Iluka – Middle Bluff – 28 November 2020

Wild weather was on its way and the swell would soon start building. I had one last good session in November at Iluka. I chose Middle Bluff again and started before dawn. I was gifted another fabulous sunrise and was in position to fish at about 5.20 am. I could see enough to fish but dawn was twenty minutes away.

I decided to up the stakes and try a really big soft plastic. I choose a GULP 7 ” Jerkshad in the Watermelon Pearl colour. I loaded it onto a 1/4 ounce size 1/0 jighead and cast it out. As is so often the case in the pre-dawn session, a fish grabbed it. I played it along the ledge to a landing spot and pulled it up by the leader. It was the smallest mulloway I have caught for sometime, at about 50 cm. Big soft plastics/ lures don’t always translate into big fish.

I tried a few more different soft plastics, but could not catch another mulloway. The sun came up and I switched to my lighter rock fishing rig. I was now fishing with 16lb fluorocarbon leader, a 1/4 ounce , size 1/0 jighead and a GULP 4″ Minnow soft plastic in the Lime Tiger colour. I move up and down the rock platform casting at the patches of sandy bottom in between the rock bommies and reefs.

After 30 minutes or so I came up tight on another fish. It tried to head straight under the ledge I was standing on but I pulled it clear, tired it a little and landed it. It was a small trevally about 45 cm long. I decided to keep it and while cleaning it I found a hook and leader stuck in its throat. It was an unlucky fish!

At around 8.00 I caught a small striped trevally and then a couple of very small bream. I decided to give up and head back home. I tried fishing the next morning and I caught a couple of decent bream but the swell was up now and as the wind had also picked up, I decided to withdraw. It was time to retreat for a few days while a big storm and lots of rain came through.

Iluka – Middle Bluff/Frasers Reef – 27 November 2020

The swell dropped off again for a few days and rock fishing looked possible at Iluka. High tide would be around 7.30 am, so I decided to fish through the dawn and the beginning of the run out at Middle Bluff. The moon was in its waxing gibbous phase, a few days off full. The swell was forecast to be about 1.1 metres and the wind would be a very light north-westerly through dawn. I have mentioned many times before that I have caught a lot of my better fish in the 30 to 40 minutes between first light and dawn. So early nights are a central part of my fishing ritual. It is also best to set up your rods and reels the night before, if you can.

Dawn at Frasers Reef – Iluka

I walked out on to the beach at Frasers Reef in the dark at about 4.30 am with one of the planets (not sure which) shining brightly, just above the horizon. The moon had set behind me about an hour earlier. I headed walked north to the far end of the rock platform at Middle Bluff. The night sky is amazing in the Bundjalung National Park as there is virtually no artificial light coming from urban settlements or street lighting.

I started casting with the heavier of my two fishing set ups, the  Daiwa Demonblood 962H rod, Daiwa TD SOL III LT6000 DH reel, 40lb braid, 40lb fluorocarbon leader and a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I put on a GULP Jerkshad soft plastic in the Satay Chicken colour ( yellow belly with a pumpkinseed coloured back). I dropped the soft plastic down close to the ledge and paused, once I felt it was on the bottom. I twitched it along and on about my third or fourth cast I hooked a fish. It was a small school jewfish/ mulloway about 60 cm long. I walked it along the shore to some stepped ledges where I could pull it up by the leader. I photographed it and then sent it on its way. I walked back to the original spot straightened the soft plastic on the jighead and dropped it down in front of the ledge, again. One hop off the bottom and I had another bite. The fish tried to take off out to sea but after one significant charge I turned its head back to the shore and a few moments later, I landed it. It was a little bigger than the first mulloway.

I had managed two fish before sunrise. The last one had destroyed the soft plastic jerkshad so I put on a slightly smaller GULP 4″ Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour. I fished all along the rock platform for the next hour and had a few touches and bites from smaller fish and changed the soft plastic several times. I caught the jighead in the rocks and had to snap the leader and re-rig several times. This is why my fish works out at about $200/ kilo.

Things had gone a little quiet so I dropped down to the lighter rod – Daiwa Crossfire 1062 matched with my Shimano Stella 4000, now spooled with 30lb braid and a 25lb fluorocarbon leader. I stuck with the Lime Tiger coloured minnow soft plastic and 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead.

Just after six, a fish grabbed the soft plastic, close to the ledge and took off under the rocky overhang. Typical trevally behaviour – and that is what it was – and an angry looking one. I felt the line rubbing on the rocks and flicked the bail arm open and hoped it might swim out. I waited for about 30 seconds and then flicked it back over, tightened the drag and wound hard. The fish came clear and was now worn out. I towed it along to a lower ledge and pulled it out by the leader. I love to eat fresh trevally, and this size makes a good meal (it was about 45 cm). I despatched the fish, bled and cleaned it in a rock pool.

The leader was not damaged so I cast out again to see what else might be around. The trawlers had been struggling to find good prawns. There were plenty of small ‘schoolies’ around the river mouth but no big ones. The trevally had a stomach full of these small prawns. I kept casting and about 30 minutes later the line pulled tight and a fish had eaten the minnow soft plastic, again. I only had the light rod and so the fish felt pretty solid. It was another mulloway and landing it was a bit of a process. It put in two good runs and then got tired and surrendered. However with the 25lb leader I could not really risk a big lift our of the water. Fortunately teh swell was now fairly light and predictable so I kept the line tight and jumped down to a lower ledge, between wave sets, and let it wash up to my feet.

I measured it against the rod handle and was pretty sure it was a keeper. I then grabbed it and put it in a rock pool, out of reach of the swell. I measured up at about 73cm – perfect eating size, so it too was sent to meet its maker and joined the trevally in the rock pool.

At about 7.30 am the wind was already blowing hard from the north and making fishing difficult, soI packed up. There would be fish for supper for a few days.

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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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Evans River – Evans Head – Mid October 2020

There were more big winds and swell in October. Having slowed slightly for the European summer, COVID 19 was continuing its spread around the world and picking up pace, so international travel and any paid work looked a very long way off for me. At least I was not ‘confined to barracks’ like the entire population of Melbourne.

I gave up on the rocks and looked for alternatives. I decided to explore the land based fishing options along the Evans River at Evans Head on the Far North Coast of New South Wales. This is a beautiful estuary. It is wide and shallow very near its mouth, but there are some deep channels, holes and rockbars up river. It can be very busy at holiday times and when the seas are up, so mid-week is the best time to fish it.

I put in three sessions which were mainly aimed at getting to know the terrain. On the first, I fished a couple of coffee rock overhangs on the southern riverbank, about 1 km upstream of the rockwall and river mouth. I used my light spinning combo with 10lb fluorocarbon leader, 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and loaded a GULP 3″ Minnow soft plastic in the Watermelon Pearl colour. I let this flutter down in the fairly strong current. The idea was to hop it down the shallow side of the river bed (in this case the opposite bank) and leave it wobbling on the bottom just under the overhang. This resulted in a snagging a couple of jigheads/ plastics but also in getting a couple of good bites. There was plenty of bait hanging around in the eddies. My first take was a very small bream, followed by a very small flathead. I moved further down towards the mouth and cast into any of the darker/ deeper pools. I felt a few quick bites and eventually hooked a small trevally before giving up at dead low tide, in the early afternoon.

For the second session a few days later, I fished the morning run out tide a little further up the northern bank of the river. Initially, with water waist deep I focused on bouncing a high contrast soft plastic – the GULP 2″ Shrimp in the Nuclear Chicken colour along the edge of the weed banks and in close to a few oyster covered rock clumps. This produced the best fish of the day which was a 42 cm flathead. I released it and kept wading up river. Over the next couple of hours I caught eight more flathead, all between 25 and 35 cm long. They were mainly sitting on the edge of sandbars. As I found a rockier stretch of river bank I also found quite a few small bream.

In my final exploration I walked through some bush to reach a stretch of bank even further up the river. I was fishing the top of the tide and the start of the run out. I battled through the scrub until I found an opening to cast from. The water looked about two to three metres deep close in to the bank and a turtle popped up to have a look at me, as I rigged up. It was going to be a struggle to land anything decent here as the trees and shrubs were hanging all over the bank which itself was about 1.5 metres above the water. There were plenty of small schools of mullet swimming by and lots of smaller bait. I started with a GULP 2″ Shrimp soft plastic in the Peppered Prawn colour. I caught a couple of 25 cm bream and then something pulled the plastic off the hook. I reloaded, this time with my all time favorite – the GULP 4″ Minnow in the Watermelon Pearl colour. I cast out and just as it reached the bank something powerful grabbed it and headed straight under the overhanging bank. With the light rod I could not muscle it out and I loosened the drag to see if it would swim out. After a couple of minutes the line started to drift out in to the channel, so I tightened up again but it was too powerful and went straight back in. I felt the line rubbing on something then it snapped. Probably a cod – maybe a jack? I re-rigged with another of the same soft plastic and after a few casts pulled up a remora – a very strange fish that basically sticks on to turtles, sharks and rays. I photographed and released it.

I moved to another spot a little further along the bank and cast into the eddies. There was plenty of small bait around and this stretch of coffee rock bank had a big school of tiny butter bream sitting next to it. I saw a flash of silver swipe at my plastic and thought it might be a trevally. I slowed things right down and let the plastic sit on the bottom for a while. When I lifted it I hooked a small school jewfish. I pulled it up to my feet. It must have been about 40cm long. I took a photograph and threw it back. I could not find anymore and gave up.

It was a great introduction to the Evans River and I am looking forward to some dawn and dusk sessions.

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Brunswick River, Lighthouse Beach and Mobs Bay Ballina – May 2020

As we entered May we were still in lockdown across Australia. The global economy was a slow motion train wreck, with businesses shuttered and unemployment sky-rocketing. Governments everywhere pumped money into their economies and so, despite their awful future prospects some companies like our banks, Qantas, Afterpay, etc – persuaded our moronic superannuation fund managers to buy even more new shares in them.

In addition to the ever-present threat of the ‘Egyptian Papyrus’ (COV 19 virus), May brought us a delightful mini-plague of noisy green frogs. They were hiding everywhere you looked.

As the weather had cooled the flathead had increased in numbers in the Brunswick River, but they were still frustratingly small. I could be pretty sure of getting a handful on the bottom of the tide near the river mouth, but they were rarely big enough for dinner. The water was crystal clear and so perhaps the bigger fish were harder to fool.

I decided to head to Ballina and try and pick up a few bigger flathead. The strategy paid off and I had success fishing the first few hours of the run out tide. I was wading in the shallows in Mobs Bay and a few other points along the south side of the Richmond River, towards the river mouth. I also had a great session fishing the run out tide in the corner of Lighthouse Beach. The swell had carved out a small gutter at the north end and I caught four flathead in quick succession, on one early morning session.

I fished my light spinning rod with about a 1.5 metre, 10lb fluorocarbon leader tied on to 12lb breaking strain braid and an 1/8th or 1/6th of an ounce, size 1 hook jighead. As usual, the GULP 3″ and 4″ minnow soft plastics in the watermelon pearl and lime tiger colours produced the most fish.

I caught a full bag of five legal sized fish several times and used them to cook a flathead fish pie – which is a firm favorite at home.