My last fishing session in April was on the Richmond River at Ballina. It was a Friday lunchtime and I decided to look for some flathead as the tide ran out. The tide was high at about 11.00 am and I started fishing as the run out got going at 11.30 am. I was using my ultra-light spinning set up; 2-4 kg rod and a 2500 size spin reel. I had 12lb braid for main line and a 10lb fluorocarbon leader. The first soft plastic I selected was the GULP 4″ Pulseworm in the beige Moebi colour. I rigged it on a 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I like the look of this shape it has a ribbed body and a curly tail, and it has caught a few flathead for me.
The weather was cloudy and overcast. March had been a very good flathead fishing month in the local estuaries. We had had some rain earlier in the day and we were due some more. The wind was from the north-east, and the sky was gradually turning greyer and greyer. I started fishing from the rocky shoreline, just down river from the small boat harbour, opposite the Ramada Hotel.
I cast back towards the mouth of the harbour, let the soft plastic sink and hopped it back along the bottom, with the current. Just a few minutes after starting I caught a 40cm flathead. It struck very close to the shore. I cast out again and hooked up again, but the hook did not stick and the fish swam away before I got a look at it.
I moved a little way further along the bank towards the river mouth. I swapped to a GULP 4″ Minnow soft plastic in the Chartreuse (yellow and white) colour. After a few casts with this I caught another good sized flathead. It was just over 55cm. I carried on moving along the bank for another 20 minutes or so and caught two more smaller flathead on the same soft plastic. Every fish had hit my lure less than two metres from the shoreline – so you don’t have to cast right out into the middle of the channel to find them.
The rain started and before long it was torrential, so I withdrew. I love fishing the Richmond River at Ballina. There are a lot of great land-based fishing spots that consistently produce fish and many are only 5 minutes from the centre of town.
On Saturday I had another session fishing land-based at Brunswick Heads. I started at 1.30 pm on a Saturday afternoon. This is pretty much breaking every rule in my fishing book. ‘Fish at dusk and dawn’, I am always telling everyone. But the last couple of days had produce lots of fish and I had other commitments at dusk and dawn. I was enjoying a good red wine at dusk and sleeping it off at dawn, so I decided to get some fresh air and put in a few casts.
It was a cloudy day and there was a light south easterly wind blowing. I was fishing the beginning of the run in tide. Low tide had been at 12.08 pm. The water was clear and once again there were small schools of tiny baitfish close to the shore line and around the various rocky outcrops.
I was using my light spinning combo and I put on a 4 inch GULP Pulseworm in the Moebi colour. This was another of GULPs short lived shapes in Australia. I found it was pretty good for flathead but it obviously did not sell very well and is now disappearing. However Pure Fishing/Berkley Gulps’ loss is my gain and I picked up an armful of packets for for $5 dollars each to feed my habit.
The first taker was a 20 cm flathead that must have been sitting in the shallows. It was about 30 cm from the shoreline. It had been buried in the sand and grabbed the soft plastic lure just as I was about to cast again. I cast around the rocks and lost a few jig heads by hooking the river bed.
I moved further down towards the river mouth and kept casting. Just before 2.00 pm my line pulled up tight and I caught another flathead – it was probably just 36 cm long. I released it. Almost immediately I caught and released another one, about the same size. I carried on fishing and swapped through a few different soft plastics. At 2.06 pm I caught yet another, This one was about 43 cm so I decided to keep it.
I kept casting. I was now fishing the GULP 4″ Minnow in the Smelt colour. The bream kept trying to pull this one off the jighead. Eventually one of them struck and hooked itself. Just after 3.00 pm I caught the best flathead of the day on a GULP 2″ Shrimp soft plastic in the Peppered Prawn colour. It was about 50 cm long.
At about 3.30 pm I gave up and cleaned up the two biggest fish to take home for supper. So you can catch fish in the Brunswick River on a Saturday lunchtime – but probably only when the river is teeming with bait and it’s not the school holidays.
A few days later I was back at the north bank of the Brunswick River mouth looking for more flathead. The bait schools were not as thick but they were still around. Occasionally a small bream/ trevally/ tailor/ flathead would smash into them from below, and send them flying. It was a beautiful, clear, sunny day. The water was still brown and tannin stained at the bottom of the run out tide but it was now crystal clear on the top of the tide.
We were about 5 days from the full moon, The wind was light from the south east and low tide had passed at about 11.45 am. I started about 2.15 pm and the tide was running in strongly, pushing the tannin stained river water back upstream.
I put a GULP 2 ” Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour on a 1/8th ounce, size 1 hook jighead and started casting just down river from the rocks, near the mouth. Fish were snatching at the soft plastic lure from the very first cast. I soon hooked a 30 cm bream and then a few casts later, I found a patch of flathead. I caught three, small but legal sized fish in quick succession.
As I moved towards the river mouth.The fish kept coming. A steady stream of flathead. Many were too small so I released them, but I managed to find four legal ones.
I finished at about 5.30 pm out on the rockwall, where I caught another couple of small bream and a 45 cm flathead. April was turning into a good month for fishing this river.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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More mad seas and wild weather came through in early February so I decided to fish the north bank of the Richmond River in Ballina. The only advantage of wild weather is that there are quite a few less boats on the water and that means that the fish are often not disturbed between several tide cycles. Typically flathead move up and down with the tides; following bait up as it comes in and and slowly retreating again, as the tide runs out.
I was fishing from the shore, not far from the Ballina Memorial Swimming Pool. I fished for four sessions over 7 days and caught flathead during all of them. The wind was swapping between south easterly and north easterly and the moon was a week or so away from new. The water quality was not too bad, but after all the rain it was very dirty on the bottom of the run out tides. Despite this, the back half of the run out tide produced the most fish.There was not much tidal flow.
I was fishing with my light spinning outfit and 10lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. My starter soft plastic was the GULP 4″ Minnow in the Smelt colour. As I cast and retrieved it, the bait scattered in showers, especially in the shallows close to the base of the rocks. In fact, this is where I have caught most of my flathead. It seems they like to sit in the sand/ mud just inches from the rocks, under the bait. The bait was thick and several times I pulled up a plastic with mini-live bait attached.
The great thing about this stretch of shore is that it is less than 5 minutes walk to the River Street and all the shops. A coffee/ lunch break is the perfect time to have a cast and you may catch dinner.
It was back to the southwall at Ballina for my first fishing session in February. I arrived a few minutes after first light and walked out to the wall. I arrived at the end of the wall just before sunrise and started off fishing on the ocean side. I started with a GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour on a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I caught a small bream, and then another. It’s amazing how often that first cast produces a fish. A few casts later I lost the end of the jerkshad to something fast – presumably a tailor.
There was a bit too much swell at the end of the wall and as the sun came up so did the north easterly wind. It it is quite disturbing how many of the huge concrete lumps have been broken down by the swell over the summer.
I decided to retreat a little and fish the river side of the wall. I caught more small bream and the foul hooked a small tailor. I cast the remains of the soft plastic back out and caught another small tailor. It was bleeding and hooked in its guts so I decided to offer it to the osprey. I broke its neck and left it in the middle of the path, while I re-rigged. Not more than a minute later I saw the shadow of the bird coming over me for a look. The gulls fussed over the fish but they could not lift it. The osprey made three circuits before swooping down and grabbing the fish. I watched it fly off down to a log on the beach to the south.
The wind was howling so at about 9.30 am I gave up and walked back to the car. I am looking forward to a calmer swell so I can fish the end of the wall soon.
A couple of days later I returned for a dawn fishing session at the mouth of the Richmond River. I started just before dawn on the rockwall I had fished a few days before – just upriver from the ferry. I caught a couple of bream but despite/ or perhaps because of the big moon there seemed to be less fish around.
I decided to move nearer the river mouth. I drove up to the locked gate on the road out to the rockwall. I packed up my gear and decided to make the trek out to the wall, stopping to fish at a few spots along the way.
I was fishing with my ultra light spinning setup. Because of the full moon it would be a very big high tide and the water was much clearer than it had been a few days before. I was not expecting anything big so I was using a 12lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/8th ounce, 1/0 hook jighead.
I stopped at a my first spot and put on a GULP 4″ Minnow in the Pearl Watermelon colour and let it sink down in the current, fairly close to the shore. I slowed it down as I pulled it towards the bank and the fish struck. It was a flathead and it must have been resting no more than an a few inches from the base of the rocks. It was around 45 cm long.
I moved a little further along the shoreline and caught a couple of bream – both were over 30cm long. It seemed the fish got bigger as I moved towards the river mouth. I walked all the way out to where the rock wall meets the beach. By now I was fishing with a Gulp 3″ Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour and I caught another bream on the river side of the wall. I cast a little further out and got bitten off. I re-rigged and caught a small chopper tailor on the first cast. At about 11.00 am I gave up for the day.
I came back to the same spot on the 29th (the day after the full moon). This time I started off the casting with a GULP 4 ” Minnow soft plastic lure in the Pearl Watermelon colour. The first taker was a flathead. It was sitting close to the base of the rocks, on the river side of the wall. It measured in a 48 cm. I photographed it and let it go. If there is fish in the fridge, then it’s pretty much catch and release fishing for me.
I made my way out onto the wall past the resident osprey. He/she always seems to be sitting at this spot – which is a very good sign. Ospreys only eat fish. Just before the end of the wall on the open ocean side , I took up position. I was now fishing with a 1/6th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and I swapped through three or four different coloured minnow soft plastics. I caught bream on all of them – the biggest was about 34 cm long.
By lunchtime the wind and swell had built up significantly so I gave up for the day.
The fishing community both online and in person assured me that despite the big swells and significant rain the Richmond River at Ballina, was teaming with bait. So I decided to try fishing it in late January.
I arrived at the ferry to South Ballina at about 9.00 am. I crossed the river and drove back up river a few hundred metres and set up by the rockwall that runs alongside the south side of the riverbank. It was about an hour after high tide and the water was still fairly murky. Low tide would be at about 1.30 pm. It was 4 days to the full moon. The current runs fairly quickly along this stretch of river bend and it always looks fishy.
Bream, flathead and possibly a few trevally or a jewfish were my target. I would fish with my ultra light rod and reel. This is currently the Samaki Zing Gen II 562SXL matched to a Daiwa TD SOL LT III 2500D reel. It has a very fast action and the tip is ultra sensitive – it reminds me of my old G.Loomis GLII. You can even feel when your jighead is bumping along a rippled sandy bottom and suddenly hits flat sand or mud. You can certainly instantly tell the difference between a bite and a snag. I set up with a 10lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/8th ounce and, later a 1/11th ounce, size 1 hook jighead.
The mullet were everywhere. They were cruising close to the bank in big schools. I cast my small soft plastics and paddle tails in amongst them hoping there might be something bigger lurking underneath them. They would nudge and snap at the soft plastics on the way down. There were lots of jelly prawns and small baitfish hanging close to the rocks and the bream soon came calling. I caught plenty over the next few hours. The largest was just over 30 cm long. I only caught one flathead – just under 40cm long.
The swell, the swell, the swell – its never-ending. But then there was a forecast of lower seas, so I decided to try some fishing in the surf. The swell had created some good gutters and so I drove down to the beach, just south of New Brighton on the north shore of the Brunswick River mouth.
I arrived just before first light at about 5.40 am. High tide would be at about 6.00 am. It would be new moon in about three days. I walked out with my Daiwa Crossfire 1062 (10 foot, 6 inch – 3.2 metre) rod and Shimano Stella 4000 reel. This is spooled with 30lb braid and as I wasn’t expecting anything huge to swim by – a 14lb fluorocarbon leader. I tied on a 1/4 ounce , size 1/0 hook jighead and loaded it with a GULP 4′ Minnow in the Pearl Watermelon colour.
The horizon was now lit up and I cast out into what looked like a decent gutter. After a few casts I caught a small (25cm) bream, swiftly followed by a couple more. The fish flicked the plastic off so I tied on a GULP 3″ Paddle Shad in the Nuclear Chicken colour. This is a new shape from GULP and I like it a lot – now we just need them to produce it in my favourite Pearl Watermelon colour. This found its mark after about ten minutes. I felt a bit of weight and the rod tip bent over. This time it was a a flathead, about 45cm long.
The sun was now just coming over the horizon and I swapped to a another Paddle Shad, this time in the pink colour. I moved a little further along to the mouth of the gutter and kept casting. I felt a few urgent bites and drops. Then I caught a dropped a dart and eventually stayed connected to one.
By about 7.30am the swell had stretched out as the tide started to run out and I gave up for the morning.
In general, as the fresh water cleared out of the estuaries in mid January, the fishing improved. Suddenly there was plenty of bait around and the water cleared fairly quickly. Unfortunately the wind kept blowing and the swell stayed consistently high. On one slightly calmer day I decided to fish the rising tide, off the rocks at Evans Head.
Expectations were low as I would arrive at about 10.00 am am and fish through to about 2.30 pm. It was a hot and clear day with a building northerly breeze. After a quick scan of conditions from the Razorback Lookout, I decided to fish along the shore in the Piano Rock area.
I started with my heavier rod and bigger soft plastics but this combination did not raise any interest. I was soon down to my lighter rock fishing set up and had dropped all the way down to a 1/6th ounce size 1/0 hook jighead and I was using a Gulp 3″ Minnow in the Smelt colour. All this raised was a butter bream.
I moved further around the rocks and kept casting. I felt a few quick and violent bites and pulled up half a soft plastic. I reloaded and cast back out. This time a fish connected for a while and then let go. On the next cast I was bitten off as soon as the soft plastic hit the water. It was a school of small tailor. I tied a new jighead on, put the same soft plastic on and cast out again. I let it sink then retrieved it quickly and this time I hooked the fish and landed it. It was a small tailor – no more than 30cm long. I carried on for another hour and caught two more small tailor.
It was good to scout out a new spot and encouraging to find fish in the middle of the day. I would expect the bigger predators to be around at dawn and dusk on the bigger tides. I will have to come back.
Christmas means time spent with family (or perhaps not, if COVID border nonsense turns it upside down). My general view of visiting relatives is – glad to see them, glad to see the back of them. I ate too much, drank too much and just as I reached my fattest, the aircon broke down. The wind and swell did drop off on a few days during the Christmas break but the estuaries appeared to be fairly brown and murky after an east coast low had passed through.
I finally got away for a fish at South Ballina in early January. I chose Mobs Bay at South Ballina – quite near to the mouth of the Richmond River. I had chosen to fish the top of the tide as I felt the water would be slightly cleaner and saltier at this stage. I started about an hour after high tide at about 2.30pm.
I was fishing with my new Samaki ultralight rod. I started with a GULP 3″ , Nuclear Chicken coloured Minnow soft plastic on a 1/8th ounce, size 2 hook Gamakatsu Round 211 series jighead. I like these jigheads for small soft plastics and they certainly improve my hook up rate on bream, tailor and whiting. I am not sure they are as effective when used with a bigger soft plastics or when you are specifically targeting flathead.
I waded around on the flats and caught a few very small bream. There was plenty of bait fleeing my soft plastic lure, as I hopped it along in the shallow water. The water was clearing up but was still stained brown by the tannins leaching from the surrounding teatree swamps and cane field drains.
I fished hard but it took two and a half hours to find a keeper size flathead. It grabbed the GULP Nuclear Chicken coloured soft plastic minow, very close to the base of the rockwall that runs across the front of Mobs Bay.
At about 5.00 pm the midges, mosquitos and a lack of fish overcame me and I headed home. My first session of 2021 had been uninspiring but at least I dodged the relatives and more mince pies.