Iluka – Woody Head – 20/21 November 2020

We had great conditions on the Friday and Saturday with an early morning low tide and light wind from the northwest. There was about a metre swell forecast and we were about 5 days past the new moon.

Another early start
Woody Head – the Barnacles

I went straight back to fish “the Barnacles” at Woody Head, through dawn, on Friday. I walked out onto the rock platform at about 4.30 am. The sun was starting to glow below the horizon and the swell was pleasantly light, as forecast.

I started with soft plastics. I find it very difficult to fish a big hard bodied lure in the dark/ twilight. I tend to lose it to the rocks pretty quickly. I was fishing with the heavy rig – Daiwa Demonblood 962H rod, Daiwa TD SOL III LT6000 DH reel, 40lb braid, 40lb fluorocarbon leader. I tied on a Nitro Saltwater Pro 3/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and loaded it with a GULP 4″ minnow soft plastic in the lime tiger colour.

There are plenty of brands of jigheads out there. It is important to carry a range of weights and hook sizes, so that you can vary your selection according to the swell/wind/terrain and what is biting. Be aware that whilst they all have standard weights (1/4, 3/8, 1/2 ounce, 7,10, 14 grams) marked on them, if you weigh them they are all actually a little different in weight. This is because some include the hook in the weight and some don’t and they vary considerably in their design. There is also the complication of metric vs imperial weights and what they choose to put on the packaging. Strength is an important factor, especially when fishing from the rocks. The Nitro Saltwater Pro jigheads on Owner hooks rarely give at all and are very unlikely to straighten, but if you need a stealthy presentation, for shy fish, they are not the right choice. The kingfish had not been shy around dawn in my last few sessions.

I cast the soft plastic out towards the glowing horizon and saw the bait spook as it landed. I was in the right spot. On the first few casts I tend to rush my retrieves a little as I work out where the submerged ledges start and finish and how far I am likely to be able to cast. After ten minutes I had not had a touch and thought of changing lures. I put in one more cast; about 45 degrees out to the north east of the rock the locals sometimes refer to as “Barnacle Bob”. I left it to sink and counted slowly to ten, then started my retrieve. I felt it rub along the bottom as I lifted it, but on the second hop – the line pulled tight and there was a fish there. It swam fairly slowly towards me and as I wound in, I assumed it was a decent bream. Then it saw the ledge coming or realised it was hooked and took off in a long hard run. The rod tip was pulsing, but not frantically – so it was not a tailor. It made several small arcs and then I landed it with the aid of a wave surge. It was 60cm kingfish.

That started a great morning of fishing with 10 kingfish hook ups over the next few hours, interspersed with a couple of dart and bream. I landed 6 of them. A few times I tried to tempt them with a hard bodied lure and a popper but whilst they would follow the bigger lures, they just would not bite. I swapped back to the soft plastics and I hooked up immediately. The most prolific soft plastics where the GULP 4″ Pink Paddleshad and the GULP 4″ Lime Tiger Minnow. Unfortunately none of the Kingfish were over 65cm, so I released them all.

At about 6.30 am the tide was running in and pushing me back from my favorite spot, so I moved further south along the Woody Head platform to the spot known as “Snapper Rock”. I got snagged and lost my jighead after a few casts and so I picked up my lighter Daiwa Crossfire 1062 rod with a lighter 25lb fluorocarbon leader and 1/4 oz, size 1/0 hook jighead. I put on another Lime Tiger Minnow. I cast out and as the plastic sank a fish ate it and headed straight down into the rocks. I tightened the drag and manage to pull it out. It was a small snapper, about 35 cm long. I threw it back and cast out again. The sea was fairly flat but the wind was now picking up from the north. I kept casting and hooked another kingfish. the fight was longer and harder because of the light rod – these fish just never give up. Eventually I landed it with the help of the swell, and got a fair soaking in the process. At about 7.30 am I gave up battling the wind.

Small Snapper

The next morning the wind was light again from the northwest and there was almost no swell. I started fishing at “the Barnacles” with the GULP 4″ Paddle shad in pink colour. I caught a decent 35cm + bream. It was a very dark colour but pretty fat. I cast all around but the Kingfish were either not there or not eating. A couple of other anglers joined me and we threw every kind of popper, hard body, bait and soft plastic, without success. Then, just before 7.00 am, we saw them feeding on the surface on a school of bait. I hurled a single hooked 40g brass coloured Halco Twisty (metal slug) at them, retrieved it fast and hooked one. It pulled hard but I eventually got it right up to my feet. Then, almost in slow motion the single hook came loose, and it swam away with the next wave.

A great couple of sessions, but the weather was closing in again for a big south-easterly blow, so it was time for a rest.

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Iluka – Woody Head – 19 November 2020

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.

Barnacle tattoo

Iluka – Woody Head – Bream & Tailor – 10 June 2015

Wednesday

Woody Head had been promising on the previous afternoon so I decided to go back the next morning. The wind was a light south-westerly but was forecast to turn into a very strong south-easterly in the early afternoon.

I arrived before first light at about 5.45 am and walked out on to the rock platform.  I walked carefully to the south with my headlamp on. Moving very slowly across the slimy rocks. By the time I reached the spot I know as Snapper Rock it was about 6.00 am and the horizon was glowing.

I thought the tailor might be around so I started with my heavy rod and a big red and white Halco Roosta popper. I threw about 25 casts in all directions with no luck. I was joined on the rocks by another keen fisherman and he effortlessly landed a good-sized bream of fresh bait, right next to me.

I decided to swap to the other extreme. I picked up my lighter rig and tied on a 1/6th ounce, size 1 hook jighead. I was using 20lb fluorocarbon leader and I chose a GULP 3” Minnow soft plastic in the Smelt colour. This was slammed as it sank and line started peeling. I kept in touch with the fish but the light rod did not give me the power to force the pace and the swell kept crashing in against the rocks. It was pulling hard but in the low light I could not be sure what it was. With the help of a wave I got it up one ledge but then it buried itself in a small valley in the rocks and left me snagged as it swam away. It had a yellowish dorsal fin so I think it may have been a small kingfish or amberjack.

So back to the heavy rig, 35lb leader, a 1/6th ounce 1/0 hook jighead and a GULP 4” Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour. It took a couple of casts but then I was on again. The drag was set quite tight and the fish pulled a fair amount of line with ease. I tried to apply some pressure and then the line went slack. I pulled it in and saw that the hook on the jighead had straightened. I re-rigged again with a heavier hook jighead but it seemed the fish had moved on.

I moved down to the area known as ‘Mossies’ and fished various plastics for about an hour with no luck. I then moved back to ‘the Barnacles’ towards the north edge of the rock platform. It was now 8.30 am, just about on low tide and the wind was building from the south-east. I was fishing with the GULP 4” Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour, but I had put on a heavier ¼ ounce jighead to cope with the rising swell. I was using the light rod with 20lb leader. I cast the plastic out and counted to five, a ¼ ounce jighead would sink very fast so I had to try to keep it moving with only the briefest of pauses. After about two pauses I felt a solid knock then another, and another and as I pulled the rod tip up, it bent over and started shaking. It was a 40cm tailor, well hooked and so I soon had it at my feet. I bled it and put it aside for supper.

I cast out again and the soft plastic was thumped, as it landed in the water. This was a bigger fish but it buried itself in the rocks and left me snagged. I re-rigged and after a few cast this happened again.  I decided to move back to a spot where I had a better chance of pulling the fish clear of the rocks.

I swapped to the GULP Mantis Shrimp in the Lime Tiger colour, a few casts with this produced a solid 36cm bream, at the base of the rocks. I continued for another hour but only had a few bites and soon the south-easterly wind made fishing impossible for the rest of the day.

Iluka – Woody Head – 25 November 2014

Tuesday

Morning

Monday had been a tough day. The weather had really made it too hard to fish. Any normal person would have had a day relaxing at the pub or fixing up their gear – but by now regular readers will realize that I am far from normal.

Tuesday morning was a different story weather wise. The north-easterly had dropped off considerably to about 10 knots.  I decided to try fishing the rock platform at Woody Head. I arrived about 4.00 am and rigged up my heavy rig. Having seen the popper working the day before. I tied on a DUO Realis Popper 64 in a red colour. I tied it on with 30lb leader and lobbed it out. With a fair breeze it was hard to cast it very far on the heavy rig. However I eventually succeeded in getting more or less parallel with the edge of the rock ledges and worked the popper through the foamy wash. On about my tenth cast there was an explosive strike, short run and then my leader was flapping in the wind. Whatever it was, 30lb leader was clearly not going to stop it. It was only just light enough to see. I tied on another bigger RIVER TO SEA Dumbbell Popper but this did not interest the fish.

As the sun came up I decided to switch to soft plastic lures. GULP have a fairly new pattern – the 3” Mantis Shrimp. This is basically a prong tailed shrimp shape. I had it in the Molting Shrimp colour. I tied it on with 30lb fluorocarbon leader on a ¼ ounce, 1/0 jighead. I cast it out and let it sink for as long as  I felt it would take to get to the bottom. The problem with fishing these ledges is that the fish are always very close in. This means getting you soft plastic to the bottom and keeping it there long enough for something to grab it – without getting snagged. The Jewfish like to sit under the overhangs and in the caves that are under the ledges. You have to use your lures in a way that will persuade them to come out and eat.

The sun was now over the horizon. I dropped the soft plastic just over the edge into the foamy water. After a couple of hops my line was almost touching the face of the rocks. There was gentle tug and I dropped the rod tip – rock, swell or fish? I paused for a few seconds then struck hard – it was a fish. It had plenty of power and it took off to the south in a long and powerful initial run. But it was slow and powerful so I was pretty sure it was a jewfish/mulloway. I took a little line back, as it paused for a breather, but I could not turn its head. It put in another powerful run but then it slowed and I tightened the drag and put some pressure on. It was tired now but it still kept trying to dive down underneath the rocky ledge. I used the swell to get it to the foot of the rocks. I could now see it was a very decent fish – perhaps 80 or 90 cm. On a couple of wave surges I tried to get it up on the stepped ledges below me. I succeeded initially but as soon as the wave receded the dead weight of the fish was unmovable and it would wriggle back off with the receding water. It seemed solidly hooked and pretty tired so I waited for a decent wave set and heaved it up two steps. I waited for the next surge but as I pulled, the hook came free. It slid back down, and with the next wave and swam away.

When I examined the jighead I could see it had started to straighten. I suspect that the only way I would have landed that fish would have been with a long handled gaff and I do not intend to start carrying one of those around the rocks with me. I re-rigged with the same outfit but after 30 minutes I had not had another bite so I decided to change to another soft plastic. I chose the GULP 4” Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour. After two casts, something slammed this and briefly headed out to sea before biting through the leader. I tied on a repeat rig and fished around for another 20 minutes with no result.

I decided it was time to switch to the light rig and lighter leader. I started with 20lb fluorocarbon and tied on a smaller, GULP 3” minnow in the Lime Tiger colour. I stuck with the ¼ ounce, 1/0 hook jighead. It had been an interesting morning and it wasn’t even 6.00 am yet.

I cast the smaller lure out and it was hit, at the base of the rocks on the first cast. I soon landed a solid bream – well over 35cm. I released it – I was determined to get a jewfish that I could keep for supper. About 5 minutes later I had another fish on. I was sure it was another jewfish but I only had the light rod this time so patience was the key. I left the drag alone and gradually tired the fish out. The tide would be high at 11.00 am so the rising water was gradually improving my chances of using the waves to help wash the fish up on to the rocks. I pulled the fish up the ledges in a couple of stages and safely grabbed the leader. Finally I had a keeper size Jewfish – just on 72cm. I put it in a keeper pool and cast out again.  The fish were suddenly on the bite, I caught another decent bream and then was on to a similair sized jewfish but once more I was unable to get it up the rocks.

By about 6.30 am I had swapped to a GULP 5 inch Jerkshad in the Cajun Chicken colour. After a few casts I connected with another jewfish. I managed to land this one but it was just under 70cm, so I sent it on its way.

 

By about 7.30 am the wind had picked up again and the tide was washing over the ledges so I had to give up. I cleaned up my jewfish and walked back to the car.

Afternoon

The wind was forecast to drop off and then turn south-easterly in the afternoon. After a great morning I decided I had to go back to Woody Head and fish through dusk. I arrived at about 3.30pm and walked out to ‘the Barnacles’ area. The tide was running out to an afternoon low at about 5.30 pm. The moon was a waxing crescent – 11% full.

I used my heavy rod with 30lb fluorocarbon leader. This area is tough to fish as you are casting over lots of shallow reef to reach a drop off. A surface lure is a therefore a good option. I tied on a River to Sea 110m Dumbbell Pop surface popper and hurled it out. I wore myself out for twenty minutes casting this in all directions but I could not stir anything up. I swapped over to a ¼ ounce, 1/0 jighead and GULP 5 “ Jerkshad in the Cajun Chicken colour.  On the first cast I caught another good (35 cm+) bream and then I lost the jighead to the rocks.

I re-rigged and cast out again. There were a few fish knocking and bumping the plastic just as it reached the ledge, but I could not seem to hook them. Just before 4.00 pm something grabbed the plastic just as I finished my retrieve. It tried to dart under the rocks but it was not a big fish and the heavier rod and tightened drag soon pulled it clear. It was an amazing coloured wrasse of some sort – a really pretty fish. After a few pictures I released it.

I caught a couple more bream on smaller soft plastics but the south easterly started to blow hard at about 4.30 pm, so I gave up for the day.

Wrasse

Soft plastics will catch anything

Iluka – Middle Bluff – 28 September 2014

Sunday

On Saturday, I packed up the car and drove 3 hours south, from Brisbane, to Iluka. It is about a year since I was here last and it feels like much longer. At last I had the opportunity to get away and fish for some different species. The weather was forecast to be pretty good for most of the week – with limited swell and wind and plenty of sunshine.

I arrived on Saturday night and ate at the Sedgers Reef Hotel. The food in here continues to go steadily downhill, while the prices go up. Everything is deep-fried (mostly from frozen) and hot chips are really the only thing worth eating. Still, the beer is cold and the location is fantastic. It’s a great place to watch the sunset across the mighty Clarence River.

The Clarence River empties into the ocean between Iluka to the north shore and Yamba to the south. The Clarence is a huge river and there is always activity at its mouth and on the rocky headlands, on either side. I prefer to fish the Iluka side of the river mouth, as it is quieter and has the beautifully unspoiled Bundjalung National Park.

This time I was staying at the Anchorage Holiday Park www.anchorageholidaypark.com.au in one of their deluxe cabins. I love to camp at the Woody Head camp ground, but they were booked out for the school holidays and its nice to have a proper fridge and running water, if you are planning to keep a few fish, to take home. There is also good fishing on the river, right in front of the park.

I went to bed early on Saturday night and as usual I found it hard to sleep. At about 4.00 am I woke before the alarm, had a quick cup of tea and set off for the rocks. I decided to start by fishing just to the north of Frazers Reef, at what is known as Middle Bluff (or sometimes Second Bluff). This is a rocky headland in between Woody Head and Iluka Bluff. I walked along the beach in the pre-dawn light and I was relieved to feel only a very light south easterly wind blowing. As the sky grew lighter I could see there was not much swell, which would make things much easier (and safer). I arrived at the northern end of Middle Bluff at about 5.15 am and started to rig up.

I had two rod and reel combos with me. The first – my heavy rig – is a Daiwa Demonblood 962H rod matched with a Shimano Stradic FJ 8000 reel. This is rigged with 20lb braid and I usually fish it with a 25lb or 30 lb fluorocarbon leader. The second is the much lighter, N.S Black Hole Cabin II – S-862 L Spin Rod. It is 2.59m long (8’6”) and rated 8-14 lb. I match this rod with a Shimano Sustain 3000 reel. This is rigged with 15lb braid and I usually fish it with a 12lb to 16lb fluorocarbon leader.

Around dawn I tend to fish with the heavy rig and try a few hard bodied lures or poppers. This morning I tied on a small but fairly heavy (31g) sinking bibbed minnow from Maria – called the Duplex. It is designed for long casts and high speed retrieves and it is ideal for casting from the rocks. I threw it out about 15 times and felt a few bumps. The sun was just coming over the horizon when I felt my first solid hit. I had the drag set quite tight as I did not want to get dragged down into the rocks. I did not hook up, so I cast out again and cranked up the retrieve. This time the hit was much more solid and the rod bent over, there was a fairly slow initial pull followed by a massive yank and the lure pulled free. When I got it back the rear treble had been completely pulled out – not happy.

I continued to fish with another Maria Duplex for about 15 minutes, but I could not find that fish again. I decided to switch to a soft plastic and chose the trusty GULP 4” Minnow in the Pearl Watermelon colour. I started fishing on a ¼ ounce, 2/0 hook jighead. The swell was light and the ¼ ounce jighead ensured the lure would drift around in the water column, before it reached the bottom. I tried to keep the jighead on the bottom for as long as possible without getting snagged. After about five casts a felt a faint bite, very close to the rocks. I dropped the plastic straight back down, only a meter or so away from the rock ledge. I paused for about 10 seconds as it sank to the bottom. When I lifted the rod, the line pulled tight and the rod tip started wriggling. I had the drag set tight as I was fishing very close to the barnacle covered rocks, but the fish predictably tried to swim under the rock ledge. It was no match for the heavier Daiwa rod and 25lb leader and I muscled it out and up on to the rocks beside me. It was a small Jewfish/ Mulloway – I estimated it at just under 50cm – a long way off the new NSW legal size limit. I let it recover in the rock pool for a bit, so that it might avoid becoming a shark snack. Then I speared it back in to the water. I continued with the same rig for about another half hour and had another faint hit, but did not hook up.

I decided to swap to the lighter fishing rig with a 14lb fluorocarbon leader. I had tried a number of bigger soft plastics but none of these had created any real interest. I now swapped down to a GULP 3” Sardine Minnow which I rigged on a ¼ ounce, size 1/0 hook, Nitro breampro fine wire jighead. I lost a few of these to the rocks but at about 8.30 am I felt a solid bite in very close to the rocks. This was a stronger fish but the swell had dropped off a little, which made things easier. I could not muscle this one in, so I let it play itself out and then landed it with the help of a good wave surge. It was bigger than the last at about 55cm – but still not big enough to keep. I took some photos and threw it back in.

I continued fishing for another 90 minutes without any more success, but the birds were working a few hundred metres away. The dolphins came through a couple of times – so I assume that there was some bait around. At about 10.00 am, I gave up for the morning. There was no fish for supper but it was a great start to the week.