A few bad days fishing and a distinct lack of trophy fish this year, combined to convince me I needed to go exploring. I have always wanted to go and fish the rock ledges at Hat Head in New South Wales and so I drove down from Brisbane on Monday. It’s a long way 500+ kms but Hat Head has almost legendary status among rock and land based game fisherman so I wanted to see it and, hopefully catch a few fish.
I arrived late afternoon Monday and checked into a cabin at the caravan park. Rain had been threatening all day and a strong northerly was blowing. It was about 4.30 pm, so I decided to walk the track around Korogoro Point (Hat Head) before dark so I could get an idea of where to fish in the morning. It takes about an hour to walk around the headland and the track is pretty good.
Next morning I was glad I had done the recce. I was up at 3.30 am and loaded up with light and heavy rods and all my gear and marching across the small foot bridge from the township to the National Park at about 4.00 am. The new moon had emerged on Monday so there was virtually no light. The track was difficult to make out with just my headlamp, so I was glad I had a general idea of where I was going. It was a bit cloudy, but with no moon the stars were pretty impressive.
I carried my rods out front to avoid a face full of overnight spider webs. I had decided to fish first on the ‘Spinning Ledge’ on the north east side of the headland. This is probably the safest fishing spot on the headland and seemed like the best place to get acquainted with local conditions. I followed the path slowly along the north side of the headland and arrived at about 4.45 am, just as the horizon was showing a hint of light.
I sat down well away from the water’s edge and rigged up while watching the swell. There was lots of foamy wash so I decided to start with the heavy rig and throw a few large DUO shallow diving hard bodied minnows. I was fishing with the Shimano Stradic 8000FJ and Daiwa Demon Blood 962H rod, 30lb braid and initially, a 30lb fluorocarbon leader.
First on the scene was a whale, less than 50 metres off shore, I heard it blow and scanned the water. I just caught site of its shiny black back as it submerged. A minute or so later it reappeared. It hung around for about 15 minutes surfacing every now and then. I started fishing, but after about thirty casts I had not had a bite on the hard body, so I decided to swap to a soft plastic lure.
I stuck with the big rod and tied on a 3/8th oz 2/0 hook jighead and chose a GULP 4” Smelt Minnow. I did not get any bites for about 15 minutes. I then felt a solid hit at the base of the rocks, but did not hook up. I pulled the plastic up and it had a big bite mark. I peppered the area with casts but came up blank.
I moved a little further round the rocks towards the area known cheerily as the ‘Death Hole’. There is an inlet here which looks like it has a cave at the back. The mouth of the inlet looked very fishy so I changed soft plastics to a GULP 5” Crazylegs Jerkshad in the Black Shad colour. I cast out into the middle of the inlet and let the lure sink.
When I started the retrieve I thought it was snagged, in fact I think a fish had eaten it and taken it under a ledge. I tightened the drag and gave a solid heave to try and break it off and then it came out and started fighting. I loosened the drag a little and looked at my options for landing the fish. It did not look good, the water was a few metres below me and there was a flat wall down to it. I tried to pull the fish around to the front of the mouth of the inlet to a more sloped ledge, where I could grab it.
But the fish would not give up, I tightened the drag again but it just kept taking line as I tried to turn its head. Then I saw it – it was a very decent Jewfish – around 10 to 15 kg. Try as I might I just could not get it round to the landing point and after a decent fight it eventually got its head down under a rock and the leader sawed through.
I caught my breath, re-rigged with the same soft plastic and thought a bit more carefully about where to land a fish, if I found another. I cast out my offering and the fish took it before it reached to bottom. This was a much smaller Jewfish and I was able to lift it up with the rod. It was just over 50 cm, so I put it in the keeper bag. It was now about 6.45 am and high tide would be at about 9.30 am.
I cut the head off the soft plastic, put it back on the jighead and chucked it back out. Three casts later and I was on to another fish. This one was bigger so I let it take a few runs in the wash before coaxing it round to the sloping rock. Then I tightened the drag and pulled it up the sloping rock with a decent wave. I grabbed the leader and gently pulled it up to my feet, where the leader snapped. I grabbed the fish. It was another Jewfish that measured just under 70cm.
Over the next hour, I had a few more bites but no hook ups. I got snagged and lost the last of the GULP Crazylegs Jerkshads in the tackle bag, so I swapped to a regular Jerkshad in the Cajun Chicken colour and dropped down to a 20lb leader. A few casts later I felt a solid hit and I was hooked up again. This was another small Jewfish, around 45 cm. I landed it safely, took out the lure and put the fish back. I carried on until about 8.30 am and then decided it was time to get the fish back to the fridge.
It was a long walk back with about 5kg of fish and all my gear, but it had been a great introduction to Hat Head.