The fishing community both online and in person assured me that despite the big swells and significant rain the Richmond River at Ballina, was teaming with bait. So I decided to try fishing it in late January.
I arrived at the ferry to South Ballina at about 9.00 am. I crossed the river and drove back up river a few hundred metres and set up by the rockwall that runs alongside the south side of the riverbank. It was about an hour after high tide and the water was still fairly murky. Low tide would be at about 1.30 pm. It was 4 days to the full moon. The current runs fairly quickly along this stretch of river bend and it always looks fishy.
Bream, flathead and possibly a few trevally or a jewfish were my target. I would fish with my ultra light rod and reel. This is currently the Samaki Zing Gen II 562SXL matched to a Daiwa TD SOL LT III 2500D reel. It has a very fast action and the tip is ultra sensitive – it reminds me of my old G.Loomis GLII. You can even feel when your jighead is bumping along a rippled sandy bottom and suddenly hits flat sand or mud. You can certainly instantly tell the difference between a bite and a snag. I set up with a 10lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/8th ounce and, later a 1/11th ounce, size 1 hook jighead.
The mullet were everywhere. They were cruising close to the bank in big schools. I cast my small soft plastics and paddle tails in amongst them hoping there might be something bigger lurking underneath them. They would nudge and snap at the soft plastics on the way down. There were lots of jelly prawns and small baitfish hanging close to the rocks and the bream soon came calling. I caught plenty over the next few hours. The largest was just over 30 cm long. I only caught one flathead – just under 40cm long.
The swell, the swell, the swell – its never-ending. But then there was a forecast of lower seas, so I decided to try some fishing in the surf. The swell had created some good gutters and so I drove down to the beach, just south of New Brighton on the north shore of the Brunswick River mouth.
I arrived just before first light at about 5.40 am. High tide would be at about 6.00 am. It would be new moon in about three days. I walked out with my Daiwa Crossfire 1062 (10 foot, 6 inch – 3.2 metre) rod and Shimano Stella 4000 reel. This is spooled with 30lb braid and as I wasn’t expecting anything huge to swim by – a 14lb fluorocarbon leader. I tied on a 1/4 ounce , size 1/0 hook jighead and loaded it with a GULP 4′ Minnow in the Pearl Watermelon colour.
The horizon was now lit up and I cast out into what looked like a decent gutter. After a few casts I caught a small (25cm) bream, swiftly followed by a couple more. The fish flicked the plastic off so I tied on a GULP 3″ Paddle Shad in the Nuclear Chicken colour. This is a new shape from GULP and I like it a lot – now we just need them to produce it in my favourite Pearl Watermelon colour. This found its mark after about ten minutes. I felt a bit of weight and the rod tip bent over. This time it was a a flathead, about 45cm long.
The sun was now just coming over the horizon and I swapped to a another Paddle Shad, this time in the pink colour. I moved a little further along to the mouth of the gutter and kept casting. I felt a few urgent bites and drops. Then I caught a dropped a dart and eventually stayed connected to one.
By about 7.30am the swell had stretched out as the tide started to run out and I gave up for the morning.
The swell came up and then subsided, a little. The wind swapped to south easterly, then northerly, then south easterly and then back to a morning south westerly, all in the space of about 48 hours. The moon had reached its first quarter. The dawn tide would be too high to fish at Woody Head so I decided to give Middle Bluff a try.
The challenge at Middle Bluff is the distance between you and the water, if you hook a fish. In some places on this rock platform you are fishing three or four metres above the water. In calm conditions you can gently coax a fish along the front of the rock ledges to a lower one and grab the leader to pull the fish up. But if there is any swell this is next to impossible. I have never mastered using a gaff as I am convinced I will most likely end up gaffing myself (I also like to release fish, if I am not planning to eat them). So like so many other rock fishing ledges it is only really safe when the swell is around 1 metre. Even then all the usual rules apply; wear boots or shoes with excellent grip, wear a life jacket, check the swell for 20 minutes or so before fishing and try to stay permanently on dry rocks – if in doubt, don’t.
I arrived and parked at Frasers Reef just after 4.00 am and walked north to Middle Bluff. By the time I reached the ledges I wanted to fish there was a long line of orange on the horizon. I started on the north end of the platform.
I cast out a 3/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead with a GULP 5″ Paddleshad soft plastic in the Pink colour on my heavy rig. I tried to get it as close to the edge of the ledge as possible as I believe the mulloway and other fish school up in the sea caves and overhangs which extend under the ledges. The idea is to drop it down next to the rocks and then hop it slowly along the bottom, parallel with the shoreline. The period between first light and sunrise is definitely my most successful period for catching mulloway/ jewfish from the rocks. I cast around close to the edge and just before dawn the line pulled tight and I felt the weight of a fish. It set off under the ledge but I turned it around. I was fishing with my heavier rod and reel with 40lb fluorocarbon leader and a fairly tight drag. I pulled hard to keep it away from the rocks but I was going too hard and fast and the hook pulled out. I was a little too eager. I carried on casting through dawn and swapped through a few different soft plastics. I had another bite that felt like a tailor but it also spat the hook. I had eaten all my mulloway/ jewfish so I needed something for dinner.
At about 6.00 am I moved south along the ledge, nearer to Frasers Reef. The swell was a little more relaxed here. I swapped to my lighter fishing rig which was rigged 16 lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/4 ounce, size 1 hook jighead and GULP 3″ Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour. I cast this out and again focused on the area close to the base of the ledge. Leaving the plastic on the bottom for as long as I could without getting snagged. This tactic worked and I caught a decent bream just over 36 cm long. It hit the lure inches from surface and inches from the rocky shore. I put it in a rock pool and tried again in the same spot. A few casts later I caught another one about the same size.
A disappointing morning but I would have fish for supper.
By Saturday the swell was picking up again. Low tide was just before dawn, at about 5.15 am. I arrived and started fishing at Woody Head just before 5.00 am. It’s an early start if you want to fish at dawn at this time of the year (even earlier if you are in Queensland!).
The wind was light from the south-east and the swell was just a little more than the forecast 1.2 metres. I started casting a 60 gram Halco twisty but after ten minutes this had not produced a fish, so I swapped over to soft plastics. I chose a 3/8th of an ounce, size 1.0 hook jighead from VMC. I loaded a 5″ GULP Paddleshad in the pink colour. I was using my heavy rig with 40lb braid and 40lb fluorocarbon leader.
I was casting over the cunjevoi covered rocks which is never easy. However when I got the lure in the zone I got a hit and run, but no hook up. My first taker was an ambitious dart. A few casts later I hooked a fish but initially it did not do much and I thought it was a bream. Then it suddenly took off and really fought hard. After a brief but tough fight I had a 55cm Kingfish at my feet.
I released it and carried on with the GULP Paddleshad. This time the fish grabbed the plastic on the drop but again it did not put up much of a fight, at first. I think Kingfish often don’t realise they are hooked and therefore do not initially fight at all. But once they realise they are hooked there are few fish that fight harder. I am always surprised at the relatively small size of the fish that I eventually land. This one was 62cm long, so not a keeper – also released.
By about 7.30 am the wind and swell was pushing me around. I slipped and knelt on a barnacle and so decided to quit while I was ahead. I have left a lot of my skin on these rocks over the years.
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.