Lake Macquarie Aussie Salmon

By the onset of early winter things become quite stiff as far as temperature goes and while coastal New South Wales may not cop the full icy blast of inland areas, you certainly feel it when getting out on the water before sunrise. Of course, this doesn’t deter the keen angler though. So with a freezing south westerly breeze and all the stars still visible in the dark sky above, I pulled up on the southern shores of Lake Macquarie and readied the kayak for a few hours of paddling and lure casting. Flathead and tailor were the morning’s target species, so a surface lure rigged with single strand wire was the first piece of hardware tied on, which would hopefully tempt some of the lake’s big choppers around sunrise.
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The author with an average Lake Macquarie salmon caught well down inside the lake, near Mannering Park.

It didn’t take long before the plan started working, as a couple of reasonable sized tailor smashed the lure as I walked it across the surface. While not exactly the two kilo plus fish that I was hoping for, they still demolish a lure on the top with a lot more explosive aggression than any bream or bass. As the sun’s first rays peeped over the eastern horizon I spotted some distant surface activity from what looked like big predators. The size of the feeding frenzy quickly grew into an area twice as big as a footy field, as fish erupted in a mass of foamy chaos. It looked much more like a tuna feeding frenzy that you would see offshore, rather than in a sedate lake environment. Within minutes the maelstrom moved towards me, although it started to break up into smaller pockets, now recognisable as salmon. Naturally I paddled towards the nearest mob of feeding fish and fired off a cast. Line instantly tightened and the little reel screamed as fine braid peeled off. A stubborn two kilo salmon is not an easy opponent to subdue with light bream tackle, so it took quite a while before the first sambo was netted and in the yak. So despite the fact that there were hundreds of actively feeding salmon in the vicinity, I only managed to catch a few more before they moved on. This sort of thing is commonplace along the NSW coastline during the cooler months and into spring, mainly in the thin strip closer to beaches, headlands and inshore reef systems. It’s also not out of the ordinary just inside some of our larger bays, harbours and river mouths. While many of us would have encountered the odd salmon or two much further inside lakes and well upstream in some rivers, it’s not really the norm to see such big numbers of them so far inside a system.
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Slinky soft plastic stickbaits like these are ideal for salmon in Lake Macquarie, as well as other waterways along the NSW coast when the salmon are around.

HOT SPOTS In the past six or seven years Swansea Channel, at the mouth of Lake Macquarie has been invaded by large numbers of salmon through the cooler months. A few stragglers start moving in around May, with July and August being the peak months, before they thin out again in September and October. This annual invasion is welcomed with both delight and dismay by local anglers, depending on their personal views. Many hold the opinion that all these salmon come in and raid the lake’s baitfish so much that little is left for other fish like tailor, bream or flathead to eat. Then the salmon start gobbling up small whiting and other fish, thus impacting on the entire system in a very negative way. So these bloody salmon are no good! Realistically, Lake Macquarie is home to huge numbers of whitebait which are constantly under attack from the local tailor population, as well as other fish ranging from pike through to bonito and even bream. Overall, tailor alone would devour much more over the course of a year than salmon could during a few months. To me, this makes sense and there’s nothing wrong with the appearance of salmon in the lake at all. I’m on the side of many other anglers who enthusiastically wait for the arrival of winter and the fantastic sport that salmon provide in this calm water environment. Another reality is the fact that Lake Macquarie can become quite a tough fishery during July and August, with common species like bream and flathead being relatively hard to catch. So the sambos can be a real saviour, providing action that may not normally be available at this time of year. Most salmon seem to move into Swansea Channel on a rising tide during rough seas, as if they’re taking shelter. If you want to get stuck into the action here, start looking anywhere between Swansea Bridge and the mouth, two kilometres downstream. Most of the time the area right in the middle, adjacent to Lucy’s Wall, on the southern side, houses the majority of fish. Further back inside the lake you may find them just about anywhere. The action mentioned earlier in this article took place down near Chain Valley Bay, which is a long way from Swansea. It’s not out of the ordinary for the odd fish to show up well upstream in Dora Creek on the western side of the lake either. More reliable areas to look for them are around Pulbah Island, Wangi Point and from Coal Point over towards Belmont Bay. I should point out that some rather large sharks also frequent Lake Macquarie and the occasional white pointer has been spotted in Swansea Channel, as well as spots further inside the lake. Don’t panic, as they’re not overly common, but be aware, because they’re no myth either!
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Winter mornings may be a bit on the chilly side, but by being on the water you’ll catch the first warming rays of sunshine.

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Another quality Aussie salmon is led to the net prior to being landed.

TACKLE AND TECHNIQUE Any sort of light to mid-sized threadline tackle can be put to work on the sambos. While it’s possible to catch them by casting out a whole pilchard on ganged hooks or spinning with metal lures, there is a much better way. That is using a light bream style outfit, comprising of a small reel spooled up with two to four kilo braid, mated with a rod around 1.7 to 2 metres. This sort of combo not only makes for a whole lot of fun, it also has quite a practical side; the ability to cast unweighted or very lightly weight soft plastics, which the sambos like a lot more than most other offerings. Plenty of different plastics will work, but by far the best types are those slinky looking stickbaits. At the top of the list is the 4 inch Berkley Powerbait Minnow and the very best colour in the range is the Casper Clear. Many local anglers are well aware of this, so by the middle of winter it can actually be hard to find a tackle shop with a supply of them. Some other colours in the Berkley range that are almost as effective include Galaxia Green, Pearl Watermelon and Pearl White. If any of these are hard to come by or you want to try something else, then other similar plastics from Atomic, Z-man, Storm or Damiki are all worth casting. Just try to pick the more subtle or realistic looking colours, rather than bright orange, red or black. From personal experience, the only bold sort of colour that works well is white. While a very light jig head is normally better than something that sinks down quickly, it’s also important to select a jig head that not only matches the size of the plastic you’re using, but it also needs to be strong enough to deal with hard fighting salmon. Weaker hooks will simply bend open or even snap. My first choice is a TT Lures HWS jig head, around size 1/0 or 2/0 although other TT Lures or Berkley models are also fine, as long as they’re not too heavy. As simple as it may seem, the best technique is to cast the plastic out towards a visible patch of feeding fish and just let it slowly sink, without even cranking the reel’s handle. Providing the fish didn’t move off before the softie splashed down, a fish should hit it pretty quickly.
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Salmon venture well inside Lake Macquarie during the cold months, but Swansea Channel is still the scene of the most reliable action.

  Failing that, sometimes a fast burn across the surface may be required to stir the sambos up and if a couple of fish are seen zooming in behind the lure then stop and let it sink. Most of the time this will work too, but as with any species or type of fishing, there will always be those days when fish are in a funny mood and difficult to entice. Salmon aren’t as leader shy as bream, but a light fluorocarbon leader is more likely to score strikes than a thick nylon mono leader. Having said that, salmon around these parts average over a kilo, with fish up to four kilos reasonably common. They also have a raspy sort of mouth and if the leader is too light you won’t land many sambos at all. I would recommend a hard wearing fluorocarbon such as 4 to 6 kg Sunline FC Rock. This stuff is as durable as it gets. So there we have it. Lake Macquarie sambos aren’t exactly the hardest fish in the world to fool, but if things aren’t done right then they’re not going to just line up and jump on your hook. My preferred fishing vessel is a kayak, but whether you’re fishing from a yak or powered boat, get out there this winter and warm yourself up with some first rate light line sport fishing!  
Jamie Robley

About Jamie Robley

Based on the New South Wales Central Coast, less than two hour’s drive north of Sydney, Jamie Robley started fishing around his local lakes at an early age. Bream, flathead and tailor were the main source of entertainment for a young Jamie but of course, like many other kids who’ve been bitten by the bug, he quickly became interested in other species and more advanced styles of fishing.


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