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.
Wednesday in Iluka and more rain was forecast. I woke to grey skies and the persistent south easterly wind and swell.
Shark Bay would be the only sensible place to fish. Low tide would be about 9.30 am. By standing on the north side of the rocky outcrop, I would be able to cast out with the wind behind me. I was fishing with the Rovex Bario (good) and the Penn Spinfisher (awful, but just about functional).
My current line of choice for the big rod is the 17lb breaking strain Aldi ‘Crane’ braid, in the yellow colour. I picked up about ten 250 metre reels when they were reduced to A$ 11.99 each to clear, earlier in the year. This stuff is great. Alibaba offers me 184 braided fishing line suppliers in China so it could be from anyone but my sources tell me that braid this good is probably made by either Sunline or by Innovative Textiles (now owned by Shimano). I am pretty certain the breaking strain is almost double the listed 17lbs. It’s tough and does not fray. The colour fades after a while but that happens with almost all the brands I have used. When it comes round again, grab some.
I started with a big (150 mm) red and white Classic Lures plastic popper. This stirred up the long toms, initially. But after about twenty minutes of casting around it connected with a good size tailor. Unfortunately the fish swam straight for a bommie and managed to unhook itself but leave the popper firmly lodged in the cunjevoi. To add insult to injury the heavens then opened and I got soaked by a brief downpour.
I swapped to a big new Spanyid Maniac 45g metal spoon. This looks like a great lure. It’s a nice wide target for the tailor to attack. The only downside is that it’s much wider profile makes it less aerodynamic and therefore hard to cast long distances. I could still get it 40 metres or so out, which would be enough. It proved irresistible and after a few retrieves during which it was bumped and nudged a few times, a fish grabbed it and the rod bent over. It was another tailor about 35 cm long. I continued casting and soon caught two more fish of about the same size.
By about 10.00 am the tailor seemed to have gone off the bite. I swapped to the light rod and tied on a GULP 4” Minnow soft plastic on a 1/6th ounce, 1/0 jighead. After a few casts this found a fish. This time it was a bream. It was about 30 cm long so I put it aside for dinner. The next cast produced another bream, about the same size, so I kept that as well. Things quietened down again, so I cleaned my fish and went home to dry out.
By 4.00pm I was ready for more fishing. I drove out to Iluka Bluff. The swell was still pretty lively. Between waves I managed a few casts with the lighter rig and caught another good bream – about 38cm long – on a GULP Jerkshad in the Sweet & Sour Chicken colour.
There was no shortage of fish in the area but I just needed the swell to go away. At about 6.00pm I packed up for the day.
I woke to more grey skies on Tuesday – but grey skies are a fisherman’s friend. At least it was not raining. I drove round to Woody Head, just before dawn I walked out onto the rock platform. But by first light I could already see that this location was going to be difficult to fish with such a big swell. The sun came up between the horizon and the grey line of cloud but after half an hour of attempting to cast heavily weight soft plastics and losing them to the rocks or swell, I decided to switch locations.
I drove round to Shark Bay which is always sheltered from big south easterly swells. As I got out of the car, it started raining. This seemed to dampen down the wind but it was still around a 20 knot south easterly. I could see birds hovering above the shallows on the north side of the rocks so I walked towards them. It was now about 7.15 am. Low tide would be at about 8.30 am.
The birds were feeding on something in very shallow water. As I got closer, I could see Tailor also ‘chopping’ into some huge schools of tiny whitebait. I started prospecting with the light surf rig, my Daiwa Air Edge rod. I tied on a 1/6th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and loaded it with a 3” minnow soft plastic in the pearl watermelon colour. A hungry tailor snaffled this lure as soon as it hit the water and bit it off. I tied on another and upgraded to 35lb leader. This landed a 35 cm tailor on the first cast. I dropped a few more over the next ten minutes.
Grey skies at Woody Head
Long Toms everywhere
I decided to swap to my bigger rod and reel and try a bigger lure. The day before the Daiwa Demonblood tip had fallen off so I had swapped to a Rovex Bario that is slightly shorter. I was also trying out a Penn Spinfisher reel. I see these reels everywhere but just because they are plentiful does not make them good and over the week I found all its faults. It was heavy and clunky and the drag only just functioned. My advice is, if you are thinking about buying one – don’t. I had rigged this combo with 20lb braid and 35lb fluorocarbon leader. I tied on a proven performer the DUO Pressbait Saira. This has long profile but is essentially a big heavy slug. Its chief advantage is the distance that you can cast it. I threw it out as far as I could. I think this would be about 60 or 70 metres with a strong southerly behind it. I cranked it back in at full speed. You cannot slow down here as there are too many clumps of rocks in the way. About twenty metres into the retrieve something hit it and the rod bent over. It was another Tailor no bigger than the one I had caught on the soft plastic.
I carried on casting this big lure for the next hour or so. I caught eight more Tailor and kept the biggest one that was about 50 cm long. The Long Toms where also out in force and I caught a few with the big lure. The thick schools of bait and a bit of blood also brought out the Wobbegongs. This is why it’s best to fish in boots and watch your step.
By about 10.00 am things had slowed down so I swapped back to the 3” Minnow soft plastic. After a few casts a bream grabbed it. It was about 25cm long and was followed by a few more. By 11.00 the tide pushed me back from the edge so I gave up for the day.
I was up early and keen to see if the fish were still there at Iluka Bluff. This time I was prepared with a few more good poppers and some 45lb leader. I drove out to the Bluff but almost as soon as I got out of the car the heavens really opened. The rain eased off slightly and I put in a few casts but the swell was still around the 1.6m level. When the rain started pouring again I decided to retreat to my unit.
In the early afternoon I dropped in on Iluka Bait & Tackle which is now run by Ross Deakin. Ross has given the store a complete makeover and now has a really good range of soft plastics, jigheads, hard bodies, poppers, line, hooks, reels, fresh bait and everything else. He and his team can give you an update on what is being caught, locally. So if you need tackle, get it here and support a local business. You can also see what’s happening via their face book page. https://www.facebook.com/Iluka-Bait-and-Tackle-608266152650241/ .
I also visited the rock wall where despite the swell , keen fisherman had landed a few tuna on live garfish baits and big lures, when they had come in close enough.
By late afternoon the rain had stopped so I drove back around to the Bluff. I tied on a 110 mm Halco Roosta Popper in the Chrome Gold Black back colour. It was about 4.30 pm and the wind and swell has eased a little by the skies were grey and the water very choppy.
I started casting straight out of the front of the Bluff with the same Halco Roosta Popper. About four casts in….. whoosh, bang, a smash and grab, at just about the same spot as yesterday. I had the drag set much tighter this time but the fish was pulling hard. I never really managed to slow it. As it moved passed the extended rock ledges to my right I tried to go with it, but the line soon got caught in the cunjevoi and on the next big run it sawed through the braid.
I fished around with some soft plastics and a few smaller poppers but could not find the fish again. I determined that unless I was willing to use a much bigger rig I was not going to stop these fish. I retired just before dark.
I had managed to bunk off for a few days to fish the rocky headlands of the Bundjalung National Park at Iluka in Northern New South Wales. I drove down through several big rain showers on Sunday morning.
As usual in this spot, the weather would not be ideal. There would be a pretty steady 1.6m swell all week. This would make fishing the exposed headlands difficult. It really needs to be lower than that to be comfortable and safe. The forecast showers would also make sure it was a wet week. The only advantage of the rain was that it might dampen down the wind.
I arrived at Iluka at about lunch time. I unpacked and drove out to Iluka Bluff at about 3.00 pm. The skies were full of grey clouds and the rain was falling intermittently. I had a look at the conditions and assessed that I could safely fish off the front of the bluff. We were about mid-way through the moon phase so it would not have much influence. Low tide would be at 7.34 pm, so the tide was half way out.
I started fishing with my heavy rig – Shimano Stradic FJ 8000 reel, 9’6” Daiwa Demonblood rod, 20lb braid, 30lb fluorocarbon leader, 3/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and a GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the red and yellow, Curry Chicken colour. I cast this around for about 30 minutes but the wind was onshore and I could not get the soft plastic comfortably beyond the rock ledge. I lost a few rigs to the rocks and decided to change strategy.
I tied on a River2Sea 110mm Dumbell Popper in DP-06 pink and silver colour. This one weighs 26.6 grams but the dumbbell shape means it casts much further than a typical popper of this size. On about my third cast there was a big swirl behind the popper and a flash of silver. A few casts later a fish slammed the popper on the edge of the rock ledge. It took off to the south. I went with it for a minute or two but then the line caught in the cunjevoi covered rocks and leader and lure separated.
Back to the tackle bag – this time I pulled out an 80mm Halco Roosta Popper in the white redhead colour, I cast for about another twenty minutes when suddenly I suddenly saw another swirl, just behind the lure. On the next cast I slowed things down and increased the pauses. This did the trick and a fish grabbed the popper just as it came over the ledge. Once more it put its head down and set off to the south. I had the drag quite a bit tighter this time but I could not slow it. It followed the trajectory of its predecessor and I lost another popper.
I did not have any more poppers so I swapped to my lighter surf rig – the Daiwa Air Edge Surf 96L with a Shimano Sustain 4000 reel. I was using 8lb braid and 20lb fluorocarbon leader. I tied on a ¼ ounce, 1/0 hook jighead and loaded a GULP 4” Minnow in the Pearl Watermelon colour. The lighter rod, line and leader meant that I could cast the soft plastic much further and let it waft around past the submerged rock ledge, in the strike zone.
At about 5.00 pm something grabbed the soft plastic. After a short fight I lifted a 33cm Snapper clear of the water. Fortunately the size limit for Snapper in NSW is 30 cm so I had something for supper. The heavens opened, so I quickly cleaned the fish and headed home. An exciting start to the week.
Wednesday was a washout, there was intermittent rain and strong wind all day. I tried Iluka Bluff in the morning but the rising tide and big swell made things very hard. The rain kept coming and I soon gave up. In the afternoon, I went along to Woody Head to see if I could do any better. I walked along the rock platform looking for a safe place to cast but found it very difficult. All I caught was a big mouthed Eastern Wirrah (known colloquially as an Old Boot).
Thursday was my last day and although there was a morning high tide, the swell was dropping and the sky had cleared. I started at Middle Bluff and witnessed a beautiful sunrise with a clear sky. The relatively calm conditions made it possible to fish off the front of the rocks, although every 15 minutes or so a big wave set would smash through. This made things tough. I twice hooked reasonable sized fish on the GULP Goby soft plastic but had to abandon the fight as I could see a big wave set coming in. I think they were both tailor.
In the afternoon the swell had dropped some more so I decided to spend my last session fishing from ‘the Barnacles’, round at Woody Head. Low tide would be at 3.00 pm and I started fishing at about 2.00 pm. The swell had dropped right back and this enabled me to cast directly out in front of ‘Barnacle Bob’ (the prominent rock in this area), without getting washed away.
In this spot you have to cast out over about 7 to 10 metres of cunjevoi and barnacle covered rocks, to a point where the rock ledge drops away. This is where the fish typically wait. In the event of a hook up this presents an immediate problem. The fish grabs the lure and swims down, pulling your leader or line tight against the rocks. The next wave of surge tangles the line more firmly in the rocks and you are stuck see-sawing until the line snaps. So hooking a fish here is just the beginning.
I was fishing the heavy rig and with this week’s favourite soft plastic – the GULP BBQ Chicken coloured Jerkshad, on a 1/6th ounce, size 1/0 jighead. I was now using 20lb fluorocarbon leader. After about 20 minutes of fish something grabbed the lure close to the ledge and the scenario I previously mentioned played out. It put its head down and see sawed on rocks, until the leader broke.
I re-rigged bit this time with a GULP 4” Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour and tried again. A few casts with nothing then a solid bite. Fortunately this fish swam out wards initially and I was able to keep it above the ledge. It was yet another chunky bream, well over 35cm long. I threw it back and tried again. After few more minutes of casting and then something faster took off with the lure and swam along, parallel with the ledge. It felt like a good fish but it was actually a small trevally. When they turn their bodies sideways they are difficult to pull in. I landed it and released it.
A couple more fisherman, down from the Gold Coast for the weekend arrived. One started fishing with a big soft plastic and soon connected with a 45cm tailor. The sun was dropping fast and it was now about 4.30 pm. Things went a bit quiet and I moved south along the rocks. I decided to swap down to the lighter rod and 14 lb leader.
I was casting to the south and retrieving the lure almost parallel with the rocks. I tried to let it sit on the bottom between hops. I lost a few rigs and then at about 4.45 pm I lifted the rod and there was a fish on the line. It took off in a long solid run straight out to sea. I am sure it was another mulloway/ jewfish and immediately cursed my decision to drop down to my lighter rod. I played the fish patiently and after two more long steady runs, it started swimming back towards me. I could not muscle it in and so I had to wait for the surf. Unfortunately the waves were not kind. The first was not quite powerful enough to lift the fish up and I tightened the drag and heaved little bit too soon. The leader caught on the rocks and a few moments later the fish was gone.
That was it for me. Both reels needed re-spooling and a good clean and I was exhausted. I reckon the only way to end a fishing holiday is needing a week in bed and a couple of appointments with the chiropractor and that was just how I felt. Hoping to be back again soon.
Tuesday morning was dry but the big swell was still hanging around. I decided to try fishing for some more Tailor at Middle Bluff and set off before dawn. The walk from the Frasers Reef carpark along the beach to Middle Bluff in the pre-dawn light is always great. The sky is usually beginning to glow and I am conjuring visions of huge jewfish, tailor and tuna in my mind.
The wind was light from the east and not particularly cold. It was the day of the new moon so it would be a big tide. High tide would be at 7.45 am so I had to watch the rising water levels and surges carefully.
I started fishing at about 6.20 am with the River to Sea 110mm Dumbbell Popper. I cast this around until my shoulders were sore and did not get any hits. I swapped over to the 50g DUO Pressbait Saira jig/ slug and started to put in some long casts, off the north end of the headland. This soon paid off and at about 7.00 am, just before the sun came over the horizon, I hooked up and then dropped two tailor before finally holding on to a chunky 50 cm model.
I carried on spinning the Pressbait until the inevitable happened and I lost it to the rocks. I decided to try a soft plastic and rigged up a GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the New Penny colour on a ¼ ounce, size 3.0 hook jighead. I was using my heavier Daiwa Demonblood rod with a 30lb fluorocarbon leader. You really need to tie on at least a ¼ ounce jighead to make this combination work. Anything lighter and you cannot feel the jighead or cast it past the rocks close that line the shore. By way of proof, even with the ¼ ounce weight, I lost the first rig to the rocks on the first cast. I re-rigged and cast out again.
The sun was up but it was still cloudy and it was just after 7.30 am. After a few casts I felt a solid thump and then another and another. I let the plastic go for a few seconds then pulled the rod up hard and I had a fish on. It managed to keep it on and pull it, wriggling hard, over the rocks with the help of the swell and landed it safely. It was another bigger Tailor about 55 cm long.
I noticed the tailor had a good sized bite mark on its back (probably from another fish in the same school). I photographed and released it and re-rigged with a fresh Crazylegs Jerkshad. I fished around for another hour, but the rising tide made things very difficult so at about 8.30 am I gave up.
I went for breakfast and then thought I would try the Shark Bay jewfish spot again. The sky had clouded over again but with a new moon and big swell I thought I had a pretty good chance of catching another jewfish/ mulloway. I arrived just after 1.00 pm and fished around with the heavy rod and leader and some big jerkshads, without much luck. I swapped down to the light rod and 12lb leader. This did the trick and I caught another stonker 38 cm bream on a GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad. The rain arrived again and forced another break.
At about 4.00 pm it had eased off so I decided to try fishing at Iluka Bluff. A keen Korean fisherman from the Gold Coast had been there all afternoon and had caught a few good sized silver trevally and some small giant trevally and also been bitten off a couple of times. The swell was tricky and the tide was running, I was tired and had only brought my light surf rig with me form the car. I rigged up a GULP Jerkshad in the Orange Tiger colour. As I pulled it close to the rocks on the retrieve it was slammed and the fish took off. I had no chance and after a few seconds I was bitten off.
I re-rigged with 20lb leader and cast out the same colour soft plastic. After a few casts I was hit again and this time I held on to the fish. It was a 45cm silver trevally. The other fisherman was regularly broadcasting berley and had been doing so all afternoon which may well have brought the fish in.
I decided to try a small 18g MARIA Duplex hard bodied sinking minnow. This lure is only about 60mm long and has a tight action. It casts like a bullet. I threw it around for about ten minute. On about the sixth cast something absolutely slammed it and took off. I immediately regretted having only brought the light rod. It bent over and the line continued to peel. The fish was moving straight and fast out to sea and I was very quickly into the backing line. I held the spool and tried to slow it and then turned the drag slightly tighter. None of this made any difference and the fish was still running. I tightened the drag and pop, the line went slack. It was faster than a jewfish but I have no idea what it actually was. It was certainly the biggest fish I had interacted with all week but I did not have the right gear to face it. The leader was still attached when I wound in but there was no sign of the lure.
It was getting dark and I did not have another lure so I gave up for the day.
The wind had picked up from the south-east on Saturday afternoon and then dropped off again overnight. I was not sure where to fish on Sunday morning. The swell had made the fishing tricky all week. I decided to try Middle Bluff, the headland between Frazer’s Reef and Woody Head, in the Bundjalung National Park.
I was up early and was pleased to walk out on to the beach to only a light breeze. It was about 6.00 am and the remainder of the moon was clearly visible as the horizon started to glow. I disturbed a couple of big kangaroos who were standing around down at the water’s edge. They took off into the undergrowth. The broken clouds made for a fantastic pre-dawn with the red sun taking a quite a while to break through. The tranquillity was soon broken by the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks. The wind was light but the swell was definitely still up.
I walked round to the northern end of Middle Bluff and watched the surf for a while. Fishing safely off the front of the Bluff was going to be impossible. I decided to move to plan B and try spinning for some Tailor.
I rigged up the heavy rod. I wanted to try the DUO Pressbait Saira 175. This is effectively just a beautifully crafted and weighted 175mm, 50g sinking metal slug/jig. I fish it just like any other metal slug – long casts with a mixture stop/ start, continuous, slow or fast retrieves depending in the conditions and terrain. I was sure this would appeal to the tailor, if they were around.
The rocks protrude a long way into the bay at this spot so you need to put in long casts and keep the lure moving. I was now using a fairly short (0.6m) 30 lb leader tied on to 20lb braid with a long, solid uni-knot. The DUO Pressbait Saira is nicely weighted so you really do not need to hurl it out there. You just let gravity do the work.
I started casting at about 6-30 am, well after first light but before the sun had come over the horizon. On very long casts it is difficult to keep contact with the lure. The long length of line means there is a fair amount of slack which often initially disguises a hook-up. The rod tip only starts wiggling as the line gets really tight. After a few long casts and high-speed retrieves I felt a bit of weight and then the rod tip bent over. I had found a tailor. Frustratingly, about 20 metres from the shore it started leaping around and managed to free itself. I cast out in roughly the same location and after a few turns of the reel I had another fish. This one stayed hooked and I landed it successfully. I took a few pictures and threw it back, then cast out again.
Things went quiet for a while and the sun came over the horizon. At about 7.00 am I had the lure about 40 metres from the shore when something grabbed it and the reel started screaming. I held on tight but after taking about 15 metres of line the fish was gone and so was the Pressbait. I wound in a severed leader. I re-rigged with a 65 gram Raider metal slug and tried to find the fish with this. After another 30 minutes I had had no luck and I was exhausted.
I walked down to the corner of back beach and cast some soft plastics around in the shallows, I watched as a few schools of garfish follow and grab at the lures but I did not hook any. The swell showed no signs of calming down so at about 8.30 am I went off to find breakfast.
Once more low tide would be in the middle of the day, at around 11.25 am. The wind had dropped considerably over night but showers were still passing through. It was now blowing from the south-east, at about 10 to 12 knots. The new moon was still three days away but it would be a pretty low, low tide, at 0.3 metres.
After a successful session the day before I decided to revisit Shark Bay at Iluka, just north of Woody Head. It was perfect jewfish/ mulloway weather with stirred up seas, grey skies and plenty of tidal run.
When you have a formula that is catching fish it is best to stick with it. I estimated that the rocks I had fished the day before would be accessible from about 8.00 am, so I did not get up for sunrise. I walked out on to the rocks and found a dry spot to leave my gear on. I rigged the light rod with 16lb fluorocarbon leader and put on a 1/6th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I chose the soft plastic that had worked the day before – the GULP 5” Jerkshad in the BBQ Chicken colour.
I flicked it out in to the breaking surf and let it sink. The first cast lodged firmly in the rocks and I could not free it. If you are not losing gear you will never catch fish but it always hurts. There is a lot of kelp in this area which is also confusing when retrieving a fairly lightly weighted soft plastic. Initially you think you have found a fish but as it turns to dead weight, you realise it is just vegetation.
I re-rigged with the same terminal tackle and cast out again. This one wafted around for a few seconds and was slammed by a hungry fish. It pulled hard initially but I soon realised it was a big bream, not a small mulloway/ jewfish. It was another solid broad shouldered fish that measured 36cm.
I carried on fishing the same area and after about 10 minutes I felt another solid bite. The fish took off on a long initial run but at a much slower pace than the bream. I let it go and left the drag alone. As soon as it paused I started winding and gradually turned its head. A few minutes later I had a nice school jewfish mulloway at my feet. It was too small to keep at about 65cm – so I photographed it and dropped it in to a large deep rock pool to recover. Once it had calmed down and looked like it had recovered, I picked it up with two hands and speared it back into the surf.
I was not going to change the winning combination but the plastic was pretty mashed up so I swapped it for a new one. After a few more casts. The new plastic was grabbed by another solid bream. I landed it took a few pictures and let it go, I was sure there was another jewfish out there.
The wind had picked up and another shower came over. It was now almost 10.00 am and I was putting long casts out beyond the breaking waves. Suddenly the line pulled tight and I felt a solid fish on it. This one took plenty of line and initially headed straight out to sea. It took three long straight runs before I could turn its head. It started to swim back towards the kelp and the rocks. I used the surf to gradually steer it towards a good landing spot and after a few minutes, I reached down and grabbed it behind the gills.
It was a solid mulloway/ jewfish about 85cm long and it weighed about 6.5 kg. The jighead was still lodged in the corner of its mouth. This would make several dinners so I dispatched it and cleaned it up in the salt water.
I fished on for an hour or so but the rain kept coming in heavy squalls and I could not find any more fish so at 11.00 am, I decided to pack up for the day.