Lake Cathie (pronounced ‘cat-eye’), a small town with a population of 2000 people, is located approximately 15 minutes south of Port Macquarie on the mid north coast of NSW. Lake Cathie is often thought of as being a relaxing, laid-back holiday destination, and that’s true. However, the other thing Cathie has is one of the best whiting fisheries I have ever fished.
Lake Cathie is actually the second biggest saltwater marsh area in NSW. Also, Cathie is in a situation where it is open and then closed to the sea on a regularly changing basis, and when the lake is open this shallow waterway is pristine.
The town has great accommodation and a local supermarket centre, takeaway food stores, fuel plus a bowling club that boasts the biggest bowls ball in Australia.
The Lake itself boasts a great whiting fishery and you can catch these fish throughout the system pretty easily at times. It also boasts a great prawn run, and is one of the few places around Port Macquarie you can actually go and scoop a feed of prawns. The anglers who use dragnets also can get amongst some good hauls but it is preferable if the lake mouth is closed for this style of prawning, as tidal flow can be hard to drag with or against.
Flathead can be found throughout Lake Cathie as well, and some great fish are landed each year while there are plenty of 36-45cm fish to keep you interested while you’re waiting to hook a big girl.
In summer you may find it difficult to fish the eastern side of bridge as this area is a picnicker’s delight and a great place for a BBQ and a swim on those warmer days. However, after dark when the crowd has diluted around the road bridge you can sometimes get mulloway, estuary cod (protected so please release), whiting and bream. The favourite bait here after dark is live prawns – if you scoop some and can then part with them! Beachworms and pink nippers are also favourites of the night time brigade.
Cathie Beach down to Middle Rock Beach are both worth a shot if you’re keen on doing some beach fishing. The target list is bream, whiting and mulloway, and sometimes you can have some great sport on the salmon (that’s mainly in the cooler months though).
For the offshore anglers, out the front of Cathie features some of the best snapper fishing you will ever see. There are many patches of reef from 10m to 40m, and a well worked plastic accounts for a lot of serious fish here each season. If you’re heading offshore, Port Macquarie is a bit closer but Laurieton to the south is your other option. Just remember both entrances have bars and need to be monitored before heading out. Watch the weather, know the forecast and if in doubt, don’t go out!
Because Lake Cathie is mainly a shallow lake it’s ideal for roof toppers, but for me kayaks in this water seriously rock. I run two Hobie kayaks through my charter operation and these were put together specifically for this system. Yes, I can get my boat in and when lake is closed I do. However, with many spots ankle-deep, kayaking makes better sense and is a much stealthier approach in these shallow waters.
My main target is whiting on poppers, and you will catch these if you know the retrieve. Long casts and a splashy continuous bloop across the surface will be something you need to put into practice. There are many lures that work but a few that stand out are the Bassday Sugapen (pissy prawn colour) the Atomic Hardz Pop, and the ever trusty River2Sea Bubble Pop in white and transparent. Bushy and Starlo’s Stiffy poppers work a treat as well.
One thing I believe with poppers is this: if a popper has a tow point in the middle of the cup face, it will create a better action. It will not bury your lure under the water while retrieving, as lures with the higher or lower points do.
The walk-the-dog style lures and Sugapens are extremely effective on calmer water. If it is windy I tend to use poppers, but if you only have one style stick with it you will catch fish here.
There are a couple of launch areas. One is the ramp on the north-western side of bridge and the other is the Perch Hole which is just north of Cathie. Driving to Port Macquarie you will see the sign on the side of Ocean Drive, and this is where I usually launch the kayaks as you can head up or down here and be straight into the fish.
Flathead can be caught in several ways, all stock standard methods. Plastics are fine here and account for plenty of fish but in this system I like to troll a couple of minnow style hardbodies behind my kayak, approximately 30ft behind. Remember, they only have to dive a few feet to get amongst the fish.
I use plenty of these style lures but a Lake Cathie special is the Damiki Saemi. They would have to be my favourite for this style of fishing, having accounted for many flatties, bream and whiting. Interestingly I have found in Cathie the minnow styles far out-fish the chubby style lures, whilst in the Hastings River at Port Macquarie I find the reverse to be true. I’m not sure why that would be, but charter and personal results over the years definitely point to this.
For this style of fishing a 7’, 1-3kg graphite rod, matched with a 1000 or similar size threadline, loaded with 2-3kg braid will get the job done. One thing I do tend to use are shorter and slightly heavier leaders for my popping. I like a leader of approximately 80cm and 12lb breaking strain. I just think I can track my poppers straighter and bloop them better for my style of retrieve with this leader set-up.
Other gear I carry includes braid scissors, small pliers for removing stubborn hooks, a measuring ruler, a spool of leader, Sax scent and a camera. I also like to keep some ice in the live well of the yak, as this keeps any fish I may want for dinner in tip top condition. Also essential is sunscreen, a wide brimmed hat and polarised sunnies. I wear Makos; I like that they really let me see the whiting following my lures, adding to the excitement of the session.
Over the seasons I have found half tide up to half down to be the best for whiting when the system is open. However when closed, you can fish anytime with surface lures. When the lake is closed (depending on how long for) it will limit the use of trolling diving minnows as the lake bed tends to get a thick weed on it. You will still catch fish but will be consistently removing weed. The better option is plastics, rigged weedless as the flathead still bite in these conditions.
If you are travelling up the mid north coast and would like to spend a day or two in some quiet water I think Lake Cathie would suit you very well, especially if you’re a yak fisher. The great scenery, combined with plenty of flats to fish and easy access, make it a truly special waterway.Reads: 8101