Whitewater Hunting for Jewfish

By Gavin Smithers


The Australian jewfish or mulloway is a large predator found inshore around rocky shores and in estuaries. They are also found on offshore reefs. Very similar species are found in America (white sea bass) and in South Africa (salmon or kob).

"they are good eating, especially when covered in batter, double deep-fried in lard and washed down with brown ale..."

As well as being a good sport fish they are good eating, especially when covered in batter, double deep-fried in lard and washed down with brown ale. Divers interested in attaining good bottom times may wish to discount the above recipe however.

In Northern NSW we often hunt Jewfish during the winter and early spring when conditions are settled and the inshore water is clearer. Further south around Sydney the fish are more plentiful in the Summer. On rocky shores the fish are often found in caves and gullies especially under white water. The fish rest in these places during the day and hunt at night. Most ‘jew holes’ are only safely accessible on high tide with low swell. Fish can be taken in very shallow water.

It is one of diving’s most exciting experiences to silently enter a jew hole with masses of white bubbles billowing around you and as the bubbles momentarily lift to see a big jewie hovering less than two metres in front of you.

"Jewfish are powerful fighters in rocky gullies and often bend spears..."

Because the hunting is often at close range in limited visibility I prefer a short, powerful gun. A short, low profile gun is also an advantage in strong surge as it is easier to control and aim. I use a Rob Allen of 105cm length with 7mm x 150cm single flopper spear. This is attached to a short rig line with a small float that I can pull under if I need to dive more than 5 metres or 15ft. Excessive rig line is a nuisance and is dangerous in shallow, white water. Big jewfish are powerful fighters in rocky gullies and regularly bend spears. As well, one needs to avoid getting tangled in coils of line whilst fighting the fish and one needs to keep an eye on the sea behind you in case big waves are coming in.

Brett Vercoe and I have a few reliable locations for jewfish and occasionally travel from home in Coffs Harbour to these places. We try not to take more than one or two fish from a hole and we don’t visit the same places regularly as the fish can spook easily. On a recent trip to northern NSW Brett dropped into a favourite gully with a video camera and got some footage of a school of jewfish. He spied a particularly large specimen in the school and called me over to spear the fish while he would film the action.

"in the gloom the shape of a massive jewfish appeared..."

We dropped to the bottom and entered the gully but could see no fish. We swam further up the narrow gully and in the gloom the shape of a massive jewfish appeared. It looked like a buffalo with its big hunch shoulders. I accelerated and fired instinctively just behind the head hoping to spine the fish. I did not hit the spine and in the chaos that followed I had a good tour of the gully, had my spear bent, got tangled in my rig line and got cleaned up by a big set! Brett kept his nerve and got some footage of the fight under difficult conditions – he’s good on the video.

The jewfish weighed 38.4kg which is very big for the Australian species, especially in 2002 when fish numbers and sizes are not what they were even 20 years ago.

We have also included photos of Brett and I with two good eating fish in the 20kg class and some big tailor which are amongst the species that share the whitewater gullies with the mighty jewfish.

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