Where to Stay
Situated 240 miles south of Sydney on the east coast of Australia is one of the prettiest fishing villages I’ve ever visited. The coastal town of Bermagui is steeped in game-fishing history that stems as far back as 1936, when world-renowned American angler and adventure writer Zane Grey visited the area. Grey put these prolific fishing grounds on the world map when he wrote about this beautiful place in his famous book An American Angler in Australia.
Grey revisited Bermagui again the following year and caught many more Australian records and giant sharks, including tigers, makos and great whites. He also captured black and striped marlin, along with longtail (northern) bluefin tuna and huge yellowfin tuna. Grey’s involvement in the area also led to his patronage of the Bermagui Sport Fishing Association. His famous yacht, Avalon, spent many months sheltered in the waters of Bermagui’s Horseshoe Bay, where the tourist, caravan and camping park bears the name of the famous angler today. For many years after Grey’s visits to Bermagui, the area was known as the yellowfin tuna capital of Australia, and most of the Australian records — and even a few world records — are still held there. When you look at all these records, though, along with the Bermagui Big Game Anglers Club records, the one thing that jumps out at you are the dates of all these great catches. The heyday for yellowfin here was prior to the turn of the century and before the east-coast stocks were commercially overfished to disastrous levels by longliners. Consequently, the days when these big tuna cruised in numbers along the inshore reefs off the New South Wales coast are gone, and Bermagui’s professional fishermen have suffered as a result.
Most of the charter fleet here was set up for tuna fishing and depended heavily on the autumn and winter runs of those jumbo yellowfin. Back in the heyday, one had to book a vessel well in advance to get a trip offshore, but when the yellowfin practically dried up, many of the local operators either retired or went out of business. Those captains who survived changed their tactics and concentrated on the sharks, marlin, and the odd southern bluefin tuna and yellowfin tuna out wide of the continental shelf. Luckily, the marlin fishing is still very good here, and some of the biggest striped marlin outside of New Zealand have been taken off Bermagui.
Personally, I have fond memories of this wonderful place, and during my early days of sport fishing I caught my biggest-ever striped marlin here, weighing a solid 305 pounds, on 20-pound tackle. My largest yellowfin tuna and yellowtail kingfish on 12-pound and 20-pound tackle came from Montague Island, just a short run to the north from Bermagui Harbour. I’ve also had some exciting times here with the summertime run of blue marlin, and before I started fishing with medium to heavy tackle, I was busted up or clean spooled many times by solid blues while trying to catch them on 20-pound and 30-pound tackle. To give you an idea of the size range of blue marlin often found here, the current ladies’ world record weighed 997 pounds and was caught on 80-pound tackle off the continental shelf, just to the north of Bermagui near Batemans Bay, in 1999.
Today, this magnificent seaside country town is still famous for its fishing, and recently there were major upgrades to the harbor facilities and boat ramps to cater to the influx of vessels and anglers. Especially during the summer and autumn game-fishing season (January to June), the local and interstate trailer boats converge on Bermagui in droves. When the weather is favorable, particularly on the weekends, the main boat ramp in the harbor often sees huge lines of cars, even traffic jams. Sometimes patience is needed just to get the boat in the water. Because Bermagui is situated very close to the southern NSW border, many anglers from the state of Victoria make the journey up the coast to Bermagui with their trailer boats for long weekends and extended fishing holidays. Most of the prolific grounds off Bermagui lie within a safe distance of the coast for these well-equipped trailer boats, many of them ranging between 20 and 23 feet long. The continental shelf, for example, is only 13 miles from the harbor, and between the shelf and harbor are several prolific deep reefs. The grounds around Montague Island are also another hot spot for sharks and large yellowtail kingfish. Even the bottom fishing on many of the shallow and deep reefs is very good for a variety of species, including snapper and the tasty Tasmanian trumpeter.
Every year, several popular game‑fishing tournaments are held in Bermagui, and during the summer month of January, the Bermagui Big Game Anglers Club hosts its Blue Water Classic. This tournament always produces a wide range of species, with everything from blue, black and striped marlin to a variety of sharks and tuna, which are mostly tagged and released. Last year, a huge 800-pound mako was captured from a small trailer boat, and a solid 270-pound striped marlin also came to the weigh station.
The annual yellowfin tuna tournament takes place each May and is hosted by the neighboring Canberra Game Fishing Club. This popular tournament started back in 1980 and attracts anglers from far and wide. The event became quite famous back in the hot tuna days, when the incredible run of inshore yellowfin used to turn up in good numbers to test the skill of anglers. Although the tuna aren’t as prolific as they once were, the tournament’s tradition continues. Anglers concentrating on billfish often find big yellowfin well over 100 pounds outside of the continental shelf.