Iluka – Woody Head – 5 March 2021

When I arrived to fish at Woody Head on Friday, the swell was around the 1.2 m level and rising. There was a fairly brisk south easterly breeze and it was picking up. At least it had finally stopped raining. Conditions were fairly hairy – the water was still very murky and stirred up and the surf was crashing pretty hard into the rock platform. It was now about a week after the full moon.

I started just after first light by casting 60g metal lures around but this did not stir up any fish. The tide and swell was too high to fish to the north east, off the rock known as ‘Barnacle Bob’. It is usually too hard to get to apart from at absolute low tide on a very calm day. I settled on fishing about 30 metres to the south.

I was using my fairly new DAIWA Saltist X 962 MH rod matched with a TD SOL SOL III LT 6000D-H spinning reel. I was using 40lb braid and a 30lb fluorocarbon leader.I put a GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour on a 3/8th ounce 1/0 hook size jighead and cast it out.

In my experience in this spot, if the jewfish or good bream are around, they are generally schooled up very close to the base of the rocks. That is a very difficult place to leave your soft plastic for any length of time and I can only imagine that the sea floor coral bommies are covered in jigheads! I put in a few casts, pausing for as long as I dared while the lure was in the strike zone. Eventually my strategy paid off and my rod tip bent over. It was a solid fish but my drag was pretty tight and I soon turned its head. Timing is everything in this spot and if you are lucky, the swell will wash the fish up the stepped ledges to your feet. That is exactly what happened and I looked down at an 80cm jewfish. It was 5.22 am and the sun would not be fully over the horizon for another 20 minutes.

I continued fishing through dawn and caught a decent bluefin trevally on the same soft plastic and couple of ambitious bream. Then I got greedy. At about 8.00 am it was low tide and I convinced myself that I could stand a little further to the north and cast a big stickbait out to the northeast, to a spot where I was sure there would be fish. I watched the swell and walked out between the bigger wave sets and cast out. I did this about four times safely and then my lure got caught in the cunjevoi and as I pulled it free, my line tangled around the rod tip. I was looking up at the tip when a wave came from nowhere and took my feet from under me. It washed me down over the barnacles and I end up floating in the pond of water that pools up behind ‘Barnacle Bob’. I had my lifejacket on but the water was only about a meter deep and the residual swell was gently pushing me ashore. Unfortunately I had washed up right in front another angler who had been fishing for bream in the wash. I had completely buggered up his bite but I think he was quite relieved when I emerged in one piece from the water.

I stood up clutching my rod. I patted myself down and I was still in one piece with all limbs operational and no blood streaming from anywhere. I had had a very lucky escape. I later realised the barnacles had left their mark on my right buttock and elbow but otherwise I was just bruised. I am confessing to my stupidity in the hope that it will be an example of what not to do for others. But I am also a slow learner as I did almost exactly the same thing about 11 years ago and still have the scars on my left thigh to prove it. Always remember rock fishing is one of the most dangerous sports out there. If you really have to stop and think about whether or not a spot it is safe enough to fish – it isn’t .

I limped off with my jewfish.

Iluka – Shark Bay – 2/3/4 March 2021

On March 2nd I decided not to fish but I still woke early, caught sunrise and had a look at the swell at Iluka Bluff. Fortunately the mid-morning high tide and the 1.5m swell meant fishing would be too hard in this spot anyway.

Iluka Bluff sunrise

I retired to my cabin and ran through my tackle. It is amazing how you always find something missing and convince yourself that if only you had it, your fishing results would vastly improve. I am currently having an internal struggle over soft plastic jerkshads vs shad/paddletails. I have always been a fan of the minnow and jerkshad soft plastic lure profiles but, with the arrival of a really good shad tail in the GULP range – the Paddleshads -, I am having to think harder about what will work best.

GULP Paddleshad
GULP Jerkshad

I would just like to clarify that apart from a 3″ Minnow Grub sample packet, given to me by Adam ‘Mad Dog’ Royter at a Jones Tackle Brisbane soft plastics information evening in about 2007 – I have received no inducement / money/ free stuff to carry on using or writing about GULP soft plastics. I use them because they have consistently worked for me and I believe their fairly soft texture and the scent/ gunk that they are infused with gives them an edge over other soft plastics. But the other key element is confidence. If you are confident that a particular type of lure or soft plastic will catch fish (usually based on your own past experience) then you persist with it far longer than you would when you are trying out something new. This usually means you catch more fish with it.

But back to the Paddlshad vs Jerkshad comparison. I am currently persuaded that Jerkshads and Minnows work better on the tailor, bream and dart but Paddleshads are more attractive to the mulloway and flathead. But I also believe that a scented Jerkshad/ Minnow will outfish a unscented Paddleshad and vice versa.

Just for the record, if the private equity billionaires at Sycamore Partners in New York, who recently bought Pure Fishing and all its brands for USD 1.3 billion are reading: If you want to send me some complimentary GULPs, I will not send them back.

I woke up early on 3rd March and drove into Iluka, but I could hear the swell was up as soon as I started driving out to the Iluka wall – where I had planned to fish. The wind had built up from the south east overnight and brought a 1.6 to 1.8 m swell with it. It was also starting to rain and so I gave up before I had started.

In the afternoon the rain looked like it was easing off so I drove round to the flat rock platform, at the beginning of Shark Bay to fish through to the bottom of the tide. This is typically a good tailor fishing spot. However when things are tough you can only really be sure of a fish at dawn and dusk.

I started on the north east corner of the platform casting a brass coloured 60g Halco Twisty – no luck. I swapped to a GULP Jerkshad in Satay Chicken colour, on a 3/8th ounce jighead. This got a couple of bites from the resident Long Toms but nothing else. I decided a metal slug was my best chance of a decent fish so I swapped again. This time to a HALCO 60g Outcast metal slug in the blue colour. I hurled it out to the north east and wound it back in fairly quickly at constant speed. About 40 metres out I felt a hit, and a few revolutions later my rod tip bent over. It was a small tailor just over 40 cm long. I threw it back and kept casting.

It was only just after 4.00 pm and the brief period of sun had ended abruptly. The sky was looking ominous to the south west, so the weather was coming my way. I decided to up the stakes and put on a big SAKU 130mm Stickdog sinking stickbait lure. This was huge in comparison to the HALCO Outcast I had used previously but tailor rarely consider anything is too big, if they are eating. As this area is very snaggy I fish with single hooks on these more expensive lures – to avoiding losing them. It casts a good distance so I started peppering the zone with a semi circle of casts. About 25% through my arc a fish knocked the lure clean out of the water but I did not hook up. I cast back out and this time a tailor grabbed it not long after it hit the water. It put up a good fight and with a single hook it is important to keep the tension up on the line right to the point where the fish is at your feet. I landed it safely, snapped it and released it.

The rain was not faraway but I could not stop now – I had caught some fish. I had to see if I could catch some more. But as the light rain turned to heavy rain and then to a torrential downpour, I had to give up. The rain was cold and came down so hard that it completely flattened the sea. I grabbed everything and trudged back to the car. That was it for the day.

The next day the rain eased off and the swell started to drop off. I headed back to Shark Bay in the afternoon but could not find any fish, casting slugs on the north east edge of the rock platform. I went over to the north west side. The north easterly had picked up and the water was still quite cloudy from all the rain. I decided to put on a popper as this area is very snaggy. I chose a Halco Roosta popper in the gold colour. After a few casts a good sized tailor (around 50 cm) came up and grabbed it , inches from the base of the rocks. I had the drag pretty tight and a 40lb leader and as I pulled tight the fish just launched itself out of the water and landed beside me. They never cease to surprise me. I decided to bleed this one and keep it for supper.

After cleaning the fish I headed back to the car and witnessed a great sunset. I had my fingers crossed for falling seas over the next few days.

Iluka – Middle Bluff/ Woody Head – Late February 2021

I managed to get down to Iluka again in late February. The rain was forecast to clear up for a week or so. The river would still be a brown mess but if the swell played ball I could probably catch some decent fish from the various headlands of the Bundjalung National Park.

On Saturday and Sunday 27/28th of February I fished at Middle Bluff just to the north of Frazers Reef, in the mornings and then at Woody Head, for the mid afternoon low tides, in the afternoons. The wind was fairly light in the mornings but built up through the day and turned northerly or north easterly. There was a southerly swell still coming through with some big sets every 10 minutes, so as usual I had to watch where I stood. The moon was full on the Saturday so there was plenty of tidal run.

I caught some great sunrises. But the net result was a lot of casting of hard bodies, metal slugs and big and small soft plastics for not many fish: A few small bream, one dawn chopper tailor and one small striped trevally at Middle Bluff. One decent tailor, a big run and bust off and a very small trevally at Woody Head.

Fishing the full moon can be hard and the recent big rains had really stirred things up – this can also be good or bad. It was time for a day off to reflect on my strategy.

Brunswick River – Brunswick Heads 13 February 2021

A fish eating friend asked us over for dinner one Saturday in February – but the invite came with a catch (no pun intended). They had bought enough fish ($49/kilo!!!!!!! fresh flathead fillets) for four but if we were coming, they would need a little more fish – preferably flathead. I checked the freezer and realised all of last week’s flathead was gone. So I decided to accept the challenge. I had about 7 hours to find, catch and clean about 500g of flathead.

It would be like competition angling. I decided the Brunswick River which is just down the road was my best option. I got my gear out and drove to the north bank and climbed down the sloping bank. The tide was running out, it was a few days after the new moon. The water was still fairly murky after the rain we had had earlier in the week.

I was fishing with my Samaki Zing ultralight spinning rod and 12 lb breaking strain braid and about a 1.5 metre long 10 lb breaking strain fluorocarbon leader. I picked out a GULP 3 inch Minnow soft plastic in the Watermelon Pearl colour and loaded on to a 1/8th of an ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I cast out in between the remains of the old decrepit oyster lease. I am not sure when this will be re-classified as litter but I have watched as it has gradually deteriorated over the five years that I have been fishing here and never seen anyone tending to it. I am not too worried as the piles of old netting, plastic pipes, floats baskets, ropes and concrete moorings are gradually being covered with oysters and form good fishing structure. After a few casts I got a solid bite and after ten minutes I hooked a decent bream. It was great to get a fish but it was the wrong species.

I swapped over to a GULP 3 inch Shrimp in the Peppered Prawn colour and cast it out. Letting it bump along the bottom with the run out tide. I soon hooked another fish but again it was a bream.

Conditions were far from peaceful. It was the weekend and the swell was still up so there was plenty of activity on the river. Kayaks, tinnies, and the local tourist cruise boat all ploughed up and down. There was a brief pause and then the local hoons arrived taking it in turns towing everything – wakeboard, surf board, rubber ring, kitchen sink – up and down the river. They looked about 15 and alternated between screaming and vaping – how I longed for them to impale themselves on a submerged rock, but it was not to be.

Brunswick River hoons

Things were looking bleak I had been at it for almost an hour and all I had caught was bream. I moved a little further south, along the bank towards the river mouth. The new ground paid off and on my first cast I pulled up a small flathead. It was just on 35cm – too small. So back he went. I swapped to a brighter coloured 3 inch GULP Minnow soft plastic in the Lime Tiger colour. Maybe the change of colour did the trick or perhaps I had just stumbled across a group of fish lying together in one spot – either way the line pulled tight and I had another flathead, this time it was a keeper at 43 cm. I despatched it and put it in the keeper bag.

For the next 30 minutes I methodically covered the area with casts and it paid off – providing two more keeper sized flathead – one 38 cm and one 40cm. I now had just about enough flathead to take to the dinner party so I headed home.

This challenge was hard enough for me,so I do not think I will be entering competitions anytime soon.

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