Hastings Point, on the far north coast of New South Wales, always looks like a great place to fish. It has rocks, gutter, overhangs, channels and a chunky bit of reef, just offshore. In other words, all the traditional ingredients that make a place fishy. It also has the advantage of being one of the closest rock fishing spots to my current home.
I know that anglers regularly catch good, bream, dart, tailor and jewfish here. But I have not yet put the time into the area, to work it out. Part of the problem this year, has been the swell, which has consistently been up above 1.5 m or more. I also think you have more chance here when first light/dawn coincides with a high tide, so that you can fish it with plenty of water, in close to the base of the rocks.
So one Tuesday morning in September, I was up before dawn and ready to start my research. There was a little wind from the north east, and it was forecast to turn pure easterly on dawn, then build up through the day. The new moon had appeared the day before and the tide was about half way in and the swell was bigger than the forecast 1.2m.
I started by casting a 3/8th ounce, size 2/0 hook jighead, loaded with a 6 ” GULP Lime Tiger jerkshad. I was running 20lb braid and a 30lb fluorocarbon leader. This set up enticed a couple of hits on the wavebreak line (probably dart or bream) but it did not create much other interest. After 30 minutes or so the sun burst over the horizon. I switched to a brass coloured 60g HALCO twisty and cast that beyond the rocks and ripped it back toward me, pretty quickly. I had started fishing when the sun was still well below the horizon, but now it was rapidly climbing above it.
At about 8.30 am we were approaching high tide and I was not getting much in the way of bites. I dropped down to the lighter Daiwa Crossfire rod. I tied on a 1/4 ounce, size 1 hook jighead and loaded it with a 5″ GULP jerkshad in the Watermelon Pearl colour. After about five or six casts I connected with a fish and it took off quite quickly. I let it take it little line then tightened my drag. It was a solid dart and I decided to keep it for lunch, so I dispatched it, bled it and left it in a rock pool. I hoped for another and loaded another plastic (the original had been shredded). I hooked what felt like another dart but it freed itself. Finally, as I was about to give up I caught a 30 cm bream.
This is a good example of so many of my fishing sessions. I didn’t catch much but I added a little more knowledge. I witnessed a great sunrise, lots of whales passing through and just enough action to make sure I will come back again.
In early September the wind began to signal a change of seasons. The northerlies kept creeping in but they were often tempered by a persistent cool westerly, in the mornings.
On the first Monday of the month I decided to fish off the rockwall at South Ballina. The moon was in its waning gibbous phase and would be 77% full. An easterly wind was forecast and the swell was still stubbornly high, so I wasn’t expecting much. Low tide had passed at about 5.00 am. I took the Burns Point Ferry across the Richmond River, just after it started running at 5.30 am and walked out to the end of the south wall at about 6.00 am. The sun had broken the horizon a few minutes earlier but almost immediately been obscured by a band of low cloud. I said good morning to the two resident ospreys who were surveying the beach gutter from their rocky perch.
I started with my heavier rock fishing rig with a 30lb leader and a 60g slug. I cast out to the north east and ripped the lure back pretty quickly. After two or three casts, I felt a fish grab it, drop it, grab it and then I hooked up. It was a 35cm tailor and I pulled it up safely to my feet, un-trebled it and threw it back. I carried on casting the slug for a while and had a few more bumps and grabs but no hook ups, so I decided to change tactics.
I tied on a 3/8th ounce 1/0 hook jighead and loaded a GULP 4″ Minnow in the Smelt colour. I would always rather fish with a lighter jighead, so that the soft plastic spends more time sinking but the easterly onshore wind would have made casting anything lighter a real challenge. As it was, I could only get the jighead to land 10 to 15 metres out. On my first cast it was hit on the drop. Unfortunately I did not hook up but instead pulled up a soft plastic with a neat bite mark but no fish.
I put another of the same plastic on and cast out. It only took a couple of hops and I was on to a fish again. This time it was a small bream with a big appetite. I threw it back. The bream kept biting the tails off the minnow or pulling the soft plastic off the jighead. So I swapped to a 5″ GULP Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour. These tend to stay on the jighead better and I was hoping the bigger profile might attract a bigger fish.
On about my fifth cast with a bigger plastic, I felt a hit at the base of the rocks but jumped the lure up quickly, thinking I might be snagged. A few minutes later I felt a similar hit and I paused to let the fish eat the plastic. It obliged and took off. Initially it ran out to sea but as I had to keep the tension on the line, the swell soon pushed it back in to the base of the rocks. It was a school jewfish, it looked around 70 to 80 cm long. It was soon washed in between the rocks at the base of the wall and I could feel the leader rubbing against the rocks. Then – snap, and it was gone and was gone.
I re-rigged with a stretch of 45lb leader (the toughest , I carry) and the same set up and cast out again. About five casts later and a found another one in the same spot (that’s why they are called ‘school’ jewfish). I tried to wear it out and pull it gently up to me but the hook bent and pulled out and it dropped back to the water and swam off. I worked through a few soft plastics and they nearly all found a fish in this same spot but I could not land any of them. I need to buy, and learn to use, a gaff.
I was frustrated but the fish were clearly biting so I swapped back to a metal lure. I chose the 40 gram DUO Drag Metal Cast Slow (I assume this sounds more catchy in Japanese). This is a slow jigging lure that can be used like any other metal slug. My Japanese angling friends say it is great to use from the shore as it flutters around a lot, even at very low retrieve speeds. I have been trying it whenever I think the tailor are around, to see if they like it. I cast it out towards the centre of the river mouth and jigged it back towards me. After two or three casts I hooked up, quite a long way from the shore. This lure has two assist single hooks at one end and a single hook at the other. I was making progress but then my line went slack. I picked up the retrieve again and a few moments later I had hooked up again. This time the hook stuck but the fish felt more powerful. I backed off the drag a little and let the fish run. I then gradually retrieved line and tightened the drag again. It was a decent tailor and it leaped clear of the water a couple of times but stayed hooked. Fortunately, two of the hooks had pinned the fish and I was able to pull it up to my feet. It was just over 50 cm long. One of the three hooks on the lure was gone, perhaps the first fish that hit it, took that one. Much as I would have liked a jewfish, it would have to be tailor for dinner.
IMPORTANT NOTE – Last time I visited South Ballina – in early October, 2020 – the road out to the rockwall had been closed by National Parks. They have had it surveyed and the initial finding is that it is no longer safe for vehicles. This means fishing at the end of the wall requires a 1300m walk before and after – see photo)
Thanks to the machinations of our newly powerful state leaders, Brunswick Heads was very quiet in August and September. Despite vanishingly small numbers of locally identified cases of COVID 19, the Queensland border snapped shut. It was soul destroying for our local businesses that rely so much on visitors from north of the border, and further afield. But, every cloud has a silver lining and for once the Brunswick River was very peaceful and largely undisturbed.
I started September with a midday session wading the flats above the highway bridge. The tide was running out to low at about 1-30 pm. I parked up beside the caravan park at Ferry Reserve.
I was using my new light estuary spinning set-up. The guides on my old favorite NS Blackhole trout rod nearly all needed replacing and I had knocked about 10 cm off the tip over the last couple of years – it had to go. I had loved that rod so I decided to go for another NS Blackhole rod from EJ Todd. I chose the ultralight fast action NS Amped II Trout S-602UL rod. It is a 6′ long two piece, rated for 2- 10 gram lures and 2-6 lb (1-3kg) line. I match it with a Daiwa TD-SOL III LT 2500D spinning reel. So far it has met all my expectations. It is ultra sensitive but has the power to stop good sized bream and flathead. It might struggle to turn the head of a decent mangrove jack or snapper, but I rarely run into those. It cost me A$ 149-99 (with free shipping) from Tackle Warehouse and arrived in good shape, three days after I ordered it.
I pulled on my waders and wandered up the inside of Mangrove Island, casting a GULP 3″ Minnow soft plastic on a 1/8th ounce, size 1 hook jighead, into the shallow water ahead of me. I found my first tiny flathead close the edge of a weed bed in about 20 cm of water. The tide was running out towards me so I cast at the edge of the weed beds and hopped the soft plastic slowly along the sandy/ muddy bottom, with the tide. I carried on wading up river, around the tip of Mangrove Island and across to the deeper water, in the main channel of the river.
I decided to put on a bigger soft plastic – a GULP 5″ Jerkshad in the Peppered Prawn colour. I was now just upriver from the tip of the island, about 30 metres from the northern riverbank. My rod tip bent over, I paused and then lifted it. I had hooked a small flathead, just under 40cm. I let it go and gradually moved down river, casting backwards up river. I swapped through a few soft plastics – the GULP 2″ Shrimp also in the Peppered Prawn colour and another 5″ Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour, and found three more flathead, all about the same size.
As the tide slackened around 2.00 pm, I gave up and waded back to the car. It was great to have the river virtually to myself, I will have to make the most of it.
On the 28th of August I fished at White’s Head, at the northern end of Sharpes Beach, near Ballina. The swell was forecast to be low and the wind light, so I arrived before first light and walked down to the rock platform and started casting. The full moon was still about a week away and the tide would be low at about 10.00 am.
I was using my heavier rock fishing set up. I had rigged a 25lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/6th ounce, 1/0 hook jighead. For my first cast I loaded a GULP 5″ Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour. I lost this one to the bommies out front, so I trudged back to the tackle bag to re-rig with the same set up. I cast this around for a while and felt a few bream hits. Then I had a good bite and run from something bigger. The soft plastic came back hanging off the jighead, so I pulled off the front end and put the shorter version back on.
At about 6.30 am, a fish grabbed the lure, very close to the base of the rocks. I could soon see it was a jewfish, I let it run a couple of times then tightened my drag a little and pulled it up to my feet with the aid of a wave surge. It was just over 65 cm long so I took a couple of pictures and released it.
I looked for another but I could no entice another bite so I moved further round to another small bay and swapped down to the light rod and 12lb fluorocarbon leader. I caught a couple of bream on small minnow soft plastics and the a couple of solid 40cm plus dart.
I am an early riser so I prefer to fish the dawn, rather than the dusk. I like the fact that if the fishing is good in the morning you have the whole day ahead of you to carry on. I find casting out into the fading light at the end of the day much harder.
The next day I had dawn session in light swell at Skennars Head. I fished at Iron Peg (a rocky promontory that sticks out from the shore). I find this is a dawn or dusk spot. It is also very dangerous unless you are fishing in virtually no swell and around a low tide. So watch the swell and always were a life jacket. Remember if you arrive at any rock fishing spot, look at the swell and have to think about whether it is safe or not, then it probably isn’t. If in doubt, don’t.
My session was disappointing. Just on dawn the dolphins came through and had a good rummage around. I cast a big hard body and a metal slug through dawn with no results. I swapped down to a soft plastic and then caught these three:
This spot always looks promising so I will persist.
In summary the bream had been a good size but slightly less plentiful through August. The fishing had been best when the wind was from the south-east or south-west. When the northerly winds blew the dart reappeared. I still can’t pick what turns the jewfish on but there were a few around.
We had some wild weather and rain over the weekend, so I decided to fish on Monday. The swell was set to drop throughout the day. I walked out onto the rockwall at South Ballina just after first light but about 20 minutes before dawn. The wind was cold but light from the west. As the sky lit up, the birds started circling as did the dolphins, so the bait had to be there. Sunrise was at 6.15 am and high tide was at about 7.00 am. It was three days to the new moon.
I started fishing with my heavier Daiwa Demonblood 962 rod, Daiwa TD SOL III LT 6000 D reel, 30lb main line braid and 30 lb fluorocarbon leader, a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead, loaded with a 5″ GULP Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour. I caught a couple of decent bream, but then I started losing the tails of my soft plastics at the base of the rocks. I then swapped to a 60 gram Halco twisty and threw that around until just after dawn. That lure did not elicit any hook-ups.
Once the sun was up, the birds started dive bombing but there were no surface bust ups.
I swapped back to soft plastics and a couple of times I saw decent sized tailor follow my soft plastics in and swipe at them but they always missed. I swapped down to Daiwa Crossfire 1062 with 20lb braid, 16lb leader and 1/6th oz size 1/0 jighead. Then predictably, a big tailor grabbed my Mad Scientist Lime Tiger jerkshad (I had finished all my GULPs in the Lime Tiger colour) at the base of the rocks, pulled for a few seconds and then bit through. I re-rigged with a 1/4 ounce jighead and put on a GULP 4″ minnow in the Watermelon Pearl colour. This caught a solid 35 cm plus bream, followed by a few smaller ones, then they bit through the tail. I put another Mad Scientist Lime Tiger coloured Jerkshad on and, after a few casts I hooked and landed a decent 50 cm tailor.
The birds were really working now, but always just out of reach. I was casting and retrieving fairly quickly now. I saw a group of tailor follow the lure in and right at the base of the rocks a decent sized one swallowed the jighead and lure and bit through. I moved back to my heavy rig and tried the 60 gram Halco Twisty for about twenty casts with no luck.
I fished here a few more mornings later in the month, after the new moon. I caught and was bitten off by tailor during both sessions but it was long time between the fish. As usual I swapped down to my lighter gear when things got quiet. I caught a few good bream and then got monstered by something at the base of the rocks. Not sure when I will learn some patience.
After weeks of heavy swell it appeared it would relent for a bit on Friday. The forecast was for a light north westerly breeze and a 1.1 metre swell. I arrived just on first light and walked out to the rock platform at Flat Rock, just north of Ballina. It was about a week to go before the new moon and during dawn I would be fishing off the southern side of the platform. I walked out as the horizon was glowing and rigged up. However, as I got to the south side I could see the swell was still pretty heavy and the tide was too high to fish safely, so I changed direction.
I walked back along Sharps Beach to Whites Head. The tide was running out and the swell had eased a little, but there were still some bigger wave sets coming through. I was fishing with my light rock fishing set up – Shimano Stella 4000 and Daiwa Crossfire Surf 1062 , 20lb braid and 20lb leader. For my first cast I tied on a 1/6th ounce, 1/0 hook jighead and loaded a GULP 4″ minnow in the Watermelon Pearl colour. I cast straight out in front between a couple of bommies, after a few casts I was getting hits close to the base of the rocks. I slowed things down and let the lure sit about 1 metre off the ledge, for as long as I dared. This did the trick and I hooked and landed a bream, about 30 cm long. After a few more casts I landed a good sized dart. The dart are often around and seem to get fired up when the wind turns northerly.
The smaller bream kept trying to pull the soft plastic off the jighead and eventually they succeeded. I reloaded with a GULP 4″ shrimp in the Peppered Prawn colour and kept casting. I lost a couple of rigs to the rocks and then after about 30 mins of nothing I felt a solid bite very close to the base of the rocks. I dropped my rod tip, paused and then struck. I set the hook and the fish took off on a powerful first run. I was pretty sure it was a school mulloway/ jewfish and I soon saw a flash of silver. It looked around 70 to 80 cm long. After couple of decent runs it was pretty much spent, but I looked up to see a big set of waves coming. I tried to muscle the fish up the rocks on a smaller wave ahead of the set, but as I pulled I felt the rod tip snap. A few seconds later as I retreated from the big set, the line went slack and the fish was gone with the jighead.
I did not have a back up rod but I was determined to have another try, so I re-rigged with no tip, same jighead, same soft plastic. I waited for what looked like a fairly calm period. I cast out and tried to keep the soft plastic travelling along the same path as its predecessor. Once more I paused the lure as close as I could to the base of the rocks. When I lifted the rod there was a fish there. I had the drag fairly tight this time and after a quick fight I used the swell to pull a handsome looking jewfish up to my feet. Unfortunately it measured in at about 72 cm , so I released it, unharmed, after taking a few pictures.
I decided that I did not want an even shorter rod so I packed up for the morning.
I have always wanted to fish at Evans Head and with a light swell forecast and a mid-morning low tide, Monday looked good. I wanted to fish off the front of Goanna Headland and with a south-westerly breeze this looked possible. I arrived well after sunrise at about 8.00 am and parked in the carpark at Chinamens Beach.
As it would be my first time fishing here I decided to just take my lighter rock fishing rig with me. This is presently the 3.2m Daiwa Crossfire CFS 1062 rod and my Shimano Stella 4000, rigged with 30lb braid and usually a 16lb leader to start off with. I like to look around any new spot with this setup. The relatively light leader will not stop a really big fish but it will also get you more hook ups, so that you can figure out who the local residents are.
I walked around the headland, found a good spot and watched the swell for a while . The water was clear and fairly calm – it was sheltered from the south-westerly wind by the headland. I started with a 1/6th ounce jighead and a GULP 3″ minnow soft plastic in the Watermelon Pearl colour. My second cast was hit hard by a fish that tried to head straight down into the rocks. I tightened the drag and pulled it out, fairly easily. It was a bream about 30 cm long. A found a couple more over the next few casts.
The bream had pretty much destroyed the minnow so I swapped over to a 2″ GULP Shrimp soft plastic in the Peppered Prawn colour. The tide was rising and starting to wash over the ledge, so I could not stay in this spot for much longer. I cast out and let the plastic flutter down until I felt it was on the bottom. As soon as I lifted it a fish hit. It was bigger and faster than the bream and it pulled quite hard. It tried to take me under the ledge, but soon tired. It was a small silver trevally. I released the fish and cast straight back out. I caught three more small silver trevally in pretty quick succession and then something bigger hit the soft plastic on the drop and took off, straight under the rock ledge. After a few seconds I could feel my leader rubbing and then it snapped – cod, groper, wrasse, bigger bream, snapper or trevally – could have been anything. I re-rigged with a completely new 16lb fluorocarbon leader. This time I tied on a 1/6th ounce jighead but with a bigger size 1/0 hook and loaded it with a GULP 5″ Jerkshad in the Satay Chicken colour. After a few casts I hooked up again. This time it was another silver trevally – a little bigger than the others.
I had to change spots now so I moved a little south, to fish in a horse-shoe shaped bay. I looked like it was only a few metres deep but there were overhanging rocks on all sides and few bommies in the middle.
I cast the jerkshad out into the middle of the horse shoe mouth and let it sink to where I thought the bottom would be. I then hopped it back towards me. I repeated this for about an hour. I hooked a few small bream. It was now around 1.00 pm. The wind was picking up and turning south-easterly, so it was getting hard to cast straight out in front me. I was casting as close as I could to the overhanging rocks. As I started another retrieve of the soft plastic I felt a quick tug and then a real take. I set the hook and the fish took off. It was not quick like a tailor or trevally. My rod did not really have the power to slow it down but I kept the pressure on. It arched left, then came back to the right and I got some line back. I felt I was making some headway and tightened the drag a little. It arched over to the left again and then felt like it was beaten and was about to pop up. There was not obvious landing spot and just as I was thinking where to drag it to, it turned the thrusters on and took off again. I tried to hold slow the spool a bit with my hand and then I felt the jighead pull out.
I had found a great spot and had a great session. I will be back at dawn or dusk when the swell permits and I am sure I will encounter some great fish.
I fished off the South Ballina rockwall for the first few days of August, in the run up to the full moon on the 4th. It had been consistently cold at the end of July but the weather warmed up for a few days and the wind and swell kept changing. Each morning, I arrived just after firstlight and was fishing before sunrise. The resident ospreys were always in position, above the gutter on the ocean side of the rockwall.
One morning I was taken for a ride by a couple of big fish that I could not stop. I presume they were jewfish/mulloway. I was fishing a 5″ Powerbait Nemesis paddletail soft plastic in the ‘bleak’ colour, on a 3/8th ounce jighead (see pic) on the first occasion and a 4″ GULP Minnow in the ‘smelt’ colour on a 1/4 ounce jighead, on the second occasion. They both headed out to sea around the end of the wall and rubbed through my 30lb leader.
I caught plenty of bream in the first few mornings of the month but they slowed down a little on the day of the full moon. The were nearly all decent sized, with most measuring over 35cm. I filleted a bagful for our weekly fish pie.
The tailor were completely absent. We had some rain and then a north westerly wind for a few days. This flattened the sea and perhaps it pushed the bait away for a while. The surprise catch was an Australian salmon, on a 5″ GULP Jerkshad soft plastic in the ‘lime tiger’ colour rigged on a 1/4 ounce jighead. It was part of a huge school that floated around the rivermouth for an hour or so. I tried everything in the lure box to get another one, without success.
NB – Landangler is now also on instagram, so please follow me if you use that platform https://www.instagram.com/landangler/ . I am afraid attempting to create more video and a You Tube channel would most likely result in falling over even more often, so it’s off the agenda for now.
As we moved from June into early July, the COVID 19 virus restrictions eased up a bit and, if you were not getting married, buried or going to an all-night dance party, life pretty much returned to normal. Victorians continued to face restrictions and the Queensland border remained closed to visitors from outside the state, but in the little town of South Golden Beach the organic chai turmeric lattes and kale smoothies still flowed.
For most of the month the swell stayed strong (often well over 2m) and the wind was predominantly from the south-east, south west and west. Early in the month, in the run up to the full moon we had a few days of very calm conditions, but these were exceptional. The sea temperatures continued to drop and at the end of the month an offshore east coast low passed and dumped a lot of rain into the Richmond and Brunswick river catchments.
I did some of my best bream fishing in the run up to the full moon on the 5th, but I caught plenty of them all through the month. I caught a lot of fish over 35cm on small GULP soft plastic minnows/ shrimps. The Watermelon Pearl or Smelt colours seemed to work best on the minnows and the Peppered Prawn for the shrimp pattern. I loaded them on a 1/6th or ¼ ounce jighead and stuck with a light leader (12lb to 16lb fluorocarbon).
On the calmest day of the month I fished at Flat Rock, south of Lennox Head. I was generally casting off the south side of the rock platform. As long as I could get my soft plastic beyond the fringing reef, I caught good sized bream on almost every cast. I also caught a very small school jewfish (about 45 cm) in this spot and was sawn off a couple of times on the reef.
When it wasn’t calm enough to fish the rocks (which was most of the month) I focused on the Richmond River mouth, fishing both the south and the north walls. In the first half of the month the birds and dolphins were constantly smashing into the ever-present bait schools. At the mouth, the most vigorous feeding seemed to take place as the tide turned to run in and the salt water started to push back up the river. As long as the bait was there so were the tailor and I caught a few but none over about 40 cm. I also caught a few small trevally and even a Luderick during a couple of north wall sessions.
But late in the month the passing east coast low and the wild weather that followed seemed to wash out the bait and the tailor with them. By the end of the month the river was a brown soup during the runout tide. This was perfect for the jewfish/ mulloway fisherman and they were all in position most mornings and evenings around the new moon on the 21st and again for the last days of the month.
I did catch a couple of school jewfish – one at the beginning of the month which was just under legal size and so I returned it to the water and one in the dirty water later in the month, that was just on 80cm. I kept that one for dinner. In between I hooked and got a look at several more that either buried their noses in the rocks or bent my jigheads and freed themselves. I caught both of the jewfish I landed on GULP 4 inch minnows in the Smelt colour. I am still not patient enough to persist with the heavy gear for hours and wait for a big jew bite.
The swell had really limited the rock and offshore fishing in July but the fish were definitely there. August should be good.
June saw some big changes in the fishing on the Byron/Ballina coast. The most important one was the arrival of lots of small whitebait. The whales started to swim past and the tailor arrived in large numbers. The flathead were plentiful in the estuaries. The mullet schooled up along the beaches and around the headlands to feed on the thick schools of bait. The jewfish also came in to feed on the mullet and tailor. Meanwhile the bream started to gather at the river mouths to spawn.
The only thing that was not conducive to fishing was the swell. There were really only a few days in the whole month when the swell dropped below 1.5 m and so fishing the rocks was tricky. We did not have much rain and as the water temperature cooled the water became very clear.
I started the month still focusing on the flathead at the Richmond River mouth. I fished the flats and weed beds with small GULP soft plastics rigged on a 1/8th or 1/6th of an ounce jighead. The minnow shapes that most resembled the whitebait caught plenty of good flathead. If I kept to the two- and three-inch sizes, I also caught bream and small tailor.
There were a couple of flatter days and I took advantage of them to fish the rock platform at Flat Rock, south of Skennars Head. This is really only fishable around the low tide and it is very snaggy. I fished off the south side of the platform and caught some good bream and tarwhine on GULP 4″ Minnow soft plastics in various colours.
On some of the slightly calmer days I fished the end of the South Ballina rockwall. The dolphins and birds were a constant – chasing the bait schools around the end of the rock wall and out into the river mouth. As we came up to the new moon the more committed fishermen were out from well before dawn casting big hard bodied lures for jewfish. Judging by the scale piles, they caught a few.
I focused on casting slugs off the end of the wall which caught plenty of tailor and a few small trevally. When the tailor slowed down, I put on soft plastics and caught some good sized bream. A couple of times I hooked school jewfish at the base of the rocks but with the lighter Daiwa 1062 Crossfire rod running a 16lb leader (for the bream) I could not bring them round the rocks to a landing spot.
Each time I fished the early morning I saw the local osprey waiting for the mullet schools to swim up the beach into the shallows. I saw him catch a few but by now some of them were too fat for him to lift. I dragged a vibe lure through a thick school one morning and caught one. I decided to keep it as I have always wanted to try the roe (eggs). This is considered a delicacy in Japan and many parts of Europe. When I ate it the next day, the fresh fillets were very good, but I could not stomach the roe (the Japanese are welcome to it!).
As we entered May we were still in lockdown across Australia. The global economy was a slow motion train wreck, with businesses shuttered and unemployment sky-rocketing. Governments everywhere pumped money into their economies and so, despite their awful future prospects some companies like our banks, Qantas, Afterpay, etc – persuaded our moronic superannuation fund managers to buy even more new shares in them.
In addition to the ever-present threat of the ‘Egyptian Papyrus’ (COV 19 virus), May brought us a delightful mini-plague of noisy green frogs. They were hiding everywhere you looked.
As the weather had cooled the flathead had increased in numbers in the Brunswick River, but they were still frustratingly small. I could be pretty sure of getting a handful on the bottom of the tide near the river mouth, but they were rarely big enough for dinner. The water was crystal clear and so perhaps the bigger fish were harder to fool.
I decided to head to Ballina and try and pick up a few bigger flathead. The strategy paid off and I had success fishing the first few hours of the run out tide. I was wading in the shallows in Mobs Bay and a few other points along the south side of the Richmond River, towards the river mouth. I also had a great session fishing the run out tide in the corner of Lighthouse Beach. The swell had carved out a small gutter at the north end and I caught four flathead in quick succession, on one early morning session.
I fished my light spinning rod with about a 1.5 metre, 10lb fluorocarbon leader tied on to 12lb breaking strain braid and an 1/8th or 1/6th of an ounce, size 1 hook jighead. As usual, the GULP 3″ and 4″ minnow soft plastics in the watermelon pearl and lime tiger colours produced the most fish.
I caught a full bag of five legal sized fish several times and used them to cook a flathead fish pie – which is a firm favorite at home.
I returned to South Golden Beach at the beginning of April. I realised how fortunate we were to be located in this small town, close to Byron Bay, on the Northern New South Wales coast. Our beaches were not closed, our fishing was not curtailed and social distancing was very simple. The outlook for any kind of paid work looked pretty grim, but there would be plenty of fishing time.
I spent most of April extracting myself from my contracts in Asia and ‘furloughing’ everyone who works with me. Realistically, none of us could work until I could leave Australia and visit our various projects again. And that prospect looked a long way off. Unlike here in the ‘lucky country’ none of my team would receive any welfare assistance, so it was a pretty depressing process.
In between times I had a few fishing sessions in the Brunswick River. For once the river was very quiet. The caravan parks had emptied out and no one was allowed to leave home except for essential activities. Fishing was allowed under the exercise category – which was a relief. I caught flathead under the highway bridge and down by the river mouth, at Christmas Beach. I fished GULP soft plastic minnows and shrimps, using light leaders (10lb fluorocarbon) and light jigheads (no heavier than 1/8th of an ounce). Only about one in five of the flathead was over the legal size limit in New South Wales, which is 38cm. I caught about twenty over three sessions.
I also fished the beach gutters, when the weather was calm enough. I caught a few flathead this way, but not many bream. The northerly winds gradually change over to southerlies and the air temperature dropped. One cool morning I noticed a few abandoned chopper tailor heads on the beach in front of the New Brighton.
I was in Singapore and Thailand in early March, finishing some work when suddenly the world seemed to go mad. Flights were getting cancelled left, right and centre and whilst my Thai colleagues were still smiling, they were doing it from behind surgical masks. It was clearly time to head back to Australia so I flew back to Brisbane on a virtually empty plane, just before the quarantine system was implemented.
I felt fine but the Mrs thought 14 days of self-isolation would be a good idea. She did not need to ask twice, I had a unit booked in Iluka in just under 5 minutes – this was possibly the only good thing to come out of the whole COVID 19 crisis.
I picked up my car at Brisbane airport, stopped by my garage to grab my tackle, collect a pre-packed box of groceries and the all important toilet paper. I gave a the family a wave through the front doorway and I was on my way.
The first few days were dark and stormy, both physically and metaphorically. I sat watching the tv, listening to the media whipping us all into a frenzy. I concluded it would be best to turn off the tv for all but 30 minutes a day. The cruise ships started to resemble 19th century leper colonies and everyone rushed home from overseas. In Iluka not much changed – except they ran out of toilet paper in the IGA! I realised I truly live in the ‘lucky’ country as the the NSW government clarified that fishing was definitely a ‘permitted’ form of exercise.
I decided to stay away from everyone, keep washing my hands and get on to some fish. The groceries were soon running low so if I wanted protein I was going to have to catch it. The NSW National Parks & Wildlife service decided to close the Woody Head campground (understandable) and also shut the access roads to Frazers Reef, Back Beach and Woody Head (less understandable). Shark Bay beach vehicle access was then also inexplicably closed. Fortunately our right to access the coastline and fish was maintained through the Bluff Beach carpark.
Iluka was the ideal place to isolate. I generally managed 200 metres of social distancing and did not see a soul. The rain stopped and the weather cleared a little. On a couple of afternoons I walked out along the beach to the Shark Bay rock platform and cast slugs out into the setting sun, as the tide approached low. The fish were not plentiful but I managed a couple of keeper sized tailor the first night and tailor, bream and a small trevally, on the next evening. I caught the bream early in the afternoon on a GULP soft plastic minnow and the tailor just after dusk on a 65g Raider metal slug
The swell was pretty persistent and I had to wait a few more days before fishing the headlands would be possible and safe. I decided that I would walk round to Woody Head from the Shark Bay picnic area. It was a fair old trek but when I got there I had the whole rock platform to myself. Low tide was just after lunch and I was delighted to see a very light swell out in front.
I had some great sessions over the next few days casting slugs (mainly Halco Twistie and Streakers), big hard bodied lures and soft plastics. There were lots of tailor and trevally and I even pulled up a small kingfish. At one point I was losing fish to bite offs and after losing a couple of good lures, I swapped up to metal trace. I caught a couple more tailor and then witnessed a decent size shark cruise up behind my hooked tailor and take the fish, the lure and bite straight through the trace.
The swell soon came back up and I had to retreat to the river bank for a few days. Fortunately there were plenty of good bream to be had along the rock walls. Suddenly my fourteen days was up and I headed home to continue my lock down and fishing.
In February I started the month with a couple of morning sessions fishing along the Ballina river bank, close to the centre of town. If you follow the riverside walkway that runs parallel with the main high street you often see big schools of bait fish hanging close to the rocky banks. I worked my way along, casting soft plastics. I caught a couple of small bream and then a few small flathead. The air was still, hot and humid and the water was very clear.
A few days later the rain started and didn’t really stop for a week. The weather turned wild and fresh water poured off the parched paddocks into the estuaries. It looked like the drought was breaking. I went down to the Brunswick River but it was a brown frothy soup.
During a few breaks in the weather I drove down to Ballina to look around. The Richmond was also running brown, full of sediment and other rubbish. There were quite a few dead juvenile flathead, bream and other species floating in the flotsam and jetsam.
When the rain finally stopped it was clear I would have to fish in the ocean as the estuaries would stay dirty and full of fresh water for some time. By the middle of the month the swell had dropped off sufficiently to try fishing at Snapper Rocks at Broken Head. I started by trying to cast soft plastics over the froth churned up by the storms. There was also a lot of weed to contend with, especially when I let the soft plastic reach the bottom. Despite the obstacles, I caught a few dart using a 3 inch GULP minnow soft plastic weighted on a 1/4 ounce jighead. I stuck with the lime tiger colour as this seems to be a favorite with the dart.
A few days later with a light swell I was back in the same spot. I was casting soft plastics again and the dart were there again. I caught a few but then got bitten off by something more aggressive. I changed my leader from 16lb to 25lb flurocarbon and after a few more casts I hooked a tailor, which wriggled off as I tried to pull it up to my feet. Finally, about 20 minutes later I landed one, it was about 45cm long. I caught one more, a little smaller, but then they were gone. I tried a metal slug for a bit but did not get any hits. I swapped back to the GULP Minnow and started casting over to the south and letting the soft plastic float down slowly beside the base of the rocks. I had a couple of hits (presumably from the dart or bream) and then something took off with the lure. It was pulling hard so I tightened the drag a little and just wound in as fast as I could. After a couple of runs a decent trevally came into view. With the aid of the swell I pulled it clear of the rocks and up to my feet.
The next day I was back, to fish the last few hours of the run out tide. I started with a 40 gram metal slug but soon swapped back the same set up that had produced fish the day before; the GULP Lime Tiger Minnow soft plastic on a 1/4 ounce size 1/0 hook jighead. This turned the fish on and I caught a dart and then a couple of tailor in quick succession. I fished on and had a few more bites but after a couple of hours I was about to pack up. Just a few more casts and bang zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz – another trevally. This one did its best to bury itself in the cunjevoi covered rocks. We had a fair fight and I thought I had lost it but fortunately it untangled itself and I landed it.
That was it for the day but this is definitely a great spot to fish when there is little swell.
I was away most of January but I managed a couple of fishing sessions at the end of the month. The first was at Flat Rock, just south of Skennars Head and just north of Ballina. This area is best fished through a falling or low tide. I fished with my lighter rock fishing rig – this is currently a Shimano Stella 4000 matched to a Daiwa Crossfire Surf 1062 rod.
It was a great sunrise but not a particularly good mornings fishing. I caught a couple of very small bream on my first two casts and later I caught a decent sized dart. I got everything on the Gulp 3′ minnow soft plastic in the orange and lime green “Lime Tiger” colour. The dolphins kept patrolling the edge of the rock platform, so I am sure the fish were there. There was a fairly stiff onshore breeze which made casting tough and I snagged plenty of my jigheads.
A few days later, I fished the run out morning high tide for about three hours from its peak, at Mobs Bay, South Ballina. As I waded in the shallows, I found a few fairly small (25 to 35 cm) flathead. But it was the bream that were out in force. I caught 5 keeper sized bream and a few smaller ones. I was using my light spinning rod and reel rigged with 12 lb braid and about a metre of 10 lb breaking strain fluorocarbon leader. I caught them on a Gulp 3″ minnow soft plastic in the watermelon pearl colour, rigged on a 1/8th ounce, size 1 hook jighead. I was amazed at how happy they seemed to be, cruising around the mangrove roots and weed beds in less than a metre of water. I started to catch them as I slowed everything down. I would let the plastic sit on the bottom for as long as 30 seconds before starting the retrieve. They would often then strike as soon as I lifted the lure of the bottom.
I fished a few evening sessions in the Brunswick River without much success. The holidays delivered a fairly constant stream of paddlers and boats which made it hard to find an undisturbed stretch of water to fish. There were a few whiting in the shallows and plenty of tiny flathead, but I could not land dinner.
With bills piling up I had to disappear overseas in October and November to earn some money. There is no doubt that fishing is an addiction and an expensive one. Still, there are far worse things you could be addicted too and occasionally it provides dinner!
In December we had the continuing drought and the bush fires to deal with. I woke up several mornings to an ominous smoke filled sky at our place in South Golden Beach. Fortunately although I could smell them, the fires stayed a long way away.
It was hot and the winter species had long departed. The Brunswick River produced a few small flathead at the river mouth – especially on the very last hour of the run out tide. But, of the 10 flathead I caught over two sessions casting soft plastic lures, only one would have been legal to keep.
Just before Christmas I fished a few sessions in South Ballina, on the flats around Mobs Bay. My preference is to fish from the top of the tide through to about half way out, in this location. This worked fairly well and I ended up with three good flathead at each outing. I was fishing with my light spinning rig. This is a NS Blackhole 6′ SGII 602L trout rod. This rod is a true ‘Ultralight’ and picks up even the slightest of bites and touches. It does not have any grunt but it can handle a good sized flathead. I have recently swapped my 2500 Shimano Stella for a Daiwa TD Sol III 2500D LT reel. It is a bit clunkier than the Stella but I like the sturdier design, as I am always dropping it. The drag is good and I like the heavier bail arm. I had teh reel loaded with 12lb braid and about a metre of 10lb fluorocarbon leader. I was fishing with a 1/8th of an ounce/ size 1 hook jighead and the GULP 4″ Minnow soft plastic in the pearl watermelon colour got the flathead to bite.
At the beginning of September I fished a couple of sessions at the end of the South Ballina rockwall. I caught a few good bream, chiefly on small minnow shaped soft plastics. I also landed a few luderick and a couple of small trevally. I am sure the tailor come and go around this headland but I have yet to encounter them.
For the rest of the month. I focused on wading the flats and fishing for flathead in South Ballina. I had success in two areas – the mud flats, just to the south of the Burns Point ferry landing and all around the sand banks and weed beds of Mobs Bay. This is a big bay near the river mouth with all the ingredients that flathead love; rockwalls, shifting sandbars, weed beds and good tidal flow.
Research suggests that flathead will spawn throughout the year, apart from in mid to late winter. Despite this I often catch fish full of eggs in August and September. They certainly still seem to school up with the bigger tides in the lead up to the full and the new moons.
I fished Mobs Bay with soft plastic lures. Typically I used a light spin rod and reel loaded with 10lb breaking strain braid and a 10 or 12lb fluorocarbon leader. My favourite brand of soft plastics are still the Berkley GULP range and if I had to pick my ‘go to’ pattern for flathead, it would be the 4″ minnow shape. In the pearl watermelon colour it looks very much like a small pilchard.
I fished about 5 times in September and caught plenty of flathead. The vast majority of the fish I caught were in the 25 cm to 35 cm size range and so they went back to be caught again when they are big enough.
I caught the biggest flathead (about 60cm long) in the lead to the full moon on the 12th, at the base of the rockwall, near the river mouth.
In August the weather had warmed up a little but the water had finally cooled down. I tried a few different fishing methods in the Brunswick River, where the bream can be easy to find but hard to catch. I started with small soft plastics, which would mostly just catch small flathead. In the end I worked out that throwing in some burley (small bread cubes) seemed to get the fish in the mood. Once a decent crowd of fish had assembled I would pull a jighead with some bread on it, along the bottom. This method caught a few fish. So I refined it and started floating an unweighted size 6 hook with a small dough cube down towards the fish. This worked better but, overall it was hard work and most of my catch was barely big enough to keep.
I was only fishing the river when the swell made fishing the beaches or rocks to tricky. Whenever I found a good gutter on the beach between the northwall of the Brunswick River and South Golden Beach, I would go down at dusk and try flicking soft plastic lures around. I found a few little flathead using this method (but not many keepers) and no tailor.
On a couple of calmer mornings, I fished the beach at Lennox Head. There is plenty of structure here and if the swell permits, it is great to fish the gaps in the rocks for flathead and bream. Over a few days I caught trevally, bream and flathead, all on soft plastic minnows. The back half of the run out tide was the most productive time to fish.
I also took advantage of the lighter swell to have a fish at Flat Rock, just north of the Richmond River mouth, near Ballina, in August. This is a great fishing platform but it requires wind, tide and swell to be friendly – to deliver the fish. I started off fishing the eastern side on a falling tide and caught a beautiful elegant wrasse on a soft plastic. A little later, as the tide turned to run in I caught a few bream on the same lures.
I then moved round to the southern side, where I have seen fishermen catch some very good tailor and jewfish. I was using my Daiwa Crossfire Surf 1062 rod matched with a Shimano Stella 4000 reel. I wrigged them with 20lb braid and a 16lb fluorocrabon leader. This rod is just big enough to throw a 40 gram slug and so I tied one on and threw one out over the reef ledge into the surf. After a few casts I hooked a fish which I though was a very solid tailor. It pulled really hard. When i finally go a look I was very surprised to see it was a small kingfish about 45cm long. I released it and carried on casting but did not get another.
I rounded out the month with a trip across the river on the ferry to South Ballina. I fished my lighter spinning rig along the south rockwall and caught a few flathead and bream. The end of the wall always seems to produce good bream and there are usually flathead around, as you move upriver and the water gets shallower.
It took a long time for winter to arrive in 2019. In fact, the water stayed warm pretty much all through June and July. I persisted with exploring the beach fishing to the north of the Brunswick River mouth, whenever possible.
I also had a few sessions on the headlands between Lennox and Ballina. I did quite well fishing soft plastic minnows at the north end of Sharpes Beach. Over a few mornings I caught some 35cm + bream, trevally and even a few jewfish, one of which was just over 70 cm long and therefore big enough to keep.
As most of my followers will know I love to fish with soft plastics and light rigs. I was catching the odd flathead and bream in the surf on a traditional jig head rigged soft plastic minnows and shrimps, but I was putting in a lot of casts for very few fish. So in July I experimented with rigging my GULP 4″ minnows, unweighted on a regular baitholder or trueturn hook at the end of about 30 cm of 20lb fluorocarbon leader, running up to a small swivel and sinker. This seemed to be more successful and I had a few quite good bream sessions on the beach.
As we moved towards the full moon in the middle of the month, I noticed a few keen local anglers fishing for tailor on dusk, on the beach near North Head. On the evening of the full moon I decided to join them and with a GULP 4″ minnow rigged on a size 4 Trueturn hook with a size 1 sinker further up the leader. I was using my 3.6m / 12 foot Daiwa Crossfire Surf 1202L, 20lb braid and a 20lb flurocarbon leader. I was casting out as far as I could and letting the plastic waft around. I started about 40 minutes before sunset. Just after sunset I felt the rod tip start to bend and as I took up the slack I realised there was a fish on. This rod does not have much power so I had to be patient but after about 15 minutes of back and forth in the swell I pulled up a chunky tailor about 55cm long.
So on reflection there was plenty of variety on June and July, especially in the run up to the full moon
There was no time for fishing in April but May and June saw me back down at my new HQ near Brunswick Heads on the Northern New South Wales coast. I am still finding my feet in this area so my sessions are often hit and miss. I still have not found any consistent spots where I can catch supper. Its almost as if there is too much choice – the beaches, the river or the rocks? I keep my ever expanding tackle supplies and a few rods in the boot of car and I am generally driven by the wind, swell and tides.
I fished the area near the mouth of the Brunswick River on a few evenings in the run up to the June full moon and I caught a few flathead on each occasion, but they were all around the 30 cm mark, so I released them. There must be plenty of fish around here as the dolphins are frequent visitors. The last hour of the run out tide was most successful.
On other days I put in the hours in the beach gutters to the south of New Brighton for pretty poor results. I was chucking a slug just pre-dawn and after dusk which was not very successful and then big plastics with light leaders, which did land the odd bream and small tailor, later in June.
I clambered down the cliff at Broken Head (south of Byron Bay) on a couple of afternoons, but the swell made fishing quite tricky. I persisted and ended up with some good sized dart on soft plastic minnows.
I am still working it out, another 50 years and I will have mastered it!