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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The swell came up and then subsided, a little. The wind swapped to south easterly, then northerly, then south easterly and then back to a morning south westerly, all in the space of about 48 hours. The moon had reached its first quarter. The dawn tide would be too high to fish at Woody Head so I decided to give Middle Bluff a try.
The challenge at Middle Bluff is the distance between you and the water, if you hook a fish. In some places on this rock platform you are fishing three or four metres above the water. In calm conditions you can gently coax a fish along the front of the rock ledges to a lower one and grab the leader to pull the fish up. But if there is any swell this is next to impossible. I have never mastered using a gaff as I am convinced I will most likely end up gaffing myself (I also like to release fish, if I am not planning to eat them). So like so many other rock fishing ledges it is only really safe when the swell is around 1 metre. Even then all the usual rules apply; wear boots or shoes with excellent grip, wear a life jacket, check the swell for 20 minutes or so before fishing and try to stay permanently on dry rocks – if in doubt, don’t.
I arrived and parked at Frasers Reef just after 4.00 am and walked north to Middle Bluff. By the time I reached the ledges I wanted to fish there was a long line of orange on the horizon. I started on the north end of the platform.
I cast out a 3/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead with a GULP 5″ Paddleshad soft plastic in the Pink colour on my heavy rig. I tried to get it as close to the edge of the ledge as possible as I believe the mulloway and other fish school up in the sea caves and overhangs which extend under the ledges. The idea is to drop it down next to the rocks and then hop it slowly along the bottom, parallel with the shoreline. The period between first light and sunrise is definitely my most successful period for catching mulloway/ jewfish from the rocks. I cast around close to the edge and just before dawn the line pulled tight and I felt the weight of a fish. It set off under the ledge but I turned it around. I was fishing with my heavier rod and reel with 40lb fluorocarbon leader and a fairly tight drag. I pulled hard to keep it away from the rocks but I was going too hard and fast and the hook pulled out. I was a little too eager. I carried on casting through dawn and swapped through a few different soft plastics. I had another bite that felt like a tailor but it also spat the hook. I had eaten all my mulloway/ jewfish so I needed something for dinner.
At about 6.00 am I moved south along the ledge, nearer to Frasers Reef. The swell was a little more relaxed here. I swapped to my lighter fishing rig which was rigged 16 lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/4 ounce, size 1 hook jighead and GULP 3″ Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour. I cast this out and again focused on the area close to the base of the ledge. Leaving the plastic on the bottom for as long as I could without getting snagged. This tactic worked and I caught a decent bream just over 36 cm long. It hit the lure inches from surface and inches from the rocky shore. I put it in a rock pool and tried again in the same spot. A few casts later I caught another one about the same size.
A disappointing morning but I would have fish for supper.
We had great conditions on the Friday and Saturday with an early morning low tide and light wind from the northwest. There was about a metre swell forecast and we were about 5 days past the new moon.
I went straight back to fish “the Barnacles” at Woody Head, through dawn, on Friday. I walked out onto the rock platform at about 4.30 am. The sun was starting to glow below the horizon and the swell was pleasantly light, as forecast.
I started with soft plastics. I find it very difficult to fish a big hard bodied lure in the dark/ twilight. I tend to lose it to the rocks pretty quickly. I was fishing with the heavy rig – Daiwa Demonblood 962H rod, Daiwa TD SOL III LT6000 DH reel, 40lb braid, 40lb fluorocarbon leader. I tied on a Nitro Saltwater Pro 3/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and loaded it with a GULP 4″ minnow soft plastic in the lime tiger colour.
There are plenty of brands of jigheads out there. It is important to carry a range of weights and hook sizes, so that you can vary your selection according to the swell/wind/terrain and what is biting. Be aware that whilst they all have standard weights (1/4, 3/8, 1/2 ounce, 7,10, 14 grams) marked on them, if you weigh them they are all actually a little different in weight. This is because some include the hook in the weight and some don’t and they vary considerably in their design. There is also the complication of metric vs imperial weights and what they choose to put on the packaging. Strength is an important factor, especially when fishing from the rocks. The Nitro Saltwater Pro jigheads on Owner hooks rarely give at all and are very unlikely to straighten, but if you need a stealthy presentation, for shy fish, they are not the right choice. The kingfish had not been shy around dawn in my last few sessions.
I cast the soft plastic out towards the glowing horizon and saw the bait spook as it landed. I was in the right spot. On the first few casts I tend to rush my retrieves a little as I work out where the submerged ledges start and finish and how far I am likely to be able to cast. After ten minutes I had not had a touch and thought of changing lures. I put in one more cast; about 45 degrees out to the north east of the rock the locals sometimes refer to as “Barnacle Bob”. I left it to sink and counted slowly to ten, then started my retrieve. I felt it rub along the bottom as I lifted it, but on the second hop – the line pulled tight and there was a fish there. It swam fairly slowly towards me and as I wound in, I assumed it was a decent bream. Then it saw the ledge coming or realised it was hooked and took off in a long hard run. The rod tip was pulsing, but not frantically – so it was not a tailor. It made several small arcs and then I landed it with the aid of a wave surge. It was 60cm kingfish.
That started a great morning of fishing with 10 kingfish hook ups over the next few hours, interspersed with a couple of dart and bream. I landed 6 of them. A few times I tried to tempt them with a hard bodied lure and a popper but whilst they would follow the bigger lures, they just would not bite. I swapped back to the soft plastics and I hooked up immediately. The most prolific soft plastics where the GULP 4″ Pink Paddleshad and the GULP 4″ Lime Tiger Minnow. Unfortunately none of the Kingfish were over 65cm, so I released them all.
At about 6.30 am the tide was running in and pushing me back from my favorite spot, so I moved further south along the Woody Head platform to the spot known as “Snapper Rock”. I got snagged and lost my jighead after a few casts and so I picked up my lighter Daiwa Crossfire 1062 rod with a lighter 25lb fluorocarbon leader and 1/4 oz, size 1/0 hook jighead. I put on another Lime Tiger Minnow. I cast out and as the plastic sank a fish ate it and headed straight down into the rocks. I tightened the drag and manage to pull it out. It was a small snapper, about 35 cm long. I threw it back and cast out again. The sea was fairly flat but the wind was now picking up from the north. I kept casting and hooked another kingfish. the fight was longer and harder because of the light rod – these fish just never give up. Eventually I landed it with the help of the swell, and got a fair soaking in the process. At about 7.30 am I gave up battling the wind.
The next morning the wind was light again from the northwest and there was almost no swell. I started fishing at “the Barnacles” with the GULP 4″ Paddle shad in pink colour. I caught a decent 35cm + bream. It was a very dark colour but pretty fat. I cast all around but the Kingfish were either not there or not eating. A couple of other anglers joined me and we threw every kind of popper, hard body, bait and soft plastic, without success. Then, just before 7.00 am, we saw them feeding on the surface on a school of bait. I hurled a single hooked 40g brass coloured Halco Twisty (metal slug) at them, retrieved it fast and hooked one. It pulled hard but I eventually got it right up to my feet. Then, almost in slow motion the single hook came loose, and it swam away with the next wave.
A great couple of sessions, but the weather was closing in again for a big south-easterly blow, so it was time for a rest.
By Saturday the swell was picking up again. Low tide was just before dawn, at about 5.15 am. I arrived and started fishing at Woody Head just before 5.00 am. It’s an early start if you want to fish at dawn at this time of the year (even earlier if you are in Queensland!).
The wind was light from the south-east and the swell was just a little more than the forecast 1.2 metres. I started casting a 60 gram Halco twisty but after ten minutes this had not produced a fish, so I swapped over to soft plastics. I chose a 3/8th of an ounce, size 1.0 hook jighead from VMC. I loaded a 5″ GULP Paddleshad in the pink colour. I was using my heavy rig with 40lb braid and 40lb fluorocarbon leader.
I was casting over the cunjevoi covered rocks which is never easy. However when I got the lure in the zone I got a hit and run, but no hook up. My first taker was an ambitious dart. A few casts later I hooked a fish but initially it did not do much and I thought it was a bream. Then it suddenly took off and really fought hard. After a brief but tough fight I had a 55cm Kingfish at my feet.
I released it and carried on with the GULP Paddleshad. This time the fish grabbed the plastic on the drop but again it did not put up much of a fight, at first. I think Kingfish often don’t realise they are hooked and therefore do not initially fight at all. But once they realise they are hooked there are few fish that fight harder. I am always surprised at the relatively small size of the fish that I eventually land. This one was 62cm long, so not a keeper – also released.
By about 7.30 am the wind and swell was pushing me around. I slipped and knelt on a barnacle and so decided to quit while I was ahead. I have left a lot of my skin on these rocks over the years.
On Monday afternoon the temperature shot up and the wind blew from the north all night. A small storm had passed at about 3.30 am and woken me up. So Tuesday morning was warm and humid. A big southerly wind change was due late morning so I decided to have a look at Frazer’s Reef around sunrise. Conditions were calm, the tide was running in and it was a few days after the new moon.
I started fishing with the heavy rod – 40lb braid and 40lb fluorocarbon leader. I started with a 1/4 ounce, 1/0 hook jighead loaded with a Lucky Craft Mad Scientist Optishad in the Motor Oil colour. This is another paddletail soft plastic with a really great action. The first taker was a small big eye trevally, in close to the rocks. I put what was left of the soft plastic back on and a few casts later a 45 cm tailor ate it. The plastic was now unusable so I put on a GULP Lime Tiger coloured jerkshad. A few casts later a fish grabbed it and tried to get under the rock ledge. The tough leader held and I pulled up a bigger trevally.
Things then went quiet so after losing a jighead to the rocks, I re-rigged with a lighter 25lb leader. The tide was now running in, strongly. The paddletail soft plastic had got the fish to bite earlier so I went back to that idea and put on a 5″ GULP Paddleshad in the Pink Belly colour. I watched the swell and hopped the plastic across the bottom, as close as I could, parallel with the ledge. After about four retrieves I thought I was snagged but then I felt a bit of give and a good solid run. It was a jewfish/ mulloway, fortunately it swam out into open water and played itself out. I lifted it onto a lower ledge then pulled it up to me by the leader. It was 72cm long and as we had already demolished the one from a few days before, I kept it.
When I gutted it, I had a look in its stomach and it was full of small school prawns. These are currently pretty thick in the lower reaches of the Clarence River.
The early start had paid off with a couple of good fish and good conditions.
Very strong south easterlies had been blowing all week. I had tried a few sheltered spots around Iluka, but had only managed a few bream and small trevally. Everything was just too stirred up and finding anywhere safe to stand was too hard.
The winds dropped off on the Friday and the south easterlies were replaced by a strong northerly wind. This flattened out the seas a little and by lunchtime on Saturday I decided to try fishing at Woody Head. It was an early afternoon low tide at about 2.30 pm. The northerly wind was forecast to fall through the afternoon. The moon would be new on Sunday. The wind was still gusty from the north but the swell had flattened considerably.
I started fishing with my heavier set up – 40lb leader, 40lb braid, casting a DUO Drag Metalcast around. This produced nothing. Then a Gulp Jerkshad (various colours). This produced a 45cm trevally and then a 35cm bream. Initially I was fishing with a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and then on a heavier 3/8th ounce, 2/0 hook jighead, to counteract the fairly strong northerly wind.
I had been casting a GULP Lime Tiger coloured jerkshad around and I was thinking of swapping to a more natural coloured soft plastic when something grabbed the plastic very close. It initially turned to swim away but soon rethought its strategy and headed under the ledge. The drag was pretty tight but the fish didn’t even pause. My braid was soon rubbing on the rocks and then – snap! I re-rigged and tightened the drag, but things seemed to go quiet for a while. The tide was now pushing in quite quickly. I kept casting and the next fish on the scene was a trevally, about 45cm long.
At about 3.30 pm I had moved a little south along the ledge. I dropped down to the light rock fishing rig with 16lb leader and 20lb braid. I cast out a GULP Lime Tiger coloured Crazylegs Jerkshad. This was smacked on the drop and taken straight under the rock ledge – the braid snapped almost instantly. I cursed my impatience and swapped back to the heavy rod with 40lb leader and a 3/8th ounce size 2/0 jighead. I put another GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad on. This paid off and after a few casts something whacked the soft plastic on the drop and took off. Fortunately it decided to swim away from the ledge and this gave me some time. It was powerful but after an initial run I seemed to have it under control. I pulled it up with a wave surge and was delighted to see it was a snapper (later weighed in – gutted and scaled – at 3.8kg)
The next day would be an even lower low tide and I started fishing in the same spot at about 3.00 pm. The swell had continued to drop off and the wind was a light south-easterly. The first taker was a bream. I released it and carried on. About 10 minutes later I felt a fish grab then lure then drop it, a few metres out from the ledge. I cast out again and slowed down my retrieve. Something fast grabbed it and took off with a long run. I got some line back but then it ran again. I tightened the drag and wound like mad as it suddenly turned and decided to swim straight for the ledge. Fortunately, by the time it tried to change its mind, I had virtually locked up the drag and pulled it in on a wave. It was a surprising small (50cm) kingfish. I have only ever caught a few of these and their power and speed always surprises me. I released it, hoping for more, but did not get any.
I moved further south to where I had caught the snapper the day before. I was temporarily out of the Crazylegs Jerkshads so I found a 6″ GULP Squid Vicious in the New Penny colour and cast that out. It was now almost 5.00pm and the tide was running in. On about the third cast I thought I had the bottom, then it started wriggling and took off. One long solid run and then a couple of head shakes but no real power (compared to the kingfish). It was decent school jewfish and I was able to successfully pull it up to my feet. It was just over 75 cm long and so it joined the snapper in the fridge.
A couple of great sessions once the weather allowed me to get to the fish, lets hope it stays calm for a while.
While I was fishing the Clarence River at Goodwood Island a dead whale had washed up on the beach at Shark Bay in Iluka. I drove past the beach entrance and found it closed with a large cohort of National Parks trucks in attendance and a 30 tonne excavator just being delivered. I parked up and walked out onto the beach to have a look.
It was amazing to see this huge creature washed up. It had obviously only recently died as there was no smell or predator damage. Two chaps from the Coffs Harbour Dolphin Marine Research Centre were on hand to cut it open and see what it had died of. It was covered in more than normal numbers of sea lice, which they said meant it had probably been sick for some time. The plan was to move it up the beach with the excavator so that the high tide would not carry it away before they could conduct their a post mortem, the next day.
There is no easy way of getting rid of a dead whale. So it was decided it would be sent to landfill after the postmortem. Not a very dignified end. I think it would be more noble to tow it out to sea and let the other predators ‘recycle’ it. However there was a risk it would keep washing back in and the sharks would be around for months following it, so it was cut up and sent to landfill.
I had hoped the blood and guts might bring the fish in but the excavator crew did a pretty good job of tidying up and the next day there was little trace on the beach. Just a few barnacles and dead sea lice.
That evening in another howling south easterly wind I tried to fish the north side of the Shark Bay rock platform. I cast metal slugs and hard bodies and eventually dropped down to small minnow and other soft plastics. I found a few fish but not what you would expect – a big pike, butter bream and a few small bream. Finally something crunched through my jighead in the shallows – I suspect a wobbegong.
I always keep an eye on the weather forecast, looking for a period of low swell that will allow me to safely fish the rocks – which is currently my favorite fishing style. In late September three or four days of low swell were forecast for Northern New South Wales. The school holidays were about to start and despite (or maybe because of) all the COVID 19 travel restrictions, all the accomodation in Northern New South Wales would soon be booked out for a fortnight.
So I grabbed my chance and on the 22 September I drove down to Iluka along the newly opened section of the Pacific Highway. The highway now bypasses the small towns of Wardell, Broadway and Woodburn and reduces the drive south from Byron to Iluka, to less than 90 minutes.
The reason the sea had flattened out was the arrival of northerly and north-westerly winds. The full moon was about a week away and the low tide would be early in the mornings. We were about to swap from winter to summer and the fishing often goes off a little as the weather becomes a bit more erratic. I dropped into Iluka Bait and Tackle when I arrived – https://www.facebook.com/Iluka-Bait-and-Tackle-608266152650241/. Apparently winter has been excellent for tailor, jew and bream fishing but things had slowed down a little in the couple of weeks prior to my arrival. I always drop in to see Ross at the store. He is a great source of up to date info and has an excellent range of lures/ bait terminal tackle, jigheads and soft plastics. Unlike many small local fishing shops, his prices are also very reasonable.
I was up early everyday and out fishing at Woody Head just before dawn. It was calm enough to fish right off the front of the rock platform. I fully expected a few tailor or jewfish, but they were nowhere to be found. There were a few bream and dart, but the dominant predator was the Australian Salmon. This was a surprise as these have been missing from these waters for a few years.
I started off in the mornings fishing at the northern end of the Woody Head rock platform, at the spot known locally as ‘the Barnacles’. On the first day I fished through dawn with large hard bodies and then dropped down to a 6o gram brass coloured Halco Twisty metal slug. I was using 30lb braid and 30lb fluorocarbon leader.
I had a few bumps on a big hard body and could see the bait jumping around in front of my lure but I did not hook anything. Once I put the Halco Twisty on, things improved. I felt a grab and then another and finally, on about the tenth fast retrieve, I hooked a solid fish. It fairly quickly lept out of the water revealing it was an Australian Salmon. I tightened my drag and got some line back. It was a heavy fish and they fight hard. They don’t have much in the way of teeth but they do jump a lot, so you have to keep the line tight. I got it up to just below the ledge and got soaked by a wave, trying to heave it up next to me. On the next surge I tried to muscle it over the edge but it gave a powerful slap of its tail and spat the hook out, just as it came to my feet. It then left with the next wave. I checked my lure and realised I had a fairly light, fine wire single hook on it – which had now bent open. I put on another slug but I could not find anymore.
I swapped to my lighter rock fishing rig – 20lb braid and a 12lb fluorocarbon leader. On my way down, I had dropped in to BCF in Ballina to find lots of packets of the GULP Lime Tiger Jerkshads and GULP Nuclear Chicken shrimp soft plastics marked down to $5 a packet. I know these catch fish, so I grabbed as many as I could and added them to the tacklebox. I loaded up a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead with a GULP Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour and started casting. I cast it all around and eventually caught some kind of small wrasse with bright red fins. I swapped to the GULP 2″ Shrimp in the Nuclear Chicken colour and threw that out and this snared a couple of small bream.
The next morning I decided to cast some GULP jerkshads around on dawn, to see if I could tempt a jewfish. Unfortunately all I found was another small red finned wrasse. When I swapped to a smaller soft plastic, I caught a small speckled rock fish and a few more bream.
I swapped to a 40g DUO DragMetal Cast Slow lure. This is a slow jig and although you cannot exactly ‘slow jig’ it off the rocks, it is a a bit more exciting than a plain metal slug. I hop it back to me fairly quickly, but give it time to reach the surface, then flutter down again. I saw a boatie, about 100 metres out, hook something and start a fairly serious fight. I cast in his direction and felt a hit on the retrieve. I cast again. This time I made sure to exaggerate the hops and it paid off. Line started peeling and I let the fish run. It was another Australian Salmon, but this time it was solidly hooked and I managed to land it. It was just on 60cm long. As I was de-hooking it it spat up another large baitfish.
I have tried but I can’t make Australian Salmon taste good. I hear they are usually netted and used for pet food by the professional fisherman. I decided to cut out the middleman and keep this one for the cat.
The next day I followed a similar drill. I caught nothing much around dawn but at about 7.30 am I managed to find the Salmon with a new soft plastic – the GULP 4″ Paddle Shad in the Silver Mullet colour. This one has just appeared in the GULP range and I like it. We plastics fisherman have always lacked a decent scented paddle tail lure and this one is great. Now we just need them to make it in the Watermelon Pearl colour. I lost another Salmon to the rocks a little later, using the same soft plastic.
On my final day the wind was strong and cold, from the west, but the swell was still light. I fished a little further along the Woody Head rock platform, to the south. Around dawn I caught a couple of decent bream and a good dart. I had broken the tip on my Daiwa Crossfire 1062 rod, so I had I matched my Daiwa TD SOL LT 6000 DH with my NS Black Hole Cabin II S862L rod, 30lb braid and 16lb fluorocarbon leader. At about 8.30am, I was fishing with a GULP 4′ Minnow soft plastic in the Watermelon Pearl colouring on 1/6th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I cast it out towards the tip of rocky out crop and let it sink. As I lifted the rod I felt some weight and something started taking line. Almost straight away it leaped out of the water trying to spit out the soft plastic. It was well hooked and after a couple of big leaps and runs it calmed down and I used the swell to land it.
That was it for my trip. Summer is coming and it is time to change tactics.
I was in Singapore and Thailand in early March, finishing some work when suddenly the world seemed to go mad. Flights were getting cancelled left, right and centre and whilst my Thai colleagues were still smiling, they were doing it from behind surgical masks. It was clearly time to head back to Australia so I flew back to Brisbane on a virtually empty plane, just before the quarantine system was implemented.
I felt fine but the Mrs thought 14 days of self-isolation would be a good idea. She did not need to ask twice, I had a unit booked in Iluka in just under 5 minutes – this was possibly the only good thing to come out of the whole COVID 19 crisis.
I picked up my car at Brisbane airport, stopped by my garage to grab my tackle, collect a pre-packed box of groceries and the all important toilet paper. I gave a the family a wave through the front doorway and I was on my way.
The first few days were dark and stormy, both physically and metaphorically. I sat watching the tv, listening to the media whipping us all into a frenzy. I concluded it would be best to turn off the tv for all but 30 minutes a day. The cruise ships started to resemble 19th century leper colonies and everyone rushed home from overseas. In Iluka not much changed – except they ran out of toilet paper in the IGA! I realised I truly live in the ‘lucky’ country as the the NSW government clarified that fishing was definitely a ‘permitted’ form of exercise.
I decided to stay away from everyone, keep washing my hands and get on to some fish. The groceries were soon running low so if I wanted protein I was going to have to catch it. The NSW National Parks & Wildlife service decided to close the Woody Head campground (understandable) and also shut the access roads to Frazers Reef, Back Beach and Woody Head (less understandable). Shark Bay beach vehicle access was then also inexplicably closed. Fortunately our right to access the coastline and fish was maintained through the Bluff Beach carpark.
Iluka was the ideal place to isolate. I generally managed 200 metres of social distancing and did not see a soul. The rain stopped and the weather cleared a little. On a couple of afternoons I walked out along the beach to the Shark Bay rock platform and cast slugs out into the setting sun, as the tide approached low. The fish were not plentiful but I managed a couple of keeper sized tailor the first night and tailor, bream and a small trevally, on the next evening. I caught the bream early in the afternoon on a GULP soft plastic minnow and the tailor just after dusk on a 65g Raider metal slug
The swell was pretty persistent and I had to wait a few more days before fishing the headlands would be possible and safe. I decided that I would walk round to Woody Head from the Shark Bay picnic area. It was a fair old trek but when I got there I had the whole rock platform to myself. Low tide was just after lunch and I was delighted to see a very light swell out in front.
I had some great sessions over the next few days casting slugs (mainly Halco Twistie and Streakers), big hard bodied lures and soft plastics. There were lots of tailor and trevally and I even pulled up a small kingfish. At one point I was losing fish to bite offs and after losing a couple of good lures, I swapped up to metal trace. I caught a couple more tailor and then witnessed a decent size shark cruise up behind my hooked tailor and take the fish, the lure and bite straight through the trace.
The swell soon came back up and I had to retreat to the river bank for a few days. Fortunately there were plenty of good bream to be had along the rock walls. Suddenly my fourteen days was up and I headed home to continue my lock down and fishing.
I had a fair amount of time fishing the rocky headlands around Iluka in March. Many of them are situated just north of the town in the Bundjalung National Park. The typical wind pattern was a southerly in the morning turning to a northerly in the afternoon. It was very warm and the water temperature was consistently warm. There were a few storms early in the month and we had had the tropical storm pass through offshore, at the end of February, so the water quality was pretty average. I caught all the usual species; dart, bream, various types of trevally, tailor, flathead but I only caught and released 1 small 45cm Jewfish during the whole trip.
Tailor were the most prolific and I caught plenty when the swell was low enough to fish Woody Head, Iluka Bluff and the Shark Bay rock platforms. I got them on metal slugs from 40 to 60 gram. The colour or type did not seem to matter much. They were either there and you got four or five good fish in a session or they just weren’t there. I also had success with big bibless sinking hard bodies (see pics). I tend to stick with a 30lb fluorocarbon leader when fishing for tailor. I lose the odd fish but I find anything heavier makes good casting hard. My favourite rod for throwing a big hard bodied lure is my Daiwa Demonblood, which is now looking very battered.
I had a few early morning savage bite offs, which I assumed were mackerel. There were a few Spanish mackerel and tuna around and I saw one good sized Spaniard landed minus its tail, at Woody Head. The tuna appeared from time to time but pretty much always just out of casting range.
I agree with the general sentiment that a clear sunny winter day in Queensland is hard to beat. Ok, so the mornings can be chilly but there is something great about needing a beany at sunrise and a cold shower at noon.
July provided some good weather and some great bream. I started the month fishing on the Bongaree side of the Pumicestone Passage at Bribie and I soon found good sized spawning bream. Gulp 3-inch minnow soft plastics in the Pearl Watermelon or Smelt colours worked best, fished on 1/8th ounce, size 1 and 2 hook jigheads and 10lb fluorocarbon leader. This set up also caught a few flathead for me.
Later in the month I had a few days fishing at Iluka, in Northern New South Wales. In fact, it was the good bream catches at Bribie that persuaded me I need to get down there. The rocky headlands of the Bundjalung National Park hold plenty of good bream all year round but in the run up to the big winter full moons they can be everywhere.
During my trip to Iluka I fished at Shark Bay, Iluka Bluff, Frazers Reef and Woody Head. Frazers Reef and the Middle Bluff – just to the north, produced solid catches of bream, as did Shark Bay. I tried for some tailor most mornings using 50/ 60 g slugs. I caught a few small choppers but they were very patchy. When I swapped down to big and small DUO hard bodied lures, I just caught more bream.
The swell made things hard at Woody Head and I could not really fish safely off the front. There must have been Jewfish around and I had a couple of bust offs that may well have been jewfish. Beautiful sunrises and loads of birds and other wildlife to watch made for a great few days.
April offered the opportunity to get a few days off after Easter. Unfortunately, the heavens opened and we faced a wet week at Iluka, in northern New South Wales. It was quite a challenge to get there as the Pacific Highway was closed at high tide at Chinderah. We slowly drove on as ankle deep water gradually drained off the nation’s main highway. We turned off for Iluka but had to wait for an hour or so at Woombah, until the local SES agreed it was safe to go through. We arrived in the dark and it started raining again.
There were a few breaks in the heavy rain and the sun came out a few times but the water turned in to churned up brown soup. I fished on a couple of mornings at Shark Bay – it was the only place where the swell would not knock me off my perch. I tried my two favourite lures for tailor and both caught fish, all between 35 and 50 cm. The first is the HALCO Twisty metal slug in the brass colour – either 55g or 70g. The brass colour often seems to get a fish in this spot when plain silver slugs don’t. The other great lure for tailor is the DUO Pressbait Saira – a long solid sinking hard body that looks very like the garfish that often hang about at Shark Bay.
I was sure the jewfish were present and when fishing the eastern end of the Shark Bay headland with a large jerkshad, I think I hooked one. Unfortunately I was fishing with the light rod and after a few minutes of fight the 16lb leader got stuck on something and the fish was gone.
In early February, I had a few days fishing at Iluka. The weather was not ideal with strong northerly winds, but generally clear skies. These made casting difficult but I fished all the rocky headlands of the Bundjalung National Park – Shark Bay, Woody Head, Middle Bluff, Frasers Reef & the Iluka Bluff.
I fished with soft plastics, metal slugs and some hard-bodied lures. For the soft plastics, I generally used 1/4 ounce and 1/6th ounce jigheads and the most successful slug was a brass colored 70g Halco Twisty. I swapped up and down between 12lb and 30lb fluorocarbon leaders. I caught Trevally, Bream, Pike, Dart and the highlight was a keeper size jewfish on a GULP Cajun Chicken Jerkshad soft plastic at Iluka Bluff. I did not catch a tailor all week but did see a few pulled from the water at Iluka Bluff.
Saturday would be my last morning in Iluka for a while. Despite praying for calmer weather the wind was forecast to pick up. I had a lie in as low tide would not be until 2.30 pm. I arrived at Shark Bay at about 10.30 am.
All week I had been expecting the stirred up seas to reveal a few Jewfish/ Mulloway. There was lots of bait around and previous trips, at this time of year have nearly always produced a few. The big seas had made it difficult to reach my favourite spots – perhaps the fish were there but I just could not get to them.
With this in mind I decided to start on the southern side of the Shark Bay rock platform. I would be casting straight in to the south-easterly wind so I needed to fish with something fairly heavy. There are lots of rocks on this side of the platform so I was not confident I would keep my lure.
I have a couple of Rapala 13g, 6cm Clackin Raps, lipless vibe lures which have been rattling around the bottom of the tackle bag for ages. I have never caught anything on these lures so I was not too worried about losing them. I rigged up the lighter of my rock fishing rods (the Daiwa Air Edge) and tied the lure on to my Aldi braid and 20lb fluorocarbon carbon leader. I cast the lure into the surf and waited for it to sink. The sea was very lively and I could only just feel the juddering vibrations as I yanked the lure along. After about three casts the lure pulled tight on something and I thought I had hit some kelp. I pulled the rod tip up and then line started peeling. I knew it was a Jewfish straight away. It made three long powerful steady runs and then started swimming back towards me. The game of cat and mouse continued for about 10 minutes. The rod was not powerful enough to force the issue, so I just had to be patient. After a couple more minutes the fish popped over on its side, a few meters from the shore. It looked as if it was beaten, so I tightened the drag a little and tried to pull it over the rocks with the next surge. Either the wave or sense of impending doom caused it to suddenly wake up and it put its head back down and tried to bury itself. The leader slipped down between the cunjevoi and I could not free it. I could see the fish and lure hanging on by just the single big hook on the front treble, a few metres in front of me, but could not get to it. Another big wave came over and when it receded the fish was gone and the lure was lodge firmly in the cunjevoi. They always getting bigger in your memory but I think it was about a 6kg fish. I realised I did not have my camera with me – perhaps that’s why I could not hold on to the fish.
I had another, bigger Clackin Rap and I cast this around without success. As the tide lowered I moved to the front of the rock platform, also on the southern side. I swapped to a soft plastic on a ¼ ounce 2/0 jighead. I needed the weight to cast against the wind. I put on a GULP Jerkshad in the Peppered Prawn colour. I lost the first to the rocks and tied another one on. After a few casts this was slammed in the surf, close in. The fished pulled hard and when I finally subdued it, I was surprised to only see a small Trevally.
The challenge in this spot was losing gear to the rocks and I lost a few more rigs over the next hour or so. I swapped to a Gulp Jerkshad soft plastic in the Sweet and Sour Chicken colour and when I got this one in to a good foamy patch of water just beyond the rocks, I almost instantly hooked up. This time it was a 55cm tailor and I managed to pull it in.
I finished the session casting the long DUO Pressbait Saira hard body off the northern end of the rock platform. As it had done all week the lure found lots of long toms and a few more small tailor.
Just after low tide I stopped for the day. It had been another great week of fishing at Iluka.
It was Friday and although the wind and swell was forecast to drop off slightly in the morning – it would soon pick up again. I stuck with Shark Bay and arrived at about 5.45am. The skies were the clearest they had been all week and I was treated to a magnificent sunrise.
I fished in the bays on each side of the rocks while I waited for the tide to recede. I started with a small no name popper and attracted plenty of long tom interest but nothing else. At about 7.00 am I waded through the tide and out on to the north side of the rock platform.
At this stage of the run out tide I had to stick with a surface lure so that I could cast out over the kelp covered ledge. I chose the Fluoro Pink Roosta Popper again. This hooked up to a good tailor straight away but it wriggled off. I kept casting and the long toms kept swiping. After about 30 casts, I found another smaller tailor but it also wriggled off in the shallows. I swapped to the Spanyid Maniac 45g wide metal spoon. I soon caught a 25cm Tailor and then a few casts later, a 50cm model.
I swapped lures again. This time to a 55g HALCO Twisty in the gold colour – this was the most successful lure of the morning. But the fish were not feeding furiously. They seemed to come and go. I caught 5 more fish over the next 90 minutes. But none of them were over 35cm long.
As low tide approached I decided to switch locations and walked back to the car and drove round to Woody Head. I wandered out to the area known as ‘the Barnacles’. The sun was finally out and the swell had dropped off a little.
I tied on a ¼ ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and cast out a GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the Curry Chicken colours. As is so often the case in this spot, a fish grabbed the lure on the first cast, as I started to retrieve it. I landed it with the aid of an incoming wave. It was a 35cm bream. As a warning, the next wave came up and soaked me so I decided it was time to retire. No monsters and interestingly, no jewfish but plenty of action.
I was soaked but the sun was out and the water was warm so I took a dip in one of the many rock pools (which were even warmer). I can just see the advert – Woody Head Day Spa with sea minerals and slimy kelp rub – what would they pay for one of those in Sydney?
On Thursday the weather was much the same and low tide was not until 11.20 am. Most of my favourite fishing points around Iluka are low or falling tide spots, so I decided to have a lie in. Of course a fisherman’s lie in just means getting up at dawn, rather than 90 minutes before dawn, but it was nice to get a full 8 hours sleep.
At about 8.30 am I drove round to Woody Head to have a look at conditions. Although the tide was far enough out to make fishing possible, the swell was still bashing up against the rocks. The swell had been a steady 1.5/ 1.8m all week. It was caused by the slow moving tropical storm that had missed the Queensland coast the week before, but stirred everything up. Discretion is the better part of valour and I was not going to risk my life for a fish, so I walked back to the car.
I drove round to Shark Bay again. I walked out onto the rock and tied on 55g HALCO Twisty in the brass/ gold colour. I catch far more fish on the brass/ gold colour of this lure than the silver colour – no idea why. I started with big long casts on the heavy rod and after five or six casts, I had a 30 cm tailor. A few casts later I had another…. and another. I swapped up to an 80mm HALCO Roosta Popper in the Fluoro Pink colour. I blooped this back towards me, making plenty of splashes and stopped for a few seconds every now and then. After a few bloops, a bigger tailor grabbed it and I soon had a 50cm tailor at my feet.
It was now about 11.00 am and I swapped to the lighter rod, 14lb fluorocarbon leader, a 1/6th ounce, 1/0 hook jighead and a GULP 4 inch Minnowp soft plastic in the Pearl Watermelon colour. The first cast was smashed by a tailor which then spat it out. The second, attracted a few snaps from a long tom, which followed the soft plastic right back to me. After about ten more minutes of casting I caught another 30cm bream.
I decided to try the other side of the rock platform but neither soft plastics nor slugs could raise anything there so at about 12.00 noon, I gave up.