I had a quick fish at Iluka in the beginning of the New Year before the weather turned wild and stormy in early January. The flathead and small jewfish were still in the river. I did best fishing the run out tides before we had some really heavy rain that turned the river brown in the middle of the month.
For the rest of the month I escaped Australia for a visit to my relatives in England. The UK seemed to have already moved on to living with Covid and although restaurant and pub staff were still masked up, everybody else was over it. It was bloody cold and I caught a stinking cold but regular RAT and PCR tests refused to say it was Covid. The plane was already packed with travellers keen to reunite and the additional Covid checks and paperwork made the tedious process of long haul travel more miserable than ever. I was glad to get back to Australia for some fishing in February.
As November rolled into December, Queensland and Western Australia remained cut off from the rest of the country as they realised that it might not be a bad idea to get vaccinated. I continued to go bankrupt and found solace in fishing.
The wind and swell were relentless out on the Iluka headlands but the lower reaches of the Clarence River remained calm and clear. There were a few shrimp in the river and almost as soon as they arrived in numbers the river trawlers set about catching them. They ploughed up and down, day after day trying their best to catch their quotas. This is almost exclusively a bait fishery; the prawns are frozen and sold for bait. The trawler owners say it is a traditional and sustainable fishery but it seems like a lot of activity for a very meagre return. I understand that they frequently receive less than A$1000 a tonne for the prawns. Since 2018 the average catch per licensed boat has been around 5 tonnes per year. If you deduct labour, fuel, boat maintenance and depreciation then no one is making any money. Maybe we could just buy back the boats and licenses, give them a tinny each and all start fishing with lures!
Despite the prawn trawlers the fishing was pretty good on the flats around Browns Rocks (so they may not being doing much harm). I concentrated on fishing the falling tides on the flats. I swapped between hard bodied minnow lures (the DUO Realis Rozante 63/ DUO Realis Shad 52 MR SP, the DUO Realis Jerkbait 100 SP and a variety of no name cheap ones) I also used my favourite GULP soft plastic minnows and paddleshads.
Some mornings were beautifully calm but the northerly winds usually picked up in the afternoons. We had a couple of big storms in the middle of the month. But the river stayed mostly clear.
I caught the usual range of species – bream, flathead, small jewfish, whiting and even the odd luderick. There were plenty of tiny tailor marauding around at dawn and dusk but not many keeper sized fish. On several days I managed a bag of 5 keeper size flathead. It was a month of flat river dawns and beautiful but very early sunrises.
Most of us were now getting vaccinated against the Wuflu with the exception of a few very boring people who insisted on sharing (at length) the reasons why they weren’t. I carried on fishing (and slowly going bankrupt).
We finally had a break in the swell in late November. It was still grey, windy and rainy but I was able to get back out on the rock platform at Woody Head and fish through a middle of the day low tide. The moon was 25 days old and waning. It was about 20% visible.
It looked like perfect jewfish weather but after a few casts a good tailor grabbed my soft plastic. I landed it and changed tactics. I rigged up a metal slug. I was using a 40 gram multi-coloured metal slug from Gillies. It soon found its mark and after a couple of casts I connected with another tailor. It was a decent fish, about 65cm long. I decided to keep that one for supper. I connected and then dropped another two tailor and then swapped back to a soft plastic set up to try for a jewfish.
I selected one of my rapidly declining store of GULP Crazylegs Jerkshads in the Lime Tiger colour and put it on a 1/4 ounce, size 2/0 jighead and lobbed it out just in front of me. I was using my battered Daiwa Demonblood 962 H rod and Daiwa TD SOL III LT 6000D-H spinning reel. I was using 40lb braid and 40lb fluorocarbon leader. I made a few casts with no results. I moved a bit further along the rock platform. I kept dropping the soft plastic in close to the rocks. After a while I felt some resistance, paused and set my hook. The fish tried to swim under an overhang but I managed to pull it out and land it. It was a school jewfish. It was about 60cm long and so after a few pictures I sent it back into the ocean. I could not find anymore fish that day.
The swell came back up but the Clarence River still fished pretty well for flathead and smaller tailor all through the month.
As Covid 19 continued to wreak havoc all around, I carried on fishing. Those of us in New South Wales were locked out of Queensland. Everyone was locked out of Western Australia. Victoria was open, then closed, then open again. I have no idea what was going on in Tasmania.
The swell was big and we had a bit of rain. I focused on fishing with my light gear and soft plastics lures over the sand flats, on the edge of the Clarence River at Browns Rocks. I found a few different species. I caught flathead, bream, tailor and quite a few small jewfish. The flathead seemed comfortable eating just about any type of lure, once you found them.
I was using a mix of different soft plastics but, as usual, the GULP Minnows where the star performers. I also caught fish on the new Berkley Shimma prawn and a packet of DUO Realis knot tailed soft plastics in a green colour, that somebody sent me to try. I was usually fishing these with 10lb fluorocarbon leader on 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jigheads.
At one point I noticed the water close to shore was teaming with some kind of tiny jelly fish larvae. They were all along the shoreline for a few days. There was plenty of bait around and the pelicans and gulls chased the schools relentlessly. They only got out of the way when the dolphins turned up.