A few days later I returned to the South Ballina wall for an early morning fishing session. If you fish in this area I urge you to email both Justine.Elliot.MP@aph.gov.au and Tamara Smith firstname.lastname@example.org; – (our federal and state parliamentary representatives) – and ask them when we can expect the road out to the rock wall to be repaired and re-opened. I know a number of elderly and disabled fishos who used to enjoy visiting the wall and the beach and I think we all have a right to have road access to this beautiful spot. So please take 5 minutes to drop them an email and ask them when will it re-open.
I arrived before first light and walked for 35 minutes to reach the end of the rock wall and started fishing just after dawn. There was a clear line where the brown water from the river was pushing out against the clearer blue green water of the ocean, pushing in.
Again I was targeting the jewfish/ mulloway but I caught an assortment of species. I started with a few small tailor from the river side of the wall. Tailor will nearly always smash a soft plastic if it is right in front of them. I think the dolphins were also targeting them.
The swell was lighter than I had expected so I moved round to the very end of the wall and cast to the east. It is amazing how over just one year the huge concrete tripod shapes have gradually broken down and slipped forward, from the relentless wave action. Some have even been broken in half.
The fish I had caught so far were pretty small, so at about 8.40 am I dropped down to my lighter rock fishing setup – Shimano Stella 4000 matched with a Daiwa Crossfire 1062, 30lb braid and a 16lb fluorocarbon leader. I tied on a 1/4 ounce size 2/0 hook jig head and loaded a 4″ GULP Minnow soft plastic in the Camo colour. The first taker was another small tailor, very close to the base of the front of the rock wall. I kept casting and had a few more bites then lost two jigheads in a row to the rocks. I re-rigged and this time after a few casts I hooked a decent fish. It was a school jewfish, about 60 cm long and I managed to haul it carefully up to my feet, photograph it and throw it back.
I carried on with the lighter rod and I was surprised to catch a few dart and then a scorpion fish and finally, a few small bream. At about 11.30 am I gave up and made my way back to the car.
On the way back I stopped to aim a few casts at the gutter close to the beach. This is where the jewfish had been the week before. They were not there but I did hook a decent flathead. It was about 50 cm long and I kept it for supper.
I have always done well targeting flathead in March and April. Those of you who have followed me for a while will be aware that when I was based in Brisbane I spent a lot of time exploring the flats at Bribie Island. My experience of catching flathead in that area have shaped my fishing process for every estuary I subsequently explore. Look for the edges of weed beds, sand banks and drop offs and fish the last couple of hours of the run out tide – these have been two of my best my most successful habits.
I now live very close to the Brunswick River in northern New South Wales, but I have not really had a lot of success fishing in the river. The much bigger Richmond and Clarence Rivers are nearby and if I have a day to fish I often head for one of these. In the Brunswick River I have caught flathead, bream and the odd trevally but nothing very big and I have not found many consistent fish producing spots. The Northern Rivers area of New South Wales has been very busy with holidaymakers since COVID 19 locked us all into Australia. However with Easter behind us we were beginning to get a few quieter days on the river. The swell was still playing up offshore so there were less big boats heading over the bar. The caravan parks were gradually emptying out so there were a few less tinnies ploughing up and down fishing the river.
Out on the beaches the water was still warm and now crystal clear. There were big schools of mullet cruising along behind the wave breaks. On a calm afternoon I caught a couple of legal size flathead in a gutter at New Brighton. I was using a 2″ GULP Shrimp on a 1/6th ounce, size 1 hook jighead and 12lb leader.
The water in the lower reaches of the Brunswick River was fairly clear once the tide started running in and there seemed to be plenty of bait around. On the bottom of the tide the water was stained brown with tannin, as the rain drained from the tea tree and paperbark swamps that surround the river.
On the 21st I decided to fish for a few hours of the run in tide after low, which was just before 10.00 am. I arrived at the mouth of the Brunswick River on the north side at about 10.45 am and got rigged up on my light spinning outfit. I stuck with 10lb fluorocarbon leader as the water was now very clear. I noticed something smashing into a bait schools out in the middle of the river. I put on a 1/8th ounce, size 1 hook jighead and loaded it with a GULP 2 inch Shrimp profile soft plastic in the Peppered Prawn colour. I cast this at the spots were I saw the surface bust ups. After a few tries I hooked a small bream and then a small trevally. As the incoming clean water washed in I noticed there were big schools of small whitebait coming with it. I swapped to GULP 4″ Minnow soft plastic in the Watermelon Pearl colour and after a few casts something pulled this plastic off the jighead. I put another one on and slowed my retrieve down. After about ten minutes I caught another small flathead.
As the tide started to run in strongly I swapped through a few different soft plastics and caught four more legal size flathead and two that were less than the 36 cm limit. I kept a couple of fish for supper and released everything else.
Let’s hope the bait sticks around and lures the predators up river.
About a week later I decided to return to the South Ballina rockwall to see if the jewfish/ mulloway were still around. The new moon had arrived a couple of days previously. The tide was running in and would be high at about 11.00 am. The water in the river was still dirty but it was no longer opaque. The dolphins had appeared again. A couple of them had very small offspring under close supervision.
I started early but still only managed to reach the start of the rock wall after first light. I had a couple of casts with big soft plastics in the spot where I had caught the jewfish previously. I got no hits so after about 20 casts I moved down nearer to the end of the rockwall.
I was fishing with my heavier spinning rig – Daiwa TD SOL III LT 6000 DH reel and Daiwa Saltist X MH 962 rod. I had 40 lb braid and a 30 lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I chose one of my all time favorite soft plastics the GULP 4″ Minnow on the Watermelon Pearl colour. This is pretty much as close to a pilchard/ whitebait as you can get. After a while, I felt a couple of frenetic tailor attacks. The soft plastic had been munched but was largely in one piece so I cast it out again. The fish struck hard as it sank and then it hooked itself and took off. It was a decent tailor about 45 cm long. I landed it safely, bled it and put it in the keeper bag.
I carried on casting the same mangled soft plastic until a bream pulled it off my jighead. I decided to drop down to the lighter of my two rock fishing combinations – a Shimano Stella 4000 reel matched with a Daiwa Crossfire 1062 rod. This is loaded with 30 lb braid and 16 lb fluorocarbon leader. I dropped the jighead to a 1/6th ounce, size 1/0 hook. I put on the GULP 3″ Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour and started casting again. The first taker, to my surprise, was a dart. Things went quiet for a while then the dart came back again and I caught a couple more.
After an hour of not much action the tailor arrived again and I caught two small choppers. When the tailor moved on, the bream took their place and I caught four fish – all between 25 cm and 30 cm long. I released them all.
I had not found the jewfish/mulloway but I expect they were there on the bottom of the runout tide, before dawn. The schools of mullet kept hovering around the rivermouth and tracing the rock wall, so there was plenty of food to tempt them.
As the tide peaked and the current slackened off I gave up. The water was now very clear on the ocean side of the wall. I am looking forward to the tailor and bream getting much bigger over the next couple of months.
By mid-April the water in all the major estuaries of the Northern Rivers area was a still a very dirty brown colour – particularly at the bottom of the tide. The initial flush from the March floods had washed a lot of debris down the rivers and out to sea. It had also washed plenty of mullet and other baitfish down to the river mouths. Jewfish/ Mulloway love to hang around in these conditions, ambushing mullet as they are washed out into the ocean.
I decided to try my luck on the south rockwall at the Richmond River mouth at South Ballina. As the road out to the wall is still closed it is a fair walk. I arrived at about 5.30 am, parked at the gate, got my gear together and started walking. I reached the rockwall just as the sun was coming over the horizon at about 6.00 am. High tide would be at about 7.30 am and we were two days away from the new moon.
A team of keen Korean fishermen had passed me on my way out to the wall. They had been smart enough to use mini foldable electric bikes for the journey out. My tackle budget won’t stretch to one of those anytime soon. They were fishing at the end of the rock wall so I decided to start on the ocean side of the wall, fairly close to the beach. The water runs out of the river mouth and forms a big eddy that circles round and carves a good gutter in the corner of the beach.
Even though the sun was now well and truly up, I still hoped there might be a monster mulloway cruising the beach gutter. I loaded the heavier of my rock spinning outfits (DAIWA Saltist X) with a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and a GULP 5′ Paddleshad in the pink colour. I was using 30lb braid and 30lb fluorocarbon leader. I cast out about 10 metres from the wall, let the plastic waft down in the swell and slowly started to retrieve it along the bottom. I felt a few gentle hits and pulled up the soft plastic to see something had tried to pull it off the jighead – this is usually what the bream do. I cast a few more times with no result. At about 6.20 am I cast out and let the soft plastic sit for 20 seconds before starting my retrieve. This did the trick and as I lifted the rod tip I set the hook on a fish. It was a small school jewfish about 50 cm long.
That was the start of a great mornings fishing. Over the next few hours high tide came and went but I kept catching small jewfish. The biggest was about 60 cm long and the smallest was just over 40 cm. I lost count but I caught somewhere between 10 and 15 fish. They were all too small to keep and so I released them all. Mixed in among them I caught a few solid bream and a couple of small tailor that destroyed my soft plastics. The profile, size and colour of the soft plastics did not seem to be much of a factor. I was using GULPS all day but I swapped between the Crazylegs Jerkshad, the Paddleshad, the Turtlebackworm and the straightforward Minnow – and they all caught fish. At one point I swapped to a Croaker hard bodied lure to see if this might attract a bigger one but this did not work.
A few days earlier one of the Koreans had successfully landed a 130 cm mulloway off the ocean side of the end of the wall and there were several piles of big scales that suggested a few other anglers had been successful. The big ones were certainly out there. The jewfish specialists seem to be convinced that soft plastics will get you fish up to about a metre long but for the monsters you need a big hard bodied mullet imitation or a live mullet. One day I may have the patience to put this theory to the test!
March proved to be the wettest month ever recorded in Northern New South Wales. From about the 20th it just did not stop raining for about a week. I had booked a week of fishing in Iluka for the end of the month. I still went and the sun did come out but the waters of the Clarence River rose and rose. The river came up and flooded parts of Maclean and the roads into Yamba and Harwood were cut for a few days.
Before the Yamba road was closed I spent a misty dawn fishing in the brown frothy water at the Clarence River mouth. The water was so muddy and there was so much debris floating out to sea that it was difficult to believe there could be any fish in it, but there was a big pile of jewfish scales on the wall, so they had been there recently.
The next day the road in and out of Iluka was cut by the rising flood waters. I was staying at Browns Rocks on Goodwood Island. I anxiously watched the river level inch up for the morning high tide. It gradually begin to trickle over the road and into the cane fields, just on high tide. Fortunately that was as high as it got.
The weather had cleared and the wind had completely dropped away. I could not go anywhere so I threw a line in. I was flicking around a small paddletail soft plastic. The water was so muddy that it was completely opaque. After a few casts I hooked something strange. It was moving fairly slowly. It was an eel hooked through its back. I released it.
I spent a fruitless morning casting everything I had off the rocks at Woody Head. It was only when I dropped down to 12lb leader and 2” soft plastic lures that I finally caught a few fish. I caught bream, butter bream and Moses’ perch – none of which would have been big enough to keep. The water was soon a murky brown all along the headlands and the swell kept on hammering in.
Each day the high tides got a little lower and the water became slightly less milky in the Clarence River. Each day I tried casting soft plastic minnows for bream in the dirty water and soon enough I caught a couple of 30 cm units, around dusk.
By the end of the month I started casting around for a flathead. It took a while, but I did eventually find a couple, tucked in close to the mangrove roots, along the shore at Browns Rocks. I headed home. The fishing had been turned upside down by the floods but major damage had largely been avoided.
I took a few days off to nurse my bruised behind and besides, the southeasterly winds blew the rain in and brought back high seas. By Tuesday conditions had improved significantly but we had still had a lot of rain and the Clarence River had not cleared up much. So, it had to be one of the headlands or the rockwall at the mouth of the river. There had been quite a lot of tuna landed from the wall a few weeks earlier, when the water was fairly clear. I desperately want to catch a good one, but I still do not have the patience or the gaff skills. One day I will get there!
There are a lot less options on a high tide on the headlands, so I decided to fish the southern end of the Woody Head platform, through the low tide change. Low tide would be at about 1.00 pm and I arrived at Woody Head at about 10.00 am. The wind was light from the south-east and forecast to switch round to a north-easterly in the afternoon. The new moon was due on 4 days. It was bright, warm and sunny and the water around the headlands seemed clearer than it had been the week before.
I was fishing with the heavier of my two rock spinning/ plastics outfits – based on the DAIWA Saltist X MH 962 rod. Today I tied on a 30lb fluorocarbon leader. I had my reel loaded with 40lb braid. I selected a 1/4 ounce jighead and loaded a GULP 4″ Minnow soft plastic in the Watermelon Pearl colour. I cast out, about 10 metres beyond the wash and let it sink for about 5 seconds. I hopped the jighead back up, just before I felt it would be on the bottom and paused. When I lifted the rod again a fish whacked the plastic and then dropped it. Almost immediately another fish (or the same one) came in for another bite. I set the hook and knew it was a tailor by its initial madness. I muscled it up to my feet. It was about 35 cm long and I threw it back.
Now I was confident. The soft plastic was ruined so I had to pick out another. I have had a jar of the GULP Lizard shaped soft plastics sitting on my tackle shelf for ages. I think I bought them by mistake a couple of years ago, thinking they were Crazylegs Jerkshads. Perhaps limited re-supply shipments of GULP are arriving due to COVID or the tackle shops have all had to find space for the new DAIWA Bait Junkie soft plastic range – either way – one of my favourite GULP colours: Lime Tiger (green and orange with a black fleck) is getting hard to find, in any profile. There also aren’t many 4″ Minnow profiles left on sale in any colours. The jar of lizards is in the Lime Tiger colour, so I have been taking a few out with me on each session. So @purefishing and https://berkley-fishing.com.au/, get the Lime Tiger Minnows, Shrimps & Jerkshads back on the shelves, please.
I put the GULP Lizard soft plastic on a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and cast it out. It was now about 10.45 am. The swell was slapping up against the rocks as the tide got lower but it was fairly light. I cast around a few times and did not get a bite. I slowed things right down and tried to get the soft plastic fluttering around on the bottom, as close to the base of the rocks as possible. I felt a gentle bite but I thought it could be the cunjevoi that covers the rocks round here and snatched the lure back to the surface. On the next cast the same thing happened. On the third try I lingered longer and when I started to retrieve, I hooked something. It slowly wriggled for a bit and then pulled hard. It was swimming under a ledge/ overhang and almost immediately, I could feel the line rubbing. As I tried to fight back the leader rubbed through.
I re-rigged and chose a slightly heavier 3/8th ounce, size 1/0 jighead. I put a GULP Lizard soft plastic on again. I followed the same process as before and after a few more casts I was on again in the same spot. It was a smaller fish, and it swam out, not in – making things much easier. After a brief fight I lifted it up on a wave. The was a small school mulloway/jewfish, about 45cm long. I threw it back, straightened the Lizard on the jighead and cast out again. After about 10 minutes if fishing I was on again. This time it was a bigger one, but I have fished here a few times and figured out where I can use the stepped ledges and surf to get the fish up. I pulled it up on a big surge and the leader held. It was about 55 cm long. I snapped it and let it go.
I carried on fishing for about another 15 minutes with the GULP Lizard. I hooked and dropped another jewfish that might have reached the legal 70 cm size. Then I lost the jighead and lizard soft plastic by snagging them on the bottom.
I did not have any more GULP Lizards with me, so I swapped to a 5″ GULP Paddleshad soft plastic, in the pink colour. I went with another 3/8th ounce, size 1/0 jighead. I had obviously found a school of jewfish that were sitting under an overhang or in an underwater cave. If I could let my soft plastic waft in close to them, they would bite. The Paddleshad worked just as well as the Lizard and I soon had another decent fish on. This time I had luck on my side again – its solid initial run was out towards open water. I tightened my drag a little and it turned around. I kept the rod tip up and looked for a landing zone. I found a good spot and I wound in fast as a big surge lifted the fish over the ledges and into a safe, shallow rock pool that I could jump down to. This one was a keeper – just over 80cm long.
I caught three more jewfish all around 60 cm long. Then the tide started to run in again and they either stopped eating or wised up to my tactics. At about 2.00 pm I cleaned up my fish and walked back to the car.
It was a very active jewfish/ mulloway bite, in the middle of the day with a not particularly big tide or moon influence. There was plenty of bait in the water but no other obvious reason why they were so hungry. I love winter fishing – bring on the cooler weather.