Big Fish from the Planks
by Ben Knaggs on 29 Jul 2013
Land-based fishing throughout Western Australia is pretty damn good. Despite a general lack of deep water close to shore, landlubbers casting a line from sandgroper country generally have some great options, particularly when it comes to larger species that would turn most east coast land-based fishos green with envy.
A big hook-up from a jetty always attracts a crowd. Keep that fish away from those pylons! Ben Knaggs
The classic land-based fishing spot is a jetty, wharf or pier, and while there isn’t a huge number of these structures along the WA coast, those that do push out into the Indian Ocean tend to be frequented by some bloody nice fish.
To name just a few, the towering Broome Jetty with its crazy tidal variations regularly produces queenfish, mackerel, trevally, bluebone and a bunch of other species, Carnarvon’s One Mile Jetty is a mulloway hot spot and also home to kingfish, massive tailor, mackerel, trevally and plenty more, and much further south Busselton Jetty can get you hooked into samsonfish, kingfish, big tailor, and even the odd Spanish mackerel. If we ignore state boundaries for a moment, up in the top end Darwin has one helluva ‘big fish’ producing platform too in the Mandorah Jetty, so the land-based brigade have it good on this side of the continent!
Any jetty in itself is one great big fish attracting device. Often they are situated on otherwise featureless sections of water which only increases their appeal to passing marine creatures. Given all this, you’ll usually find that the largest aggregations of fish around a jetty will be right at your feet. All those pylons sunk into the seafloor are riddled with fish food and the predators will be cruising up and down looking for an easy feed around them.
So don’t make the mistake lot of inexperienced jetty anglers do and cast aimlessly for the horizon. Get your bait down close to the structure where the fish are hunting. This does, of course, mean that when you hook a large fish that wants to fight, the odds of losing it on the pylons are increased, but that’s just part of the fun of jetty fishing.
Even when the fish aren’t feeding, they will still lurk by or beneath the jetty because of the protection of the shade. This makes them less susceptible to larger predators (other than those predators with fishing rods), so target the shade when things are quiet. At least you’ll know there’s a very high likelihood of a few fish lurking there.
The reason large predatory fish will visit a jetty is usually for the big schools of baitfish like herring, hardyheads, yakkas or pilchards that swarm around them, so if you see lots of these types of baitfish nervously loitering around the jetty pylons, there’s a very good chance the big boys will be on the hunt. As a bonus, these smaller fish make an on-tap source of excellent bait.
If you have your heart totally set on scoring thumping big fish from a jetty, concentrate your fishing around dawn or from dusk and into the night. Only the keen anglers will be on the planks at these times, giving more elbow room, and the larger fish will often feed with more confidence in the low light conditions. Jetties are notorious for producing surprising fishing when the sun is down. In particular, try the area beneath the jetty’s lights. The cast light attracts prawns, squid and baitfish, and larger predators often patrol the edges.
Although always an important factor in any fishing situation, tidal variations are absolutely critical when fishing a jetty. Most jetties were originally built to provide access to deeper water for the purpose of loading and unloading ships, so you’ll find the water depth often vanishes on a dead low tide. In general then, the time to fish any jetty is a few hours either side of a high tide.
As mentioned, the real challenge of catching big fish from jetties begins once the hooks go in. Big, powerful fish and barnacle riddled pylons are a recipe for disaster, so your fish must be steered away from the pylons below you – difficult when you’re also trying to pull your adversary back toward the jetty!
Sometimes brute strength will save the day when a fish makes a bolt for the protection of the pylons, while other times you may be best served backing off the drag and hoping the fish swims clear. It’s really a fish by fish proposition. But if your fish decides to make a bolt out to sea, away from the jetty, let it go. Allowing a good fish tire itself out in open water is best case scenario stuff, so encourage it when it happens.
Once the fish is beaten and at your feet, the next issue is securing it. For this you’ll usually need some form of gaff; be it a long handled gaff, grapple gaff on a rope or a specially designed drop gaff. Alternatively, a heavy duty crab net can make a useful substitute at a pinch, or you can try slowly walking your fish down into the shallows and beaching it. On many WA jetties though, this is just asking for a shark or big groper to steal your prize!