While the challenge of putting in big hours for big fish is addictive stuff, sometimes you want to be catching more regularly and I guess this is the appeal of school jewies over chasing the giant versions that seem to come along all too infrequently. While many of the fish we catch are released, each encounter with this species is always memorable, regardless of their size!
School jew have the same cool looks as the bigger fish, but are more prolific and catchable on a regular basis, and are particularly aggressive feeders. While these mini jewies will snap up a range of lures, bait still has a time and a place for results driven fishos putting the cross hairs on these fish. In an estuary setting we regularly turn to bait on smaller jewies whether looking for a kick back and relax session, or staking out a likely spot and waiting for a decent fish to swim past.
As will be looked at, school jew are highly responsive to bait methods, particularly a nice juicy strip bait, and with a bit of love and attention to detail you can enjoy consistent results on these slabs of chrome.
While many aficionados of this species will turn to live bait when putting in big hours on anchor, which remains the ultimate approach particularly for larger fish, smaller to medium sized jewies are more than possible on dead cut baits.
Key elements to a good cut bait are plenty of smell and taste and reasonable freshness to sucker in these notoriously fickle fish. Freshly caught or freshly frozen fish and squid, along with high-grade purchased frozen baits work well.
Dead baits for estuary jew can consist of a range of species, with mullet, salmon and garfish a few I commonly use, along with slimy mackerel, trevally, tuna and others. Fresh squid is also deadly and is well-known jewie tucker. The one store bought bait I always have on hand is pilchards. When all else is failing the humble pillie tends to come up trumps. Even pilchards vary significantly in quality, and we've found IQF (individually quick frozen) pilchards of eating grade to be produce much better than the old, freezer burnt fossils that can be found in some bait freezers.
Good handling of baits is paramount. In an ideal world we'll use fish which we've caught that same day, or the day before, but this isn't always doable. Many of our dead baits have been caught and well cared for then vacuum sealed for later use. Vacuum sealing works well and if done right makes it easy to have low fuss 'grab and go' bait sessions without compromising bait quality.
Fresh cut baits make robust offerings and are much more resilient than a prawn or worm for example, which gives them time to be found. I also like DIY bait collecting/storing as it gives you total control over the quality of offering you're serving, and for a fish like jewies you want to be putting your best foot forward at all times.
Bait Rigs & Outfits
For school sized jewies we tend not to fish overly large baits. We're mostly talking about fish around or under a metre in size here, and despite their large gobs we tend to fish manageable size slabs/cut baits to prevent them playing around with it too much as they often do with more sizable presentations.
Bait size should be suited to a single or double hook rig in the 3/0 to 6/0 range, with circles or suicide hooks patterns fine, rigged on a trace between 20 to 40lb, but heavier if fishing near sharp structures. Good hook exposure is important when rigging for jew of any size, as there thinly fleshed mouth means you need a solid initial hook set or you'll risk dropping the fish.
Where possible baits are fished unweighted, or as lightly weighted as possible, with running rigs always used. Stealthy presentations are the order of the day here. Baits are cut to size on a bait board, with nice tapered slabs, or tidy cut baits used. Equally they're rigged with care as a bunched up mess of a bait won't cut it for this fishing.
Outfit wise we like playing around with medium to light gear on these smaller jewies, although always tend to pack a heavier rod in case metre plus fish are on the cards or we're working baits near any unforgiving structure. Even smaller jewies are amazing fighters and can go on long uncontrollable runs, and some level of stopping power is needed.
While it's addictive fun using a 2-kilo bream outfit for this fishing and hanging on as you get a smoking, practically this gear is too light if you're getting better jew come through. A 4000 size reel, 5 to 8 kilo braid on a nice hard tipped rod is a good starting point. You'll still get destroyed on this however from time to time, and I always pack a heavier Baitrunner setup, running up to 10-15kg braid to even up the contest if required. While these sessions can start off as a bit of fun, if some respectable jewies arrive on the scene it's game face time and the mood can change quick.
Edges, holes, near significant structures, bridges etc are all probably school jew hangouts. Sound out a spot and bunker down for a while, giving it a chance to fire with both day and night sessions possible. Mostly these fish are low light hunters and will become active around sunup or sundown and throughout the night.
In some areas we fish we'll introduce berley into the water if there's not a lot of 'pickers' around. Finely chopped fish pieces or crushed shellfish can send school jew into a frenzy, and if you can get them working up your trail it can be quite frantic action, with rods screaming off in all directions.
When chasing school jewies on dead baits don't fall for the trap of drowning baits for long periods of time and getting too relaxed. Remain proactive, keep the best possible bait you can out there and do all you can to turn a reel, and I'm sure your results will be so much better for the extra effort!