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)