Head for the hills!
  |  First Published: December 2011

Love it or hate it, Coffs Harbour relies on the tourist season and we’re just about to swing straight into it. Tourism brings money, business and jobs to the town but it also brings the crowds.

For locals this is a great excuse to head for the hills, get out and explore the surrounding areas and get away from those crowds.

This time of year I love to venture into the hinterland in my kayak and fish the smaller estuaries and rivers.

Coffs is surrounded by smaller creeks and rivers to the north and south. These are great spots to throw the kayak in or just walk the bank with the kids.

With this warmer weather bream, flathead and whiting will readily take surface lures and I don’t know of anything so relaxing yet exciting as throwing a popper around the flats and snags in these smaller estuaries.

To add to the excitement, at this time of year there is every likelihood that your popper will get taken by a trevally or even a mangrove jack.

For those after some freshwater fun, there are myriad bass creeks to be explored. All you need is Google Earth (or a map) and your fishing gear.

The Bellinger Valley is a great place to start. There are great options only 20 minutes’ drive from Coffs and daylight saving means that an after-work session is a possibility.

Fishing around sunset with cicada lures is probably bringing the best results lately but smaller diving minnows are also catching fish.


With only one boat ramp in Coffs, it can be hard for the offshore angler to avoid the crowds. It seems inevitable that you will have to queue with everyone else, even if you get there at 4am.

If you have a smaller offshore boat and a 4WD it may be worth looking at nearby beach launches at Sawtell, Woolgoolga and Arrawarra.

On a calm day you can avoid the queues and launch closer to some less-pressured fishing grounds.

Once you head offshore (whether from the ramp or beach) there should be plenty of snapper from the inshore bait grounds out to the Islands and deep reefs.

Live bait is one of the best ways to secure a larger specimen, although with reports of mackerel around, a pre-Christmas Spaniard would be welcome by-catch.

One of the things I love about this time of year at Coffs is the potential to catch anything from snapper, kingfish and pearlies, to tuna, mackerel and even wahoo, all in the same trip.

For this reason I have wire on all my live baits and trolling lures from now until well after Easter.

Trolling hardbodies can a very effective way of searching out those early mackerel and doing laps around the edges of the local bait reef in my kayak is one of my favourite Summer activities. It’s great exercise, there are no crowd issues and it often ends in snapper and/or mackerel fillets.

Even in a boat it can be a great technique to avoid the crowds. Most boats catch their bait and take off for the ‘fishing grounds’, leaving the inshore reefs less crowded than the popular deeper marks.

If it pays off you get more time fishing, a feed of fish, and far more petrol left in the tank for next trip.

With reports of mackerel hanging around the local headlands, land-based anglers will be licking their lips, or at least readying their LBG gear for some drag-screaming fun.

Kingfish, mack tuna and bonito offer more reliable targets at the moment but there will be the anticipation of something large and toothy in anglers’ minds.

There are still plenty bream and school jew around the headlands and beach gutters for those not chasing the pelagics.

After rain, mulloway can be targeted on lures very effectively around the river mouths – which may be well worth noting.

Everything so far indicates this Summer will again be listed as a La Niña event. This Pacific-wide climate system usually means warmer water temperatures off our coast and Eastern Australia will have above average rainfall, although it’s not predicted to be quite as wet as last Summer. Let’s hope not!

I’d just like to leave you with one reminder for the Summer: whether waiting in line at the boat ramp, trying to pick a spot on a crowded headland or just picking up your rubbish when leaving, please be aware of others and remember we are all here for the same thing – to enjoy the beautiful Coffs coast and the superb fishing it offers.

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