Iluka – The Clarence River – Post floods – April 2022

For most of April the Clarence and Richmond Rivers continued to run completely brown. The rain kept coming in bursts. There were no more floods but the displaced silt and sediment washed around. Towards the end of the month a little clarity returned on the higher tides. The flathead were back quite quickly, in their usual spots, even when the water was still pretty murky.

By about the 20th the catfish were thinning out and the flathead were solid. I did best fishing with high contrast and dark coloured soft plastics stirring up the bottom with a 1/6th ounce, 1/0 hook jighead. A few bream re-appeared. There were quite a lot of zombie fish with sores on them but the flathead all looked ok. Perhaps they are hardier than the bream.

I could not get out to fish the rocky headlands as the swell was constant, but I presume the jewfish were also out there.

The Clarence River at Browns Rocks – Early November 2021

As Covid 19 continued to wreak havoc all around, I carried on fishing. Those of us in New South Wales were locked out of Queensland. Everyone was locked out of Western Australia. Victoria was open, then closed, then open again. I have no idea what was going on in Tasmania.

The swell was big and we had a bit of rain. I focused on fishing with my light gear and soft plastics lures over the sand flats, on the edge of the Clarence River at Browns Rocks. I found a few different species. I caught flathead, bream, tailor and quite a few small jewfish. The flathead seemed comfortable eating just about any type of lure, once you found them.

I was using a mix of different soft plastics but, as usual, the GULP Minnows where the star performers. I also caught fish on the new Berkley Shimma prawn and a packet of DUO Realis knot tailed soft plastics in a green colour, that somebody sent me to try. I was usually fishing these with 10lb fluorocarbon leader on 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jigheads.

At one point I noticed the water close to shore was teaming with some kind of tiny jelly fish larvae. They were all along the shoreline for a few days. There was plenty of bait around and the pelicans and gulls chased the schools relentlessly. They only got out of the way when the dolphins turned up.

Plenty of bait schools in November

Iluka – Wood Heady, Middle Bluff and Goodwood Island – 24th to 30th September 2021

On Friday 24th September, a slightly calmer morning was forecast. I was up early and set out for Middle Bluff, the headland just to the north of Frazer’s Reef at Iluka. I arrived just before dawn and started casting off the rock ledge with a GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger colour. I was using 1/4 ounce, size 2/0 hook jighead. My reel was rigged with 30lb braid and a 40lb fluorocarbon leader. I kept the soft plastic in close to the rocks and left it on the bottom as long as I could between hops. Low water had passed at around 4.00 am and the tide was running in. The fishing was fairly slow around dawn. I felt a few hits, which I thought might be bream, but I did not hook up and I was thinking of moving on.

At about 8.00 am I cast out next to the large rock bommy that dominates the headland. As soon as I lifted the lure off the bottom, a fish grabbed it. It was another nice Mulloway/ Jewfish – which I pulled up the rock ledges. It measured 76cm long. They are great eating at this size so I kept it for a family supper. If I am careful, I will get about 1.5 to 1.75 kg of fillets from a fish this size and that will give us a couple of dinners.

The swell came back up, so over the next few days I fished in the shallows of the Clarence River around Browns Rocks. The water was very clear and at dawn and dusk I caught plenty of keeper sized flathead on various soft plastics. There were also tailor, bream and the odd whiting around.

On the 29th the swell eased off again and I fished the rocks at Woody Head. I arrived just after low tide and was fishing using my Daiwa Demonblood rod. There is not much sensitivity in this unit but plenty of power.

I had run out of my beloved GULP Crazylegs Jerkshads in my favourite Lime Tiger colour. This was probably a good thing because it forced me to persist with some other colours and shapes. The reasonably new GULP paddle shad shape worked well. I caught the biggest jewfish of the day on a 5 inch paddle shad in the nuclear chicken colour. It was approximately 85cm long. I let it go as I now had a fridge full of flathead.

The end of September had been great fishing around Iluka. The school jewfish were the biggest of the year so far and there was plenty of bait around.

Iluka – Woody Head – 1 September 2021

The next morning I was back at the rock ledge, fishing at Woody Head. I assumed that the jewfish/ mulloway should still be around. In fact, if they were in this spot, they were probably schooled up under ledges all up and down the east coast of Australia.

The only thing that had really changed was that low tide would be about an hour later. It was a bright clear morning. The swell was just over a metre and the wind had been light from south west at dawn but was gradually turning south-easterly. The new moon was a week away.

I started at about 7.30 am. I was using my Daiwa Saltist rod and reel combination , I was pretty confident that the mulloway/jewfish would be around so I chose 40 lb fluorocarbon leader and a heavy gauge 1/4 ounce, size 2/0 hook jighead. The soft plastic of choice was once again the GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the Lime Tiger Colour.

I dropped it into the foamy swell just about 3 metres out and let it sink and drift back in. I felt I had the lure in the perfect spot and I did, because as I lifted the rod tip it caught hard against the cunjevoi cover rocks and was snagged. I snapped my line and re-rigged. Like all good addictions fishing is an expensive business.

I carried on with the same patterned lure in the same spot. After about 1 hour and 30 minutes and two more lost jigheads, I felt a solid bite. The fish initially swam in, under the ledge so I let it run and tried to minimise my line rubbing against the rocks. I kept up the tension but when it seemed clear it was not going to come out I flicked the bail arm over completely for about 15 seconds and paused. I then tightened the drag a little and flicked the bail arm back. This did the trick and by the time I had taken up the slack line, the fish was still hooked and was a couple of metres out into the open water. It pulled fairly hard and it made another run but now it was pretty tired. The swell was just right to help me lift the fish up a couple of rock ledges to me feet. It was a nice jewfish, approximately 85cm long.

In the late afternoon I went for a quick session casting around in shallows of the Clarence River at Browns Rocks. I used a DUO Realis Pencil 6.5 cm surface lure to target the small tailor that are almost always marauding around on dusk. I had great fun catching a few on my light gear until something bigger swallowed the lot.

Iluka – Woody Head – 4 August 2021

Another lull in the swell meant I could get out on to the rocks to fish in early August. I stuck with Woody Head as I had caught some good fish there in July, last time I was down here. I started early, about 30 mins before first light and conditions were forecast to be pretty good. We were 4 days before the new moon. Low tide would be at about 10.20 am and the swell was forecast to be no more than 1.0 metre high.

I was fishing with my heavier rock fishing set up. This is a Daiwa Saltist X MH 962 rod now matched with a Daiwa Saltist 3000 reel. I have it rigged with 40lb braid and today I was using a 30lb fluorocarbon leader. I started with a GULP Jerkshad soft plastic lure in the satay chicken colour, loaded into a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead.

As soon as I could see what I was doing I had a couple of casts and retrieves with the plastic. At about 6.30 am something hit the plastic hard at the base of the rocks. It pulled hard for a while but swam away from the rocks. I tightened my drag a a little and recovered some line whilst looking for a landing spot. I love this Daiwa Saltist XMH62 as it is sensitive enough to stay in contact with the soft plastic even with quite a light jighead. However the flip side is that it is sometimes too light to muscle a fish past the rocks. The fish took a bit more line and I pulled hard, trying to turn its head. Suddenly the hook pulled and it was gone. I never got a look at it – so it could have been anything. But given what happened later I think it was a jewfish.

I re-rigged and put on a GULP 5 inch Paddleshad soft plastic in the nuclear chicken colour. This time I chose a tougher jighead – a Berkley Nitro Saltwater Pro, 1/4 ounce with a size 1/0 hook. These are pretty difficult to straighten. Two or three casts with this and I felt a very solid bite at the base of the rocks. I paused as long as I dared and then struck. I thought I had the fish but I was just snagged on the rocks. I yanked the jighead free and when I examined the soft plastic I realised from the bite marks, I had missed another fish.

I cast around for the next couple of hours with hardly a touch. At about 10.00 am, just as we were approaching low tide, I felt a bite in close to the base of the rocks again. I paused this time and dropped the rod tip. When I lifted the rod I had a fish on, but it went straight under the rock ledge and soon I could feel the leader rubbing. I moved along the ledge and changed my angle slightly. I flicked the bail arm over and let the pressure off. I waited about 10 seconds and then flicked it back over and pulled hard. The fish came out and ran again but buy now it was beaten. With the aid of a few decent waves I got it up to my feet. It was an 83 cm jewfish

I cleaned it up and kept it for supper. Bottom of the tide seems to be a good time for them.

Brunswick Heads – North wall – 30 July 2021

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.

Iluka – Woody Head – 17 June 2021

Conditions were perfect again for fishing at Woody Head on the 17th. There would be an early morning low tide. The moon was a waxing crescent – 43% full. The wind was light from the south west and there was a fairly light swell. The water quality was still poor but you can’t have everything. I was hoping for a jewfish and was in position very early, around 5.15 am.

I decided to try the southern end of the rock platform where I have caught good jewfish in a couple of spots. I tried to find them with a big soft plastic in the low light but did not get a bite. Once the horizon started to really glow orange I swapped to a stick bait to look for some tailor or even tuna (which were still around). I have a new favourite in this lure category – its the ASWB 40g Flutter Drop from Ebb Tide Tackle. I had it in the brown/ gold Sunbaker colour. Its a fairly slow sinking stick bait. Its easy to cast and has a great action. It also seems pretty hardy although I rarely get a 50 casts out of one lure before I lose it to the rocks or a fish.

I was fishing with my heavy rock fishing rig – Daiwa TD SOL III LT 6000 DH reel and Daiwa Saltist X MH 962 rod, 40lb braid and a 40lb fluorocarbon leader. I cast out as far as I could and brought the lure back to me fairly quickly. I did this about four times and on the last time a fish swiped at it, but missed. I cast out again in the same spot and slowed the retrieve down a little. This did the trick and I soon had a fat tailor, around 50 cm long at my feet. I decided to keep it, so I brained it, cut its throat and left it in a rockpool. The sun was over the horizon now. I cast out in the same spot and this time the lure was initially knocked out of the water by something which then came round for another try and swallowed it. It was another tailor and it pulled hard with several jumps on the way in. I muscled it out of the water. It was almost exactly the same size as the first. I cleaned it up and kept on fishing. I had a few more bumps on that lure but no hook ups.

The tide turned in and I swapped to my lighter rock fishing rig and dropped back down to a 16lb fluorocarbon leader and a GULP 4″ Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour. I rigged this on a 1/4 ounce, size 2/0 hook jighead. The first taker was a big eye trevally who grabbed the lure very close to the base of the ledge. About 20 minutes later I found a couple of decent bream, but then things went quiet.

It was now a beautiful morning but the tide was rising and the swell was picking up enough to make things hard so I packed up and walked back to the car. Tailor for supper.

Brunswick River – Brunswick Heads – 13 June 2021

There had been a few good gutters in front of South Golden Beach and I tried an early morning session to see if the tailor were still around. I had a couple of hits on dawn on a metal slug but did not hang on to anything. The big swell made things difficult and I did not find really them there again, through the rest of June.

On Sunday 13th June, it was a beautiful day so I drove down to the Brunswick River and spent a couple of hours fishing the run out tide. I tried a few casts near the river mouth with no luck. The river was busy so I waded round to fish the flats just downstream of the Marshalls Creek lower outlet. There were plenty of rays in the shallow water. It was now a hot afternoon and although the river was cool, it was definitely not cold.

I cast around with a soft plastic lure and caught three flathead right on the bottom of the tide. I caught them all where the creek drains in to the main river channel. My soft plastic of choice was the trusty GULP 4″ Minnow in the Watermelon Pearl colour on a 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. All the fish were in less than a metre of water.

Brunswick Heads – New Brighton – North Head wall and the beach 4/6/8 June 2021

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.

It’s great fishing when the tailor come into this beach gutter in calm conditions
tailor from the beach

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.

Broken Samaki Zing
The light rod could not take it – two piece became three piece

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.

Brunswick River – Brunswick Heads – Monster at the Mouth – 20/21 May 2021

May 20th was a Friday. The tide was low at 9.50 am and the moon was 6 days away from being full. I was once more fishing midmorning in the Brunswick River, starting at about 10.15 am.

I started down by the river mouth on the northside. I caught a bream on a minnow soft plastic and then the bream pulled it off the jighead, as they so often do. I opened a packet of GULP 4″ Pulseworm soft plastics in the Moebi colour (beige) and put one on my 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I was using my light spinning outfit and about 1.5 metres of 12lb fluorocarbon leader.

To my surprise the next fish was an ambitious whiting. I released it and moved slowly up river. I lost my plastic again and put on a GULP 2″ Shrimp in the Peppered Prawn colour. The next taker was a small flathead, about 35cm long. I let it go. The tide was now beginning to flood in.

I moved further up the river bank and cast my soft plastic at the sandy patches in between the rocky bottom. I lost a jighead, snagged on one of the rocks that was out of wading distance. I put on another GULP Pulseworm and carried on casting.

I was now keeping the soft plastic moving fairly quickly across the bottom as I did not want to get snagged again. I was fishing in about 30 cm of water. I felt the plastic stop dead and assumed I was snagged again. I pulled hard and there was a little bit of give, so I pulled harder. Suddenly my drag was screaming and a fish was swimming away. It was a big flathead that had been sitting in the shallows between the rocks.

Every fisherman loves that sound

It made a couple of long slow runs. I left the drag alone. I only had a 12lb fluorocarbon leader and a very light rod so I was going to have to play it very patiently. When they get this big their head shakes are slower and less numerous and as long as they are hooked on the outside of the mouth, you have a good chance at landing them. I let her go where she wanted to and took back line whenever I could. After about five minutes I pulled her onto the sand. She was a beautiful fish and by measuring her against my rod I estimate she was about 75cm long. I took a few snaps and turned back into the water. I held her by the mouth and let some water run back and forth over her gills and then she slowly swam away.

This is by far the biggest fish I have found in the river so far. I am delighted they are there and I hope to tangle with a few more.

The next day I went back to see if she was part of a gang. I tried out the GULP Crazy Legs Jerkshad in my favorite; Lime Tiger colour. I fished around for a few hours in the same area and found another decent 55cm flathead. I also released this one.

Brunswick River – Brunswick Heads – 14/16 May 2021

On the 14th May, I decided to see if the fish were up river. I was fishing land based and I started on the sand flats on the south side of the river, around the highway bridge. The first catch was a tiny flathead, just under the bridge. Then I moved up river to the boat ramp, near the caravan park. The water was crystal clear again.

It was now about noon. The tide had been high at about 10.00 am and was now running out. I was fishing with my light spin rig and a 10lb fluorocarbon leader. I was using a 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and a GULP 2″ Shrimp soft plastic in the Peppered Prawn colour. I paused beside the boat ramp as there was a big school of tiny bait fish close to the shore. I cast up river, into the fast running tide and gradually hopped the lure back along the bottom, under the bait. On about my tenth try I felt a solid thud and I had another flathead. It was probably 35 cm long and I let it go.

I made my way along the rockwall in front of the caravan park, casting all along the base of the rocks. There was bait everywhere. But I could not find anymore flathead.

A few days later I had a beach session at New Brighton, just to the north of the Brunswick River mouth. The swell and wind was fairly light and so I cast around in the corner of the beach using my medium weight beach rig. This is a Daiwa Crossfire CFX1062 – a 10 foot 6 inch long beach fishing rod, matched with a Shimano Stella 4000 reel. I spool it with 30lb braid and today I was using a 16lb breaking strain fluorocarbon leader. I thought there might be a few tailor around as there had been so much bait in the river. I was using a big soft plastic (GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad in the lime tiger colour) on a 1/6th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead.

It was about 4.00 pm and it was almost low tide. After a few casts I caught a 40 cm flathead. I released it and kept casting. About 10 minutes later I hooked another flathead. This was a better fish (just under 50 cm long) and I decided to keep it for supper. I carried on for about half an hour but I was now wet and the wind chill got too high, so I cleaned up the fish and quit for the day. The water is still warm but it won’t be for much longer, now the wind is coming from the west.

Brunswick River – Brunswick Heads – 18/19 May 2021

On the 18th May I started fishing, land-based at about 11.00 am. I was on the north bank of the Brunswick River. I started off just north of the highway bridge. The tide was running in and would by high at 1.30 pm. The moon was a waxing crescent, just over a week away from full so the tidal flow would not be too strong.

I cast up around the edge of the oyster lease and around the weed banks with my favourite soft plastic for tough conditions – the GULP 4″ Minnow shape in the Watermelon Pearl colour. The water was very clear but there was not much bait in the shallows. I got a couple of bites (probably bream) on the first few casts and then things were quiet. At about 11.30 am I caught a 45cm flathead as I moved round closer to the bridge. About 10 minutes later, I caught another smaller (30cm) flathead.

I decided to cast around the base of the bridge and caught a couple of bream and then got snagged on the oyster covered rocks. Things were pretty slow, so I went back to the car at about 12.30 pm and drove down to the river mouth. The water was crystal clear on the top of the tide but I could only find one very small 20 cm flathead.

The next day was Saturday and as the river had disappointed the day before I decided to try fishing on the ocean side of the north wall. I started at about the same time – around 11.00 am. I walked out to the wall and started close in to the beach with another GULP – a 6″ Jerkshad in the plain white colour. Because I was now fishing in the surf I tied on a heavier, 1/6th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I was using about a meter of 12 lb breaking strain fluorocarbon leader. The water was very clear again.

I cast at the wave break line and let the plastic waft around. Third cast and I was on to a fish. It was a flathead about 45 cm long. I released it. I moved a little further from the beach but this did not produce any fish so I moved back in again. A fish pulled the plastic off the jighead (probably a bream), so I re rigged with a GULP 4″ Minnow shaped soft plastic, in the Watermelon Pearl colour. I caught another slightly bigger flathead on this set up about thirty minutes later. Then I caught a couple of 30 cm bream on the top of the tide.

Brunswick River – Brunswick Heads – 10/11 May 2021

On the 10th of May I fished from about 10.00 am through to 3.30 pm. I had a great day and caught all through the day. I fished a falling tide and then the beginning of the run in tide. The new moon was due on the 11th. There was plenty of small bait in the shallows near the Brunswick River mouth. The water was clear and still much warmer when it started running in from the ocean. It was a fairly low, low-tide and there was plenty of tidal flow.

I worked my way through a number of large and small soft plastic lures and swapped between a 1/8th ounce, size1/0 hook jigheads and 1/6th ounce, size 1 hook jigheads, depending on how fast the current was moving. I even used one of my current favourites, which is not from the GULP range – the Westin ShadTeez Slim soft plastic in the 256 colour ( beige/ brown/ orange belly). I have 9 and 12cm (about 4″) versions. It has a great action and the small fish will not destroy it.

I worked my way down from the mouth of Marshalls Creek to the mouth of the river, casting my lures at all the sandy patches along the way. I caught about 15 flathead and 6 bream. I released most of them but I kept the five biggest flathead for a family fish pie.

There were quite a few bream around and they often beat the flathead to the soft plastic lures. At one point I watched a 70+ cm flathead follow a 25cm bream that I had hooked. It looked like it was considering it for a meal but turned away at the shoreline.

The flathead were not that fussy and I think it was probably the big tidal run and the plentiful bait that were key reasons for their presence

The next day I came back a little later and although I caught about 6 keeper size flathead things were definitely slower.

Overall it was a great couple of days.

Brunswick River – Brunswick Heads – 3/4/6 May 2021

Having found plenty of flathead in the Brunswick River in March and April, 2021, I decided to continue fishing the river through May. I wanted to see if my catch fluctuated with the moon, tides and wind direction. In March and April the flathead had been easiest to catch, when large amounts of bait came into the river. They were slightly more numerous in the run up to the new moons than the full moons.

My first few sessions in May were on the 3rd, 4th and the 6th. On the 3rd I fished at the mouth of the river between about 2 and 4 pm. We were a week away from the New Moon and there was a light south-easterly wind blowing.  There were a few showers around. High tide was at 2.15 pm, so I was fishing the top of the tide and the run out.

I started  with a 4″ GULP Minnow soft plastic in the Watermelon Pearl colour. I was using a 1/8th ounce, size 1 hook jighead and about 1.5 metres of 10lb fluorocarbon leader. I flicked the soft plastic lure around on the bottom, keeping it stationary for a few seconds and then hopping it along the bottom before another pause. I felt a few bream hits and then the unmistakable thud of a flathead bite. I dropped the rod tip, paused and slowly counted to ten. When I lifted the rod tip I had the fish hooked. I landed it, photographed it and let it go.

I carried on casting and moved slowly up river. After a few casts and bites the jighead came up missing the soft plastic. A bream had most likely pulled it off. I put on another minnow soft plastic, this time in the bright yellow and white Chartreuse colour. The water was clear but still a little tannin stained from the recent rain.  Four or five casts later I caught another flathead  – about 40 cm long. 

I moved down to the river mouth and out onto the rockwall. I cast into the ocean side from the rockwall. I was aiming my soft plastic to land in the surf wash, just a couple of metres away from the rocky beach area. This worked. The first fish was a small bream. A few casts later I hooked another flathead that looked just over 40 cm.

On the 4th May, the weather was overcast and I fished from about 1.00pm to 4.00 pm. It was much harder to find the fish. What success I had was on the big GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad soft plastic, which I was fishing with a 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. There were a few schools of whiting cruising the sand banks. I caught one very small (15cm) flathead and then a bigger but still not legal size unit in the river. I tried the beach area again and caught a 32 cm bream.

On the 6th May I fished from about 10.30 am through to about 12.30 pm. It was still cloudy but the wind has eased off and the sun was shining through a few clouds. I was now fishing the run in tide and the water was fairly clear. It was just stirred up a little from some rain we had had overnight. This time I decided to fish further up the river on the north bank. I started a little up river from the highway bridge. I was using a 3″ GULP Minnow soft plastic in the Lime Tiger colour. After about five minutes of casting around I caught a decent bream.

I lost a jighead to the rocks and re-rigged with the same colour soft plastic lure. In this area the water drains off the oyster lease through some weed beds and it always looks very fishy. At about 10.50 am I watched a flathead follow the plastic right to my feet before turning away at the last minute. I re-cast and slowed everything right down. I did this a couple of times and then felt the thud. I paused and then set the hook. It was a flathead or perhaps the same flathead. It was just about 36cm long. I released and cast out again. It kept things slow. This seemed to work and 5 minutes later I had another flathead this time a little over 40cm.

Things went quiet so I decided to move further down the river to fish in the mouth of Marshalls Creek. This also always looks like a fishy spot. I arrived and put on a GULP 4 Pulseworm in the Moebi colour. I cast this around in the mouth of the creek and I felt a small fish attack. It was a tiny flathead. I swapped back to fishing the main arm of the Brunswick River and cast around on the edge of the main channel. At about 12.15 pm I hooked a small flathead that was just under 35cm.

I released all the fish I caught in these three sessions, so they are still out there for you to catch.

Richmond River – South Ballina Wall – Jewfish – 10 April 2021

By mid-April the water in all the major estuaries of the Northern Rivers area was a still a very dirty brown colour – particularly at the bottom of the tide. The initial flush from the March floods had washed a lot of debris down the rivers and out to sea. It had also washed plenty of mullet and other baitfish down to the river mouths. Jewfish/ Mulloway love to hang around in these conditions, ambushing mullet as they are washed out into the ocean.

I decided to try my luck on the south rockwall at the Richmond River mouth at South Ballina. As the road out to the wall is still closed it is a fair walk. I arrived at about 5.30 am, parked at the gate, got my gear together and started walking. I reached the rockwall just as the sun was coming over the horizon at about 6.00 am. High tide would be at about 7.30 am and we were two days away from the new moon.

A team of keen Korean fishermen had passed me on my way out to the wall. They had been smart enough to use mini foldable electric bikes for the journey out. My tackle budget won’t stretch to one of those anytime soon. They were fishing at the end of the rock wall so I decided to start on the ocean side of the wall, fairly close to the beach. The water runs out of the river mouth and forms a big eddy that circles round and carves a good gutter in the corner of the beach.

Even though the sun was now well and truly up, I still hoped there might be a monster mulloway cruising the beach gutter. I loaded the heavier of my rock spinning outfits (DAIWA Saltist X) with a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and a GULP 5′ Paddleshad in the pink colour. I was using 30lb braid and 30lb fluorocarbon leader. I cast out about 10 metres from the wall, let the plastic waft down in the swell and slowly started to retrieve it along the bottom. I felt a few gentle hits and pulled up the soft plastic to see something had tried to pull it off the jighead – this is usually what the bream do. I cast a few more times with no result. At about 6.20 am I cast out and let the soft plastic sit for 20 seconds before starting my retrieve. This did the trick and as I lifted the rod tip I set the hook on a fish. It was a small school jewfish about 50 cm long.

That was the start of a great mornings fishing. Over the next few hours high tide came and went but I kept catching small jewfish. The biggest was about 60 cm long and the smallest was just over 40 cm. I lost count but I caught somewhere between 10 and 15 fish. They were all too small to keep and so I released them all. Mixed in among them I caught a few solid bream and a couple of small tailor that destroyed my soft plastics. The profile, size and colour of the soft plastics did not seem to be much of a factor. I was using GULPS all day but I swapped between the Crazylegs Jerkshad, the Paddleshad, the Turtlebackworm and the straightforward Minnow – and they all caught fish. At one point I swapped to a Croaker hard bodied lure to see if this might attract a bigger one but this did not work.

A few days earlier one of the Koreans had successfully landed a 130 cm mulloway off the ocean side of the end of the wall and there were several piles of big scales that suggested a few other anglers had been successful. The big ones were certainly out there. The jewfish specialists seem to be convinced that soft plastics will get you fish up to about a metre long but for the monsters you need a big hard bodied mullet imitation or a live mullet. One day I may have the patience to put this theory to the test!

Brunswick River – Brunswick Heads 13 February 2021

A fish eating friend asked us over for dinner one Saturday in February – but the invite came with a catch (no pun intended). They had bought enough fish ($49/kilo!!!!!!! fresh flathead fillets) for four but if we were coming, they would need a little more fish – preferably flathead. I checked the freezer and realised all of last week’s flathead was gone. So I decided to accept the challenge. I had about 7 hours to find, catch and clean about 500g of flathead.

It would be like competition angling. I decided the Brunswick River which is just down the road was my best option. I got my gear out and drove to the north bank and climbed down the sloping bank. The tide was running out, it was a few days after the new moon. The water was still fairly murky after the rain we had had earlier in the week.

I was fishing with my Samaki Zing ultralight spinning rod and 12 lb breaking strain braid and about a 1.5 metre long 10 lb breaking strain fluorocarbon leader. I picked out a GULP 3 inch Minnow soft plastic in the Watermelon Pearl colour and loaded on to a 1/8th of an ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I cast out in between the remains of the old decrepit oyster lease. I am not sure when this will be re-classified as litter but I have watched as it has gradually deteriorated over the five years that I have been fishing here and never seen anyone tending to it. I am not too worried as the piles of old netting, plastic pipes, floats baskets, ropes and concrete moorings are gradually being covered with oysters and form good fishing structure. After a few casts I got a solid bite and after ten minutes I hooked a decent bream. It was great to get a fish but it was the wrong species.

I swapped over to a GULP 3 inch Shrimp in the Peppered Prawn colour and cast it out. Letting it bump along the bottom with the run out tide. I soon hooked another fish but again it was a bream.

Conditions were far from peaceful. It was the weekend and the swell was still up so there was plenty of activity on the river. Kayaks, tinnies, and the local tourist cruise boat all ploughed up and down. There was a brief pause and then the local hoons arrived taking it in turns towing everything – wakeboard, surf board, rubber ring, kitchen sink – up and down the river. They looked about 15 and alternated between screaming and vaping – how I longed for them to impale themselves on a submerged rock, but it was not to be.

Brunswick River hoons

Things were looking bleak I had been at it for almost an hour and all I had caught was bream. I moved a little further south, along the bank towards the river mouth. The new ground paid off and on my first cast I pulled up a small flathead. It was just on 35cm – too small. So back he went. I swapped to a brighter coloured 3 inch GULP Minnow soft plastic in the Lime Tiger colour. Maybe the change of colour did the trick or perhaps I had just stumbled across a group of fish lying together in one spot – either way the line pulled tight and I had another flathead, this time it was a keeper at 43 cm. I despatched it and put it in the keeper bag.

For the next 30 minutes I methodically covered the area with casts and it paid off – providing two more keeper sized flathead – one 38 cm and one 40cm. I now had just about enough flathead to take to the dinner party so I headed home.

This challenge was hard enough for me,so I do not think I will be entering competitions anytime soon.

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Evans Head – Piano Rock – 19 January 2021

In general, as the fresh water cleared out of the estuaries in mid January, the fishing improved. Suddenly there was plenty of bait around and the water cleared fairly quickly. Unfortunately the wind kept blowing and the swell stayed consistently high. On one slightly calmer day I decided to fish the rising tide, off the rocks at Evans Head.

Expectations were low as I would arrive at about 10.00 am am and fish through to about 2.30 pm. It was a hot and clear day with a building northerly breeze. After a quick scan of conditions from the Razorback Lookout, I decided to fish along the shore in the Piano Rock area.

I started with my heavier rod and bigger soft plastics but this combination did not raise any interest. I was soon down to my lighter rock fishing set up and had dropped all the way down to a 1/6th ounce size 1/0 hook jighead and I was using a Gulp 3″ Minnow in the Smelt colour. All this raised was a butter bream.

Butter bream

I moved further around the rocks and kept casting. I felt a few quick and violent bites and pulled up half a soft plastic. I reloaded and cast back out. This time a fish connected for a while and then let go. On the next cast I was bitten off as soon as the soft plastic hit the water. It was a school of small tailor. I tied a new jighead on, put the same soft plastic on and cast out again. I let it sink then retrieved it quickly and this time I hooked the fish and landed it. It was a small tailor – no more than 30cm long. I carried on for another hour and caught two more small tailor.

It was good to scout out a new spot and encouraging to find fish in the middle of the day. I would expect the bigger predators to be around at dawn and dusk on the bigger tides. I will have to come back.

Iluka – Middle Bluff – 22 November 2020

The swell came up and then subsided, a little. The wind swapped to south easterly, then northerly, then south easterly and then back to a morning south westerly, all in the space of about 48 hours. The moon had reached its first quarter. The dawn tide would be too high to fish at Woody Head so I decided to give Middle Bluff a try.

The challenge at Middle Bluff is the distance between you and the water, if you hook a fish. In some places on this rock platform you are fishing three or four metres above the water. In calm conditions you can gently coax a fish along the front of the rock ledges to a lower one and grab the leader to pull the fish up. But if there is any swell this is next to impossible. I have never mastered using a gaff as I am convinced I will most likely end up gaffing myself (I also like to release fish, if I am not planning to eat them). So like so many other rock fishing ledges it is only really safe when the swell is around 1 metre. Even then all the usual rules apply; wear boots or shoes with excellent grip, wear a life jacket, check the swell for 20 minutes or so before fishing and try to stay permanently on dry rocks – if in doubt, don’t.

I arrived and parked at Frasers Reef just after 4.00 am and walked north to Middle Bluff. By the time I reached the ledges I wanted to fish there was a long line of orange on the horizon. I started on the north end of the platform.

I cast out a 3/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead with a GULP 5″ Paddleshad soft plastic in the Pink colour on my heavy rig. I tried to get it as close to the edge of the ledge as possible as I believe the mulloway and other fish school up in the sea caves and overhangs which extend under the ledges. The idea is to drop it down next to the rocks and then hop it slowly along the bottom, parallel with the shoreline. The period between first light and sunrise is definitely my most successful period for catching mulloway/ jewfish from the rocks. I cast around close to the edge and just before dawn the line pulled tight and I felt the weight of a fish. It set off under the ledge but I turned it around. I was fishing with my heavier rod and reel with 40lb fluorocarbon leader and a fairly tight drag. I pulled hard to keep it away from the rocks but I was going too hard and fast and the hook pulled out. I was a little too eager. I carried on casting through dawn and swapped through a few different soft plastics. I had another bite that felt like a tailor but it also spat the hook. I had eaten all my mulloway/ jewfish so I needed something for dinner.

At about 6.00 am I moved south along the ledge, nearer to Frasers Reef. The swell was a little more relaxed here. I swapped to my lighter fishing rig which was rigged 16 lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/4 ounce, size 1 hook jighead and GULP 3″ Minnow in the Lime Tiger colour. I cast this out and again focused on the area close to the base of the ledge. Leaving the plastic on the bottom for as long as I could without getting snagged. This tactic worked and I caught a decent bream just over 36 cm long. It hit the lure inches from surface and inches from the rocky shore. I put it in a rock pool and tried again in the same spot. A few casts later I caught another one about the same size.

Twins

A disappointing morning but I would have fish for supper.

Iluka – Woody Head – 14/15 November 2020

Very strong south easterlies had been blowing all week. I had tried a few sheltered spots around Iluka, but had only managed a few bream and small trevally. Everything was just too stirred up and finding anywhere safe to stand was too hard.

The winds dropped off on the Friday and the south easterlies were replaced by a strong northerly wind. This flattened out the seas a little and by lunchtime on Saturday I decided to try fishing at Woody Head. It was an early afternoon low tide at about 2.30 pm. The northerly wind was forecast to fall through the afternoon. The moon would be new on Sunday. The wind was still gusty from the north but the swell had flattened considerably.

I started fishing with my heavier set up – 40lb leader, 40lb braid, casting a DUO Drag Metalcast around. This produced nothing. Then a Gulp Jerkshad (various colours). This produced a 45cm trevally and then a 35cm bream. Initially I was fishing with a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead and then on a heavier 3/8th ounce, 2/0 hook jighead, to counteract the fairly strong northerly wind.

I had been casting a GULP Lime Tiger coloured jerkshad around and I was thinking of swapping to a more natural coloured soft plastic when something grabbed the plastic very close. It initially turned to swim away but soon rethought its strategy and headed under the ledge. The drag was pretty tight but the fish didn’t even pause. My braid was soon rubbing on the rocks and then – snap! I re-rigged and tightened the drag, but things seemed to go quiet for a while. The tide was now pushing in quite quickly. I kept casting and the next fish on the scene was a trevally, about 45cm long.

At about 3.30 pm I had moved a little south along the ledge. I dropped down to the light rock fishing rig with 16lb leader and 20lb braid. I cast out a GULP Lime Tiger coloured Crazylegs Jerkshad. This was smacked on the drop and taken straight under the rock ledge – the braid snapped almost instantly. I cursed my impatience and swapped back to the heavy rod with 40lb leader and a 3/8th ounce size 2/0 jighead. I put another GULP Crazylegs Jerkshad on. This paid off and after a few casts something whacked the soft plastic on the drop and took off. Fortunately it decided to swim away from the ledge and this gave me some time. It was powerful but after an initial run I seemed to have it under control. I pulled it up with a wave surge and was delighted to see it was a snapper (later weighed in – gutted and scaled – at 3.8kg)

The next day would be an even lower low tide and I started fishing in the same spot at about 3.00 pm. The swell had continued to drop off and the wind was a light south-easterly. The first taker was a bream. I released it and carried on. About 10 minutes later I felt a fish grab then lure then drop it, a few metres out from the ledge. I cast out again and slowed down my retrieve. Something fast grabbed it and took off with a long run. I got some line back but then it ran again. I tightened the drag and wound like mad as it suddenly turned and decided to swim straight for the ledge. Fortunately, by the time it tried to change its mind, I had virtually locked up the drag and pulled it in on a wave. It was a surprising small (50cm) kingfish. I have only ever caught a few of these and their power and speed always surprises me. I released it, hoping for more, but did not get any.

Kingfish fight very hard

I moved further south to where I had caught the snapper the day before. I was temporarily out of the Crazylegs Jerkshads so I found a 6″ GULP Squid Vicious in the New Penny colour and cast that out. It was now almost 5.00pm and the tide was running in. On about the third cast I thought I had the bottom, then it started wriggling and took off. One long solid run and then a couple of head shakes but no real power (compared to the kingfish). It was decent school jewfish and I was able to successfully pull it up to my feet. It was just over 75 cm long and so it joined the snapper in the fridge.

A couple of great sessions once the weather allowed me to get to the fish, lets hope it stays calm for a while.

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Dead Whale – Shark Bay – Iluka – 6 November 2020

While I was fishing the Clarence River at Goodwood Island a dead whale had washed up on the beach at Shark Bay in Iluka. I drove past the beach entrance and found it closed with a large cohort of National Parks trucks in attendance and a 30 tonne excavator just being delivered. I parked up and walked out onto the beach to have a look.

It was amazing to see this huge creature washed up. It had obviously only recently died as there was no smell or predator damage. Two chaps from the Coffs Harbour Dolphin Marine Research Centre were on hand to cut it open and see what it had died of. It was covered in more than normal numbers of sea lice, which they said meant it had probably been sick for some time. The plan was to move it up the beach with the excavator so that the high tide would not carry it away before they could conduct their a post mortem, the next day.

There is no easy way of getting rid of a dead whale. So it was decided it would be sent to landfill after the postmortem. Not a very dignified end. I think it would be more noble to tow it out to sea and let the other predators ‘recycle’ it. However there was a risk it would keep washing back in and the sharks would be around for months following it, so it was cut up and sent to landfill.

I had hoped the blood and guts might bring the fish in but the excavator crew did a pretty good job of tidying up and the next day there was little trace on the beach. Just a few barnacles and dead sea lice.

Dead Whale – not easy to shift

That evening in another howling south easterly wind I tried to fish the north side of the Shark Bay rock platform. I cast metal slugs and hard bodies and eventually dropped down to small minnow and other soft plastics. I found a few fish but not what you would expect –  a big pike, butter bream and a few small bream. Finally something crunched through my jighead in the shallows – I suspect a wobbegong.

I am hoping that the wind will stop blowing soon.