Craig McGill Fishing Guide

Craig McGill

Long-time Sydney Fishing Guide

Craig has been guiding clients on Sydney Harbour for decades and has an intimate knowledge of the fishery and the habits of the pelagic species that are the subject of today’s episode.

Craig’s Top Tips For Sydney Pelagic Fishing

  • Some pelagic species such as yellowtail kingfish, bonito, silver trevally, tailor and Australian salmon are present in Sydney Harbour year round. Others are less consistent visitors from the north and include longtail and mack tuna, cobia, mackerel and occasionally even marlin.
  • The warmer months are the best time to target pelagic species in the harbour as they tend to become more prevalent and aggressive.
  • Periods of strong tidal movement fish best. Understanding the importance of eddies will help you catch fish in the harbour. During periods of tidal flow the baitfish aggregate in the slack water at the eddies between streams of water moving in opposite directions, causing them to become tightly packed. Pelagic species find it easy to pick off a feed when this happens, so find the eddies to find the fish.
  • Periods around the top and bottom of the tide usually fish poorly because the baitfish become more scattered, however the period just after slack tide often fishes well as the flow increases and baitfish reform into balls.
  • Often the opposite side of a headland, point etc will fish well on opposite tides, with the eddies forming on the downstream sides.
  • Hot tip for kingfish: avoid noisy, rattling lures. Craig finds that hard body lures rarely take kingfish and that quiet lures with subtle actions (eg soft plastics) do better. The exception is at dawn and dusk, when fishing noisy poppers around structure can be devastatingly effective.
  • Never drive your boat through a school of fish, and always try and position yourself so the shadow of the boat is thrown away from the school of fish.
  • The strategy of “matching the hatch” with small metal lures is not usually successful in Sydney Harbour when the fish are chasing smaller bait species because they’re not homing in on individual baitfish. It’s usually more effective to get a lure that stands out right in front of their faces.
  • When schools of fast moving species such as tuna are “busting up” on bait schools and then quickly disappearing it can be effective to wait near to where the last “bust up” occurred. The fish usually leave the bait alone to reform into a tight school before coming back to smash them again. Usually 15 or so minutes after the bust up the fish will erupt again, giving anglers the opportunity to fire a cast in.
  • Birds working is a good indicator of fish in Sydney Harbour. Even when birds are not particularly active, a group of them sitting together can often be a good indication of where fish have previously been, with the birds waiting for them to return.
  • The direction of lure movement is important. Craig finds that kingfish that are half hearted about taking a lure cam often be tempted by casting at them from a different direction. Likewise, bonito will often take lures trolled parallel to the shore in one direction but not the other, so it’s important to work shorelines in both directions.

Craigs Pelagic Fishing Tackle

  • Craig favours spin gear for chasing pelagics in the harbour.
  • A light rod with a 3500-4000 size reel loaded with 20lb braid and a 20lb leader is perfect for targeting the smaller pelagics such as rat kings, salmon, tailor, trevally and bonito. Unless the fish are being very timid it pays not to drop the leader much below 20lb as there’s always the risk of a big kingfish taking the lure.
  • Heavier gear consisting of a 15kg rod, a quality 6000 size reel with 50lb braid and a 50lb leader gives the angler a fighting chance when larger fish, particularly kingfish, are present around structure.

Craigs Pelagic Fishing Lures

  • A selection of metal lures ranging from 5g to 60g will give anglers plenty of options when schools of fish are busting up on the surface or when casting land-based. These lures work best when they are worked fast, so cast well in front of the fish, allow the lure to sink to the desired depth and then crank them back fast. Knife jigs with assist hooks are great for kingfish as they don’t make the noise that treble hooks and rings make.
  • Large soft plastic stickbaits such as Lunker City Sluggos and Silstart Slapstix in 9″ sizes are great and are best rigged unweighted on 6/0 to 7/0 worm hooks. Craig likes to cast these across the front of structure such as buoys to tempt kingfish, which are always on the upstream side of the buoy. He lets each successive cast sink a little deeper and works the lures very slowly, even allowing them to be stationary with just occasional twitches at times. If this doesn’t produce, he’ll switch to a running sinker rig with a barrel sinker stopped by a swivel above 1m of leader. This allows him to get the lure deeper but still have an unweighted presentation. It’s also a great option for land based anglers casting from headlands etc.
  • Small 2″ soft plastic stickbaits are also effective on a range of species when fished unweighted on appropriately sized work hooks. Once again, fish them ultra slow.
  • Craig uses hard bodied lures for trolling because they can be worked deeper than trolled metal or soft plastic lures. Let them out well behind the boat and work along the shoreline fishing them deep. Stagger the lures so that they are at different distances from the boat and different depths. This is a great way to find fish that can then be cast to, if preferred.

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1 Comment

  1. Steve Schafer

    Hi Craig, I was at a fishing tackle store today & they were playing your DVD & I caught a small glimpse & you were talking about squid & a guy from the NSW South Coast catching Jew Fish. I was sorry I missed the whole lot but what if the name of the DVD & do you sell them.


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