Hastings Point – 18 September 2020

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.

South Ballina – 7 September 2020

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.

Cloudy start to a South Ballina fishing session

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.

Tailor on a 60 g slug

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.

How did I miss ?

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)

Brunswick River – Brunswick Heads – 1 September 2020

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┬áLT 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.

Whites Head and Skennars Head – 28 August 2020

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.

Great sunrise

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.

GULP Jerkshad Lime Tiger
Half a GULP Jerkshad works just fine

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.

South Ballina – 17 August 2020

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.

The bait was back

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.