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 March 2nd I decided not to fish but I still woke early, caught sunrise and had a look at the swell at Iluka Bluff. Fortunately the mid-morning high tide and the 1.5m swell meant fishing would be too hard in this spot anyway.
I retired to my cabin and ran through my tackle. It is amazing how you always find something missing and convince yourself that if only you had it, your fishing results would vastly improve. I am currently having an internal struggle over soft plastic jerkshads vs shad/paddletails. I have always been a fan of the minnow and jerkshad soft plastic lure profiles but, with the arrival of a really good shad tail in the GULP range – the Paddleshads -, I am having to think harder about what will work best.
I would just like to clarify that apart from a 3″ Minnow Grub sample packet, given to me by Adam ‘Mad Dog’ Royter at a Jones Tackle Brisbane soft plastics information evening in about 2007 – I have received no inducement / money/ free stuff to carry on using or writing about GULP soft plastics. I use them because they have consistently worked for me and I believe their fairly soft texture and the scent/ gunk that they are infused with gives them an edge over other soft plastics. But the other key element is confidence. If you are confident that a particular type of lure or soft plastic will catch fish (usually based on your own past experience) then you persist with it far longer than you would when you are trying out something new. This usually means you catch more fish with it.
But back to the Paddlshad vs Jerkshad comparison. I am currently persuaded that Jerkshads and Minnows work better on the tailor, bream and dart but Paddleshads are more attractive to the mulloway and flathead. But I also believe that a scented Jerkshad/ Minnow will outfish a unscented Paddleshad and vice versa.
Just for the record, if the private equity billionaires at Sycamore Partners in New York, who recently bought Pure Fishing and all its brands for USD 1.3 billion are reading: If you want to send me some complimentary GULPs, I will not send them back.
I woke up early on 3rd March and drove into Iluka, but I could hear the swell was up as soon as I started driving out to the Iluka wall – where I had planned to fish. The wind had built up from the south east overnight and brought a 1.6 to 1.8 m swell with it. It was also starting to rain and so I gave up before I had started.
In the afternoon the rain looked like it was easing off so I drove round to the flat rock platform, at the beginning of Shark Bay to fish through to the bottom of the tide. This is typically a good tailor fishing spot. However when things are tough you can only really be sure of a fish at dawn and dusk.
I started on the north east corner of the platform casting a brass coloured 60g Halco Twisty – no luck. I swapped to a GULP Jerkshad in Satay Chicken colour, on a 3/8th ounce jighead. This got a couple of bites from the resident Long Toms but nothing else. I decided a metal slug was my best chance of a decent fish so I swapped again. This time to a HALCO 60g Outcast metal slug in the blue colour. I hurled it out to the north east and wound it back in fairly quickly at constant speed. About 40 metres out I felt a hit, and a few revolutions later my rod tip bent over. It was a small tailor just over 40 cm long. I threw it back and kept casting.
It was only just after 4.00 pm and the brief period of sun had ended abruptly. The sky was looking ominous to the south west, so the weather was coming my way. I decided to up the stakes and put on a big SAKU 130mm Stickdog sinking stickbait lure. This was huge in comparison to the HALCO Outcast I had used previously but tailor rarely consider anything is too big, if they are eating. As this area is very snaggy I fish with single hooks on these more expensive lures – to avoiding losing them. It casts a good distance so I started peppering the zone with a semi circle of casts. About 25% through my arc a fish knocked the lure clean out of the water but I did not hook up. I cast back out and this time a tailor grabbed it not long after it hit the water. It put up a good fight and with a single hook it is important to keep the tension up on the line right to the point where the fish is at your feet. I landed it safely, snapped it and released it.
The rain was not faraway but I could not stop now – I had caught some fish. I had to see if I could catch some more. But as the light rain turned to heavy rain and then to a torrential downpour, I had to give up. The rain was cold and came down so hard that it completely flattened the sea. I grabbed everything and trudged back to the car. That was it for the day.
The next day the rain eased off and the swell started to drop off. I headed back to Shark Bay in the afternoon but could not find any fish, casting slugs on the north east edge of the rock platform. I went over to the north west side. The north easterly had picked up and the water was still quite cloudy from all the rain. I decided to put on a popper as this area is very snaggy. I chose a Halco Roosta popper in the gold colour. After a few casts a good sized tailor (around 50 cm) came up and grabbed it , inches from the base of the rocks. I had the drag pretty tight and a 40lb leader and as I pulled tight the fish just launched itself out of the water and landed beside me. They never cease to surprise me. I decided to bleed this one and keep it for supper.
After cleaning the fish I headed back to the car and witnessed a great sunset. I had my fingers crossed for falling seas over the next few days.
On Thursday the weather was much the same and low tide was not until 11.20 am. Most of my favourite fishing points around Iluka are low or falling tide spots, so I decided to have a lie in. Of course a fisherman’s lie in just means getting up at dawn, rather than 90 minutes before dawn, but it was nice to get a full 8 hours sleep.
At about 8.30 am I drove round to Woody Head to have a look at conditions. Although the tide was far enough out to make fishing possible, the swell was still bashing up against the rocks. The swell had been a steady 1.5/ 1.8m all week. It was caused by the slow moving tropical storm that had missed the Queensland coast the week before, but stirred everything up. Discretion is the better part of valour and I was not going to risk my life for a fish, so I walked back to the car.
I drove round to Shark Bay again. I walked out onto the rock and tied on 55g HALCO Twisty in the brass/ gold colour. I catch far more fish on the brass/ gold colour of this lure than the silver colour – no idea why. I started with big long casts on the heavy rod and after five or six casts, I had a 30 cm tailor. A few casts later I had another…. and another. I swapped up to an 80mm HALCO Roosta Popper in the Fluoro Pink colour. I blooped this back towards me, making plenty of splashes and stopped for a few seconds every now and then. After a few bloops, a bigger tailor grabbed it and I soon had a 50cm tailor at my feet.
It was now about 11.00 am and I swapped to the lighter rod, 14lb fluorocarbon leader, a 1/6th ounce, 1/0 hook jighead and a GULP 4 inch Minnowp soft plastic in the Pearl Watermelon colour. The first cast was smashed by a tailor which then spat it out. The second, attracted a few snaps from a long tom, which followed the soft plastic right back to me. After about ten more minutes of casting I caught another 30cm bream.
I decided to try the other side of the rock platform but neither soft plastics nor slugs could raise anything there so at about 12.00 noon, I gave up.
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.
On Wednesday conditions where calm again with a light northerly wind blowing. First light was about 5.00 am. I could not face another tramp out to the spinning ledge so I decided to try fishing the rocks at the north eastern corner of Connors Beach. This area always looks very fishy and there is often a long gutter that drains out through a group of rocky bommies, from the northern corner of the beach.
There are a couple of rocky outcrops that you can safely stand on in light seas. About 45 metres to the east of these ledges there is a circle of large rocks which are riddled with overhangs and caves. They are pretty hard to cast at, but they are full of fish.
I started with a 65g Raider, tied on to the main line with 30lb breaking strain fluorocarbon leader. I was using the heavy rod – Daiwa Demonblood, and I was casting a metal slug about 40 to metres out towards the edge of one of the semi submerged rocky outcrops. I was reeling in line pretty quickly on my retrieve.
The sun was not yet over the horizon, at about 5.20 am, when I hooked and landed the first tailor of the day. This was quickly followed by a few more. Then, as the sun up and the glare started to build, the bites slackened off and having caught four 40 cm tailor in quick succession, it took an hour to catch another.
Healthy Hat Head tailor
Fishing at sunrise
In position pre-dawn
Big bright moon
Tailor on 65g Raider
The Tailor were most active at sunrise
All the tailor were about this size
The rocks off the headland
Fishing the foamy wash
Tailor on a Halco Streaker
Dawn on the rock ledges at Connors Beach
By about 7.30 am all was quiet. The water was crystal clear and my metal slugs, hard bodied minnows and poppers could not rustle up a bite. I decided to give up for the morning.
At about 5.00 pm I came back and carefully climbed down the rocky headland that sticks out between Gap Beach and Connors Beach. There is a small inlet here that looks very fishy and with a fairly light swell I could cast right into it.
I started with a 40g HALCO Streaker metal slug. I cast it out into the foamy water around the rocks. After a few casts, I hooked a fish but it wriggled off at the base of the rocks. I hooked a couple more that also got off. At about 5.30 pm, just as the sun was dropping to the horizon I finally held on to one. It was another 35cm tailor. As the sun set I hooked what felt like a smaller fish. After a short fight I was surprised to see a solid bream on the end of the Streaker.
I fished on through the amazing sunset but did not catch anything else.
On Sunday morning the weather was beginning to change. The breeze was moving round from the south west to the south east. It was much warmer and conditions were good as the south easterly was still light. I had worked out that low tide presented the better fishing opportunities at Flat Rock and Wreck Rock and so, with high tide a few hours after dawn, I headed back to Middle Rock and more specifically the set of rocks in the middle of Middle Rock.
Middle Rock - an hour before high tide pre-dawn
Jupiter and Venus had been bright and visible in the eastern sky just before dawn, all week. Since about Thursday, Mercury was also clearly visible. Venus was so bright that it cast a clear light across the water. It had been similarly bright when I was fishing down at Iluka, in NSW, last month and I wonder if it has an effect on the fish.
I was fishing with the heavy rod – the Daiwa 9’ 6” Demon Blood, matched with a Shimano Stradic 6000 reel, loaded with 20lb braid and a 30lb fluorocarbon leader. I was hoping to encounter some bigger fish at dawn and thought that the cold snap would have got the Tailor going. My camping neighbour had caught a few off the beach to the south of Wreck Rock, the evening before. They had taken cut up Pike baits about an hour after sunset.
I rigged up with a GULP 5” Pumpkinseed Jerkshad soft plastic lure on a 3/8 oz 2/0 jighead. I cast all round the rocks in the pre-dawn light. I could not raise a bite so I dropped down to a ¼ oz 1/0 jighead and 16lb Fluorocarbon leader and cast around again. Third cast, in very shallow water, only a couple of metres from the beach, I had a fish. It was a Bream about 30cm long. I released it and cast back in the same spot. I hooked up straight away – it was another Bream – slightly bigger at around 34cm. I carried on but all I could not find anything bigger so at 8.00 am I went back to camp for breakfast.
Middle Rock Bream
Whilst there were fish around it was becoming clear that this week was right in the middle of the changeover between the dominance of the warm weather species –Tuna, Mackerel, Dart, Whiting and the emergence of the cold weather species – Tailor, Bream, Flathead. The air temperature had been bitterly cold but the water was still very warm. It was hard work trying to figure out what to try next!
After breakfast I decided I would fish the run out tide at Flat Rock. The moon was almost full so the tide would be very low. I arrived just after 10.00 am and the long rock was already exposed. I waded out and climbed up onto it. I was back to the light spin rod, using a 1/6th 1 jig head, 12lb leader and 2” and 3” GULP Shrimp and Minnow soft plastics. For the next few hours I walked all the way along the rock to the northern end of the beach, casting out over the edge. There was no shortage of fish but the problem was size. Everything seemed to be under 30 cm long. I caught Whiting, Flathead, Bream, Stripy Perch, Dart and Long Toms, but nothing was worth keeping. By 2.00 pm the wind was getting up and the tide was running in so I gave up.
Another Middle Rock Bream
Middle Rock – an hour before high tide pre-dawn
Middle Rock Bream
The middle set of rocks at Middle rocks just before high tide