South Ballina – 7 September 2020

In early September the wind began to signal a change of seasons. The northerlies kept creeping in but they were often tempered by a persistent cool westerly, in the mornings.

On the first Monday of the month I decided to fish off the rockwall at South Ballina. The moon was in its waning gibbous phase and would be 77% full. An easterly wind was forecast and the swell was still stubbornly high, so I wasn’t expecting much. Low tide had passed at about 5.00 am. I took the Burns Point Ferry across the Richmond River, just after it started running at 5.30 am and walked out to the end of the south wall at about 6.00 am. The sun had broken the horizon a few minutes earlier but almost immediately been obscured by a band of low cloud. I said good morning to the two resident ospreys who were surveying the beach gutter from their rocky perch.

Cloudy start to a South Ballina fishing session

I started with my heavier rock fishing rig with a 30lb leader and a 60g slug. I cast out to the north east and ripped the lure back pretty quickly. After two or three casts, I felt a fish grab it, drop it, grab it and then I hooked up. It was a 35cm tailor and I pulled it up safely to my feet, un-trebled it and threw it back. I carried on casting the slug for a while and had a few more bumps and grabs but no hook ups, so I decided to change tactics.

Tailor on a 60 g slug

I tied on a 3/8th ounce 1/0 hook jighead and loaded a GULP 4″ Minnow in the Smelt colour. I would always rather fish with a lighter jighead, so that the soft plastic spends more time sinking but the easterly onshore wind would have made casting anything lighter a real challenge. As it was, I could only get the jighead to land 10 to 15 metres out. On my first cast it was hit on the drop. Unfortunately I did not hook up but instead pulled up a soft plastic with a neat bite mark but no fish.

How did I miss ?

I put another of the same plastic on and cast out. It only took a couple of hops and I was on to a fish again. This time it was a small bream with a big appetite. I threw it back. The bream kept biting the tails off the minnow or pulling the soft plastic off the jighead. So I swapped to a 5″ GULP Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour. These tend to stay on the jighead better and I was hoping the bigger profile might attract a bigger fish.

On about my fifth cast with a bigger plastic, I felt a hit at the base of the rocks but jumped the lure up quickly, thinking I might be snagged. A few minutes later I felt a similar hit and I paused to let the fish eat the plastic. It obliged and took off. Initially it ran out to sea but as I had to keep the tension on the line, the swell soon pushed it back in to the base of the rocks. It was a school jewfish, it looked around 70 to 80 cm long. It was soon washed in between the rocks at the base of the wall and I could feel the leader rubbing against the rocks. Then – snap, and it was gone and was gone.

I re-rigged with a stretch of 45lb leader (the toughest , I carry) and the same set up and cast out again. About five casts later and a found another one in the same spot (that’s why they are called ‘school’ jewfish). I tried to wear it out and pull it gently up to me but the hook bent and pulled out and it dropped back to the water and swam off. I worked through a few soft plastics and they nearly all found a fish in this same spot but I could not land any of them. I need to buy, and learn to use, a gaff.

I was frustrated but the fish were clearly biting so I swapped back to a metal lure. I chose the 40 gram DUO Drag Metal Cast Slow (I assume this sounds more catchy in Japanese). This is a slow jigging lure that can be used like any other metal slug. My Japanese angling friends say it is great to use from the shore as it flutters around a lot, even at very low retrieve speeds. I have been trying it whenever I think the tailor are around, to see if they like it. I cast it out towards the centre of the river mouth and jigged it back towards me. After two or three casts I hooked up, quite a long way from the shore. This lure has two assist single hooks at one end and a single hook at the other. I was making progress but then my line went slack. I picked up the retrieve again and a few moments later I had hooked up again. This time the hook stuck but the fish felt more powerful. I backed off the drag a little and let the fish run. I then gradually retrieved line and tightened the drag again. It was a decent tailor and it leaped clear of the water a couple of times but stayed hooked. Fortunately, two of the hooks had pinned the fish and I was able to pull it up to my feet. It was just over 50 cm long. One of the three hooks on the lure was gone, perhaps the first fish that hit it, took that one. Much as I would have liked a jewfish, it would have to be tailor for dinner.

IMPORTANT NOTE – Last time I visited South Ballina – in early October, 2020 – the road out to the rockwall had been closed by National Parks. They have had it surveyed and the initial finding is that it is no longer safe for vehicles. This means fishing at the end of the wall requires a 1300m walk before and after – see photo)

Whites Head and Skennars Head – 28 August 2020

On the 28th of August I fished at White’s Head, at the northern end of Sharpes Beach, near Ballina. The swell was forecast to be low and the wind light, so I arrived before first light and walked down to the rock platform and started casting. The full moon was still about a week away and the tide would be low at about 10.00 am.

Great sunrise

I was using my heavier rock fishing set up. I had rigged a 25lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/6th ounce, 1/0 hook jighead. For my first cast I loaded a GULP 5″ Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour. I lost this one to the bommies out front, so I trudged back to the tackle bag to re-rig with the same set up. I cast this around for a while and felt a few bream hits. Then I had a good bite and run from something bigger. The soft plastic came back hanging off the jighead, so I pulled off the front end and put the shorter version back on.

GULP Jerkshad Lime Tiger
Half a GULP Jerkshad works just fine

At about 6.30 am, a fish grabbed the lure, very close to the base of the rocks. I could soon see it was a jewfish, I let it run a couple of times then tightened my drag a little and pulled it up to my feet with the aid of a wave surge. It was just over 65 cm long so I took a couple of pictures and released it.

I looked for another but I could no entice another bite so I moved further round to another small bay and swapped down to the light rod and 12lb fluorocarbon leader. I caught a couple of bream on small minnow soft plastics and the a couple of solid 40cm plus dart.

I am an early riser so I prefer to fish the dawn, rather than the dusk. I like the fact that if the fishing is good in the morning you have the whole day ahead of you to carry on. I find casting out into the fading light at the end of the day much harder.

The next day I had dawn session in light swell at Skennars Head. I fished at Iron Peg (a rocky promontory that sticks out from the shore). I find this is a dawn or dusk spot. It is also very dangerous unless you are fishing in virtually no swell and around a low tide. So watch the swell and always were a life jacket. Remember if you arrive at any rock fishing spot, look at the swell and have to think about whether it is safe or not, then it probably isn’t. If in doubt, don’t.

My session was disappointing. Just on dawn the dolphins came through and had a good rummage around. I cast a big hard body and a metal slug through dawn with no results. I swapped down to a soft plastic and then caught these three:

This spot always looks promising so I will persist.

In summary the bream had been a good size but slightly less plentiful through August. The fishing had been best when the wind was from the south-east or south-west. When the northerly winds blew the dart reappeared. I still can’t pick what turns the jewfish on but there were a few around.

Mobs Bay and the South Ballina Wall – June 2020

June saw some big changes in the fishing on the Byron/Ballina coast. The most important one was the arrival of lots of small whitebait. The whales started to swim past and the tailor arrived in large numbers. The flathead were plentiful in the estuaries. The mullet schooled up along the beaches and around the headlands to feed on the thick schools of bait.  The jewfish also came in to feed on the mullet and tailor. Meanwhile the bream started to gather at the river mouths to spawn.

The only thing that was not conducive to fishing was the swell. There were really only a few days in the whole month when the swell dropped below 1.5 m and so fishing the rocks was tricky. We did not have much rain and as the water temperature cooled the water became very clear.

Match the hatch

I started the month still focusing on the flathead at the Richmond River mouth. I fished the flats and weed beds with small GULP soft plastics rigged on a 1/8th or 1/6th of an ounce jighead. The minnow shapes that most resembled the whitebait caught plenty of good flathead. If I kept to the two- and three-inch sizes, I also caught bream and small tailor.

There were a couple of flatter days and I took advantage of them to fish the rock platform at Flat Rock, south of Skennars Head. This is really only fishable around the low tide and it is very snaggy. I fished off the south side of the platform and caught some good bream and tarwhine on GULP 4″ Minnow soft plastics in various colours.

Flat Rock delivered

On some of the slightly calmer days I fished the end of the South Ballina rockwall. The dolphins and birds were a constant – chasing the bait schools around the end of the rock wall and out into the river mouth. As we came up to the new moon the more committed fishermen were out from well before dawn casting big hard bodied lures for jewfish. Judging by the scale piles, they caught a few.

I focused on casting slugs off the end of the wall which caught plenty of tailor and a few small trevally. When the tailor slowed down, I put on soft plastics and caught some good sized bream. A couple of times I hooked school jewfish at the base of the rocks but with the lighter Daiwa 1062 Crossfire rod running a 16lb leader (for the bream) I could not bring them round the rocks to a landing spot.

Each time I fished the early morning I saw the local osprey waiting for the mullet schools to swim up the beach into the shallows. I saw him catch a few but by now some of them were too fat for him to lift. I dragged a vibe lure through a thick school one morning and caught one. I decided to keep it as I have always wanted to try the roe (eggs). This is considered a delicacy in Japan and many parts of Europe. When I ate it the next day, the fresh fillets were very good, but I could not stomach the roe (the Japanese are welcome to it!).

Brunswick River, Lighthouse Beach and Mobs Bay Ballina – May 2020

As we entered May we were still in lockdown across Australia. The global economy was a slow motion train wreck, with businesses shuttered and unemployment sky-rocketing. Governments everywhere pumped money into their economies and so, despite their awful future prospects some companies like our banks, Qantas, Afterpay, etc – persuaded our moronic superannuation fund managers to buy even more new shares in them.

In addition to the ever-present threat of the ‘Egyptian Papyrus’ (COV 19 virus), May brought us a delightful mini-plague of noisy green frogs. They were hiding everywhere you looked.

As the weather had cooled the flathead had increased in numbers in the Brunswick River, but they were still frustratingly small. I could be pretty sure of getting a handful on the bottom of the tide near the river mouth, but they were rarely big enough for dinner. The water was crystal clear and so perhaps the bigger fish were harder to fool.

I decided to head to Ballina and try and pick up a few bigger flathead. The strategy paid off and I had success fishing the first few hours of the run out tide. I was wading in the shallows in Mobs Bay and a few other points along the south side of the Richmond River, towards the river mouth. I also had a great session fishing the run out tide in the corner of Lighthouse Beach. The swell had carved out a small gutter at the north end and I caught four flathead in quick succession, on one early morning session.

I fished my light spinning rod with about a 1.5 metre, 10lb fluorocarbon leader tied on to 12lb breaking strain braid and an 1/8th or 1/6th of an ounce, size 1 hook jighead. As usual, the GULP 3″ and 4″ minnow soft plastics in the watermelon pearl and lime tiger colours produced the most fish.

I caught a full bag of five legal sized fish several times and used them to cook a flathead fish pie – which is a firm favorite at home.

Ballina & Broken Head – February 2020

In February I started the month with a couple of morning sessions fishing along the Ballina river bank, close to the centre of town. If you follow the riverside walkway that runs parallel with the main high street you often see big schools of bait fish hanging close to the rocky banks. I worked my way along, casting soft plastics. I caught a couple of small bream and then a few small flathead. The air was still, hot and humid and the water was very clear.

A few days later the rain started and didn’t really stop for a week. The weather turned wild and fresh water poured off the parched paddocks into the estuaries. It looked like the drought was breaking. I went down to the Brunswick River but it was a brown frothy soup.

During a few breaks in the weather I drove down to Ballina to look around. The Richmond was also running brown, full of sediment and other rubbish. There were quite a few dead juvenile flathead, bream and other species floating in the flotsam and jetsam.

When the rain finally stopped it was clear I would have to fish in the ocean as the estuaries would stay dirty and full of fresh water for some time. By the middle of the month the swell had dropped off sufficiently to try fishing at Snapper Rocks at Broken Head. I started by trying to cast soft plastics over the froth churned up by the storms. There was also a lot of weed to contend with, especially when I let the soft plastic reach the bottom. Despite the obstacles, I caught a few dart using a 3 inch GULP minnow soft plastic weighted on a 1/4 ounce jighead. I stuck with the lime tiger colour as this seems to be a favorite with the dart.

A few days later with a light swell I was back in the same spot. I was casting soft plastics again and the dart were there again. I caught a few but then got bitten off by something more aggressive. I changed my leader from 16lb to 25lb flurocarbon and after a few more casts I hooked a tailor, which wriggled off as I tried to pull it up to my feet. Finally, about 20 minutes later I landed one, it was about 45cm long. I caught one more, a little smaller, but then they were gone. I tried a metal slug for a bit but did not get any hits. I swapped back to the GULP Minnow and started casting over to the south and letting the soft plastic float down slowly beside the base of the rocks. I had a couple of hits (presumably from the dart or bream) and then something took off with the lure. It was pulling hard so I tightened the drag a little and just wound in as fast as I could. After a couple of runs a decent trevally came into view. With the aid of the swell I pulled it clear of the rocks and up to my feet.

The next day I was back, to fish the last few hours of the run out tide. I started with a 40 gram metal slug but soon swapped back the same set up that had produced fish the day before; the GULP Lime Tiger Minnow soft plastic on a 1/4 ounce size 1/0 hook jighead. This turned the fish on and I caught a dart and then a couple of tailor in quick succession. I fished on and had a few more bites but after a couple of hours I was about to pack up. Just a few more casts and bang zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz – another trevally. This one did its best to bury itself in the cunjevoi covered rocks. We had a fair fight and I thought I had lost it but fortunately it untangled itself and I landed it.

That was it for the day but this is definitely a great spot to fish when there is little swell.

Flat Rock & South Ballina – January 2020

I was away most of January but I managed a couple of fishing sessions at the end of the month. The first was at Flat Rock, just south of Skennars Head and just north of Ballina. This area is best fished through a falling or low tide. I fished with my lighter rock fishing rig – this is currently a Shimano Stella 4000 matched to a Daiwa Crossfire Surf 1062 rod.

It was a great sunrise but not a particularly good mornings fishing. I caught a couple of very small bream on my first two casts and later I caught a decent sized dart. I got everything on the Gulp 3′ minnow soft plastic in the orange and lime green “Lime Tiger” colour. The dolphins kept patrolling the edge of the rock platform, so I am sure the fish were there. There was a fairly stiff onshore breeze which made casting tough and I snagged plenty of my jigheads.

A few days later, I fished the run out morning high tide for about three hours from its peak, at Mobs Bay, South Ballina. As I waded in the shallows, I found a few fairly small (25 to 35 cm) flathead. But it was the bream that were out in force. I caught 5 keeper sized bream and a few smaller ones. I was using my light spinning rod and reel rigged with 12 lb braid and about a metre of 10 lb breaking strain fluorocarbon leader. I caught them on a Gulp 3″ minnow soft plastic in the watermelon pearl colour, rigged on a 1/8th ounce, size 1 hook jighead. I was amazed at how happy they seemed to be, cruising around the mangrove roots and weed beds in less than a metre of water. I started to catch them as I slowed everything down. I would let the plastic sit on the bottom for as long as 30 seconds before starting the retrieve. They would often then strike as soon as I lifted the lure of the bottom.

I fished a few evening sessions in the Brunswick River without much success. The holidays delivered a fairly constant stream of paddlers and boats which made it hard to find an undisturbed stretch of water to fish. There were a few whiting in the shallows and plenty of tiny flathead, but I could not land dinner.

Brunswick River and South Ballina – December 2019

With bills piling up I had to disappear overseas in October and November to earn some money. There is no doubt that fishing is an addiction and an expensive one. Still, there are far worse things you could be addicted too and occasionally it provides dinner!

In December we had the continuing drought and the bush fires to deal with. I woke up several mornings to an ominous smoke filled sky at our place in South Golden Beach. Fortunately although I could smell them, the fires stayed a long way away.

It was hot and the winter species had long departed. The Brunswick River produced a few small flathead at the river mouth – especially on the very last hour of the run out tide. But, of the 10 flathead I caught over two sessions casting soft plastic lures, only one would have been legal to keep.

Just before Christmas I fished a few sessions in South Ballina, on the flats around Mobs Bay. My preference is to fish from the top of the tide through to about half way out, in this location. This worked fairly well and I ended up with three good flathead at each outing. I was fishing with my light spinning rig. This is a NS Blackhole 6′ SGII 602L trout rod. This rod is a true ‘Ultralight’ and picks up even the slightest of bites and touches. It does not have any grunt but it can handle a good sized flathead. I have recently swapped my 2500 Shimano Stella for a Daiwa TD Sol III 2500D LT reel. It is a bit clunkier than the Stella but I like the sturdier design, as I am always dropping it. The drag is good and I like the heavier bail arm. I had teh reel loaded with 12lb braid and about a metre of 10lb fluorocarbon leader. I was fishing with a 1/8th of an ounce/ size 1 hook jighead and the GULP 4″ Minnow soft plastic in the pearl watermelon colour got the flathead to bite.

Brunswick River, Richmond River – flathead and bream – October 2017

In October I could not find anything much on the beaches and was still only catching tiny flathead in Mooball Creek. I had a couple of sessions fishing on the Brunswick River rock wall at Northhead, where I dropped a couple of small chopper tailor when fishing with a Gulp Jerkshad.

In desperation I drove down to fish the mouth of the Richmond River at Ballina. Things looked more promising here and I caught a few good-sized bream on the inside of the north wall. I was using 3”and 4” Gulp minnow soft plastics in my favourite Pearl Watermelon colour. I also watched a large flock of cormorants herd a school of baitfish into the shallows and then feast on them.