By the beginning of May the Clarence River was fishing pretty well. The water was clear on the higher tides but wading around quickly stirred up the newly laid sediment. The floods had washed away a lot of sand and sediment from the rocky bottomed areas and dumped it in new spots. The rain continued but not on a scale that would cause more flooding.
The junior jewfish started to school up around the overhangs and drop offs in the river and sometimes I would catch 5 or 6 in row on lightly weighted soft plastics. The biggest of these junior mulloway were about 35cm long. The little mulloway love soft plastics but strike in a completely different way to flathead. Flathead smash the soft plastic with a hard and noticeable thud, where as the mulloway seem to slowly mouth the plastic before trying to swallow it.
The weather was cool and so was the water. I caught bream, flathead and some small trevally in the river. There were plenty of small jelly prawns and the bream were often to be found feeding on these, as they schooled up in the stingray holes on the flats. On several days I caught a bag limit of five flathead and kept the fish to feed the family.
The swell dropped off for a few days in the middle of the month and I caught several keeper size jewfish at Woody Head. I also hooked a few giant trevally on big soft plastic minnows. I had one session fishing the rock platform at Shark Bay on a falling tide. I caught a couple of small tailor just on dusk.
On the 17th the swell was forecast to be light again so I decided to try fishing at Woody Head. Low tide would be at about 7.30 am and we were about a week away from the full moon. I arrived at about 6.00 am, 30 mins before first light. I walked out onto the rock platform and the swell was disappointingly powerful again.
I started fishing at the north end, casting a 60g metal slug towards the gap in the rocks north of the area known as the barnacles. There are nearly always tailor or trevally here on dawn and sometimes jewfish. It was too rough to cast a soft plastic so I stuck with the slug. I hooked and dropped a couple of fish, just after first light, which I assume were tailor. Then I lost my slug to the rocks.
I dropped to the lighter rig and put on a GULP 4″ Minnow soft plastic on a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I cast out in front of the rock platform and let the plastic sink through the wash. You cannot leave the plastic long on the bottom as it will get snagged, but you need it down there for five or ten seconds, to be in with a chance of attracting a bite. After a few casts I caught a decent bream and then dropped another.
After sunrise things went quiet and I moved further south along the rock platform, casting in various spots. I moved back up to the heavier rig (40lb braid/ 30lb fluorocarbon leader), as I approached a few known jewfish spots. I was now fishing with a GULP 5″ Jerkshad in the Satay Chicken colour. I was still using 30lb leader but I had changed to a 1/4 ounce, 2/0 jighead. The swell was little lighter now and the tide was running in.
I kept casting and retrieving the soft plastic and leaving it for as long as possible right at the base of the rock ledge, on the bottom. I felt a pretty faint bight and then lost my rig to the cunjevoi again. I retied with the same set up and kept going south along the rocks.
It was now about 8.30 am. As I pulled up the rod tip to recast, the jighead stopped. I pulled again and it moved a little more and then line started peeling. Unfortunately, I could immediately feel the line rubbing on something, so the fish was probably swimming in, under an overhang. I tightened the drag a fraction and it slowed. I got some line back and hoped it was coming out. However it got its breath back and ran the wrong way again. I decided to flick the bail arm open to see if it swam out, once I had released the pressure. I left the fish with slack line for about 15 seconds. In this time I got a little nearer to the edge, in between the wave sets. I then flicked the bail arm over, took up the slack line and heaved the fish out. It was just clear of the overhang and the line flicked free. I now had the drag very tight. The fish was pretty much beaten and it popped up, a big slab of silver. It rolled over on its side in the wash. The Daiwa Saltist 962 MH rod would not be able to lift it clear of the water so I would have to use the wave sets and the stepped rock ledges to land it. I managed this and got a soaking in the process. It was a solid jewfish / mulloway about 85cm cm long. I put it in a fresh rockpool to recover for a while. After a few photos I decided it looked well enough to release so I sent it on its way.
The leader was pretty shredded, as was a good section of braid, so I cut it all off and re-rigged. I decided to stick with the winning combination and dug out another GULP 5″ Jerkshad in the Satay Chicken colour. I cast out in the same spot let the lure flutter down and wash in to the base of the rocks. By the second hop I felt a bite and dropped the rod tip again and paused. After a few seconds pulled up hard and set the hook. It was another jewfish. This time I had started with a tighter drag and I kept the fish from getting its head down and swimming under the ledge. It made a solid run bit fortunately it was in the direction of the open sea. I turned its head and again used the waves to to lift it onto one ledge, then another and then up to my feet. It was another nice fish, closer to 90 cm this time. After five minutes this one did not perk up in the recovery pool, so I decided it would be dinner. I spiked it, then gutted and scaled it and later weighed it in at the shop – 5.7 kg. It was a beautiful fish.
I decided that two good fish was more than enough for one session and gave up for the day.
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.
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.