July rolled into August and although the La Nina weather pattern persisted, we did have a few cool clear days. There was plenty of bait in the river and a few mullet but according to the professionals the floods had killed the traditional autumn/ winter mullet ‘run’.
The birds would show me where the bait was schooled up and I would plan my fishing around their focus, whenever I could reach it. I caught plenty of flathead in the run ups to the new and full moons. In this river system when the bait is up close to the rock walls that line the bank the flathead are usually sitting directly underneath. I like to fish from high tide down to about half way out but I have caught them at any point in the cycle.
With plenty of bait, the mini tailor were around in big numbers and so were the small jewfish. In some sessions it was hard to catch a flathead because these two species would always beat them to the soft plastic lures
The bream were also a consistent catch. Soft plastics, hard-bodied lures and a variety of fresh and frozen baits all seemed to work. On angler even claimed the only thing they really liked is chicken breast marinated in curry powder. I live and learn.
The big swells put the rocky headlands out of bounds for all but a few days of the month. However, when I could safely fish at Woody Head I caught a few tailor and a couple of legal sized mulloway / jewfish. The lure of choice for the jewfish remained the GULP Squid Vicious soft plastic in the nuclear chicken colour.
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.
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.
I was out of action for most of October as I had to have a hernia repaired (curse of any elite sportsman – fisherman and beer drinkers included). But at the end of the month the doctor approved a return to light exercise.
I chose to cast some soft plastic lures around in the mouth of the Brunswick River. The water was clear and there were plenty of bait schools in the shallows. I was using my light spinning set up and a 10lb fluorocarbon leader down to a 1/8th ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I fished for a couple of hours in the middle of the falling tide. I caught three flathead, the largest of which was 44cm long.
On the 17th the swell was forecast to be light again so I decided to try fishing at Woody Head. Low tide would be at about 7.30 am and we were about a week away from the full moon. I arrived at about 6.00 am, 30 mins before first light. I walked out onto the rock platform and the swell was disappointingly powerful again.
I started fishing at the north end, casting a 60g metal slug towards the gap in the rocks north of the area known as the barnacles. There are nearly always tailor or trevally here on dawn and sometimes jewfish. It was too rough to cast a soft plastic so I stuck with the slug. I hooked and dropped a couple of fish, just after first light, which I assume were tailor. Then I lost my slug to the rocks.
I dropped to the lighter rig and put on a GULP 4″ Minnow soft plastic on a 1/4 ounce, size 1/0 hook jighead. I cast out in front of the rock platform and let the plastic sink through the wash. You cannot leave the plastic long on the bottom as it will get snagged, but you need it down there for five or ten seconds, to be in with a chance of attracting a bite. After a few casts I caught a decent bream and then dropped another.
After sunrise things went quiet and I moved further south along the rock platform, casting in various spots. I moved back up to the heavier rig (40lb braid/ 30lb fluorocarbon leader), as I approached a few known jewfish spots. I was now fishing with a GULP 5″ Jerkshad in the Satay Chicken colour. I was still using 30lb leader but I had changed to a 1/4 ounce, 2/0 jighead. The swell was little lighter now and the tide was running in.
I kept casting and retrieving the soft plastic and leaving it for as long as possible right at the base of the rock ledge, on the bottom. I felt a pretty faint bight and then lost my rig to the cunjevoi again. I retied with the same set up and kept going south along the rocks.
It was now about 8.30 am. As I pulled up the rod tip to recast, the jighead stopped. I pulled again and it moved a little more and then line started peeling. Unfortunately, I could immediately feel the line rubbing on something, so the fish was probably swimming in, under an overhang. I tightened the drag a fraction and it slowed. I got some line back and hoped it was coming out. However it got its breath back and ran the wrong way again. I decided to flick the bail arm open to see if it swam out, once I had released the pressure. I left the fish with slack line for about 15 seconds. In this time I got a little nearer to the edge, in between the wave sets. I then flicked the bail arm over, took up the slack line and heaved the fish out. It was just clear of the overhang and the line flicked free. I now had the drag very tight. The fish was pretty much beaten and it popped up, a big slab of silver. It rolled over on its side in the wash. The Daiwa Saltist 962 MH rod would not be able to lift it clear of the water so I would have to use the wave sets and the stepped rock ledges to land it. I managed this and got a soaking in the process. It was a solid jewfish / mulloway about 85cm cm long. I put it in a fresh rockpool to recover for a while. After a few photos I decided it looked well enough to release so I sent it on its way.
The leader was pretty shredded, as was a good section of braid, so I cut it all off and re-rigged. I decided to stick with the winning combination and dug out another GULP 5″ Jerkshad in the Satay Chicken colour. I cast out in the same spot let the lure flutter down and wash in to the base of the rocks. By the second hop I felt a bite and dropped the rod tip again and paused. After a few seconds pulled up hard and set the hook. It was another jewfish. This time I had started with a tighter drag and I kept the fish from getting its head down and swimming under the ledge. It made a solid run bit fortunately it was in the direction of the open sea. I turned its head and again used the waves to to lift it onto one ledge, then another and then up to my feet. It was another nice fish, closer to 90 cm this time. After five minutes this one did not perk up in the recovery pool, so I decided it would be dinner. I spiked it, then gutted and scaled it and later weighed it in at the shop – 5.7 kg. It was a beautiful fish.
I decided that two good fish was more than enough for one session and gave up for the day.
In mid-July I was back in Iluka after a fair bit of rain and wild weather. The swell was forecast to drop to about a metre so I decided to spend a morning fishing at Woody Head.
I was up before dawn and arrived on the platform at Woody Head at about 6.00 am. The tide had been low at 5.20 am and was now running in. It was a few days after the new moon, so it was about 20% full. The horizon was an amazing colour in the pre-dawn light. The swell was a bit angrier than forecast so I watched it for a while before I started fishing. As it got lighter I could see that the water was very cloudy.
When I felt I could cast safely between the bigger sets I tied on the ASWB 40g Flutter Drop fast sinking stickbait. This comes from Ebb Tide Tackle. I like this lure. It often seems to get a bite when other things are not working for tailor. I cast it out and started retrieving with long, fairly slow sweeps. I felt a couple of knocks on the first cast but nothing connected. I cast out again and repeated the process. This time the fish were ready and one grabbed it pretty quickly. I was fishing with my old battered Daiwa Demonblood 962 H rod and Daiwa TD SOL III LT 6000D-H spinning reel. I was using 40lb braid and a 40lb fluorocarbon leader. The Demonblood is such a solid rod and had no problem subduing the tailor. I pulled up a very fat fish – about 45cm long. I despatched it and put it in the keeper pool. It was now just after 7.00 am.
I kept casting in between some big wave sets, but conditions were tricky. At about 7.30 am I hooked another tailor, very close to the rocks. A big wave was coming so I loosened the drag and retired to safety while it washed over the ledge. I then retightened and felt the fish was still on. However the line was rubbing on the cunjevoi covered rocks. The swell forced me back again and I just flicked the bail arm over. The wave hit hard. As I moved back towards the edge, I flicked the bail arm over and wound like mad. The fish seemed to have freed/ untangled itself and I pulled it up to my feet. It was another tailor, about the same size as the first.
The BKK trebles (which are pretty tough) were all bent up and I was soaked, so I called it quits for the morning at about 8.00 am.
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.