I caught on a handline, while purposely fishing for them at White Rock, along the eastern front of Bradleys Head. The spot has a series of water-filled crevices between it's large main 'platform' rocks, which hide a labyrinth of underwater caves and holes amongst these narrow channels, hiding quite a few different species, including Red Morwong, Black and Silver Drummer, Bream and Luderick, Crayfish and plenty of eels.  Other oddities turn up at times, including Brown Groper, Black Cod (protected) and various coloured Wrasses, making having a quick fish down the crevices, often worthwhile.

As this location fishes best for all species on the outgoing tide, usually the approach is to get there as close to high tide as possible. The main Luderick spot is a small "L" shaped crack and as it sits next to the lowest of the main front ledges, you need to stand in the water to fish it, which is too difficult until the water recedes to about 'mid-thigh' level, so having a handline fish down the deeper crevices is what you do until the water drops enough with the tide. While the water's up, there are fish moving around in these crevices, one in particular usually has a Drummer or two feeding in it's shadowy depths and these are the prime handline target.

Handlines are used because these crevices are only about 45-50 cm's wide at the top, and you need to quickly pull the fish directly up from above, before they cut you off on the edges. The usual method of approach to "crack-fishing", is on arrival, go and drop a single handful of crushed, wet, white bread down, then come back a few minutes later and drop a nice fresh peeled green prawn down exactly where the bread went down. You need about 15lb mono, with a strong 1/0 suicide like a Mustad "Big Red" pattern and a small ball sinker sitting straight atop the hook. Importantly, when crack fishing- don't let your shadow fall over the crack you're fishing, as the fish get spooked easily.

The Drummer in question, I hooked almost immediately my bait reached the bottom of the crevice, some 2 meters below, but as I hadn't dried my hands from using the bread, the slippery-ness of the line allowed the fish to get about a foot of line through my fingers, which was enough to allow it to cut me off down below. Bugger! A good fish wasted by slippery fingers. I hopped back across the couple of crevices towards my gear, re-rigged and washed all the bread "slippery" off my fingers before slipping the next bait down. 

Instantly, another fish and this time dragged straight up and onto the rocks- a nice Drummer about a kilo. When I reached down and held it on the ledge, it had about half a meter of line coming out of it's mouth- my line that had been broken only a few minutes earlier! It still had the hook, complete with prawn, sitting just inside it's mouth, yet greedily took another bait, so much for being a 'shy' feeder.

These are just a few 'familiar fish' that come to mind, no doubt others have had similar experiences

 

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I'm still laughing at Bootle and his celebrity status Waza. It wouldn't be from his good looks that's for sure and could just see him giving out a Homer Simpson like "DOH" every time the hook was set.

By the markings on the fish in photos and measurement, I reckon I caught the same flathead twice in Jewfish Bay, St Georges Basin, 2 weeks apart, but can't be positive.

The only fish I'm sure I caught repetitively were my dad's goldfish in an outdoor pond he had when I was a kid, haha. They were suckers for a garden worm on a #12 hook. 

Keep 'em coming mate, they're great stories.

 

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41 minutes ago, Green Hornet said:

By the markings on the fish in photos and measurement, I reckon I caught the same flathead twice in Jewfish Bay, St Georges Basin, 2 weeks apart, but can't be positive.

 

With dusky flatties, especially the large ones, they have a number of spots and blotches on their heads, roughly in the same places on each flattie, however, there are slight differences in the sizes of these markings, so that they act like a human's fingerprint.

I compared some of these markings in my batch of photos that I kept, and they are all different in a small but identifiable way. I have not yet found the exact same markings on 2 fish, so there must be a few good sized ones kicking about.

In saying that, I fished one of my regular spots some years ago, pulled out a flattie that weighed 6.5 pound. No photo taken, just sent it straight back in.

2 weeks later in the same spot, another flattie weighing 6.5 pound. No photo, but it had a similar build to the previous one. (When flatties grow to a larger size, they will have different body shapes in some of them) Released again, and about an hour later, looked like I had hooked the same fish, but it bit the hook off just under the boat.

Edited by Yowie
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Another good story Waza.

I have similar stories of large fantail jackets. When one was seen under the wharf, eveyone would drop their baits onto it's nose to try to be the lucky one to hook it.

I still remember dropping a bait in front of a fantail jacket, however, a tiny reddie grabbed it, then a black rock cod grabbed the reddie and hooked up on the tiny hook. Managed to pull it away from it's lair and onto the wharf. Not a big one - legal to take them in those days - and it was very nice on the plate.

From the same wharf, many years ago, I tossed out a yakka strip on 2 ganged 3/0 longshank hooks, hooked up a nice tailor but bitten off a short time later. 6 pound mono.

About an hour later with new hooks and yakka strip, another nice tailor but no bite off. Landed it, around the 2 pound mark. Broke it's neck and bled it, then as I was unhooking, inside it's mouth was 2 ganged 3/0 hooks, a bit of what looked liked 6 pound mono, a hook knot like mine and a strip of yakka fillet. No doubt the fish I lost earlier.

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Another good tale. I can't say as I have caught the same fish twice, but on two occasions I have caught Kingfish with hooks in their mouths and have taken enough varied equipment out of Pike eels to start a tackle shop.

Grandad

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Just to go "one better" (I have posted this before I think) but years ago while live baiting, I caught a Yakka and put it out on the big rod while we continued to fish (with hand lines) for more live bait, I hooked what I thought was a bigger Yakka, but it turned out to be the one on my game rod....hooked properly in the mouth, so I caught that same Yakka twice, and even with a game hook in his/her back, it was still actively feeding.

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5 hours ago, Green Hornet said:

I'm still laughing at Bootle and his celebrity status Waza. It wouldn't be from his good looks that's for sure and could just see him giving out a Homer Simpson like "DOH" every time the hook was set.

By the markings on the fish in photos and measurement, I reckon I caught the same flathead twice in Jewfish Bay, St Georges Basin, 2 weeks apart, but can't be positive.

The only fish I'm sure I caught repetitively were my dad's goldfish in an outdoor pond he had when I was a kid, haha. They were suckers for a garden worm on a #12 hook. 

Keep 'em coming mate, they're great stories.

 

Hi Pete no it certainly wasn't his looks! I've often wondered how many times he actually got caught! Catching your Dad's fish was the grounding for a lifetime passion!

Glad you enjoy the stories

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5 hours ago, Yowie said:

Another good story Waza.

I have similar stories of large fantail jackets. When one was seen under the wharf, eveyone would drop their baits onto it's nose to try to be the lucky one to hook it.

I still remember dropping a bait in front of a fantail jacket, however, a tiny reddie grabbed it, then a black rock cod grabbed the reddie and hooked up on the tiny hook. Managed to pull it away from it's lair and onto the wharf. Not a big one - legal to take them in those days - and it was very nice on the plate.

From the same wharf, many years ago, I tossed out a yakka strip on 2 ganged 3/0 longshank hooks, hooked up a nice tailor but bitten off a short time later. 6 pound mono.

About an hour later with new hooks and yakka strip, another nice tailor but no bite off. Landed it, around the 2 pound mark. Broke it's neck and bled it, then as I was unhooking, inside it's mouth was 2 ganged 3/0 hooks, a bit of what looked liked 6 pound mono, a hook knot like mine and a strip of yakka fillet. No doubt the fish I lost earlier.

Hi Yowie I saw a bloke lose a "big Jewie" on Narrabeen Beach one night then a few minutes later his mate caught the "jewie" with his mate's hook in it's mouth. It was a big Tailor and it bit one hook off before being landed by the other guy

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4 hours ago, grandad said:

Another good tale. I can't say as I have caught the same fish twice, but on two occasions I have caught Kingfish with hooks in their mouths and have taken enough varied equipment out of Pike eels to start a tackle shop.

Grandad

Hi Grandad you're a braver man than I am retrieving anything from those beasts- seen some giant scary ones and they are one angry critter! We made a rule on houseboat trips to never bring one on board after dark, due to a few mishaps. Have seen plenty of shots of Pike Eel injuries over the years

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1 hour ago, noelm said:

Just to go "one better" (I have posted this before I think) but years ago while live baiting, I caught a Yakka and put it out on the big rod while we continued to fish (with hand lines) for more live bait, I hooked what I thought was a bigger Yakka, but it turned out to be the one on my game rod....hooked properly in the mouth, so I caught that same Yakka twice, and even with a game hook in his/her back, it was still actively feeding.

Hi Noel great story, when fish are hungry they feed!

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Hi Waza Re Pike eels, It was very late after a Hairtail session and I left one on the deck overnight, the next morning i went to retrieve my hooks thinking the Pike eel would be dead, as my hand neared the beast it reared up and grabbed me, its teeth penetrating my thumbnail and through the thumb. Very wise not letting them come on board.

Grandad

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6 hours ago, grandad said:

Hi Waza Re Pike eels, It was very late after a Hairtail session and I left one on the deck overnight, the next morning i went to retrieve my hooks thinking the Pike eel would be dead, as my hand neared the beast it reared up and grabbed me, its teeth penetrating my thumbnail and through the thumb. Very wise not letting them come on board.

Grandad

Hi Grandad -OUCH!! Never trust one! They are the most aggressive fish I've ever encountered by far. I bet that freaked you out as well as hurt! We've caught some absolute giants- far bigger than they reckon they grow to

Regards Waza

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