Iluka – Woody Head – 4 August 2021

Another lull in the swell meant I could get out on to the rocks to fish in early August. I stuck with Woody Head as I had caught some good fish there in July, last time I was down here. I started early, about 30 mins before first light and conditions were forecast to be pretty good. We were 4 days before the new moon. Low tide would be at about 10.20 am and the swell was forecast to be no more than 1.0 metre high.

I was fishing with my heavier rock fishing set up. This is a Daiwa Saltist X MH 962 rod now matched with a Daiwa Saltist 3000 reel. I have it rigged with 40lb braid and today I was using a 30lb fluorocarbon leader. I started with a GULP Jerkshad soft plastic lure in the satay chicken colour, loaded into a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead.

As soon as I could see what I was doing I had a couple of casts and retrieves with the plastic. At about 6.30 am something hit the plastic hard at the base of the rocks. It pulled hard for a while but swam away from the rocks. I tightened my drag a a little and recovered some line whilst looking for a landing spot. I love this Daiwa Saltist XMH62 as it is sensitive enough to stay in contact with the soft plastic even with quite a light jighead. However the flip side is that it is sometimes too light to muscle a fish past the rocks. The fish took a bit more line and I pulled hard, trying to turn its head. Suddenly the hook pulled and it was gone. I never got a look at it – so it could have been anything. But given what happened later I think it was a jewfish.

I re-rigged and put on a GULP 5 inch Paddleshad soft plastic in the nuclear chicken colour. This time I chose a tougher jighead – a Berkley Nitro Saltwater Pro, 1/4 ounce with a size 1/0 hook. These are pretty difficult to straighten. Two or three casts with this and I felt a very solid bite at the base of the rocks. I paused as long as I dared and then struck. I thought I had the fish but I was just snagged on the rocks. I yanked the jighead free and when I examined the soft plastic I realised from the bite marks, I had missed another fish.

I cast around for the next couple of hours with hardly a touch. At about 10.00 am, just as we were approaching low tide, I felt a bite in close to the base of the rocks again. I paused this time and dropped the rod tip. When I lifted the rod I had a fish on, but it went straight under the rock ledge and soon I could feel the leader rubbing. I moved along the ledge and changed my angle slightly. I flicked the bail arm over and let the pressure off. I waited about 10 seconds and then flicked it back over and pulled hard. The fish came out and ran again but buy now it was beaten. With the aid of a few decent waves I got it up to my feet. It was an 83 cm jewfish

I cleaned it up and kept it for supper. Bottom of the tide seems to be a good time for them.

Iluka – Goodwood Island – 21 July 2021

On Wednesday the skies were clear but the wind and swell were still making it too hard to fish the rocky headlands around Iluka. So I decided to flick some soft plastic lures around in the shallows, near Browns Rocks on Goodwood Island.

I started around 7.00 am using a GULP 4 inch Minnow in the Lime Tiger Colour on a 1/8th, 1/0 jighead. I have been using the Gamakatsu Round 211, 1/8th ounce, size 2 hook jigheads lately, as I find they are better than the regular jigheads for hooking bream. They are a good fit with the 2, 3 and 4 inch soft plastic lures.

Image 1 - Gamakatsu 66205 Jig Head Round 211 3.5 grams Size 2 ,4 Per pack (9997)
These Gamaktsu round hook jigheads are great for bream

I always consider June and July the best bream fishing months in the estuaries and around the rocky headlands. As the water cools and the bait supply increases, the bream and several other species start to school up to spawn.

I was back fishing the main arm of the river. First I tried the flats to the east of the Goodwood Island Wharf and later, I fished along the bank – to the north of the wharf. I was fishing with my light rig and 12lb fluorocarbon leader. The water was clear and there was plenty of bait in the shallows. I caught a couple of keeper sized bream, several tailor around the 30-35 cm mark, two small flathead; one that would have been around the 40cm long size.

As I drove past the Browns Rocks Caravan Park on my way home. I saw the birds dive-bombing something close to shore. I stopped and tied on a MARIA MJ Twitch 90mm hard bodied minnow lure (another favourite). I put in three casts at where the birds were divebombing. On the third cast I connected with a 38 cm tailor. This is about as big a tailor as I have ever caught in the Clarence River. I am sure I have been bitten off by bigger, but as I am generally fishing with a very light leader (10lb-12lb, max 20lb), so I cant stop them. I released it and hooked and dropped a couple more, before giving up at about 9.15 am.

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Iluka – Goodwood Island – 19 July 2021

On Monday the 19th the swell was up again and the wind came with it. I had a lie in, cleaned my light spinning rig and took it easy in the morning.

In the afternoon the wind dropped a little. So I went out to explore. I decided to fish through dusk on the north arm of the Clarence River. I drove down past the Goodwood Island Wharf and walked across to the other side of island. The river bank is fairly over grown but there are a few good fishing spots in this area.

I rigged up with a 12lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I put on a GULP 4″ Minnow soft plastic in the Watermelon Pearl colour. This is such a consistent performer for me and has caught jewfish, flathead, bream, dart, tailor, whiting and a whole range of weird and wonderful less common species.

In this area the north arm of the Clarence River is wide and shallow, There are open patches along the river bank and then large patches of young mangroves. Its is slightly muddier and swampier than the main arm.

The tide was pretty high and running in. I fished for a couple of hours until just after sunset. A couple of times a small school of tailor came past and bit the end of the soft plastic, but I did not catch any of them. I managed two flathead, one decent bream and an amazing sunset for the session. Its always good to explore.

Iluka – Woody Head – 17 July 2021

On the 17th the swell was forecast to be light again so I decided to try fishing at Woody Head. Low tide would be at about 7.30 am and we were about a week away from the full moon. I arrived at about 6.00 am, 30 mins before first light. I walked out onto the rock platform and the swell was disappointingly powerful again.

I started fishing at the north end, casting a 60g metal slug towards the gap in the rocks north of the area known as the barnacles. There are nearly always tailor or trevally here on dawn and sometimes jewfish. It was too rough to cast a soft plastic so I stuck with the slug. I hooked and dropped a couple of fish, just after first light, which I assume were tailor. Then I lost my slug to the rocks.

I dropped to the lighter rig and put on a GULP 4″ Minnow soft plastic on a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I cast out in front of the rock platform and let the plastic sink through the wash. You cannot leave the plastic long on the bottom as it will get snagged, but you need it down there for five or ten seconds, to be in with a chance of attracting a bite. After a few casts I caught a decent bream and then dropped another.

After sunrise things went quiet and I moved further south along the rock platform, casting in various spots. I moved back up to the heavier rig (40lb braid/ 30lb fluorocarbon leader), as I approached a few known jewfish spots. I was now fishing with a GULP 5″ Jerkshad in the Satay Chicken colour. I was still using 30lb leader but I had changed to a 1/4 ounce, 2/0 jighead. The swell was little lighter now and the tide was running in.

I kept casting and retrieving the soft plastic and leaving it for as long as possible right at the base of the rock ledge, on the bottom. I felt a pretty faint bight and then lost my rig to the cunjevoi again. I retied with the same set up and kept going south along the rocks.

It was now about 8.30 am. As I pulled up the rod tip to recast, the jighead stopped. I pulled again and it moved a little more and then line started peeling. Unfortunately, I could immediately feel the line rubbing on something, so the fish was probably swimming in, under an overhang. I tightened the drag a fraction and it slowed. I got some line back and hoped it was coming out. However it got its breath back and ran the wrong way again. I decided to flick the bail arm open to see if it swam out, once I had released the pressure. I left the fish with slack line for about 15 seconds. In this time I got a little nearer to the edge, in between the wave sets. I then flicked the bail arm over, took up the slack line and heaved the fish out. It was just clear of the overhang and the line flicked free. I now had the drag very tight. The fish was pretty much beaten and it popped up, a big slab of silver. It rolled over on its side in the wash. The Daiwa Saltist 962 MH rod would not be able to lift it clear of the water so I would have to use the wave sets and the stepped rock ledges to land it. I managed this and got a soaking in the process. It was a solid jewfish / mulloway about 85cm cm long. I put it in a fresh rockpool to recover for a while. After a few photos I decided it looked well enough to release so I sent it on its way.

I released this one after a swim in the recovery pool

The leader was pretty shredded, as was a good section of braid, so I cut it all off and re-rigged. I decided to stick with the winning combination and dug out another GULP 5″ Jerkshad in the Satay Chicken colour. I cast out in the same spot let the lure flutter down and wash in to the base of the rocks. By the second hop I felt a bite and dropped the rod tip again and paused. After a few seconds pulled up hard and set the hook. It was another jewfish. This time I had started with a tighter drag and I kept the fish from getting its head down and swimming under the ledge. It made a solid run bit fortunately it was in the direction of the open sea. I turned its head and again used the waves to to lift it onto one ledge, then another and then up to my feet. It was another nice fish, closer to 90 cm this time. After five minutes this one did not perk up in the recovery pool, so I decided it would be dinner. I spiked it, then gutted and scaled it and later weighed it in at the shop – 5.7 kg. It was a beautiful fish.

I decided that two good fish was more than enough for one session and gave up for the day.

Iluka – Iluka Bluff – 16 July 2021

In mid-July I got back down to Iluka for some fishing. I decided to fish with my light rig at Iluka Bluff. Low tide was just before 7.00 am and a 1.1 metre swell was forecast. We were five days into the new moon and there had been some pretty significant rain the week before.

I arrived at about 6.00am, well before dawn. I started by throwing large stickbaits and a 55g Halco Twisty, looking for tailor or trevally. The in-shore swell was significantly bigger than forecast and I got my first soaking before the sun came over the horizon. The big lures did not get anything, so I dropped down to my lighter rock fishing rig which is the Daiwa Crossfire Surf CFS 1062, 3.2m, 3-5kg rod, matched with my very battered (but still brilliant) Shimano Stella 4000. I set it up with 40lb braid and16lb fluorocarbon leader. It is perfect for casting lightly weighted soft plastics off the rocks.

I put on my favourite soft plastic – the 5″/13 cm GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger Glow colour. As I have mentioned before it looks like this colour is disappearing from the GULP range (and possibly this pattern too). Grab them while you can, if you see them in your local tackle store. I rigged it on a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead.

The sun was up and and the clouds were clearing. I cast the soft plastic out into the area beyond the wash and let it sink. I hopped it a couple of times, then repeated the process. After five or six tries a small big eye trevally grabbed it. I threw it back and kept casting. About ten minutes later a fish pulled the plastic off the jighead. This is usually the bream who gather in the wash. I put on a 4 ” GULP Minnow in the Smelt colour and cast that out. I had a few hits and then hooked up with a decent, 35cm Tarwhine. I released it and moved further south, around to another ledge.

On my first cast on this spot I connected with a small jewfish/ mulloway. It put a decent bend in the lighter rig, but with the aid of the swell I successfully pulled it into a rockpool at my feet. It was about 55cm long. I photographed and released it. I cycled through a few more soft plastic colours and patterns and lost a few jigheads to the cunjevoi covered rocks, but did not land anymore fish.

At about 8.30am the incoming tide pushed me back from the edge of the ledge and I gave up for the day.

Iluka – Woody Head – 14 July 2021

In mid-July I was back in Iluka after a fair bit of rain and wild weather. The swell was forecast to drop to about a metre so I decided to spend a morning fishing at Woody Head.

I was up before dawn and arrived on the platform at Woody Head at about 6.00 am. The tide had been low at 5.20 am and was now running in. It was a few days after the new moon, so it was about 20% full. The horizon was an amazing colour in the pre-dawn light. The swell was a bit angrier than forecast so I watched it for a while before I started fishing. As it got lighter I could see that the water was very cloudy.

When I felt I could cast safely between the bigger sets I tied on the ASWB 40g Flutter Drop fast sinking stickbait. This comes from Ebb Tide Tackle. I like this lure. It often seems to get a bite when other things are not working for tailor. I cast it out and started retrieving with long, fairly slow sweeps. I felt a couple of knocks on the first cast but nothing connected. I cast out again and repeated the process. This time the fish were ready and one grabbed it pretty quickly. I was fishing with my old battered Daiwa Demonblood 962 H rod and Daiwa TD SOL III LT 6000D-H spinning reel. I was using 40lb braid and a 40lb fluorocarbon leader. The Demonblood is such a solid rod and had no problem subduing the tailor. I pulled up a very fat fish – about 45cm long. I despatched it and put it in the keeper pool. It was now just after 7.00 am.

I kept casting in between some big wave sets, but conditions were tricky. At about 7.30 am I hooked another tailor, very close to the rocks. A big wave was coming so I loosened the drag and retired to safety while it washed over the ledge. I then retightened and felt the fish was still on. However the line was rubbing on the cunjevoi covered rocks. The swell forced me back again and I just flicked the bail arm over. The wave hit hard. As I moved back towards the edge, I flicked the bail arm over and wound like mad. The fish seemed to have freed/ untangled itself and I pulled it up to my feet. It was another tailor, about the same size as the first.

The BKK trebles (which are pretty tough) were all bent up and I was soaked, so I called it quits for the morning at about 8.00 am.

Goodwood Island – Browns Rocks – 19/20 June 2021

The next morning the swell came up and the rocky headlands of the Bundjalung National Park were too tough to fish. I had a bit of a lie in and then drove up the Clarence River to fish on Goodwood Island at Browns Rocks. There are fish to be found all the way along the banks of Goodwood Island. At this time of year it is mainly bream, flathead and schools of 30 cm to 40 cm marauding tailor.

On this particular morning I arrived about 7.00 am and drove down to fish an area of the river bank, where I could see the birds dive bombing some bait. It was about 7.00 am and I was fishing with my light spin rig and a 10lb fluorocarbon leader. I tied on a 1/8 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and GULP Minnow in the Camo colour. By the time I got organised the birds and bait had moved on. The tide was running in.

I cast my soft plastic up into the incoming tide and hopped it along the bottom, with lots of long pauses. It was a cold morning and the water was very clear despite the recent rain. A small flathead about 30 cm long, was the first taker. It grabbed my lure as it lay still, beside a fallen tree. I kept casting in the same spot and found two more flathead. One was bigger but probably not legal to keep. Dusky flathead need to be 36cm long in New South Wales. The other was a little smaller. I moved along the bank but that was it for the morning.

The next morning I tried again and started a little earlier. This time the birds were still around when I started casting and I could see there was a school of tailor chasing small herring along the shoreline. I knew they were tailor as, on my first cast my jighead and soft plastic were almost immediately bitten off.

I re-rigged and put on a new soft plastic. This time it was a GULP Minnow in the green and black speckled orange Lime Tiger colour. I carried on moving along the bank casting and retrieving and soon found a decent flathead – 43 cm long. I released it and carried on. The next taker was a solid bream about 35 cm long.

The fish were on the bite and I caught a couple more smaller bream. I swapped up to a bigger GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad soft plastic in the same colour and kept casting. Nearly all the flathead had taken the soft plastics at the base of the rock wall, that lines the river bank. So this is where I kept pausing. This tactic worked again at about 8.00 am and I connected with a solid 50 cm flathead that headed for the middle of the river. After a short fight, I had it at my feet. I took a picture and let it go. I decided that would do for the morning

A decent Clarence River bream

That afternoon I drove over to the north side of Goodwood Island to fish through until sunset. The wind dropped and the water was pretty flat. I had a few grabs from what I think where passing tailor and then caught a couple more keeper flathead which I took home for supper.

Iluka – Woody Head – 18 June 2021

It was back to Woody Head the next morning as the swell was forecast to be light. I started again with a big soft plastic, looking for a jewfish on the bottom of the run out tide. I tried for about 30 minutes from first light through to dawn. I did not get a touch in all my favourite spots.

As the sun came up I switched to a brass coloured 55g Halco Twisty and threw that out towards the horizon. On my third retrieve, a fish grabbed the lure close to the rocks and tried to head down into them. Fortunately it was only a small trevally and I muscled it up, took a picture and threw it back. We were coming up to low tide and the water was still very cloudy.

About ten minutes later a tailor grabbed the same lure. I landed it and threw it back. It was about 45cm long. On the next cast I lost the whole rig to something big and toothy. It was only on the line for about 10 seconds before cutting through my 40lb fluorocarbon leader. I re-rigged and put on a new Halco Outcast 60g metal slug. I moved a little further north along the rock platform and kept casting. I soon found some more tailor. I caught 4 more – all between 35cm and 45 cm before things went quiet.

By about 9.00 am the tide started to push me away from the rocks so I gave up for the morning.

Iluka – Woody Head – 17 June 2021

Conditions were perfect again for fishing at Woody Head on the 17th. There would be an early morning low tide. The moon was a waxing crescent – 43% full. The wind was light from the south west and there was a fairly light swell. The water quality was still poor but you can’t have everything. I was hoping for a jewfish and was in position very early, around 5.15 am.

I decided to try the southern end of the rock platform where I have caught good jewfish in a couple of spots. I tried to find them with a big soft plastic in the low light but did not get a bite. Once the horizon started to really glow orange I swapped to a stick bait to look for some tailor or even tuna (which were still around). I have a new favourite in this lure category – its the ASWB 40g Flutter Drop from Ebb Tide Tackle. I had it in the brown/ gold Sunbaker colour. Its a fairly slow sinking stick bait. Its easy to cast and has a great action. It also seems pretty hardy although I rarely get a 50 casts out of one lure before I lose it to the rocks or a fish.

I was fishing with my heavy rock fishing rig – Daiwa TD SOL III LT 6000 DH reel and Daiwa Saltist X MH 962 rod, 40lb braid and a 40lb fluorocarbon leader. I cast out as far as I could and brought the lure back to me fairly quickly. I did this about four times and on the last time a fish swiped at it, but missed. I cast out again in the same spot and slowed the retrieve down a little. This did the trick and I soon had a fat tailor, around 50 cm long at my feet. I decided to keep it, so I brained it, cut its throat and left it in a rockpool. The sun was over the horizon now. I cast out in the same spot and this time the lure was initially knocked out of the water by something which then came round for another try and swallowed it. It was another tailor and it pulled hard with several jumps on the way in. I muscled it out of the water. It was almost exactly the same size as the first. I cleaned it up and kept on fishing. I had a few more bumps on that lure but no hook ups.

The tide turned in and I swapped to my lighter rock fishing rig and dropped back down to a 16lb fluorocarbon leader and a GULP 4″ Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour. I rigged this on a 1/4 ounce, size 2/0 hook jighead. The first taker was a big eye trevally who grabbed the lure very close to the base of the ledge. About 20 minutes later I found a couple of decent bream, but then things went quiet.

It was now a beautiful morning but the tide was rising and the swell was picking up enough to make things hard so I packed up and walked back to the car. Tailor for supper.

Iluka – Woody Head – 15 June 2021

We had some heavy rain in mid-June. I decided to spend a week at Iluka. When I arrived the water in the Clarence River was surprisingly clear but the water around the headlands was very cloudy. The swell was reasonably light so on my first morning I fished at Woody Head. I started by casting a metal slug all through the pre-dawn period. I hooked and then dropped one decent fish before sun up which I presume was a tailor.

As the sun rose in the sky. I swapped to my lighter rock fishing rod and reel and cast 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 jighead around, loaded with various GULP soft plastics. As is often the case, as soon as I dropped down the light tackle a tailor struck. I held on to it long enough for it to jump and then it was gone. I kept fishing and found a solid bream and a small striped trevally but at the end of four hours I had nothing to take home.

Its never easy!

Goodwood Island – Clarence River floods – 25 March 2021

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 water only just came over the banks on Goodwood Island
Flooded Clarence River at Maclean

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.

Slimey bugger – Clarence River eel

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.

Iluka – Woody Head – Jewfish/ Mulloway – 9 March 2021

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.

The GULP Lizard soft plastic in Lime Tiger colour

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.

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.

Iluka – Browns Rocks – Mid-December 2020

From about the 12th to the 17th December, the big swell and northerly winds were replaced by a tropical low. The rain was relentless for the best part of five days. I sat watching tv in my cabin. As I could not fish I drove down to Motackle https://www.motackle.com.au/ at Coffs Harbour to replace my broken ultralight spin rod. I tried everything – there was a G.Loomis XMS I liked the look of, but then there always is! With no job and a rapidly dwindling savings account I would have to settle for something a little less pricey. The team at Motackle were great and found me a Samaki Zing Gen II SZG 562 SXL for about $130. Its 5′ 6″ with a very fast action and so far I love it.

Eventually, I ventured out when there was a break in the rain. In the first few days the river stayed surprisingly clean and on the top of the tide I caught a few more very small flathead. There were a lot of jelly prawns in the shallows.

Initially the water stayed quite clean

By day three the water was a brown muddy soup full of debris. The big tides had coincided with the torrential rain and the occasional whole tree floated by. Below is picture showing the water colour and level, before and after the rain at the Goodwood Island Wharf.

I could not catch anything once it turned this murky.

The wind and swell was unlikely to drop off and the river would now probably be dealing with all the fresh water run off for a couple of weeks, so I decided to quit the fishing and head home for Christmas.

Iluka – Goodwood Island flats / Browns Rocks – 1/2 December 2020

The swell was building and the rocks were effectively out of bounds during the first week in December. The weather was windy and hot but the edge of a tropical low was about to dump a week of rain on us. I decided to see what I could find fishing in the Clarence River, a few km upstream from Iluka. I would be fishing the sand and mud flats around the Goodwood Island Wharf, near Browns Rocks.

Even though it was hot and the water was warm I pulled on my waders. There are lots of rays and oysters around on these flats and I am not keen on stepping on the various ooglies that inhabit the shallows. All along the south side of Goodwood Island there are patches of beach that slope or drop off into the main Clarence River channel. In winter these are good flathead fishing areas, but you can also catch tailor, whiting, bream and mulloway here.

I would be fishing with my NS Blackhole Amped II 6′ 6″ S-602 Ultralight spinning rod matched to my Daiwa TD Sol III 2500 spin reel. This was loaded with 12lb braid and just over a metre of 10lb fluorocarbon leader. I have not had this rod long and it is performing pretty well. I would prefer and even faster tip but you can feel just about everything your soft plastic touches on the bottom. I like a 6 foot short rod so that I can flick lures around in the mangroves and other tight terrain.

The area I was fishing was covered in yabby holes. These ran right to the muddy riverbank that was lined with patches of mangrove. I started at about the top of the tide, casting into water that was about 50 to 60 cm deep. I was using my favorite prospecting soft plastic – the GULP 4″ Minnow in the Watermelon Pearl colour. I was using a 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. The water was clear and the wind was a 12 to 15 knot north-easterly.

I soon found some fish. They had moved up quite close to the shoreline mangroves, with the incoming tide and they were now gradually retreating. They were flathead. I caught three very small ones in quick succession. All around 25 cm long.

I then spent the next hour wading and casting without getting a bite. Then, as the tidal flow got stronger I found about five more flathead, but they were all tiddlers. I was hot and thirsty so at about 3.00pm I gave up.

The next morning I fished soon after dawn in roughly the same spot. The tide was running in. I swapped through a few slightly bigger soft plastic jerkshads on the same weight jighead. The results were better – of the 12 flathead I caught in a couple of hours, three were big enough to keep – all just over 40 cm long.

That afternoon I tried a quick cast in the late afternoon. I soon caught another small flathead, close to the small rock wall that lines the shore. Then, as I was hopping a soft plastic along the bottom towards me it stopped dead and I thought I had snagged a rock. There was a big swirl and and long slow powerful run. It was a ray and despite trying hard to dislodge my plastic, for some reason I disastrously high-sticked my rod as it came close and that was the end of my NS Blackhole Amped II S-602.

Stingray meets my NS Blackhole Amped II S-602 Ultralight

Iluka – Middle Bluff – 28 November 2020

Wild weather was on its way and the swell would soon start building. I had one last good session in November at Iluka. I chose Middle Bluff again and started before dawn. I was gifted another fabulous sunrise and was in position to fish at about 5.20 am. I could see enough to fish but dawn was twenty minutes away.

I decided to up the stakes and try a really big soft plastic. I choose a GULP 7 ” Jerkshad in the Watermelon Pearl colour. I loaded it onto a 1/4 ounce size 1/0 jighead and cast it out. As is so often the case in the pre-dawn session, a fish grabbed it. I played it along the ledge to a landing spot and pulled it up by the leader. It was the smallest mulloway I have caught for sometime, at about 50 cm. Big soft plastics/ lures don’t always translate into big fish.

I tried a few more different soft plastics, but could not catch another mulloway. The sun came up and I switched to my lighter rock fishing rig. I was now fishing with 16lb fluorocarbon leader, a 1/4 ounce , size 1/0 jighead and a GULP 4″ Minnow soft plastic in the Lime Tiger colour. I move up and down the rock platform casting at the patches of sandy bottom in between the rock bommies and reefs.

After 30 minutes or so I came up tight on another fish. It tried to head straight under the ledge I was standing on but I pulled it clear, tired it a little and landed it. It was a small trevally about 45 cm long. I decided to keep it and while cleaning it I found a hook and leader stuck in its throat. It was an unlucky fish!

At around 8.00 I caught a small striped trevally and then a couple of very small bream. I decided to give up and head back home. I tried fishing the next morning and I caught a couple of decent bream but the swell was up now and as the wind had also picked up, I decided to withdraw. It was time to retreat for a few days while a big storm and lots of rain came through.

Iluka – Iluka Bluff – 27 November 2020

In the afternoon the wind was still blowing pretty hard but I decided to try and fish a few of the ledges that are a little sheltered from the northerly wind at Iluka Bluff. I arrived about noon and walked round to a spot where two rock platforms join and create some deeper water, close to shore.

This was middle of the day fishing so I had my lighter rock fishing rig with a 16lb fluorocarbon leader. Ideally I would like to fish these ledges with a 1/6th ounce jighead so that the plastics spend plenty of time sinking, but if the wind is up I usually have to use at least a 1/4 ounce jighead to get enough distance on my casts. Today it would have to be a quarter ounce. There was plenty of wash but the water was crystal clear so I chose the smaller GULP 3″ minnow in the lime tiger colour. The dart seem to love this one and I thought they would be my most likely catch.

I watched the swell for a while and gradually moved out to the edge of the ledge. I wear the Cabelas ultra-light felt soled wading boots when I am rock fishing. In my experience the felt soles are the most effective at providing grip on even the slimiest of rocks – see link https://www.cabelas.com/shop/en/cabelas-ultralight-felt-sole-wading-boots-for-men. They also come with screw in metal lugs, which I add to the heals. They are reasonably priced but unfortunately they come from the US, so the shipping makes them a little pricey.

Back at Iluka Bluff the tide had turned in and as predicted I had caught a few small dart in the wash. As always the fish had grabbed the soft plastics close to the base of the rocks. I finished the session with a couple of small bream and then the incoming tide swallowed my fishing spot.

Bream

Iluka – Middle Bluff/Frasers Reef – 27 November 2020

The swell dropped off again for a few days and rock fishing looked possible at Iluka. High tide would be around 7.30 am, so I decided to fish through the dawn and the beginning of the run out at Middle Bluff. The moon was in its waxing gibbous phase, a few days off full. The swell was forecast to be about 1.1 metres and the wind would be a very light north-westerly through dawn. I have mentioned many times before that I have caught a lot of my better fish in the 30 to 40 minutes between first light and dawn. So early nights are a central part of my fishing ritual. It is also best to set up your rods and reels the night before, if you can.

Dawn at Frasers Reef – Iluka

I walked out on to the beach at Frasers Reef in the dark at about 4.30 am with one of the planets (not sure which) shining brightly, just above the horizon. The moon had set behind me about an hour earlier. I headed walked north to the far end of the rock platform at Middle Bluff. The night sky is amazing in the Bundjalung National Park as there is virtually no artificial light coming from urban settlements or street lighting.

I started casting with the heavier of my two fishing set ups, the  Daiwa Demonblood 962H rod, Daiwa TD SOL III LT6000 DH reel, 40lb braid, 40lb fluorocarbon leader and a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I put on a GULP Jerkshad soft plastic in the Satay Chicken colour ( yellow belly with a pumpkinseed coloured back). I dropped the soft plastic down close to the ledge and paused, once I felt it was on the bottom. I twitched it along and on about my third or fourth cast I hooked a fish. It was a small school jewfish/ mulloway about 60 cm long. I walked it along the shore to some stepped ledges where I could pull it up by the leader. I photographed it and then sent it on its way. I walked back to the original spot straightened the soft plastic on the jighead and dropped it down in front of the ledge, again. One hop off the bottom and I had another bite. The fish tried to take off out to sea but after one significant charge I turned its head back to the shore and a few moments later, I landed it. It was a little bigger than the first mulloway.

I had managed two fish before sunrise. The last one had destroyed the soft plastic jerkshad so I put on a slightly smaller GULP 4″ Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour. I fished all along the rock platform for the next hour and had a few touches and bites from smaller fish and changed the soft plastic several times. I caught the jighead in the rocks and had to snap the leader and re-rig several times. This is why my fish works out at about $200/ kilo.

Things had gone a little quiet so I dropped down to the lighter rod – Daiwa Crossfire 1062 matched with my Shimano Stella 4000, now spooled with 30lb braid and a 25lb fluorocarbon leader. I stuck with the Lime Tiger coloured minnow soft plastic and 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead.

Just after six, a fish grabbed the soft plastic, close to the ledge and took off under the rocky overhang. Typical trevally behaviour – and that is what it was – and an angry looking one. I felt the line rubbing on the rocks and flicked the bail arm open and hoped it might swim out. I waited for about 30 seconds and then flicked it back over, tightened the drag and wound hard. The fish came clear and was now worn out. I towed it along to a lower ledge and pulled it out by the leader. I love to eat fresh trevally, and this size makes a good meal (it was about 45 cm). I despatched the fish, bled and cleaned it in a rock pool.

The leader was not damaged so I cast out again to see what else might be around. The trawlers had been struggling to find good prawns. There were plenty of small ‘schoolies’ around the river mouth but no big ones. The trevally had a stomach full of these small prawns. I kept casting and about 30 minutes later the line pulled tight and a fish had eaten the minnow soft plastic, again. I only had the light rod and so the fish felt pretty solid. It was another mulloway and landing it was a bit of a process. It put in two good runs and then got tired and surrendered. However with the 25lb leader I could not really risk a big lift our of the water. Fortunately teh swell was now fairly light and predictable so I kept the line tight and jumped down to a lower ledge, between wave sets, and let it wash up to my feet.

I measured it against the rod handle and was pretty sure it was a keeper. I then grabbed it and put it in a rock pool, out of reach of the swell. I measured up at about 73cm – perfect eating size, so it too was sent to meet its maker and joined the trevally in the rock pool.

At about 7.30 am the wind was already blowing hard from the north and making fishing difficult, soI packed up. There would be fish for supper for a few days.

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