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 – 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 – Woody Head – 26 November 2014

Wednesday

Morning

It rained overnight on Tuesday and it was warm and cloudy on Wednesday morning. I chose to fish at Woody Head again. The wind had settled down and had turned north-easterly again. I was in position early. With first light at just after 5.00 am local time (which is 4.00 am Queensland time) bedtime is about 8.00 pm.

I arrived on the rock platform just before first light and rigged up my heavy rod. Low tide would be about 5.00 am.  I was using 30lb fluorocarbon leader and I put a GULP 5” Jerkshad in the Peppered Prawn colour on a 1/6th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. The swell had settled considerably and I could safely get fairly close to the edge of the rock ledges.  I knew where to cast – as close as I could to the edge of the rocks. Sure enough, on my third attempt I felt the gentle pull of a jewfish mouthing the plastic. I paused, then struck. With the big rod and light swell, this fish was fairly easy to subdue. It was 5.30 am and I had my first jewfish of the day. It was probably just over 70 cm, but I had left over fish from the day before, so I speared it back into the foamy wash.

I stayed with the heavy rod for about another thirty minutes  and caught a great bream but I was having trouble keeping in touch with the soft plastic, so I swapped to the lighter rod with a 14lb fluorocarbon leader. I moved to the south along the rocks, casting at any likely looking water. I soon found a few more good bream. I caught about 6 over the next hour – most were over 35cm. I used both big and small soft plastics in various patterns and colours.

At one point something bit hard on a 3 “ minnow soft plastic and took off, after a few seconds the line went slack and I retrieved just half a jighead. You need good teeth to bite clean through the jighead – mackerel? Shark?

At about 8.30 am the rain started falling and gradually got heavier until I decided to stop for the morning.

Afternoon

At about 3.00 pm the rain stopped and I went back to Woody Head to fish the afternoon low tide. The wind had picked up a bit from the north. I caught a few more bream on soft plastics all along the front of the rock platform. I caught one 35 cm on a GULP Jerkshad, but in general the fish where smaller than they had been in the morning.

As the sunset behind the headland the wild weather turned the sky a great colour. I fished through dusk and kept catching small bream and a couple of dart. At about 6.30 pm I decided I had had enough and walked back to the carpark.

Iluka – Woody Head – 1 October 2014

Wednesday

Many claim it was Einstein who said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But there is no evidence that he ever said it, thought it or wrote it.  However as with all good clichés, there is an element of truth in it, especially for fishermen.

For this reason I decided not to return to Middle Bluff on Wednesday morning and to go instead to Woody Head – the next headland to the north. When the swell is light and the tide is low or falling, there are few better fishing spots.

I parked up and walked out on to the rock platform at about 5.00 am. The wind had stayed a northerly and the swell was fairly gentle, but there was still the odd large set of waves coming through. Boots with felt soles or studs, or both are essential, if you intend to venture out here, as is a PFD. The tides ensure almost every surface is a suitable home for green and black slimy weed and the barnacles here are responsible for plenty of long term scar tissue. So it is only relatively safe when the swell is under 1 metre and the tide is about half way out and falling.

It was another magnificent sunrise. I wandered out to the front of the rock platform to a spot called the Barnacles. I rigged up the light rod (NS Blackhole) with 14 lb fluorocarbon leader and ¼ ounce, 1/0 size hook jighead and a GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad, in the Curry Chicken colour. I lost the first rig to the rocks – fishing is expensive in this kind of terrain. I rigged up again with the same set up. I cast out and let the jig head sink. I left it as long as I dared and then hopped it in a little closer to the rocks. As I lifted it again I felt it stop and then line started peeling. The fish ploughed off to the south, parallel with the rocks. This was tricky as I could not stay lined up with it for long. I Let it run and then fairly quickly took back some line and tightened the drag a little. It turned but tried to bury itself at the foot of the rocks. It was now weakening but the leader was caught on some rocks and I could feel it rubbing. I loosed the drag right off and waited. Fortunately it swam out and freed the leader. Now I tightened again and pulled it up on the next surge of water. After a couple more waves I had it at my feet. A solid mulloway –  it was 76 cm and legal size in both Queensland and NSW. At last we would have a taste of the fish I had been catching all week and releasing.

I dispatched it, gutted and cleaned it. Then I headed back to the rocks for another try. It had destroyed my last GULP Crazy Legs Jerkshad so I put on a 4” Minnow in the Green Camo colour. Back to the same spot – bang, first cast and I have a fish on again. The drag was still set too tight from the final stages of the fight with the last one and after a big initial run, before I realised, it found a rock and snapped me off.  I assume it was another mulloway. I re-rigged and continued fishing for another 30 minutes with no result. The swell was building and the tide rising. So at about 7.45am, I gave up and took my prize back to the cabin.

Iluka – Frasers Reef/ Middle Bluff – 9 February 2013

Saturday/ Sunday

I woke at about 4.30am on Saturday, to a big storm. I must be getting less keen. In the past I would have put my wet weather gear on and headed straight out to fish the dawn. Instead, I rolled over and slept for another hour. When I woke up the rain had stopped so I pulled on my fishing boots and drove down to Fraser’s Reef.

As I pulled in to the car park the sun was well and truly up. My late arrival was underscored when a local acquaintance – John, appeared with a bag full of Blackfish. He had caught them all using the green string weed and had already finished for the day. He did not tap his fingers on his watch but he may as well have. It was about 8.30 am and I was only just starting.

I walked out to Middle Bluff, which is the headland to the north of Fraser’s Reef. The swell may have herded the Blackfish into a few holes where they could be easily extracted, but it made fishing for anything else pretty difficult. I started with the heavy rod and a GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the Curry Chicken colour , which I rigged on a 3/8th oz, 3/0 jighead. I cast out a few times but the sweep and swell threw the lure around and I could not really control it. I worked through a few more soft plastic lures in various colours and shapes. I tried the heavier, ½ oz, 3/0 jigheads, but these just kept getting snagged.

In a repeat of the conditions of the day before I just could not get the lure into the area close to the base of the rocks where, I was pretty sure the school jewfish would be hiding. While I was trying, I had to retreat a couple of times to avoid a soaking but, inevitably, I soon copped a drenching from a big wave set. You cannot run across these rocks and the recent rain and big seas means there is a thick coating of black green slippery, slimy weed. If you have barnacles under foot you are ok, but the black and green stuff is like ice. I use felt soled rock boots from Cabelas in the US, but even these can slip in the slime.

I swapped down to the light rig and put on a GULP Jerkshad, in the Pumpkinseed colour on a ¼ oz, 2/0 jighead. I threw this into the foamy swell and hoped it would sink a few feet before getting washed against the rocks. It did and as I took up the slack I felt a fish on the line. I did not have to do much, as the swell more or less threw the fish at me. It was a good sized Bream, just over 34cm long. I moved along the headland trying to fish in a few spots but as the morning went on, the swell got worse and I gave up at about 10.30 am.

In the afternoon, the tide was low at about 3.40 pm so I tried to fish around the Frasers Reef headland, but this yielded nothing except a lot of lost gear. I could see bait in close to the rocks, jumping ahead of my lure but I could not leave the lure in the strike zone long enough. I had caught dinner and avoided a duck but only just.

I tried the same spots on Sunday morning. This time I was in position to see the sunrise. The swell had eased a little but it was still making it pretty tough to fish. The wind dropped off around dawn but then gradually built up again until it was blowing at about 15 knots from the east. I tried a few spells with some big hard bodies and slugs but these did not tempt the fish.

In the afternoon I tried fishing off the rock platform at Woody Head but the wind and swell made it impossible. So after an hour of trying and losing gear, I gave up. So on Sunday I scored a duck and went for dinner at the pub. I went to bed on Sunday night hoping that the wind and swell would ease off soon.

Iluka – Woody Head – the ‘Barnacles’ – 8 February 2013

Friday

After a few delays and cancellations, I decided it was time for an Iluka fishing trip. I had a booking at Woody Head for the week before, but with the Clarence River pouring out mud, I delayed it for a week. By Friday the weather looked reasonable, so I decided to go for it.

I arrived at Woody Head at about lunchtime and set up camp. When I camp, I use the Oztent RV2 as it is quick to set up and very durable. It took about 20 minutes to get sorted and then ten more to get my fishing boots on and light and heavy rods rigged.

For the purposes of rock fishing I use the following outfits:

Heavy – Daiwa Demonblood rod, Stradic 8000FJ reel, 20lb Fireline and usually a 25lb or 30lb fluorocarbon leader.

Light – Shimano Catana Coastline Light rod, Sustain 4000 reel, 10lb Platil Millenium braid and 10lb or 12lb fluorocarbon leader.

I usually carry both out to the rocks with me. My general plan is to start with the heavy rig, throwing big lures or soft plastics and gradually work through to the lighter rig. It is amazing how often down-sizing in this way, produces fish.

I walked round the headland to a spot called ‘the Barnacles’, by the locals. This is a fairly treacherous place and you need to watch the swell carefully for 30 minutes or so before figuring out where is safe to fish. Even then, you can still get caught by a rogue wave, so good boots, a pfd and a willingness to get wet are essential.

I soon got wet as a huge wave slapped against the rocks and came down on top of me. In the bright sunshine, it was quite refreshing but it was a timely reminder to watch my step. I cast around with the big rod using the GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad soft plastics in the Lime Tiger and New Penny colours. I initially rigged them on 3/8 oz 3/0 jigheads and then dropped back to the ¼ oz 2/0 size.

Low tide had been at 2.15pm and the swell was making keeping the lures in the strike zone hard. The water was pretty dirty, but each time I pulled the lure in close to the rocks, small whitebait would scatter in front of it.

This was perfect jewfish water but the problem was getting my lure to them. During the daytime they will hug the rocks and sit underneath the overhangs. If you want to catch them you lure has to be on the bottom right in front of the overhang. They also can be fussy, so you have to fish light, even a ¼ oz jighead is sometimes too heavy. With a 1.5m swell it was very difficult to keep my lure where I wanted it.

I swapped to the light rig and dropped to a finer wire 1/6th 2/0 jighead and 12lb leader. I put on a plain GULP Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour. It was now just after 3.00pm. After a few casts, something hit the lure right beside the rocks and took off. It was fast and stripped some line. It was not a jewfish. I waited for the swell to bring it up over the ledge and then tightened the drag a little. It was a big eye trevally, about 40cm long. I snapped it and bled it – just enough for dinner.

I continued fishing but as the tide turned and the afternoon breeze picked up, I was forced off ‘the Barnacles’. I walked back to camp cleaned the fish and washed up. I got the fire going and the red wine open and planned the next morning’s session.

Iluka – Woody Head – Finally a Snapper – 13 December 2011

Tuesday

The weather was so miserable the next day that I actually had a lie in. When I say lie in – I mean, I woke up at sunrise, rather than an hour before! The grey skies and rain meant that sunrise was a little hard to pin point. The rain was coming over in regular, but not very heavy showers. By now there had been enough to make the river very dirty. The wind was dropping off so the swell was easing. On Sunday I had walked round to Middle Bluff. It was a clear dawn and initially things looked promising. But as I rigged up a couple of big waves came crashing through and I realized that it was not going to work. Every 20 minutes or so a really massive set would come through and completely soak the rock platform!

By Tuesday I was ready to try again and the swell definitely seemed to have eased. I walked out on to the rocks in front of Woody Head at about 4.45 am, as the sky was beginning to lighten. The swell had dropped right back and there was a very light south easterly breeze. Low tide had been at about 4.30 am. So I had a couple of hours to fish left before the tide started to get too high. I started with 65g Raider metal slug and cast it out, all around the area known as ‘the Barnacles’, on the eastern side of the Woody Head platform. After 25 casts, I had not had a touch so I switched to a 5” Gulp Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour. I rigged it on a ½ oz, 3/0 hook jighead. I was fishing with my heavy rod – the 9’6” Daiwa Demon Blood with 30lb braid and a 30lb fluorocarbon leader on the Shimano Stradic 6000 reel. I could not find any fish here and the swell was still giving me a soaking every now and then, so I moved south, along the front of the rock platform. I cast wherever I could and, predictably lost plenty of jigheads to the rocks.

I stopped for a while at an area known as the ‘Jew hole’ and swapped down to a shorter GULP 4” Minnow soft plastic in the Pearl Watermelon colour. I was trying to put something out that was more similar to the Whitebait that I knew were everywhere. This got results almost instantly with a couple of solid bites and then a good run but no hook up. About ten minutes later I had a fish on, it was another Salmon and after a couple of jumps and a brief fight it shook itself off the hook.

I moved further south and rigged up a GULP 5” Crazylegs Jerkshad soft plastic in the Curry Chicken colour. I was still using the ½ oz, 3/0 jighead. I started to cast out as far as I could, to give the lure plenty of time on the bottom before it got washed in to the rocks. I felt a couple of grabs at the base of the rocks and then a solid bite but still no hook up. It was almost time to go and the swell was picking up again after the calm around dawn. I put in a long cast and counted to twenty. When I lifted the rod I felt a bit of resistance and then all hell broke loose and the reel was screaming. There was a long initial run, out to sea – and then it turned back towards the rocks and I had to wind hard to keep up. It was too fast for a Jew but not mad enough to be a Salmon or a Tailor.

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It gradually slowed and after a few more runs, I tightened the drag and got it up on a ledge below with the help of the swell. Luckily it wedged itself into the rocks and did not wash back out with the receding wave. I looked to see what was coming and then slid down slowly, grabbed the leader and pulled it up. It was a good size Snapper – 3.8kg and somewhere between 60 and 70cm long. I was delighted. After almost a week of pretty mediocre weather and limited fishing opportunities I was holding the biggest Snapper I have ever caught. I am told they are often caught off this platform on fresh squid baits and early morning is always the most successful time.

That was enough for one day and with my heart still racing, knees wobbling and hands shaking. I gathered up my gear and walked back, noisily, through the camp site.