Sandon River estuary and Clarence River flats – 4/6 November 2020

I arrived for a few days of fishing in Iluka. With everybody locked in to Australia, it is getting hard to find accomodation in some of my favorite fishing spots – especially at the weekends. So I had booked ahead for this week. Unfortunately the weather did not play ball. A big southerly storm blew in on the night I arrived and the wind was forecast to be blowing around 25 knots for a few days.

Westin Shadteez Slim – great paddletail soft plastic

So on the Wednesday afternoon I decided to get out of the wind on the Sandon River, just to the south of Brooms Head. This is a very shallow estuary that is only worth fishing from about high tide. I set out in my waders about an hour after the tide had started running out. The water was crystal clear and running out quickly. I was fishing with my light spin set up -10lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/8th ounce, size 1 hook jighead. I started with the paddle tail soft plastic I am really enjoying using that was recommended to me by Mark Berg. It is from the Scandinavian brand Westin and it is called a Shadteez. I was using the 10 cm/4 inch. It has a great paddletail action but I particularly like the orange belly on the ‘Dirty Harbour’ colour. I hopped it along the bottom and soon found some flathead, but they were all pretty tiny. I swapped to a soft plastic minnow and cast it along the edge of a big weed bank. I caught a couple of small bream but I could not find dinner.

The next day I decided to have a look around in the Clarence River. There are are some good sand flats towards the southern end of Goodwood Island. On the Wednesday morning I drove down to the Goodwood Island Wharf (just downstream of Browns Rocks) and waded out to look for some flathead. I am always amazed at how dramatically the underwater terrain changes in a big river estuary. The tides, current, rain, sun and wind all conspire to make it unrecognisable from one year to the next. Several years ago this area was carpeted in sea grass and muddy yabby banks. Now the seagrass has disappeared completely and the yabby banks are sandier and (thankfully) a little firmer under foot.

The tide had just started to run in strongly and despite the howling south-easterly the water was very clear. I started with a GULP 3″ Minnow soft plastic in the Lime Tiger colour. I loaded this onto a 1/8th ounce, size 1 jighead. I waded in the direction of the river mouth putting in long casts up into the incoming tide and then slowly hopping the lure back towards me along the bottom. I was staying about waist deep in the water. I caught a couple of very small (25cm) flathead that were moving up with the tide.

I was moving slowly and quietly and suddenly heard a ‘boof’ and a splash between me and the river bank. I paused and it happened again, about 10 metres from me in about 25cm of water. Something was chasing the tiny jelly prawns that are currently plentiful in the shallows. I cast in that direction, counted to ten and slowly lifted then jigged up my rod tip. I paused for another ten, then the same drill. On the third lift I hooked the fish. It was a flathead just over 40 cm.

The flathead were clearly here. But as I slowly found out they were mostly very small. I moved between shallower and deeper water. I changed from a slow to fast retrieve and even contemplated pumping some yabbies. But despite frequent soft plastic and hard bodied lure changes, I could not catch another legal sized flathead. I caught plenty of small ones – about 12 in two hours, but most were between 20 and 30 cm long. I had found the nursery. Next session I would be looking for the grown ups.

Iluka – Woody Head and the Clarence River – 15 June 2015

After a few good sessions Monday was tough day. I went out to Woody Head at dawn and fished through until about 10.00 am. The skies had cleared and the sun had come but the swell was still up. I fished a big River to Sea Dumbbell Popper to try to entice a tailor for about 30 mins through dawn. This produced nothing so I swapped the light rod and a big soft plastic jerkshad. This also produced nothing.

At about 9.00 am a big pod of dolphins came swimming by. The swell was making it very difficult to fish so I decided to give up for the morning.

In the afternoon I walked along the edge of the Clarence River just to the south of the Anchorage Caravan Park and with my light rod. I fished with a GULP Banana Prawn 2” Shrimp and various other soft plastics. There were plenty of small fish around and I caught 2 small flathead (under 30cm) and a tiny trevally. The sunset was a spectacular consolation for a poor days fishing.

Iluka – Middle Bluff and the Clarence River – 23 November 2014

Sunday

With another year almost over I was determined to get in a few more days of fishing down at Iluka. The weather looked good so on Saturday, I drove down from Brisbane in the afternoon. I rented a unit in the Riverview Apartments – which look straight out on to the Clarence River. I love to camp at Woody Head, but the weather looked a bit tricky so I chickened out. I arrived in time for a beautiful sunset. I sorted out my rock fishing gear, checked the weather forecast for the morning and went to bed early, with the alarm set for 3.30 am, NSW time.

On Sunday morning I got up in the dark had a cup of tea. Then I drove round to Frazers Reef beach car park. I walked down the path and onto the beach. There was not much moon in the sky – it had been ‘new’ on Saturday. There were a few clouds along the horizon and there was a light north-easterly wind blowing. A couple of kangaroos were close to the water but they decided to bounce back to the undergrowth, when they saw me walking along the beach.

I walked north, past Frasers Reef to Middle Bluff. This rocky platform sits about half way between Iluka Bluff and Woody Head. My favorite spot to fish is at the north end. Before I start, I will offer my words of warning. The wind and swell are very unpredictable here, so always take care. I now wear a pfd and felt-soled rock fishing boots. The wave sets and swell heights vary dramatically between high and low tide, so tread carefully and watch what’s coming all the time.

This morning the swell was fairly tame but every 15 minutes a big set would come through and slap against the rocks. The tide had been low at about 3.30 am and it was now running in. I rigged up the heavier of my two rock fishing outfits – the Daiwa Demon Blood 962H rod matched with a Shimano Stradic FJ 8000 reel.

Now a whinge for Shimano – I have had a lot of trouble with the drag clicker arrangement on your reels. On the previous Stradics – the problem was the part kept breaking. This has now been changed to a more robust part. But it keeps going silent on me.  Aside form the springs and clips that keep failing or popping out, I think the basic problem is the clicker is metal and the wheel it clicks against, is plastic. I know I use my reels a lot and I treat them mean, but I think this sort of basic design fault should not keep appearing.  To add to my disappointment in Shimano it took three months for you to find a new bearing for my Stella, last year. I could have flown to Japan (Kuala Lumpur, Shenzhen) myself and machined one. The folks at Jones Tackle have done a great job of repairing the reels and covering for you, but overall the product is not robust enough for Australian conditions. I have decided my next reel of this size will have to be another brand.

Back to Middle Bluff – I started by casting big shallow diving hard bodies without much luck. You can catch just about anything off these rocks. Tailor are around all year, as are jewfish, dart, trevally and some monster bream.  I have seen a 25 kg Spanish mackerel caught off here, on a 40 cm live tailor. It’s a very fishy place.

However, this morning it was proving tough. I swapped from the hard bodies to big soft plastics – a GULP Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour. To counter the swell I initially rigged it on a ¼ ounce jighead and later dropped down to a 1/6th ounce jighead. I moved up and down the rocks without much luck. I was fishing with 30lb fluorocarbon leader. The water was murky because of the big tides of the last few days.

I fished through the dawn with hardly a bite. I swapped rods to my lighter rock fishing rig – the N.S Black Hole Cabin II – S-862 L Spin Rod. It is 2.59m long (8’6”) and rated 8-14 lb. I dropped the leader down to 20lb fluorocarbon. I put on a smaller GULP 3” Minnow, also in the Lime Tiger colour. The smaller soft plastic immediately attracted attention, with a couple of grabs and even a solid bite, but I did not hook anything. After another 20 minutes of casting I connected with a fast fish, I soon subdued it and pulled it clear of the water. It was a dart.

I moved a little further south. I cast down into some foamy water and let the plastic sink to the bottom. I paused for about 20 seconds and as I lifted it – bang – something grabbed it and took off. It went hard and fast and I struggled to slow it down. I tightened the drag a little and it paused, then took off again. I just kept pumping and winding, whenever I could and eventually it started back towards the base of the rocks. I suddenly realized I was a long way away from anywhere I could safely land this fish. I was standing about four or five metres above the water on the rocks and there was no way the 20lb leader would pull this fish up. I saw a flash of blue/silver as it headed in to try and bury itself. Kingfish/ Tailor/ Salmon – I am not sure, but it was a good size. I started to walk it towards the south, where I might be able to land it. I got about 20 metres along the rocks and after a big surge, the line went slack. I pulled up the mashed plastic. The hook must have just fallen out.

Now I had found some fish I decided to go back to the bigger soft plastic and tied on a 5” Lime Tiger jerkshad. I fished this around the rocks hoping to find the fish that got away. It was only about 7.00 a.m. but it felt like I had been fishing all day. The sun was high in the sky and it was very hot. At about 7.15 am a fish grabbed the lure close in to the rocks. After a brief site it pretty much gave up. It was a small jewfish about 45cm long. After a few pictures I threw it back. At about 8.00 am I set off back to the car, stopping for a morning swim on the way.

The wind picked up during the day and the sky clouded over. I decided to try fishing the rock walls just to the south of the boat ramp, in town. I started at about 4.00 pm. It was almost low tide. I dropped down to my light spin rod with a 10lb fluorocarbon leader. I was expecting a few bream to be swimming around this area, so I started fishing with a GULP 3” Minnow in the Smelt colour. I had it rigged on a 1/8th ounce, size 1 hook jighead. I cast parallel with the base of the rock wall and soon found a few bream. I moved to cast at a gap in the wall and swapped to a GULP 3” Minnow in the Peppered Prawn colour. I felt a few bites, so I left the plastic to sit in the bottom for a while. This did the trick and when I lifted the rod tip there was a fish on it. It was heavier than a bream and after a while I saw a longer flash of silver – it was a school jewfish, about 40 cm long. On the way back along the rock wall, I caught a small flathead.

With good weather and a few fish, it had been a good start to the week.

Iluka – Middle Bluff – 30 September 2014

Tuesday – Morning

I had not given up on finding a keeper size mulloway at Iluka, so at 4.45 am on Tuesday, I walked along the beach towards Middle Bluff. I surprised a couple of Kangaroos who were up on the rocks. Conditions were similair to the day before (light northerly) but the sea seemed a little more stirred up and foamy. Low tide would be at about 5.20 am – just on sunrise. The beginning of the run in tide offers good fishing in this spot, so I was hopeful.

I started with my big rod and a big GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the Curry Chicken colour, on a ¼ ounce, size 1/0 jighead. I was fishing with 20lb fluorocarbon leader. I flicked this around, close to the base of the rocks and it soon came back minus its curly tail. I swapped to a GULP 4” Minnow in the Pearl Watermelon colour. The sun was up and the sky and water were very clear. After about 20 casts with the GULP Minnow I was getting pretty good at leaving it in the wash at the base of the rocks, without getting snagged. As I was about to lift it, at the end of a retrieve, I felt a grab. The fish swam for a bit with the plastic then let it go. A few casts later I connected with another fish. This time I dropped the rod tip as soon as I felt the resistance and paused. When I struck, the fish was hooked. Once more the light swell made things easy and I soon had a mulloway/ jewfish of about 48cm at my feet. I took a few pictures and threw it back.

I was starting to see a bit of bait jumping around close to the base of the rocks and it all looked pretty small.  I dropped down to my lighter rod and a 14lb fluorocarbon leader. I swapped down to a 2 inch GULP Shrimp soft plastic in the new Green Camo colour, but stuck with the ¼ ounce jighead.

A fish struck this hard on the first cast, but I did not hook up. About ten minutes later, I swapped to a 3 inch GULP Minnow in the New Penny colour. I had another hit on the first cast. This fish was not big but by the way it started pulling, I knew it was a tailor. They thrash about very hard and never give up. It was only small, about 35 cm long. It was good to see they are around. I took a picture and threw it back.

It had mashed up the plastic so I put the 2 inch GULP Shrimp in Green Camo on again. The tailor had obviously moved on. But after about 20 minutes of cast into the wash, I felt a good bite and was onto another fish.  This time it was another solid bream – a little over 34cm. I decided to keep this one for supper.

I continued fishing and kept felling small bites. Eventually I pulled up a butter bream. I had caught no trophy fish but had found great variety. The session had been a good example of how changing soft plastics can often produce results. At about 9.30 am I gave up and walked back to the car.

Tuesday  – Afternoon

In the afternoon I waded back out on to the flats beside the Clarence River, at dusk. They are covered in yabby holes which is a good sign for a fisherman. I flicked around a GULP Jerkshad in the Pearl Watermelon colour. I caught three flathead – the first would have been big enough to keep, the rest were too small. The sun dropped behind the trees on the horizon at about 5.40 pm and the midges and mozzies became unbearable, so I waded back to the cabin.