As the quality of the Pacific Highway improves, the desire to explore enables many keen anglers to head farther afield, with plenty heading to the picturesque North Coast.
Much of Northern NSW is quite pristine, with minimal development and relatively small population centres. It’s much like the Central Coast was 30-odd years ago, so it’s little wonder more people are making the North Coast their annual holiday destination.
Anglers make up a large chunk of the annual visitors, with plenty of keen sports fishos dragging sizeable boats and staying in larger population centres like Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour and Ballina. Not only do they have great offshore fishing close by, there’s also plenty for the family to do with large shopping complexes and fun parks as well as plenty of unspoilt beaches and nature trails to explore.
While many anglers with larger offshore boats hit the bigger towns, there are plenty who forsake the nightlife and shopping centres and disappear into smaller fishing villages that dot much of the coast. Towns like Yamba, Wooli, Evans Head, Scotts Head, South West Rocks and Hat Head are inundated with serious blue-water anglers keen to chase anything from mahi mahi to billfish.
Not all visiting anglers tow large ocean boats. There are plenty with small tinnies and canoes to explore the big rivers and their countless tributaries.
Most rivers fish quite well and offer a diverse range of species and environments in which to wet a line. So if you like the idea of cruising up a largely unspoilt river system looking for whiting, bream, flathead, jewfish or simply setting a few pots for blue swimmer and mud crabs, you’ll appreciate taking a trailer boat or canoe on your next holiday.
While there’s plenty of scope for trailer boat anglers, towing a boat to the North Coast isn’t essential. Plenty of keen fishos head north with little more than a few surf rods strapped to the roof racks.
There are countless beaches and headlands to explore with everything from bream to Spanish mackerel on offer in season. A 4WD and current beach driving permit where applicable will allow you to check out some great country and fish to your heart’s content well away from the crowds.
No matter what style of fishing you enjoy, there’s plenty of scope on the NSW North Coast.
Whilst many offshore anglers seem happy enough plunging lead to the bottom and scoring mixed bags of reef fish, others are more interested in chasing the sport fish that frequent this part of the coast.
Mackerel, wahoo, cobia, kingfish and marlin are big drawcards. Kings, snapper and pearl perch are often secondary and provide variety whilst chasing the more glamorous game species.
Like all areas, the biggest key to success is timing your trips around seasonal runs. You can catch all sorts of fish by using a wide variety of methods, but you can’t catch what’s not there! As a rough guide the seasonal offshore fish run go something like this-
• Summer: Marlin, cobia, kingfish, wahoo, mackerel, snapper and jewfish.
• Autumn: Marlin, cobia, kingfish, wahoo, mackerel, small yellowfin and longtail tuna, snapper and jewfish.
• Winter: Cobia, kingfish, large yellowfin tuna, mac tuna, snapper, pearl perch and teraglin.
• Spring: Big kingfish, snapper, jewfish, yellow fin and mac tuna.
There’s pretty well always something to chase, it’s all a matter of timing your trip to coincide with your preferred species.
I can’t stress enough the importance of taking care when heading to sea. Virtually all North Coast sea access (except for Coffs Harbour) is through a river bar. Some are certainly safer than others but all can be deadly under the wrong conditions.
A general rule is to try to time your outings to coincide with small swell and a run-in tide. Run-out tides create nasty pressure waves and when combined with a reasonable swell and onshore wind, you have a nasty combination that requires plenty of skill, timing and luck to get out and back cleanly.
Basically, if in doubt, don’t go out. No fish is worth dying for. Besides, there are other attractions.
Between Taree and Tweed Heads you have plenty of large and small river systems. Most hold good numbers of fish and will keep any angler busy for many years.
Just as with the offshore scene, time your trips around the seasonal runs of fish and you vastly improve your chances of success.
Thankfully most of the North Coast river systems run to a very simular timetable that goes something like this:
• Summer: Flathead, whiting, mangrove jacks, school jewfish, bream up-river and bass.
• Autumn: Flathead, whiting, mangrove jacks, jewfish, bream in lower reaches, bass heading towards brackish zones to spawn.
• Winter: Bream around river mouths, blackfish, trevally (GTs and bigeye), larger jewfish in mid to lower sections.
• Spring: Big flathead in lower reaches, bream heading up-river and reasonable numbers of jewfish in midsections.
The big rivers are best fished from a well set-up boat. You don’t need the latest bass boat to pull fish but a comfortable tinny with reasonable horsepower will allow you to cover a decent amount of water.
Don’t despair if you’re shore-based. There are plenty of options, with ample breakwalls, sandbars, bridges, jetties and rock walls to keep you busy.
Boat anglers do have the advantage of covering lots of water quickly and easily, but the shore-based crew often pull good numbers of quality fish also.
With dozens of large tidal rivers being fed by myriad smaller tributaries, there’s no shortage of small water to explore.
Virtually all these feeder creeks are home to Australian bass. What size and number will depend on the health of the system and pressure from other anglers.
The more off the beaten track you venture, the better the fishing often becomes.
You certainly don’t have to way out in the sticks to find fish but by giving any creeks close to the bigger towns a slightly wider berth you can expect to find good numbers of healthy bass and on the Richmond and Clarence, estuary perch.
In the upper Clarence and Richmond catchments are populations of the protected eastern freshwater cod. They’re great looking fish and cohabit remote streams with bass.
There’s accommodation to suit every type of budget, from ritzy apartments with stunning water views to beautiful holiday houses a stone’s throw from the beach, luxury cabins in waterfront caravan parks, powered sites for those towing their own accommodation, and plenty of powered and unpowered tent sites for the minimalists.
There’s plenty of choice but it does pay to book early in peak times. Do some research on the internet, find the area you’re keen to visit and look up the holiday house, motel, villa or van site you like, and book well in advance.
• Take your boat! While there are plenty of shore-based options, there are countless more for the boat angler.
• Try to time your trip around the seasonal run of fish you hope to catch. Almost every month there’s something different biting so time your trip accordingly.
• Most North Coast towns have good tackle stores run by locals who understand their fishery, so call in and see what technique best suits the resident fish.
• Make sure you have a tide chart and study it carefully, you’ll need it when planning beach, estuary and offshore trips.
• While there’s plenty of accommodation to suit all needs and budgets, make sure you book well in advance as not to miss out.