Sandon River estuary and Clarence River flats – 4/6 November 2020

I arrived for a few days of fishing in Iluka. With everybody locked in to Australia, it is getting hard to find accomodation in some of my favorite fishing spots – especially at the weekends. So I had booked ahead for this week. Unfortunately the weather did not play ball. A big southerly storm blew in on the night I arrived and the wind was forecast to be blowing around 25 knots for a few days.

Westin Shadteez Slim – great paddletail soft plastic

So on the Wednesday afternoon I decided to get out of the wind on the Sandon River, just to the south of Brooms Head. This is a very shallow estuary that is only worth fishing from about high tide. I set out in my waders about an hour after the tide had started running out. The water was crystal clear and running out quickly. I was fishing with my light spin set up -10lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/8th ounce, size 1 hook jighead. I started with the paddle tail soft plastic I am really enjoying using that was recommended to me by Mark Berg. It is from the Scandinavian brand Westin and it is called a Shadteez. I was using the 10 cm/4 inch. It has a great paddletail action but I particularly like the orange belly on the ‘Dirty Harbour’ colour. I hopped it along the bottom and soon found some flathead, but they were all pretty tiny. I swapped to a soft plastic minnow and cast it along the edge of a big weed bank. I caught a couple of small bream but I could not find dinner.

The next day I decided to have a look around in the Clarence River. There are are some good sand flats towards the southern end of Goodwood Island. On the Wednesday morning I drove down to the Goodwood Island Wharf (just downstream of Browns Rocks) and waded out to look for some flathead. I am always amazed at how dramatically the underwater terrain changes in a big river estuary. The tides, current, rain, sun and wind all conspire to make it unrecognisable from one year to the next. Several years ago this area was carpeted in sea grass and muddy yabby banks. Now the seagrass has disappeared completely and the yabby banks are sandier and (thankfully) a little firmer under foot.

The tide had just started to run in strongly and despite the howling south-easterly the water was very clear. I started with a GULP 3″ Minnow soft plastic in the Lime Tiger colour. I loaded this onto a 1/8th ounce, size 1 jighead. I waded in the direction of the river mouth putting in long casts up into the incoming tide and then slowly hopping the lure back towards me along the bottom. I was staying about waist deep in the water. I caught a couple of very small (25cm) flathead that were moving up with the tide.

I was moving slowly and quietly and suddenly heard a ‘boof’ and a splash between me and the river bank. I paused and it happened again, about 10 metres from me in about 25cm of water. Something was chasing the tiny jelly prawns that are currently plentiful in the shallows. I cast in that direction, counted to ten and slowly lifted then jigged up my rod tip. I paused for another ten, then the same drill. On the third lift I hooked the fish. It was a flathead just over 40 cm.

The flathead were clearly here. But as I slowly found out they were mostly very small. I moved between shallower and deeper water. I changed from a slow to fast retrieve and even contemplated pumping some yabbies. But despite frequent soft plastic and hard bodied lure changes, I could not catch another legal sized flathead. I caught plenty of small ones – about 12 in two hours, but most were between 20 and 30 cm long. I had found the nursery. Next session I would be looking for the grown ups.

Iluka – March 2020

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.

Iluka – Woody Head – March, 2019

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.

 

Iluka – Iluka Bluff – 14 March 2016

Monday

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.

Halco Roosta Popper Poppers Popper fishing at Iluka Bliff

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.

Iluka – Middle Bluff – Woody Head – 18 June 2015

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.

Iluka – Shark Bay – More bream and jewfish – 13 June 2015

Saturday

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.