THE NSW Game Fishing Association's 50th anniversary interclub tournament is in full swing at Port Stephens this weekend and next.
With 170 boats, 800 anglers, abundant marlin and classic summer weather, this is set to be a fishing love-in to remember.
Mind you, the cooler economic times have curtailed the fleet. The biggest event of its kind in the southern hemisphere, the interclub tournament attracted 182 boats last year, down somewhat on the usual 200-strong fleet in former years.
The fact is, it costs a motza to fish in a tournament like this. The interclub spans two weeks when you include ladies day on Monday and the midweek tournament on Wednesday and Thursday. Then there is the trip up and back by car and boat.
Millions of dollars are spent on fuel alone, especially as the boats are bigger these days. Add food and accommodation expenses and it's a big investment.
Concurrently, the Nelson Bay Bluewater Festival along the foreshore offers landlubbers free music, entertainment, wine and food, a classic and vintage bike show, fishing clinics and workshops.
Meanwhile, marine biologists and PhD students will be hovering around the weigh station to collect samples of captured fish. Studies are being conducted into the biology of tiger sharks and dolphin fish.
But it is on the water that this golden anniversary interclub will be remembered. Hundreds, if not thousands, of marlin have been caught and tagged around the shimmering bait schools in the 80-100 fathom area in the past few weeks.
With so many boats you'd expect the fish to scatter or sound. Not so. They just keep coming. Captain Dean Beech caught more than 20 striped marlin last week before landing the grand slam on Thursday, with a striped black and blue marlin.
This column has championed the importance of preserving baitfish stocks before, and the hot marlin bite centres on this very thing. Besides the common slimy mackerel, we are hearing of acres of redbait, a kind of red-tailed scad normally confined to the tropics. It's truly an amazing season when everyone is catching marlin.
On the central coast, Terrigal charter skipper Paul Minto reports hot fishing one day, few the next. On the good occasions, when the water is not so brown, he has made good catches of teraglin and jewfish, with a few trevally about the inshore reefs.
Similar reef fishing catches are coming from the Sydney coast, with the school jewfish in particular making a welcome appearance. The jewfish are ranging about the beaches and the mouth of Broken Bay, too.
Narrabeen Bait adds that the whiting have been biting, with bigger catches of albeit smaller fish, along with some nice bream in the beach corners. The local lake has been producing flathead on whitebait.
If you look hard enough you'll find the odd surface fish - bonito, tailor and frigate mackerel - splashing about Pittwater. Mackerel tuna and small kingfish are mixed in with them around the headlands but the rain-affected water really has put a dampener on things.
The best bets in Pittwater are the trevally in the deep holes and flathead around the flats. Bream should be gathering in preparation for their spawning run. Try Barrenjoey, Lion Island and Little Box Head.
Stuart Reid, a harbour guide , says the planets are aligning, with steady weather playing into the hands of those chasing kingfish. The squid are getting easier to catch and the kingfish are coming in.
Typical kingfish catches include half-a-dozen rats but three or four big ones. The year classes are either 55-centimetre, which is undersized, or keeper 80-centimetre fish.
Frigate mackerel are throughout Port Jackson, but the bonito and Aussie salmon have dispersed (for now). Reid adds that he saw a shark cruising at Dobroyd Point last week.
Scotty Lyons on Botany Bay echoes sentiments about a dearth of surface fish. But there are bream about and the fishing will only improve now that forecasters are saying La Nina will end in mid-March.