NSW: Port Stephens Offshore Fishing

Port of Call - Port Stephens, NSW – Australia

Just 220km north of Sydney lies the magnificent Port Stephens, which has grown from a sleepy little fishing village into what is now one of the world’s red-hot gamefishing destinations.

Where Is Port Stephens?

Port Stephens is 220km north of Sydney and about two and a half hours drive up the F3 Freeway. For those who prefer to fly, it’s a 20-minute flight from Sydney to Newcastle Airport, and a further 20 minutes’ drive to Port Stephens.

There are plenty of activities for the whole family, with some magnificent calm-water and surfing beaches to choose from. Bushwalking in the Tomaree National Park is another popular activity: the walk to the top of Tomaree Headland, 158m above sea level, is breathtaking, with views from Newcastle to Seal Rocks.

NSW Port Stephens Offshore Fishing 1

What is the History of Port Stephens?

In February 1913 Dr Mark Lidwell captured a fish that he assumed was a swordfish, and shipped it off to the Australian museum in Sydney for further examination. The fish was identified as a black marlin, the first to be taken anywhere in the world on rod and reel.

Not only is Port Stephens prominent in the birth of gamefishing in Australia, it is also where Athol D’Ombrain in 1938 first started experimenting with tags suitable to tag & amp; release marlin. A man way ahead of his time, D’Ombrain was worried the east coast would be fished out, and was expressing concerns about the activities of the Japanese longline fleet in the early 1950s. Australia’s oldest purely gamefishing club, the Newcastle & Port Stephens Game Fish Club, was founded in 1929. The original clubhouse was the first building in Shoal Bay, situated where the Country Club Hotel now stands.

What is Port Stephens Famous For?

On the last weekend in February and the first weekend in March, the Newcastle & Port Stephens Game Fish Club plays host to the largest gamefishing tournament in the Southern Hemisphere, the NSWGFA Interclub. This tournament started out as a club challenge between Sydney Game Fish Club and Newcastle & Port Stephens Game Fish Club, prior to World War II. Now approaching its 46th year, the Interclub regularly attracts well over 200 boats and more than 1000 anglers. Ninety-five percent of all fish recorded are tagged and released.

Port Stephens is also famous for being the location for a number of gamefish records. Fishing guide Dean Butler, a fly fishing guru and light-tackle specialist, has made a healthy contribution to the IGFA records as a guide here, along with his overseasclients and crew. A quick look through the record books reveals Port Stephens accounts for no less than 22 IGFA World Records and over 60 Australian Records.

Target Species

Port Stephens offers a variety of gamefish species in sizes and numbers that are truly world-class. Year after year it produces large blue marlin from Christmas onwards. Fish over 200kg are regularly encountered, and fish to double that size have also been caught by those prepared to chase them.

Black marlin also start at around the same time. They range in size from 20kg to an impressive 333kg. Striped marlin are available year-round, with some really good fish in the 100kg-plus range passing through during winter and pods of 80kg fish feeding on slimy mackerel during summer. Shark fishing is still very popular in Port Stephens. Makos, whalers and tigers are plentiful, with at least three big grinners over 1000lb hitting the scales last season. Hefty dolphinfish and wahoo are also a welcome bycatch during the marlin season.

If you’re thinking about visiting Port Stephens and can’t get away during summer, don’t worry. The autumn bite can provide calm seas, with spectacular fishing, as well. In fact, the best blue marlin fishing I have ever seen was during May. April and May are much less crowded too, with only a handful of boats on the water each day.

Author and photography: George Trinkler