Many years ago Port Macquarie use to be a sleepy little holiday town and during my early years, the family use to pack up and head off there at the beginning of the Summer holidays for five weeks of swimming, fishing and general winding down.
As a kid back then it seem to take forever to get there, especially when it use to take an hour-and-a-half to get from Ramsgate to Hornsby and from there the winding roads would seem to go on forever. Back then the trip used to take us about seven hours.
Port Macquarie has gone through a renaissance since then and has become a bustling, expanding community that has still retained its old-world charm and laid-back attitude. And with a host of road improvements, it took us only five hours to travel from southern Sydney to our destination at the Beachside Holiday Apartments at Flynns Beach, Port Macquarie.
Once we had settled in, our toughest choice was to decide what to do first, go for a swim in the pool or at the beach, go for a fish, visit some friends, go shopping or just lie around and do nothing. None of the family seemed to care, all that mattered was that we were there.
There is so much to see and do in the area and it takes a bit of planning to work out what you would like to see first. Within 40 minutes’ drive of Port Macquarie are such small gems as Camden Haven, North Haven, Dunbogan, Kew, Laurieton, the Comboyne Plateau, Bonny Hills, Diamond Head, Wauchope’s Timber Town and chocolate factory, wines at Bargo and that famous surfing and fishing spot, Crescent Head.
Port Macquarie has so much to offer anglers and they keep coming back to the place year after year. Port Macquarie is at the entrance to the Hastings River and is serviced by four bait and tackle shops, two deep-sea charter operations, one beach guide and an estuary sports fishing charter.
I managed to do a bit of beach fishing at Lighthouse, Town and, of course, Flynns beaches. I used whitebait and live beach worms and caught sand whiting to 36cm, yellowfin bream to 32cm, tailor to 40cm, dart to 36cm, dusky flathead to 39cm, numerous rays and, believe it or not, a brown groper of about 1.5kg.
Other beaches worth a look are at Bonny Hills, North Haven Dunbogan, Grants in the south and in the north you could try North Shore beach that stretches from the northern Port breakwall to Queens Head and Goolawah Beach, just south of Crescent Head. Bream, tailor, sand and dusky flathead, dart, mulloway and sharks frequent these beaches and the best way to find out what’s biting would be to contact any of the local bait and tackle shops. Or, if you are looking for guided beach trip, you could always contact Charlie from Castaway Beach Fishing Tours and have him do all the work of finding out where the fish are.
If beach fishing is not your game, there are some great rock venues. There are many rocky outcrops around the town, meaning you don’t have to go to far for a fish. While we were there anglers were catching luderick off Town Beach adjacent to the rocks in the middle of the beach and bream and tailor were being caught off the breakwall.
Tacking Point is a consistent tailor spot, along with mulloway, drummer and luderick. Point Plomer is a spot that you cannot go past once you have seen it. Mulloway, drummer, bream, luderick, tailor and the odd tuna are caught there.
Another headland to try is a place called Big Hill, which has a series of deep, sandy gutters to the south and rock platforms to the north. A little farther north you come across Racecourse Headland and even though the best parts of these rocks are cut off from the mainland by deep gutters, Racecourse is also a great venue.
While we were at Port I couldn’t resist having a go for bream, dusky flathead and anything else that came along in the canals. This whole area is a four-knot speed zone, making it easy for anglers to poke around the many pontoons, moorings, sandy beaches and rocky points at a leisurely pace.
Our second day at Port found Jock Garven, my son, Chris, and I casting minnows, soft plastics and unweighted baits all through this country. We landed a few dusky flathead up to 58cm, bream to 39cm on Attacks, Willos, Squidgies, Atomics and whitebait. I was also belted by something that was very big, only to lose it on the bottom of one of the moored boats. I was told it could have been a big trevally or a mangrove jack. One thing that we did have the pleasure to see while up in the canals was a small pod of dolphins.
Many other places are definitely worth a cast for bream, sand whiting, flathead and mulloway on lures. The wharves in the main part of town, any of the boats ramps in the river, the oyster leases, the rocky points and any of the many sand flats in the river systems are very fishable.
For bait-fishers, a good place to start would be the drift along the northern training wall down to the Settlement Point ferry. Here you can catch bream, flathead, sand whiting, luderick, trevally, tailor and the odd mulloway. If you stick in close to the shore you will find that this stretch of water is fairly protected from the Summer north-easters.
Even though Limeburners Creek is small, there are some very big fish in there. during our Summer holiday, before the drought broke, I couldn’t help noticing the clarity of the water and the numbers of garfish and mullet that came into our berley trail. These fish were caught and kept for bait while fishing off the rocks at Lighthouse beach.
Farther upstream, the Maria River joins the Hastings. The Maria has rock bars that are home to some monster flathead and bream, yabby flats, deep holes, drop-offs, oyster leases, bridge pylons, snags that are worth exploring and many more fish-holding places. Care must be taken when first negotiating the Maria and a reliable sounder is a must.
I travelled up to the Hacks Ferry Road and fished my way back downstream on the run-out tide, picking up flathead, bream, whiting, garfish, mullet and the odd oversized ray. You can also get mud and blue swimmer crabs, so it is worth putting out a few witches’ hats while you are exploring this part of the river.
The Hastings River up above the Dennis Bridge over the Pacific Highway breaks off to the north and heads out around Quetta and Little Rawdon Islands meeting back up with the main part of the river near Oxley Head. Even though the river there is shallow in places you can target flathead, bream, sand whiting, luderick, sand mullet and garfish. Try catching some poddy mullet or yellowtail for live bait and you will be surprised at the size of the flathead you can get.
On our January trip it was fairly windy and it wasn’t until the second-last day that Chris and I were able to get offshore. Tony and Wally from Odyssey Deep Sea Fishing Charters picked us up at 6am and after a safety talk, we were heading out between the breakwalls on their 12-metre Cougar Cat that had everything that you would want for a day’s fishing offshore.
We headed south to a reef called Petersons and it wasn’t long before the fish started to come over the side. Chris caught three blue morwong, some very large nannygai, a couple of marbled flathead and a snapper. I managed only two blue morwong, a couple of plate-sized nannygai, one sand flathead and some rather large sweep.
The other anglers aboard also caught pigfish, samson and mahi mahi, sergeant baker and a pearl perch. Fresh squid and strips of fresh slimy mackerel were the baits of the day. On the way back we had a small pod of dolphins keep us company until we were just off Flynns Beach. I noticed Wally cleaned all the fish for the clients and made sure that everyone got a feed.
It wasn’t all fishing and swimming for out family at Port Macquarie. We drove racing karts around a circuit at Pacific Park, just south of the highway turn-off. Host Dianne, Wayne and Garrett, Halder and the rest of their kart-mad family assured us that we would have a ball and we weren’t disappointed .
All our daughter Alissa wanted to do was have ride a camel on Lighthouse Beach and even though I’m not really a good camel jockey, she seemed to enjoy herself immensely.
The Port Macquarie Bowling Club has a great seafood buffet and you can visit the Bargo Vineyards for a jazz, food and wine-tasting day, the local golf course is a beauty or you can go for a river cruise. Or, as Alissa did, you can look in every one of a seemingly endless number of surf shops. The whole family had a great time at Port Macquarie and there was something for everyone to do. Even after all these years, I can still recommend the place for a great family holiday
• Port Macquarie Tackle, Shop 2, 141 Gordon Street, Phil Whatson and Chris Blanch, 6584 9972
• Fisherman’s Corner, 1A Murray Street, Scott and Therese McCrohan, phone 6583 1111
• Ned Kelly’s Bait & Tackle, 42 Gordon Street, Jason and Virginia Isaac, 6583 8318
• Settlement Point Boat Shed, Settlement Point, 6583 6300
• Andrew’s Sports Store, 64 Clarence Street, 6583 2226
• Odyssey Charters, Tony and Bev Mulcahy, 0412 288 116 or 6582 2377, www.odysseycharters.com.au
• Ocean Star, John Bolton, 0416 240 877 or 6584 6965
• Estuary Sportsfishing Tours, Wayne Bale, 0412 727 675 or 6582 2545
• Castaway Beach Fishing Tours, Charlie Busby, 0428 825 261 or 6582 5261
No matter what bar you cross to put to sea, it needs to be respected, even the Hastings bar at Port Macquarie. It is advisable for all occupants of a boat crossing any bar to wear lifejackets.
Eager customers aboard Odyssey Charters go through the safety drill with Tony Mulcahy before they head offshore.
This angler was doing the right thing. He had just caught a bream from the breakwall and was measuring it to make sure it was legal.
There are plenty of land-based possies, such as this wharf in the main part of town.
The Beachside Resort at Flynns Beach. The café down at Flynn’s cooks a great breakfast.
For those who like getting sand between their toes there is some great beach fishing to be had. Lighthouse Beach is just one of many.
Feeding time at the cleaning tables.
This little feeder creek near the entrance to the Maria River is a good place to start chasing flathead and bream.
Limeburners Creek may be only shallow but it holds some big flathead, whiting, bream, luderick and even the odd mulloway. And don’t be surprised to see dolphins.
The canals at Port Macquarie feature plenty of pontoons, rocky walls, drop-offs and deep holes – perfect bream territory.
An Odyssey Charters client with a teraglin – just part of a very mixed bag of bottom fish.
Part of the Odyssey Charters catch on ice –pearl perch, morwong, nannygai, pigfish and snapper.
The author wasn’t a big fan of camels but his daughter, Alissa, could dream of nothing more exciting.