At certain times of the year most locations will see a shift in the weather pattern, bringing a change of conditions and associated fish species. A change in water temperature or salinity is the most common cue associated with fish movement, although day length or even lunar cycle can influence fish movements in certain areas.
At the moment in my home waters of South Australia, the calm, mild days of autumn have recently given way to cold, wet wintery weather. This onset of cold weather and dropping water temperatures have pushed a lot of our warmer water species out of the bay systems and into deeper water, or if they’re still prevalent it’s slowed their feeding and activity levels. These species become an irregular by-catch rather from here on in, rather than a reliable target.
But the shifting of weather conditions brings with it a new spectrum of species to replace the void left by the warm water fish. I always look forward to the change of the seasons, with new challenges offered by the arrival of new season species. And each year is different; with numbers and even sizes of new-season species shifting from year to year.
The shifting of season was late for us this year, with a prolonged autumn holding water temperature higher than normal. However, in recent weeks the common autumn species such as Blue Crabs, Gummy Sharks, Bluefin Tuna, Snook and Yellowfin Whiting have started to disappear from our local area, but have been replaced with good numbers of winter species such as King George Whiting, Calamari, Flathead and Bream.
Although these species can also be targeted at other times of the year, their numbers and size are generally at their peak once the water temperatures start to drop. And as you can see, the new season species are predominantly shallow water fish, which are conducive for winter fishing.
Over the past month or so, my personal fishing has shifted with the weather conditions, and we’ve been hunting a lot more of these winter species. The KG whiting have increased in numbers in many of our local bays, and we’ve even been targeting them land based from a number of locales. One of these land based locations is a remote bay around an hours drive from home, and while the number of fish we catch land based isn’t great, the size of the fish is fantastic, with many over the 40cm mark. The biggest KG we’ve got off the rocks this season was a horse of 54cm, which is a trophy whiting.
When targeting these shallow water winter whiting, whether from a boat or land based, we’re generally fishing in 3 to 6m of water. These winter fish have usually moved off the hard bottom and are now holding over ribbon and cork weed meadows. We usually set a light berley trail and flick small baits such as pipi, pieces of prawn or a slither of pilchard back into the trail.
Also while targeting the whiting at this time of the year we pick up a few nice flathead over these shallow grounds. It’s always a bonus to pick a flattie up while targeting whiting, but to pick up the bigger flatties we normally switch over to plastics and target them in the shallow corners of these bay systems. This year has been a good season on our local flatties, with quite a few fish caught and released in the 30 to 50cm bracket. Our southern Bluespot don’t grow as big as other species of flathead, but a few good fish up around 70cm have been caught so far this year.
My favourite plastic for our local flatties is the 65mm Squidgy Fish in Black Gold or Drop Bear and the 70mm Squidgy Stealth Prawn in Pacific Pearl or Tiger Prawn. Both are gun flathead plastics. I usually fish these plastics on a 1/8oz bullet head with 8lb Ocea fluorocarbon leader.
We’re having a fantastic season on southern calamari as well. During winter, good numbers of squid move over the reefy areas of our bay system. As well as providing a great meal of salt and pepper squid, they are great fun to target. I really enjoy chasing squid; it’s an active form of fishing and quite visual. I must admit I still get excited when I see several squid rise up out of a reef to attack my Egixile jig.
By working your jig down deep over areas of scattered reef and weed, it’s pretty easy to locate some schools of squid at this time of year. I usually cast in front of the line of drift, so that the jig can easily attain depth without being dragged high into the water column. Getting the jig down deep is imperative.
As well as from the boat, we’ve also been targeting some squid land based from the rocks. Late in the day just before sunset, squid will move into the shallows to feed. We had a land based session late yesterday and we caught several nice squid by casting to areas where we could see baitfish breaking the surface. At first I though there must have been other predatory fish in the area chasing the baitfish, but whenever we saw baitfish breaking the surface we caught a squid underneath. The two standout squid jigs for us so far this season has been the 3.5 Egixile Keimura White and also the Keimura Purple; especially effective on bright days.
Also during winter our local estuary systems receive a fair amount of freshwater runoff, which lowers the salinity and triggers local sea-run black bream to return to these waterways in preparation for the spawning season. Removing these pre-spawn bream from these waterways isn’t a good idea, with catch and release strongly encouraged in our local area.
And the good thing about all of the above winter species is they can all be targeted with the one light outfit, so there’s no need to break the bank! This year I’ve been using a 2 – 5kg Shimano TK3G 732 Light, matched to a Biomaster 2500 and spooled with 10lb braid. It’s a very versatile outfit for light bay work, and I’ve been using it from the boat as well as land based for all of the abovementioned species.
There’s always a silver lining to winter, and in this situation it’s the cool water species it delivers and stirs into action. Our cool water species were slow to kick into gear, but they’re well and truly on the job now!