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.
We had plenty of rain through early February and there was not much fishing to be done in the muddy brown waters of the Brunswick, Richmond, Wilsons or Clarence River.
In the middle of the month the Clarence River started to clear up a bit and I fished the flats at Browns Rocks, near Iluka. I saw quite a few big flathead lies so they were definitely back in the river after the deluge. I fished my light rig with minnow and paddle tail soft plastics and a 10lb fluorocarbon leader. I was mainly using 1/8th and 1/6th ounce jigheads. I caught a few flathead and a lot of small jewfish. The tailor were also a constant and I had a few snip offs.
On the 20th the swell eased off and I had a fish on the rock platform at Woody Head in the Bundjalung National Park. I started with soft plastics on my heavy set up and caught a few bream. I moved around, casting until the tide started to run in and swapped to a GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour. I was using a 3/8th ounce jighead and 40lb fluorocarbon leader. After a couple of drops I felt the weight of a good fish. I pulled its head out from under the ledge but it was too heavy and kept thrusting its nose back down into the cunjevoi. The swell wasn’t big enough to help me and soon my leader was tightly tangled. The fish swam away leaving my jighead firmly lodged in the rocks. It had felt like a jewfish but trevally are also good at using this technique to free themselves.
I tied on the same set up and threw it out again. Three casts later I was onto a fish again. It was not as powerful as the first but it still tried to get under the ledge. I let it run a little way but when I put some pressure on it swam out rather than in and I was abled to subdue it. It was a decent school jewfish about 65cm to 70 cm long. I took a picture and speared it back into the water pretty quickly.
There are so many sharks in this zone that I am not sure whether these released fish have much chance of survival. Hopefully they swim straight back under the ledge.
After a few more river fishing sessions the rain set in again. This time it just did not stop and the soaked river catchments could not absorb it. A low off the east coast dropped solid rain for three days and nights and the whole Northern Rivers area of New South Wales suffered the worst floods in living memory. Lismore was completed wiped out and Broadwater/ Wardel/ Mullumbimby/ Ocean Shores/ South Golden Beach/ Brunswick Heads, Fingal Head and many more areas were completely flooded and rendered in accessible for days.
Telstra and the NBN, it transpired, had chosen to route their entire regional telecommunications backbone through a basement telephone exchange at Wardell which was 5m under water. This made local communications next to impossible, severely hampering rescue and recovery efforts. The devastation was complete. People dragged their flooded belongings out onto the streets and the clean up began.
On the Clarence River the flood waters cause massive fish kills. Dead mullet, mulloway, flathead, bream washed ashore along the banks, unable to survive the sudden deluge of fresh and filthy water.
I had a quick fish at Iluka in the beginning of the New Year before the weather turned wild and stormy in early January. The flathead and small jewfish were still in the river. I did best fishing the run out tides before we had some really heavy rain that turned the river brown in the middle of the month.
For the rest of the month I escaped Australia for a visit to my relatives in England. The UK seemed to have already moved on to living with Covid and although restaurant and pub staff were still masked up, everybody else was over it. It was bloody cold and I caught a stinking cold but regular RAT and PCR tests refused to say it was Covid. The plane was already packed with travellers keen to reunite and the additional Covid checks and paperwork made the tedious process of long haul travel more miserable than ever. I was glad to get back to Australia for some fishing in February.
As November rolled into December, Queensland and Western Australia remained cut off from the rest of the country as they realised that it might not be a bad idea to get vaccinated. I continued to go bankrupt and found solace in fishing.
The wind and swell were relentless out on the Iluka headlands but the lower reaches of the Clarence River remained calm and clear. There were a few shrimp in the river and almost as soon as they arrived in numbers the river trawlers set about catching them. They ploughed up and down, day after day trying their best to catch their quotas. This is almost exclusively a bait fishery; the prawns are frozen and sold for bait. The trawler owners say it is a traditional and sustainable fishery but it seems like a lot of activity for a very meagre return. I understand that they frequently receive less than A$1000 a tonne for the prawns. Since 2018 the average catch per licensed boat has been around 5 tonnes per year. If you deduct labour, fuel, boat maintenance and depreciation then no one is making any money. Maybe we could just buy back the boats and licenses, give them a tinny each and all start fishing with lures!
Despite the prawn trawlers the fishing was pretty good on the flats around Browns Rocks (so they may not being doing much harm). I concentrated on fishing the falling tides on the flats. I swapped between hard bodied minnow lures (the DUO Realis Rozante 63/ DUO Realis Shad 52 MR SP, the DUO Realis Jerkbait 100 SP and a variety of no name cheap ones) I also used my favourite GULP soft plastic minnows and paddleshads.
Some mornings were beautifully calm but the northerly winds usually picked up in the afternoons. We had a couple of big storms in the middle of the month. But the river stayed mostly clear.
I caught the usual range of species – bream, flathead, small jewfish, whiting and even the odd luderick. There were plenty of tiny tailor marauding around at dawn and dusk but not many keeper sized fish. On several days I managed a bag of 5 keeper size flathead. It was a month of flat river dawns and beautiful but very early sunrises.
We had some great weather in the middle of September. Bright, clear days but the big swell was pretty persistent. On the few days that it was calm enough, I fished the rocky headlands at Iluka Bluff and Woody Head. The 20th of September is known as the first day of spring in the southern hemisphere and everything in nature is hungry, including the fish. The new moon had arrived on the 7th of September.
I was focusing on finding the mulloway/jewfish and so I needed fairly calm seas. Most of my jewfish catches have been at the base of the rocks. These schooling fish like to shelter close to the base of the rocks or under the overhangs of the rock ledges. This month was no exception and when the swell calmed down for a few days in the middle of the month, I caught a couple of fish over the 75cm mark and lost a couple more. I found the beginning of the run in tide was the best time to fish for them. The GULP Crazylegs soft plastic in the Lime Tiger colour worked best.
I had lost fish as I was trying to bring them up and over the rock ledges. My braid just kept snapping. On close inspection I found a nick in the rod tip but only after losing a couple of expensive stickbaits, with tailor attached. I had to swap down to the Daiwa Crossfire CFS1062 light rock fishing rod. It was quite a battle on the lighter rod but the swell helped me get a decent jewfish to a point where I could safely grab it.
In between hunting mulloway/jewfish I used my current favourite sinking stickbait to spin for some tailor. It is the ASWB FD40 Flutter Drop. It is 40g, casts like a bullet and has a great tight action. The tailor and trevally can’t resist, if they are nearby. I caught a couple of solid 45cm tailor on it. One of the tailor looked like something tried to eat it on the way in.
Meanwhile the smaller tailor were active in the river. Particularly just after dawn and at dusk. The birds would let you know where they were and I caught small tailor using small slugs, soft plastics and hard bodies. I was even surprised to pull a decent (55cm) flathead in from beneath a school – on a 40g metal slug. The flathead were also pretty plentiful up and down the banks of the Clarence River from Browns Rocks down to the river mouth.
I have been alternating between the rocks and the Clarence River at Iluka, this year. This is why I love the area so much. When the swell is up on the headlands, I grab my waders and light rig and fish in the river. July and August are also my favourite fishing months. Bright sunshine, cooling water and with the shorter days, it is easier to fish at dawn and dusk.
The Clarence River around Goodwood Island was very clear and there was plenty of bait in the water. I fished with my favourite GULP soft plastic and also had some success targeting flathead with bigger hard bodied minnow lures. I caught plenty of flathead between 36cm and 45cm, but not many bigger than that. I also caught a few good (35 cm plus) bream.
The tailor were still coming and going, especially at dawn. The birds would chase them up and down the river and signal their location. I rarely caught one over 35cm but the biggest few always grabbed my lure just before or after sunrise/ sunset.
The highlight was a decent jewfish which I caught while wading in the shallows looking for flathead. It grabbed my GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour while I was casting over a coffee rock ledge at Browns Rocks. It was the bottom of the tide and the water was fairly dirty. I only had a 12lb fluorocarbon leader and my Samaki Zing SZG-562SXL 2-6lb ultralight rod so it was a long slow fight. Fortunately, the 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead was lodged tightly in the corner of the fish’s mouth. I initially thought it was a ray, then a big flathead and then I caught sight of silver and knew it was a jewfish. I had a beach to land it on so, after about 25 minutes of to and fro, I pulled it on to the muddy shore. It measured 73cm so I decided to keep it for a family feed – great fish.
At the end of July I was back in South Golden Beach. Possibly in lockdown (I can no longer remember) but fortunately the Brunswick River mouth was within easy reach for fishing ‘exercise’.
I set out to fish the north rock wall, which is reached down the unmade section of North Head Road. I walked out on to the wall at about 10.30 am. The tide was coming in and would be high at about 2.00 pm. I was fishing with my light set up and rigged up a GULP 4″ Minnow in the Watermelon Pearl colour on a 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I was using 12lb fluorocarbon leader. The water was crystal clear and the swell was less than a metre. There was a very light northerly wind blowing.
I put in a few casts on the north side of the wall into the wave break area, close to the beach. Sometimes there are flathead lurking around the base of the rocks, but not today. The first taker was a bream. I threw him back and kept casting. I soon caught another small one.
I moved out to the end of the rock wall and swapped soft plastics to a GULP Pulseworm in the Moebi (beige flecked) colour. After a few casts I found another small bream and then lost the tail of the soft plastic. I put on a GULP 3″ Minnow in my favourite Lime Tiger colour. I thought there might be some dart around and this colour seems to work well on them.
I worked my way around the far end of the rock wall and cast around in the mouth of the river. I had a few nibbles but could not hook anything so I moved back to the north side, I let the soft plastic sit as long as I dared, on the bottom beside the base of the rock wall. At about 11.45 am a fish grabbed my plastic close to the base of the rocks, as I lifted it to recast. It took off quite fast out to sea and then jumped clear of the water. I tightened the drag a little and soon subdued and landed it. It was a juvenile queenfish, about 45 cm long. I snapped it and threw it back. There were no more bites so after about 30 minutes more, I gave up for the day.
In early July, before more lockdown madness started, I did a bit of work in the Hunter Valley. Catching a plane anywhere has become such a lottery that I decided to drive down and stopped on the way back to fish at Port Macquarie.
I only had one morning and the weather was pretty rubbish so I chose to fish the rock-wall. I had arrived just on dusk the night before and seen the birds working over a school of something in the river mouth. So at first light I drove round and took the ferry across the river to fish the north wall. To my surprise I could drive almost all the way to the end and park more or less next to where I wanted to fish – very civilised.
It was soon raining and very grey. I cast a 40g metal slug for I while. I was using my old Daiwa Seabass rod which is great for casting small slugs or soft plastics for tailor – although it does take a while to land a decent greenback – if you find one. The slug was not working so I swapped to a soft plastic lure. I chose a GULP 4″ Minnow. First in the Lime Tiger and then later in the Camo colour. I loaded them on a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and both caught tailor for me. I caught half a dozen tailor and a couple of small trevally all between 30 and 40 cm, over about the next hour. Eventually the rain started to set in and I gave up.
The estuary looks like it would fish well for flathead, bream, jewfish and all the usual suspects. I look forward to visiting again soon.
On the morning of the 4th of June conditions were perfect for fishing. The moon was a waning crescent, about 30% full. There was little wind, a clear sky and a very light swell. I set off for the mouth of the Brunswick River to see what I could find at about 10.00 am. Low tide was at 10.09 am at the river mouth.
I parked in the small car park at the southern end of North Head Road. I picked up my light spin rig (flathead fishing gear) and decided to walk along the wooded path down to the north bank of the river and Harry’s Hill Beach. As I walked parallel with the beach, I could see the birds circling, close in. I broke off the path down to the beach and realised they were dive bombing bait schools, very close to the beach.
I ran down to the shoreline, rigged a big bright soft plastic and cast in to the mayhem. I got a couple of hits on the first cast, but no hook up. On the next one I did a faster retrieve. Half way back to me a tailor slammed the soft plastic. It was a bigger fish than I had expected, my ‘noodle like’ Samaki Zing Gen 2 rod was in for a work out. I was rigged with 12Lb fluorocarbon leader, so I did not think I had much of a chance but after a fairly protracted fight a wave washed a 40cm tailor up to my feet.
I should have quit at the point but I released the fish and cast out again. I hooked up almost straight away and this time the Samaki Zing had had enough. It snapped just above the join as the tailor took off. No complaints about the rod – I had just brought a knife to gunfight.
I jogged back to the car got out my light rock fishing rig – Daiwa Crossfire 1062 and Shimano Stella 4000 reel, 30lb braid and (luckily) 30lb fluorocarbon leader and my keeper bag. I made it back to the beach in about 10 minutes and the mayhem was in full swing.
I started with another big bright soft plastic and that landed a couple of tailor before it was destroyed. I swapped to the 40g Duo Dragmetal Cast Slow. This is a jig designed to be worked quite slowly. It has two assist hooks at the top and one on the bottom. I cast it out and jigged it back to me. I immediately caught a couple of solid dart.
By now I could see the reason the fish where here. All along the wavebreak there were thick schools of small baitfish. A huge school of dart and tailor were roaming the shoreline smashing into this bait. I cast the jig out again and it was picked up almost immediately. I started playing the fish and let it take some line. When I pulled the fish towards me it suddenly felt much heavier. It also started moving really erratically. There were a couple of swirls and splashes and then I realised I had hooked two tailor on the one jig. I kept up the pressure and then one of them pulled the hook/ bit through the jig and I landed the single fish on one of the remaining hooks.
I swapped around between soft plastics metal slugs and jigs for about an hour. Everything caught fish and at one point I reeled in a big popper that someone else must have lost. By just after 11.30 am the bait school gradually moved to the north along the beach and took the tailor dart and birds with it. I kept six tailor for a family fish pie and let the dart and the rest of the fish go.
A couple of days later on the 6th June I arrived at dawn, to see if the fish were there. This time I started fishing further to the north on the beach at New Brighton, just before sunrise. There was a good gutter and cast into its mouth. The first taker was a tailor. It bit down hard on a 55g Halco Twisty metal lure, in the gold colour. But there was only one and I put in a lot of casts trying to find another. Once the sun was truly up, I swapped to a big GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad soft plastic in the lime tiger colour. I fished this on 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I cast it into the gutter and let it waft around. I hooked a fish, almost immediately. As I pulled it towards me it wriggled off. I carried on peppering the area with casts and after about 10 more I came up tigh on another (or perhaps the same one).
On Tuesday, 8th June I came down to fish the area again at about 11.30 am. It was now two days before the new moon and the tidal flow was quite powerful. There had been some rain the day before and the river was a little murky on the run out tide. I walked out to the end of the rockwall at North Head. I started fishing with a 40g Halco Twisty. I cast and retrieved it across the mouth of the river and then along the line where the river running out met the clearer ocean wash. I soon had a fish – a 35cm tailor. I released it and caught another two straight way. Then things went quiet.
I swapped to a soft plastic minnow and caught a couple of 30cm bream and then things went quiet again. On the way back to the car I had a quick cast in the shallows in the corner of the beach. On about my 4th try, I felt the unmistakable thud of a flathead bite and after a short tussle I had a 45cm fish at my feet. Not a bad session but the big tailor school had clearly moved on.
The 28th of May was a beautiful morning with a cool north-westerly wind blowing. The water in the Brunswick River was crystal clear. But the big bait schools that had been in the lower reaches of the river had moved on. I cast around with lots of different soft plastics on my light spinning rig, loaded with 10lb breaking strain fluorocarbon leader, but I did not get a bite.
When I can’t catch a flathead in a spot where I usually have, my constant question with is – Are they still there but not eating or have they moved on? I think my current conclusion is that they move up and down the river systems with the moon cycle and therefore the stronger current flow, on the bigger tides. Sometimes this process is interrupted by excessive amounts of food in a particular area or spawning and they stay in the same spot for almost the whole lunar cycle. The advantage with flathead is that even if you are not catching them you can usually see where they have recently been from their ‘lies’. These are the marks they leave in the sandy bottom.
On the 1st of June I fished on the south side of the river, upstream of the caravan park and Mangrove Island. I was in my waders – even though the water is still fairly warm. I started in the area where the river narrows and turns to the south. This is where the seagrass beds start to appear and it looks like very good flathead territory. I came across a few big flathead lies so felt fairly confident that the fish had moved up stream.
I started at about 11.30 am and fished through the second half of the run out tide. I cast a few soft plastics from the shallows and caught three flathead of which two would have been legal to keep. I released them all. Unfortunately the stretch of river further up from here is pretty hard to access so I may have problems testing my flathead movement theories. I finished fishing just after 1.30 pm.
May saw me out on the flats in front of the Sandstone Point hotel at Bribie Island wading in the shallows. Winter took a long time to arrive and the water styed stubbornly warm all through the month.
The flounder arrived to supplement the flathead and the odd bream. I fished with my light spinning rod and reel, 10lb fluorocarbon leader and generally GULP Jerkshad soft plastics in various colours on 1/8th 1/0 jigheads. I filled a bag with five keeper size flathead in the run up to the new moon on the run out tide.
I also continued my search for fish around Pottsville and found a few tiny flathead and Bream in Mooball Creek. These grabbed the smaller soft plastic minnows.
Having caught plenty of salmon trout inside Coffin Bay it was time to get out on to the surf beaches and find some bigger models. On Saturday morning I was up at 5.45 am and drove into the Coffin Bay National Park. I drove long the winding track out to the west side. It was cold – about 5 degrees, but the wind had dropped a little. It was still a south-easterly and low tide would be at about 8.45am.
I was heading out to fish the beach at the depressingly named Point Avoid. Point Avoid/ Coffin Bay – they obviously did not think much of the place when they drew up the maps. Point Avoid was named by Matthew Flinders and as it is usually lashed by strong winds and has strong currents racing through rocky channels, its probably a fair name.
It was overcast as I walked down onto the beach. Rain looked likely. I loaded up the Lox Yoshi with a length of 20lb fluorocarbon leader and tied on a 20g Raider metal slug. I put a long cast out into the surf and wound fast. On the second cast – bash , bump, bump and then zzzzzzzzzzzzz. I let it have some line and gradually played it out it was a small Australian Salmon. I dragged it slowly to the sand. It was about 35cm long. I let it go and cast out again. I caught three or four at this size and then a bigger one grabbed the lure. I could not stop it and after a short fight, it buried itself in the rocks and snapped me off.
I put on a small popper (about 50cm). I could not cast this as far but it did not matter. On about the fourth cast I saw a shape come up and snaffle it. This was a bigger fish. Fortunately it headed for open water and did some leaping around. I let it run and wear itself out and slowly I steered it back up the beach. This one was about 40 cm long and I decided to keep it. I bled it and left it under a rock. I cast the popper around again. It did not take long to find another decent salmon. This one really pulled hard and put in some good stunts but I managed to hang on to it. It was about 45cm long and had completely mashed the hooks on the popper’s front treble.
I put on a DUO Realis Jerkbait 120 in a purple colour. This lure suspends about 10 to 15 cm below the surface and has a very loud rattle and great action. The smaller salmon knocked this around for a while. Then something different whacked it. It was a brown spotted wrasse, about 30 cm long.
I moved around the corner and walked out on to a rocky promontory that had been revealed by the falling tide. I swapped to a 1/8th ounce jighead and GULP Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour. I cast around the deep holes in between the rocks. The salmon where here as well but the lure was a bit big for them. I caught a couple more small wrasse.
I hooked what I thought was another salmon but on close inspection I realized it was an Australian Herring known locally as a Tommy Rough. I carried on fishing until the tide turned in, then gave up for the morning
On Wednesday the wind had settled down a little, so it was back to Flat Rock to fish the last couple of hours of the run out tide. The moon and tides were getting bigger and the fishing seemed to be improving. I had a lie in and set off at about 9.30 am. The swell was light and so was the wind. It was bright with a few clouds and the water was just breaking over the rock.
I started fishing with a GULP 3” Minnow in the Pearl Watermelon colour on a 1/6th ounce, size 2 jighead. I was using the slighty heavier jighead to counter the breeze, that was slowly picking up. I was still fishing with 12lb fluorocarbon leader. I would not be able to stop anything big with this light set up, but I always get far more bites when fishing light.
The first takers were Moses Perch followed by a few small dart. As I moved north along the top of the rock I caught a couple of bream, more dart and a few tiny flathead. There are a few White Breasted Sea Eagles that live along the beach. As soon as you start catching fish they start hovering in the hope of grabbing a free meal. Many a released dart has fallen victim to these predators.
I moved further north and continued to catch dart. I was now fishing with a GULP Fry in the Lime Tiger colour. I reached a break in the rock, where the water was draining out. On about my third cast something grabbed the soft plastic and tried to swim back under the rock. The drag was fairly tight and I stopped it before it got too far under. I slowly levered it out with the aid of the current. I used the incoming surge to pull the fish over the rock and into the gutter beyond. It was a solid cod about 45cm long.
The fight had obviously taken its toll. I released the fish but on the next cast the rod tip snapped and so, reluctantly, I stopped fishing for the day just after 12.45pm.
I was back in Brisbane and it was time to get amongst the flathead. This has traditionally been a very productive time on the flats around Bribie Island. But this year I have fished far less in this area than usual. The weather has also been very warm and fairly dry, which may have affected the movement of the flathead. In my last few sessions I had found fish, but not in the big groups that have been around in the last few years. I think this may change as the water cools down.
The moon was 67% full. The day would start with a light south-westerly wind, that would turn south-easterly later in the day. Low tide would be at 7.17 am and I was fishing with my light spinning rod and reel (Shimano Stella 2500 and NS Blackhole 6′ SGII 602L trout rod). This was loaded with the ALDI 8lb yellow braid and I had tied on a 12lb fluorocarbon leader.
I arrived, on the mainland side of the Pumicestone Passage at about 5.30 am and waded out on to the sandy/ muddy flats under the bridge. The horizon was beginning to glow and the water had a slight ripple on the surface from the cool breeze. The tide was running out quickly. I cast some big and small GULP soft plastics around the reefy area, just to the south of the bridge, without success.
As dawn approached I moved south and started fishing the area south of the old oyster jetty. I was now using the GULP 4” Minnow soft plastic in the Pearl Watermelon colour on a 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. It was 5.50 am. A fish grabbed the lure and scurried off. Then it felt like it was stuck. This is typical estuary cod behaviour. I loosened the drag and dropped the rod tip. After about 30 seconds the leader started moving and the fish swam out. I re-tightened the drag and soon had a 40 cm cod on the surface. I released it and moved on.
About thirty minutes later I was casting around the weed beds by the drain that comes off the Sandstone Point flats and I felt a solid bite. I dropped the rod tip, paused and hooked a 43cm flathead. It went in the bag for dinner. There did not appear to be much bait around. I put on a bigger GULP soft plastic Jerkshad in the BBQ Chicken colour. I connected and then dropped what I thought was a flathead, just after 7.00 am.
I continued to the south. The sun came up through the clouds and I moved along the edge of the weed beds. I felt another good bite but did not hook up and then things went quiet. The tide was slowing and the water was now fairly murky. I waded all the way down to the green channel marker without another bite.
At about 7.30am as the tide turned back in, I turned around and walked back towards the bridge. I was now fishing with a GULP 4” Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour on a 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. My next catch was a blue swimmer/ sand crab that took a swipe at the soft plastic.
About half way back to the bridge I caught another, bigger flathead about 50cm, which I also kept. I kept moving and stuck with the same soft plastic. Frustratingly, I dropped two more flathead before hanging on to a third, just north of the bridge. At about 10.00 am I left the water with three keepers in the fishing bag.
It had felt like hard work but on reflection, there were plenty of fish around.
I woke to more grey skies on Tuesday – but grey skies are a fisherman’s friend. At least it was not raining. I drove round to Woody Head, just before dawn I walked out onto the rock platform. But by first light I could already see that this location was going to be difficult to fish with such a big swell. The sun came up between the horizon and the grey line of cloud but after half an hour of attempting to cast heavily weight soft plastics and losing them to the rocks or swell, I decided to switch locations.
I drove round to Shark Bay which is always sheltered from big south easterly swells. As I got out of the car, it started raining. This seemed to dampen down the wind but it was still around a 20 knot south easterly. I could see birds hovering above the shallows on the north side of the rocks so I walked towards them. It was now about 7.15 am. Low tide would be at about 8.30 am.
The birds were feeding on something in very shallow water. As I got closer, I could see Tailor also ‘chopping’ into some huge schools of tiny whitebait. I started prospecting with the light surf rig, my Daiwa Air Edge rod. I tied on a 1/6th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and loaded it with a 3” minnow soft plastic in the pearl watermelon colour. A hungry tailor snaffled this lure as soon as it hit the water and bit it off. I tied on another and upgraded to 35lb leader. This landed a 35 cm tailor on the first cast. I dropped a few more over the next ten minutes.
Grey skies at Woody Head
Long Toms everywhere
I decided to swap to my bigger rod and reel and try a bigger lure. The day before the Daiwa Demonblood tip had fallen off so I had swapped to a Rovex Bario that is slightly shorter. I was also trying out a Penn Spinfisher reel. I see these reels everywhere but just because they are plentiful does not make them good and over the week I found all its faults. It was heavy and clunky and the drag only just functioned. My advice is, if you are thinking about buying one – don’t. I had rigged this combo with 20lb braid and 35lb fluorocarbon leader. I tied on a proven performer the DUO Pressbait Saira. This has long profile but is essentially a big heavy slug. Its chief advantage is the distance that you can cast it. I threw it out as far as I could. I think this would be about 60 or 70 metres with a strong southerly behind it. I cranked it back in at full speed. You cannot slow down here as there are too many clumps of rocks in the way. About twenty metres into the retrieve something hit it and the rod bent over. It was another Tailor no bigger than the one I had caught on the soft plastic.
I carried on casting this big lure for the next hour or so. I caught eight more Tailor and kept the biggest one that was about 50 cm long. The Long Toms where also out in force and I caught a few with the big lure. The thick schools of bait and a bit of blood also brought out the Wobbegongs. This is why it’s best to fish in boots and watch your step.
By about 10.00 am things had slowed down so I swapped back to the 3” Minnow soft plastic. After a few casts a bream grabbed it. It was about 25cm long and was followed by a few more. By 11.00 the tide pushed me back from the edge so I gave up for the day.
I had managed to bunk off for a few days to fish the rocky headlands of the Bundjalung National Park at Iluka in Northern New South Wales. I drove down through several big rain showers on Sunday morning.
As usual in this spot, the weather would not be ideal. There would be a pretty steady 1.6m swell all week. This would make fishing the exposed headlands difficult. It really needs to be lower than that to be comfortable and safe. The forecast showers would also make sure it was a wet week. The only advantage of the rain was that it might dampen down the wind.
I arrived at Iluka at about lunch time. I unpacked and drove out to Iluka Bluff at about 3.00 pm. The skies were full of grey clouds and the rain was falling intermittently. I had a look at the conditions and assessed that I could safely fish off the front of the bluff. We were about mid-way through the moon phase so it would not have much influence. Low tide would be at 7.34 pm, so the tide was half way out.
I started fishing with my heavy rig – Shimano Stradic FJ 8000 reel, 9’6” Daiwa Demonblood rod, 20lb braid, 30lb fluorocarbon leader, 3/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and a GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the red and yellow, Curry Chicken colour. I cast this around for about 30 minutes but the wind was onshore and I could not get the soft plastic comfortably beyond the rock ledge. I lost a few rigs to the rocks and decided to change strategy.
I tied on a River2Sea 110mm Dumbell Popper in DP-06 pink and silver colour. This one weighs 26.6 grams but the dumbbell shape means it casts much further than a typical popper of this size. On about my third cast there was a big swirl behind the popper and a flash of silver. A few casts later a fish slammed the popper on the edge of the rock ledge. It took off to the south. I went with it for a minute or two but then the line caught in the cunjevoi covered rocks and leader and lure separated.
Back to the tackle bag – this time I pulled out an 80mm Halco Roosta Popper in the white redhead colour, I cast for about another twenty minutes when suddenly I suddenly saw another swirl, just behind the lure. On the next cast I slowed things down and increased the pauses. This did the trick and a fish grabbed the popper just as it came over the ledge. Once more it put its head down and set off to the south. I had the drag quite a bit tighter this time but I could not slow it. It followed the trajectory of its predecessor and I lost another popper.
I did not have any more poppers so I swapped to my lighter surf rig – the Daiwa Air Edge Surf 96L with a Shimano Sustain 4000 reel. I was using 8lb braid and 20lb fluorocarbon leader. I tied on a ¼ ounce, 1/0 hook jighead and loaded a GULP 4” Minnow in the Pearl Watermelon colour. The lighter rod, line and leader meant that I could cast the soft plastic much further and let it waft around past the submerged rock ledge, in the strike zone.
At about 5.00 pm something grabbed the soft plastic. After a short fight I lifted a 33cm Snapper clear of the water. Fortunately the size limit for Snapper in NSW is 30 cm so I had something for supper. The heavens opened, so I quickly cleaned the fish and headed home. An exciting start to the week.
The wind and wild weather persists. A look back at my fishing reports suggest that the run up to the full and new moons around February, March, April have produced the most consistent catches of flathead. The latter half of the run out tide also appears to be a good time to get at them.
So on Monday I ignored the wind and grey skies and drove up to Bribie at about 10.30 am, to fish the run out tide on the flats in front of the jetty and the Sandstone Point Hotel. Low tide would be at 2.38 pm. The wind was about a 15 to 20 knot east-south-easterly by the time I arrived.
As regular readers know, I love my GULP soft plastics (and just for the record I don’t think I have ever received a free packet from anyone – so this is definitely not sponsor induced waffle). We all tend to use bait and tackle that we are confident with. If something works for us we go back to it – whether it’s a fishing spot/ area or favourite lure type. When I first caught a few flathead on a GULP Minnow Grub in the Pumpkinseed colour, I soon convinced myself that this was the only colour and shape that would catch fish. It caught plenty of fish for me but fortunately I was brave / frustrated enough at some point, to experiment with some alternative shapes and colours and even try hard bodied lures.
So this morning I resolved to stick with the ZMAN soft plastics that I carry around but rarely seem to use. My principal problem with them is additional buoyancy in the material they are made of and the lack of scent. I am convinced by the amount of strikes I get when I introduce a GULP soft plastic that is just out of the packet, that the scent is the thing that makes a difference. Having said that they have a range of shapes in their paddle tail varieties that put GULP to shame. I started with a ZMAN Minnowz in the Redbone colour on a 1/8th 1/0 Headlockz jighead. These jigheads are specially designed to hold the ZMAN soft plastics in place and perhaps also counter the additional buoyancy, they are based on Mustad hooks.
I fished around the bridge and felt a few nudges and bumps from either the resident Moses Perch or perhaps some Pike. After a thorough peppering of the area I moved south, under the jetty and fished along the edge of the weed beds all the way along to the farthest green channel marker. About halfway I swapped colours to the same shape ZMAN in the Rootbeer Gold colour. Unfortunately this made no difference.
I had been fishing for an hour without a bite and I no longer believed the ZMAN soft plastics were going to catch a fish. Confidence is so important when fishing and I just don’t have it when it comes to these plastics. I reached into the tackle bag for a GULP Jerkshad in the BBQ Chicken colour and swapped over. I started back over the ground I had covered and after another 10 minutes, I caught the first fish of the day – a 45cm flathead, close to the edge of the weed.
I carried on moving slowly back towards the jetty, fishing with the same Jerkshad soft plastic. It was now almost 1.00 pm and I caught another flathead, about the same size. Twenty minutes later I caught another much smaller flathead.
Fisheries patrol boat
Bribie mud crab
There was huge (no doubt multi-million dollar) fisheries patrol vessel moored in front of the bridge. I think I would rather see our taxes spent on hospitals and schools and just have boats checked in their way in/ out. Especially since the numbers of boats seized, fines issued or commercial licenses cancelled is miniscule. Since we send so much of our good seafood overseas it seems crazy to spend all this money just to race around persecuting recreational anglers.
By now I was casting around just south of the jetty. The jighead stuck fast in to something. It felt like a stick or lump of coral but it was moving. I slowly brought it to the surface with a tightened drag. I was a welcome surprise – a big mud crab with the jighead stuck nicely in one of its back legs. I checked it was male and big enough and I manoeuvred it into my keeper bag and gave up for the day.
It was another mild morning in Iluka. A light northerly wind was doing its best to flatten the sea. I decided to fish Middle Bluff again and see if I could find a legal sized mulloway (jewfish).
At this point I will say my piece about the raising of the jewfish size limit in NSW. I have read a bit about the surveys that were done to determine whether or not the existing limit of 45 cm, was adequate to protect the species. They were very small surveys that relied on a lot of subjective judgments by local fisherman and fisheries officers, but it would have been financially impossible for them to be developed any other way. After putting together these surveys, NSW fisheries concluded that fish at 45cm were not having a chance to reproduce before being caught, so they have raised the legal size to 70 cm and set a bag limit of two. Commercial fishermen also have to obey by the new rules, although they are allowed to keep some smaller fish, under by catch rules. If I have got any of this factually wrong, please comment and correct me.
If we want sustainable fish stocks we need to carry out credible scientific research. Our duplicated state fisheries departments do not need any more boats, trailers, life jackets, uniforms or rulebooks. They need scientists and scientific rigour in their research processes. The science used to support this decision may be proved right but I would have liked to see much more comprehensive studies. We now have the ridiculous situation where on one side of the Tweed River the Mulloway size limit is 70cm and on the other, it is 75cm.
It was another spectacular sunrise at Middle Bluff. I decided to fish with the light rig from the beginning and stick to the soft plastics. I was using 16lb fluorocarbon leader and a ¼ ounce, size 1/0 hook Nitro jighead. I loaded up with a GULP 4” Minnow in the new Green Camo colour.
The sun came over the horizon at about 5.30am and by 5.45am, I had my first fish. It was another mulloway/ jewfish, but it would not be dinner because it was only about 45cm long. I unhooked it in a rock pool and took a few pictures, then speared it back down in to the wash. It had grabbed the plastic very close to the rocks again.
I put in plenty of casts but could not get another. I swapped down to a lighter 10lb fluorocarbon leader and put on a GULP 2” Shrimp, also in the Green Camo colour. I moved a little further north along the rocks and cast down into the wash. I let the soft plastic waft around, but I left it too long and got snagged. I re-rigged and put it back in the same spot. After a couple of casts I felt a solid hit and the rod bent over. Fortunately, the swell was light and I was able to get down quite close to the water. I let the fish take some line then tightened the drag a little and lifted it up, onto the rocks with the help of a wave. It was a very solid 37cm bream. So I would have something for dinner.
Plenty of small flathead in the Clarence River
I fished on for another hour but the wind picked up and the tide started in, making fishing a bit hard. At about 9.00 am, I cleaned up the bream and walked back along the beach to the car.
On Sunday afternoon I decided to wade out on the stretch of the Clarence River – just in front of the Anchorage Holiday Park. There are sand banks and weed beds and it looks like an ideal flathead spot. I started just before 5.00 pm. The tide was running out and I waded across the sandy and muddy bottom until I came to the weed banks that fringe the deeper main river channel. As I was exploring, I started by fishing with a soft plastic that I am very confident using – the GULP 4” Minnow in the Pearl Watermelon colour. I was fishing with my estuary light spin rod, 10lb fluorocarbon leader and 1/8th ounce, size 1 hook jighead.
It did not take long to find the fish. I caught a couple of small flathead first and then a legal one (40cm), that was sitting in a sandy hollow. I waded up river and decided to switch to a DUO Realis Shad 59 MR hard bodied lure. This is a medium diving lure and the flathead and bream love it. As the sun set, I caught a couple more small flathead on this lure.
I had fished at dawn and dusk and caught fish at both sessions – and had a nice bream for dinner – living the dream!
A friendly tackle supplier is fed up with reading about my exploits with the very capable Shimano Catana and decided to give me an alternative rod to try out. It arrived on Saturday – a N.S Black Hole Cabin II – S-862 L Spin Rod. It is 2.59m long (8’6”) and rated 8-14 lb. It will throw up to a 30g lure or ½ oz jighead, for a soft plastic. It is designed for throwing small lures in the surf or off the rocks. NS Black Hole rods are made in Korea and have forged a strong reputation for durability, mainly in the US. It seemed like a good idea to put it to work. So on Sunday I decided to head for Agnes Water and 1770 for a few days.
I arrived in the late afternoon and went straight down to the beach opposite the 1770 Getaway resort, where I like to stay – http://www.1770getaway.com.au . They have great stand-alone cottages and an on-site restaurant / coffee shop which produces a magnificent lamb spit roast, twice a week. The best thing about the resort is that Michael, the owner, is a mad keen fisherman. He has good information on where to fish when the wind is blowing from almost any direction. He is always very willing to share his knowledge, just sit him down over a coffee and pick his brains.
I had matched the new N.S Black Hole Cabin II with my Shimano Sustain 4000 reel. I had it loaded with 15lb Super PE braid and decided on a 16lb fluorocarbon leader, to start with. The beach is about a 10 minute walk from the resort and has a number of rocky out crops. It is just round the corner from Workman’s Beach, which is a little more sheltered, if there is a strong south-easterly blowing.
It was about 3.30 pm by the time I was ready to fish. The water was pretty stirred up and the swell was building. The wind was on shore at about 10 to 15 knots and it was bright and sunny. High tide would be at about 5.45 pm and the moon was about three days off new. I walked out on to one of the rocky out crops and loaded up with a Powerbait 4” Ripple Shad on the gold and black colour on a ¼ 2/0 jighead. I fished the lure along the edges of the rocks but after about 15 minutes, I had not had a bite. I decided to change to a heavier 3/8th 2/0 jighead, to make sure my lure was on the bottom. I also swapped soft plastics to a 5” GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the New Penny colour.
I fished around the rocks for another 20 minutes or so and felt a few bumps. The swell was up, I had a new rod and I did not know the terrain, so it was hard to tell if I was bumping into fish or the bottom.
Just before 4.00 pm, I lifted the lure from the bottom and felt a bit of resistance. I dropped it back down for a few moments, then struck. The rod tip started to wiggle and bent over. The new rod behaved well and soaked up the lunges and the Shimano Sustain drag took care of the hard initial runs. The tricky bit was the swell and the rocks – 16lb leader will withstand a Jewfish mouth for a while but it won’t last long if it rubs against the barnacles.
Fortunately the swell was pushing the fish in and there was a nice ledge at water level. I took my time and left the drag alone. The swell pushed the fish on to the ledge and I jumped down and grabbed it.
A 77cm jewfish on the new N.S Blackhole Cabin II rod
A fish in great condition
Scene of the capture
They can eat big baits
Definitely swallowed the lure
This one was surgically extracted
Plenty of foamy water
It was a great looking Jewfish – 77cm long and in fantastic condition. It had completely swallowed the jighead, which was now very obviously lodged in its throat. It had little chance of survival, so I decided to keep it and share it with my hosts at the 1770 Getaway resort.
I continued fishing until dusk but did not find any more. It had been a great opening session and I had successfully christened the new rod which had performed well.
After a good session at Bribie last week, I was keen to get back out there. The wind was light and the moon phase was good, with the tides getting bigger in the run up to the full moon, on Friday. I could not fish the dawn, but I could fish the run out tide for a few hours before low tide, at about 1.00 pm.
I arrived just before 9.00 am and decided to keep fishing the flats on the mainland side of the Bribie Bridge. There had been plenty of flathead around and I presumed they would still be there. There was not much wind and the sky was cloudy.
I understand it is New South Wales school holidays this week so I expected a bit more boat traffic than normal but as I walked out at about 9.30 am, there were crab pots as far as the eye could see. As I waded south from the bridge, they were everywhere. I counted 50 in sight before I gave up. It made casting a little difficult, in places. There were plenty of sand crabs around, as I kept kicking them. However the density of pots meant that there was a boat arriving to; figure out which were theirs, check them and reset them, every five minutes.
This did not do much for the fishing but after all the crap weather we have had, is was good to see boats out and about and the odd pot being pulled up with a few keepers in it. I decided to stay in the shallows and find some undisturbed areas to fish.
The tide was running out quite fast and so the boats and pots gradually retreated, leaving me to fish the edge of the sand and weed banks, which were now covered in only 800 mm of water. This is where I concentrated my casts. I tried to pause my retrieve right at the edge of the banks. This was where my first fish of the day hit just before 10.00 am. I was using a GULP Jerkshad in the red and yellow Curried Chicken colour on a 1/8th, 2/0 jighead. It was a good flathead but the sand banks where not yet exposed so I had nowhere to land it. I tried the tricky manoeuvre of pulling the fish into my body then grabbing it with a rag. The fish promptly spiked me hard, unhooked itself and wriggled free. It was a good spike right in the middle of my thumb. I could not rub some slime into it to ease the sting, as the fish had gone and taken all its slime with it! I wrapped it up in a bit of rag.
When you get spiked like this the blood does not clot very quickly, as the venom in the spike is slightly anti-coagulant. So if you are not careful, you end up dripping blood everywhere. This is not ideal in waist deep water! The thumb calmed down after a while and I carried on casting. I kept peppering the same spot with casts and I soon hooked up again. This was a slightly smaller fish and made sure it was tired out before pulling it in close and grabbing it with the rag. It ended up being a bit over 45cm.
I moved further south and was soon close to the green channel marker. I swapped to a GULP Jerkshad in the Cajun Chicken – the black and purple colour. I used the usual technique along the edge of the sand bank and soon caught two more undersized (35cm) flathead. I persisted in the same area and after about ten more casts, I felt a good bite. I paused and dropped the rod tip. When I lifted it I had another fish on. This one was about 45 cm again, and I safely grabbed it and put it in the bag.
It was now about 12.45pm and I turned back and waded towards the bridge. In the shallows, just short of the jetty, I hooked another flathead and pulled it up to the shore. It was also a keeper, at about 50cm long.
Three little flathead went swimming one day…
I had to give up at about 1.15 pm, just as the tide stopped moving. I had forgotten the camera today, so only one snap of the keepers is included, from my phone. Considering the late start and all the boat traffic, it had been another good session.