On Monday afternoon the temperature shot up and the wind blew from the north all night. A small storm had passed at about 3.30 am and woken me up. So Tuesday morning was warm and humid. A big southerly wind change was due late morning so I decided to have a look at Frazer’s Reef around sunrise. Conditions were calm, the tide was running in and it was a few days after the new moon.
I started fishing with the heavy rod – 40lb braid and 40lb fluorocarbon leader. I started with a 1/4 ounce, 1/0 hook jighead loaded with a Lucky Craft Mad Scientist Optishad in the Motor Oil colour. This is another paddletail soft plastic with a really great action. The first taker was a small big eye trevally, in close to the rocks. I put what was left of the soft plastic back on and a few casts later a 45 cm tailor ate it. The plastic was now unusable so I put on a GULP Lime Tiger coloured jerkshad. A few casts later a fish grabbed it and tried to get under the rock ledge. The tough leader held and I pulled up a bigger trevally.
Things then went quiet so after losing a jighead to the rocks, I re-rigged with a lighter 25lb leader. The tide was now running in, strongly. The paddletail soft plastic had got the fish to bite earlier so I went back to that idea and put on a 5″ GULP Paddleshad in the Pink Belly colour. I watched the swell and hopped the plastic across the bottom, as close as I could, parallel with the ledge. After about four retrieves I thought I was snagged but then I felt a bit of give and a good solid run. It was a jewfish/ mulloway, fortunately it swam out into open water and played itself out. I lifted it onto a lower ledge then pulled it up to me by the leader. It was 72cm long and as we had already demolished the one from a few days before, I kept it.
When I gutted it, I had a look in its stomach and it was full of small school prawns. These are currently pretty thick in the lower reaches of the Clarence River.
The early start had paid off with a couple of good fish and good conditions.
Very strong south easterlies had been blowing all week. I had tried a few sheltered spots around Iluka, but had only managed a few bream and small trevally. Everything was just too stirred up and finding anywhere safe to stand was too hard.
The winds dropped off on the Friday and the south easterlies were replaced by a strong northerly wind. This flattened out the seas a little and by lunchtime on Saturday I decided to try fishing at Woody Head. It was an early afternoon low tide at about 2.30 pm. The northerly wind was forecast to fall through the afternoon. The moon would be new on Sunday. The wind was still gusty from the north but the swell had flattened considerably.
I started fishing with my heavier set up – 40lb leader, 40lb braid, casting a DUO Drag Metalcast around. This produced nothing. Then a Gulp Jerkshad (various colours). This produced a 45cm trevally and then a 35cm bream. Initially I was fishing with a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and then on a heavier 3/8th ounce, 2/0 hook jighead, to counteract the fairly strong northerly wind.
I had been casting a GULP Lime Tiger coloured jerkshad around and I was thinking of swapping to a more natural coloured soft plastic when something grabbed the plastic very close. It initially turned to swim away but soon rethought its strategy and headed under the ledge. The drag was pretty tight but the fish didn’t even pause. My braid was soon rubbing on the rocks and then – snap! I re-rigged and tightened the drag, but things seemed to go quiet for a while. The tide was now pushing in quite quickly. I kept casting and the next fish on the scene was a trevally, about 45cm long.
At about 3.30 pm I had moved a little south along the ledge. I dropped down to the light rock fishing rig with 16lb leader and 20lb braid. I cast out a GULP Lime Tiger coloured Crazylegs Jerkshad. This was smacked on the drop and taken straight under the rock ledge – the braid snapped almost instantly. I cursed my impatience and swapped back to the heavy rod with 40lb leader and a 3/8th ounce size 2/0 jighead. I put another GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad on. This paid off and after a few casts something whacked the soft plastic on the drop and took off. Fortunately it decided to swim away from the ledge and this gave me some time. It was powerful but after an initial run I seemed to have it under control. I pulled it up with a wave surge and was delighted to see it was a snapper (later weighed in – gutted and scaled – at 3.8kg)
The next day would be an even lower low tide and I started fishing in the same spot at about 3.00 pm. The swell had continued to drop off and the wind was a light south-easterly. The first taker was a bream. I released it and carried on. About 10 minutes later I felt a fish grab then lure then drop it, a few metres out from the ledge. I cast out again and slowed down my retrieve. Something fast grabbed it and took off with a long run. I got some line back but then it ran again. I tightened the drag and wound like mad as it suddenly turned and decided to swim straight for the ledge. Fortunately, by the time it tried to change its mind, I had virtually locked up the drag and pulled it in on a wave. It was a surprising small (50cm) kingfish. I have only ever caught a few of these and their power and speed always surprises me. I released it, hoping for more, but did not get any.
I moved further south to where I had caught the snapper the day before. I was temporarily out of the Crazylegs Jerkshads so I found a 6″ GULP Squid Vicious in the New Penny colour and cast that out. It was now almost 5.00pm and the tide was running in. On about the third cast I thought I had the bottom, then it started wriggling and took off. One long solid run and then a couple of head shakes but no real power (compared to the kingfish). It was decent school jewfish and I was able to successfully pull it up to my feet. It was just over 75 cm long and so it joined the snapper in the fridge.
A couple of great sessions once the weather allowed me to get to the fish, lets hope it stays calm for a while.
While I was fishing the Clarence River at Goodwood Island a dead whale had washed up on the beach at Shark Bay in Iluka. I drove past the beach entrance and found it closed with a large cohort of National Parks trucks in attendance and a 30 tonne excavator just being delivered. I parked up and walked out onto the beach to have a look.
It was amazing to see this huge creature washed up. It had obviously only recently died as there was no smell or predator damage. Two chaps from the Coffs Harbour Dolphin Marine Research Centre were on hand to cut it open and see what it had died of. It was covered in more than normal numbers of sea lice, which they said meant it had probably been sick for some time. The plan was to move it up the beach with the excavator so that the high tide would not carry it away before they could conduct their a post mortem, the next day.
There is no easy way of getting rid of a dead whale. So it was decided it would be sent to landfill after the postmortem. Not a very dignified end. I think it would be more noble to tow it out to sea and let the other predators ‘recycle’ it. However there was a risk it would keep washing back in and the sharks would be around for months following it, so it was cut up and sent to landfill.
I had hoped the blood and guts might bring the fish in but the excavator crew did a pretty good job of tidying up and the next day there was little trace on the beach. Just a few barnacles and dead sea lice.
That evening in another howling south easterly wind I tried to fish the north side of the Shark Bay rock platform. I cast metal slugs and hard bodies and eventually dropped down to small minnow and other soft plastics. I found a few fish but not what you would expect – a big pike, butter bream and a few small bream. Finally something crunched through my jighead in the shallows – I suspect a wobbegong.
I arrived for a few days of fishing in Iluka. With everybody locked in to Australia, it is getting hard to find accomodation in some of my favorite fishing spots – especially at the weekends. So I had booked ahead for this week. Unfortunately the weather did not play ball. A big southerly storm blew in on the night I arrived and the wind was forecast to be blowing around 25 knots for a few days.
So on the Wednesday afternoon I decided to get out of the wind on the Sandon River, just to the south of Brooms Head. This is a very shallow estuary that is only worth fishing from about high tide. I set out in my waders about an hour after the tide had started running out. The water was crystal clear and running out quickly. I was fishing with my light spin set up -10lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/8th ounce, size 1 hook jighead. I started with the paddle tail soft plastic I am really enjoying using that was recommended to me by Mark Berg. It is from the Scandinavian brand Westin and it is called a Shadteez. I was using the 10 cm/4 inch. It has a great paddletail action but I particularly like the orange belly on the ‘Dirty Harbour’ colour. I hopped it along the bottom and soon found some flathead, but they were all pretty tiny. I swapped to a soft plastic minnow and cast it along the edge of a big weed bank. I caught a couple of small bream but I could not find dinner.
The next day I decided to have a look around in the Clarence River. There are are some good sand flats towards the southern end of Goodwood Island. On the Wednesday morning I drove down to the Goodwood Island Wharf (just downstream of Browns Rocks) and waded out to look for some flathead. I am always amazed at how dramatically the underwater terrain changes in a big river estuary. The tides, current, rain, sun and wind all conspire to make it unrecognisable from one year to the next. Several years ago this area was carpeted in sea grass and muddy yabby banks. Now the seagrass has disappeared completely and the yabby banks are sandier and (thankfully) a little firmer under foot.
The tide had just started to run in strongly and despite the howling south-easterly the water was very clear. I started with a GULP 3″ Minnow soft plastic in the Lime Tiger colour. I loaded this onto a 1/8th ounce, size 1 jighead. I waded in the direction of the river mouth putting in long casts up into the incoming tide and then slowly hopping the lure back towards me along the bottom. I was staying about waist deep in the water. I caught a couple of very small (25cm) flathead that were moving up with the tide.
I was moving slowly and quietly and suddenly heard a ‘boof’ and a splash between me and the river bank. I paused and it happened again, about 10 metres from me in about 25cm of water. Something was chasing the tiny jelly prawns that are currently plentiful in the shallows. I cast in that direction, counted to ten and slowly lifted then jigged up my rod tip. I paused for another ten, then the same drill. On the third lift I hooked the fish. It was a flathead just over 40 cm.
The flathead were clearly here. But as I slowly found out they were mostly very small. I moved between shallower and deeper water. I changed from a slow to fast retrieve and even contemplated pumping some yabbies. But despite frequent soft plastic and hard bodied lure changes, I could not catch another legal sized flathead. I caught plenty of small ones – about 12 in two hours, but most were between 20 and 30 cm long. I had found the nursery. Next session I would be looking for the grown ups.
On Wednesday the swell was forecast to drop right off to about 0.7 metres all along the northern New South Wales coast. So it was time to try fishing off the rocks again. Low tide would be around 6.30 am so I decided to fish at Flat Rock, just to the south of Skennars Head.
I arrived about 5.45 am, just after first light and walked out on to the eastern edge of the rock platform. As the sun came over the horizon and low tide approached, the swell remained a good deal heavier than the forecast 0.7 metres.
I was fishing with my light rock fishing rig – Daiwa Crossfire 1062 rod and Shimano Stella 4000 reel, 20lb braid and 12lb fluorocarbon leader. I started fishing with 1/6th ounce, 1/0 hook jighead and loaded it with a 4″minnow soft plastic in the pearl watermelon colour. After half an hour I had only felt a couple of light tugs at the soft plastic so I decided to move round to the southern edge of the rock platform and fish there.
This was just too hard as with persistent swell I could not cast my hard bodied or soft plastic lures over the ledges into the deeper water beyond. With no luck and now thoroughly soaked, I went back round to the eastern side. The tide was now coming in. I put on a GULP 2″ Shrimp soft plastic in the Nuclear Chicken colour and cast it out as far as I could. A fish picked it up on the drop and the rod tip bent over. It was a solid dart, just of 40 cm long. I kept casting and the dart kept coming. When I ran out of my Nuclear Chicken Shrimps I swapped to a GULP 3″ Lime Tiger minnow soft plastic and this continued to catch more dart. They seem to like the high contrast colours. I also caught a couple of small bream.
Eventually the tide forced me to retreat from my spot. The final tally was 14 dart of which I kept the best five for supper.
There were more big winds and swell in October. Having slowed slightly for the European summer, COVID 19 was continuing its spread around the world and picking up pace, so international travel and any paid work looked a very long way off for me. At least I was not ‘confined to barracks’ like the entire population of Melbourne.
I gave up on the rocks and looked for alternatives. I decided to explore the land based fishing options along the Evans River at Evans Head on the Far North Coast of New South Wales. This is a beautiful estuary. It is wide and shallow very near its mouth, but there are some deep channels, holes and rockbars up river. It can be very busy at holiday times and when the seas are up, so mid-week is the best time to fish it.
I put in three sessions which were mainly aimed at getting to know the terrain. On the first, I fished a couple of coffee rock overhangs on the southern riverbank, about 1 km upstream of the rockwall and river mouth. I used my light spinning combo with 10lb fluorocarbon leader, 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and loaded a GULP 3″ Minnow soft plastic in the Watermelon Pearl colour. I let this flutter down in the fairly strong current. The idea was to hop it down the shallow side of the river bed (in this case the opposite bank) and leave it wobbling on the bottom just under the overhang. This resulted in a snagging a couple of jigheads/ plastics but also in getting a couple of good bites. There was plenty of bait hanging around in the eddies. My first take was a very small bream, followed by a very small flathead. I moved further down towards the mouth and cast into any of the darker/ deeper pools. I felt a few quick bites and eventually hooked a small trevally before giving up at dead low tide, in the early afternoon.
For the second session a few days later, I fished the morning run out tide a little further up the northern bank of the river. Initially, with water waist deep I focused on bouncing a high contrast soft plastic – the GULP 2″ Shrimp in the Nuclear Chicken colour along the edge of the weed banks and in close to a few oyster covered rock clumps. This produced the best fish of the day which was a 42 cm flathead. I released it and kept wading up river. Over the next couple of hours I caught eight more flathead, all between 25 and 35 cm long. They were mainly sitting on the edge of sandbars. As I found a rockier stretch of river bank I also found quite a few small bream.
In my final exploration I walked through some bush to reach a stretch of bank even further up the river. I was fishing the top of the tide and the start of the run out. I battled through the scrub until I found an opening to cast from. The water looked about two to three metres deep close in to the bank and a turtle popped up to have a look at me, as I rigged up. It was going to be a struggle to land anything decent here as the trees and shrubs were hanging all over the bank which itself was about 1.5 metres above the water. There were plenty of small schools of mullet swimming by and lots of smaller bait. I started with a GULP 2″ Shrimp soft plastic in the Peppered Prawn colour. I caught a couple of 25 cm bream and then something pulled the plastic off the hook. I reloaded, this time with my all time favorite – the GULP 4″ Minnow in the Watermelon Pearl colour. I cast out and just as it reached the bank something powerful grabbed it and headed straight under the overhanging bank. With the light rod I could not muscle it out and I loosened the drag to see if it would swim out. After a couple of minutes the line started to drift out in to the channel, so I tightened up again but it was too powerful and went straight back in. I felt the line rubbing on something then it snapped. Probably a cod – maybe a jack? I re-rigged with another of the same soft plastic and after a few casts pulled up a remora – a very strange fish that basically sticks on to turtles, sharks and rays. I photographed and released it.
I moved to another spot a little further along the bank and cast into the eddies. There was plenty of small bait around and this stretch of coffee rock bank had a big school of tiny butter bream sitting next to it. I saw a flash of silver swipe at my plastic and thought it might be a trevally. I slowed things right down and let the plastic sit on the bottom for a while. When I lifted it I hooked a small school jewfish. I pulled it up to my feet. It must have been about 40cm long. I took a photograph and threw it back. I could not find anymore and gave up.
It was a great introduction to the Evans River and I am looking forward to some dawn and dusk sessions.
I always keep an eye on the weather forecast, looking for a period of low swell that will allow me to safely fish the rocks – which is currently my favorite fishing style. In late September three or four days of low swell were forecast for Northern New South Wales. The school holidays were about to start and despite (or maybe because of) all the COVID 19 travel restrictions, all the accomodation in Northern New South Wales would soon be booked out for a fortnight.
So I grabbed my chance and on the 22 September I drove down to Iluka along the newly opened section of the Pacific Highway. The highway now bypasses the small towns of Wardell, Broadway and Woodburn and reduces the drive south from Byron to Iluka, to less than 90 minutes.
The reason the sea had flattened out was the arrival of northerly and north-westerly winds. The full moon was about a week away and the low tide would be early in the mornings. We were about to swap from winter to summer and the fishing often goes off a little as the weather becomes a bit more erratic. I dropped into Iluka Bait and Tackle when I arrived – https://www.facebook.com/Iluka-Bait-and-Tackle-608266152650241/. Apparently winter has been excellent for tailor, jew and bream fishing but things had slowed down a little in the couple of weeks prior to my arrival. I always drop in to see Ross at the store. He is a great source of up to date info and has an excellent range of lures/ bait terminal tackle, jigheads and soft plastics. Unlike many small local fishing shops, his prices are also very reasonable.
I was up early everyday and out fishing at Woody Head just before dawn. It was calm enough to fish right off the front of the rock platform. I fully expected a few tailor or jewfish, but they were nowhere to be found. There were a few bream and dart, but the dominant predator was the Australian Salmon. This was a surprise as these have been missing from these waters for a few years.
I started off in the mornings fishing at the northern end of the Woody Head rock platform, at the spot known locally as ‘the Barnacles’. On the first day I fished through dawn with large hard bodies and then dropped down to a 6o gram brass coloured Halco Twisty metal slug. I was using 30lb braid and 30lb fluorocarbon leader.
I had a few bumps on a big hard body and could see the bait jumping around in front of my lure but I did not hook anything. Once I put the Halco Twisty on, things improved. I felt a grab and then another and finally, on about the tenth fast retrieve, I hooked a solid fish. It fairly quickly lept out of the water revealing it was an Australian Salmon. I tightened my drag and got some line back. It was a heavy fish and they fight hard. They don’t have much in the way of teeth but they do jump a lot, so you have to keep the line tight. I got it up to just below the ledge and got soaked by a wave, trying to heave it up next to me. On the next surge I tried to muscle it over the edge but it gave a powerful slap of its tail and spat the hook out, just as it came to my feet. It then left with the next wave. I checked my lure and realised I had a fairly light, fine wire single hook on it – which had now bent open. I put on another slug but I could not find anymore.
I swapped to my lighter rock fishing rig – 20lb braid and a 12lb fluorocarbon leader. On my way down, I had dropped in to BCF in Ballina to find lots of packets of the GULP Lime Tiger Jerkshads and GULP Nuclear Chicken shrimp soft plastics marked down to $5 a packet. I know these catch fish, so I grabbed as many as I could and added them to the tacklebox. I loaded up a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead with a GULP Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour and started casting. I cast it all around and eventually caught some kind of small wrasse with bright red fins. I swapped to the GULP 2″ Shrimp in the Nuclear Chicken colour and threw that out and this snared a couple of small bream.
The next morning I decided to cast some GULP jerkshads around on dawn, to see if I could tempt a jewfish. Unfortunately all I found was another small red finned wrasse. When I swapped to a smaller soft plastic, I caught a small speckled rock fish and a few more bream.
I swapped to a 40g DUO DragMetal Cast Slow lure. This is a slow jig and although you cannot exactly ‘slow jig’ it off the rocks, it is a a bit more exciting than a plain metal slug. I hop it back to me fairly quickly, but give it time to reach the surface, then flutter down again. I saw a boatie, about 100 metres out, hook something and start a fairly serious fight. I cast in his direction and felt a hit on the retrieve. I cast again. This time I made sure to exaggerate the hops and it paid off. Line started peeling and I let the fish run. It was another Australian Salmon, but this time it was solidly hooked and I managed to land it. It was just on 60cm long. As I was de-hooking it it spat up another large baitfish.
I have tried but I can’t make Australian Salmon taste good. I hear they are usually netted and used for pet food by the professional fisherman. I decided to cut out the middleman and keep this one for the cat.
The next day I followed a similar drill. I caught nothing much around dawn but at about 7.30 am I managed to find the Salmon with a new soft plastic – the GULP 4″ Paddle Shad in the Silver Mullet colour. This one has just appeared in the GULP range and I like it. We plastics fisherman have always lacked a decent scented paddle tail lure and this one is great. Now we just need them to make it in the Watermelon Pearl colour. I lost another Salmon to the rocks a little later, using the same soft plastic.
On my final day the wind was strong and cold, from the west, but the swell was still light. I fished a little further along the Woody Head rock platform, to the south. Around dawn I caught a couple of decent bream and a good dart. I had broken the tip on my Daiwa Crossfire 1062 rod, so I had I matched my Daiwa TD SOL LT 6000 DH with my NS Black Hole Cabin II S862L rod, 30lb braid and 16lb fluorocarbon leader. At about 8.30am, I was fishing with a GULP 4′ Minnow soft plastic in the Watermelon Pearl colouring on 1/6th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I cast it out towards the tip of rocky out crop and let it sink. As I lifted the rod I felt some weight and something started taking line. Almost straight away it leaped out of the water trying to spit out the soft plastic. It was well hooked and after a couple of big leaps and runs it calmed down and I used the swell to land it.
That was it for my trip. Summer is coming and it is time to change tactics.