Ballina & Broken Head – February 2020

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.

Flat Rock & South Ballina – January 2020

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.

Brunswick River and South Ballina – December 2019

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.

Mobs Bay and South Ballina rockwall – September 2019

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.

A decent South Ballina flathead from the base of the rocks

Brunswick River, Lennox Head Beach & Flat Rock – August 2019

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.

Brunswick River bream like bread
Clearwater and plenty of food makes the bream hard to catch
The Brunswick River

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.

Lennox Head mixed bag

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.