In mid-July I got back down to Iluka for some fishing. I decided to fish with my light rig at Iluka Bluff. Low tide was just before 7.00 am and a 1.1 metre swell was forecast. We were five days into the new moon and there had been some pretty significant rain the week before.
I arrived at about 6.00am, well before dawn. I started by throwing large stickbaits and a 55g Halco Twisty, looking for tailor or trevally. The in-shore swell was significantly bigger than forecast and I got my first soaking before the sun came over the horizon. The big lures did not get anything, so I dropped down to my lighter rock fishing rig which is the Daiwa Crossfire Surf CFS 1062, 3.2m, 3-5kg rod, matched with my very battered (but still brilliant) Shimano Stella 4000. I set it up with 40lb braid and16lb fluorocarbon leader. It is perfect for casting lightly weighted soft plastics off the rocks.
I put on my favourite soft plastic – the 5″/13 cm GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger Glow colour. As I have mentioned before it looks like this colour is disappearing from the GULP range (and possibly this pattern too). Grab them while you can, if you see them in your local tackle store. I rigged it on a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead.
The sun was up and and the clouds were clearing. I cast the soft plastic out into the area beyond the wash and let it sink. I hopped it a couple of times, then repeated the process. After five or six tries a small big eye trevally grabbed it. I threw it back and kept casting. About ten minutes later a fish pulled the plastic off the jighead. This is usually the bream who gather in the wash. I put on a 4 ” GULP Minnow in the Smelt colour and cast that out. I had a few hits and then hooked up with a decent, 35cm Tarwhine. I released it and moved further south, around to another ledge.
On my first cast on this spot I connected with a small jewfish/ mulloway. It put a decent bend in the lighter rig, but with the aid of the swell I successfully pulled it into a rockpool at my feet. It was about 55cm long. I photographed and released it. I cycled through a few more soft plastic colours and patterns and lost a few jigheads to the cunjevoi covered rocks, but did not land anymore fish.
At about 8.30am the incoming tide pushed me back from the edge of the ledge and I gave up for the day.
March proved to be the wettest month ever recorded in Northern New South Wales. From about the 20th it just did not stop raining for about a week. I had booked a week of fishing in Iluka for the end of the month. I still went and the sun did come out but the waters of the Clarence River rose and rose. The river came up and flooded parts of Maclean and the roads into Yamba and Harwood were cut for a few days.
Before the Yamba road was closed I spent a misty dawn fishing in the brown frothy water at the Clarence River mouth. The water was so muddy and there was so much debris floating out to sea that it was difficult to believe there could be any fish in it, but there was a big pile of jewfish scales on the wall, so they had been there recently.
The next day the road in and out of Iluka was cut by the rising flood waters. I was staying at Browns Rocks on Goodwood Island. I anxiously watched the river level inch up for the morning high tide. It gradually begin to trickle over the road and into the cane fields, just on high tide. Fortunately that was as high as it got.
The weather had cleared and the wind had completely dropped away. I could not go anywhere so I threw a line in. I was flicking around a small paddletail soft plastic. The water was so muddy that it was completely opaque. After a few casts I hooked something strange. It was moving fairly slowly. It was an eel hooked through its back. I released it.
I spent a fruitless morning casting everything I had off the rocks at Woody Head. It was only when I dropped down to 12lb leader and 2” soft plastic lures that I finally caught a few fish. I caught bream, butter bream and Moses’ perch – none of which would have been big enough to keep. The water was soon a murky brown all along the headlands and the swell kept on hammering in.
Each day the high tides got a little lower and the water became slightly less milky in the Clarence River. Each day I tried casting soft plastic minnows for bream in the dirty water and soon enough I caught a couple of 30 cm units, around dusk.
By the end of the month I started casting around for a flathead. It took a while, but I did eventually find a couple, tucked in close to the mangrove roots, along the shore at Browns Rocks. I headed home. The fishing had been turned upside down by the floods but major damage had largely been avoided.
On March 2nd I decided not to fish but I still woke early, caught sunrise and had a look at the swell at Iluka Bluff. Fortunately the mid-morning high tide and the 1.5m swell meant fishing would be too hard in this spot anyway.
I retired to my cabin and ran through my tackle. It is amazing how you always find something missing and convince yourself that if only you had it, your fishing results would vastly improve. I am currently having an internal struggle over soft plastic jerkshads vs shad/paddletails. I have always been a fan of the minnow and jerkshad soft plastic lure profiles but, with the arrival of a really good shad tail in the GULP range – the Paddleshads -, I am having to think harder about what will work best.
I would just like to clarify that apart from a 3″ Minnow Grub sample packet, given to me by Adam ‘Mad Dog’ Royter at a Jones Tackle Brisbane soft plastics information evening in about 2007 – I have received no inducement / money/ free stuff to carry on using or writing about GULP soft plastics. I use them because they have consistently worked for me and I believe their fairly soft texture and the scent/ gunk that they are infused with gives them an edge over other soft plastics. But the other key element is confidence. If you are confident that a particular type of lure or soft plastic will catch fish (usually based on your own past experience) then you persist with it far longer than you would when you are trying out something new. This usually means you catch more fish with it.
But back to the Paddlshad vs Jerkshad comparison. I am currently persuaded that Jerkshads and Minnows work better on the tailor, bream and dart but Paddleshads are more attractive to the mulloway and flathead. But I also believe that a scented Jerkshad/ Minnow will outfish a unscented Paddleshad and vice versa.
Just for the record, if the private equity billionaires at Sycamore Partners in New York, who recently bought Pure Fishing and all its brands for USD 1.3 billion are reading: If you want to send me some complimentary GULPs, I will not send them back.
I woke up early on 3rd March and drove into Iluka, but I could hear the swell was up as soon as I started driving out to the Iluka wall – where I had planned to fish. The wind had built up from the south east overnight and brought a 1.6 to 1.8 m swell with it. It was also starting to rain and so I gave up before I had started.
In the afternoon the rain looked like it was easing off so I drove round to the flat rock platform, at the beginning of Shark Bay to fish through to the bottom of the tide. This is typically a good tailor fishing spot. However when things are tough you can only really be sure of a fish at dawn and dusk.
I started on the north east corner of the platform casting a brass coloured 60g Halco Twisty – no luck. I swapped to a GULP Jerkshad in Satay Chicken colour, on a 3/8th ounce jighead. This got a couple of bites from the resident Long Toms but nothing else. I decided a metal slug was my best chance of a decent fish so I swapped again. This time to a HALCO 60g Outcast metal slug in the blue colour. I hurled it out to the north east and wound it back in fairly quickly at constant speed. About 40 metres out I felt a hit, and a few revolutions later my rod tip bent over. It was a small tailor just over 40 cm long. I threw it back and kept casting.
It was only just after 4.00 pm and the brief period of sun had ended abruptly. The sky was looking ominous to the south west, so the weather was coming my way. I decided to up the stakes and put on a big SAKU 130mm Stickdog sinking stickbait lure. This was huge in comparison to the HALCO Outcast I had used previously but tailor rarely consider anything is too big, if they are eating. As this area is very snaggy I fish with single hooks on these more expensive lures – to avoiding losing them. It casts a good distance so I started peppering the zone with a semi circle of casts. About 25% through my arc a fish knocked the lure clean out of the water but I did not hook up. I cast back out and this time a tailor grabbed it not long after it hit the water. It put up a good fight and with a single hook it is important to keep the tension up on the line right to the point where the fish is at your feet. I landed it safely, snapped it and released it.
The rain was not faraway but I could not stop now – I had caught some fish. I had to see if I could catch some more. But as the light rain turned to heavy rain and then to a torrential downpour, I had to give up. The rain was cold and came down so hard that it completely flattened the sea. I grabbed everything and trudged back to the car. That was it for the day.
The next day the rain eased off and the swell started to drop off. I headed back to Shark Bay in the afternoon but could not find any fish, casting slugs on the north east edge of the rock platform. I went over to the north west side. The north easterly had picked up and the water was still quite cloudy from all the rain. I decided to put on a popper as this area is very snaggy. I chose a Halco Roosta popper in the gold colour. After a few casts a good sized tailor (around 50 cm) came up and grabbed it , inches from the base of the rocks. I had the drag pretty tight and a 40lb leader and as I pulled tight the fish just launched itself out of the water and landed beside me. They never cease to surprise me. I decided to bleed this one and keep it for supper.
After cleaning the fish I headed back to the car and witnessed a great sunset. I had my fingers crossed for falling seas over the next few days.