North Coast Winter bream
  |  First Published: July 2004

SPLASH! Another freezing torrent of water runs down into the tiny gap left where my hood joins my raincoat.

I mutter a curse to myself and give that little involuntary twist and shiver that anyone who’s fished the stones in Winter will be only too familiar with.

I’m half wet (mostly the bottom half) and it’s so freezing that I can no longer feel anything much through my fingers. I’m desperately hoping I don’t bust off or get reefed by the next fish because I’m not sure I could tie on a hook.

I’m not even sure my feet are still there but if I move, I hear the reassuring scrape of cleats, so they must be. The cold’s OK, though, because there are already half a dozen ‘snowies’ of a kilo and a very respectable 1.5kg tarwhine bled and sitting in cold water in the bucket up on the high rock and there are still two hours of tide left.

It’s the middle of the night, two nights after the full moon, two hours before low tide in mid-Winter at the southern end of The Bluff, just north of Iluka. The target fish are big ‘snowy’ sea-run bream and even bigger, slab-sided tarwhine the colour of polished platinum.

Apart from a couple of senior citizens who were probably learning to fish with Saint Peter and his mates, I’ve never seen anyone else out there in the middle of a Winter’s night having a go at these fish.

This may be because the senior locals are reluctant to tell anyone about this gig or it could just be that only lunatics run around the rocks at night in the middle of Winter. Whatever the case, I thought I’d break tradition and tell you any of you who may be heading to the Iluka/Yamba area this Winter how to take advantage of some great fishing.


First let’s establish that bream and tarwhine aren’t the only species likely to be encountered at this location. There are big jew, tailor, trevally, luderick, spotted hind (gold-spot blubberlips) and very large dart available from the stones, and whiting from the sand in the corners of the beaches. This article however, will deal with removing big bream and tarwhine from their natural habitat and relocating them to your fridge!

I’m assuming you’ve got suitable rock safety gear (cleats or Kaydee sandals, wet-weather gear, headlamp, etc) fishing gear (I use a Mag Bream rod matched with a Penn Spinfisher 650SS loaded with 6kg line) and you have enough experience to be on the rocks at night.

See Darren or Maree at Dizzy Fishing Tackle in Iluka for directions to The Bluff and for the best fishing/safety gear. The other thing you need to have is what I consider to be the gun piece of information – the bait.

My key to consistent catches at this location has been the use of yabbies or nippers, call them what you will.

Using yabbies off the rocks has improved my catch rate and has also increased the number of species likely to be caught. For instance, using only fish (slimy mackerel, mullet, salted tailor) or gut baits (mullet or blackfish) seems to limit your catch to bream with an occasional school jew every now and then. Using yabbies, you’re likely to catch bream, jew, tarwhine, luderick, spotted hind, drummer, dart and an occasional monster whiting.

You’ll also find that the fish take a yabby very well – they don’t muck around at all, they just gulp the bait down, generally resulting in a very solid take and an excellent hook-up rate.

If you like this sort of fishing and are keen enough, this location can really turn on some fine angling. On some nights it’s not uncommon to catch upwards of 30 or 40 bream plus a few tarwhine and although most fish are, of course, returned to the water, there should be eight or 10 solid fish over a kilo for you to take home – if you want to take that many.

It’s the big tarwhine that I find so much fun. They generally run at about a kilo but it’s not uncommon to take much larger fish. My biggest tarwhine weighed 1.96kg cleaned and fought like a demon.

These fish not only look spectacular straight from the water but also make an excellent table fish with ultra-white, soft textured, well-flavoured flesh. Tarwhine tend to pull much harder than an equal-sized bream and look very snapper-like when first caught.

To the uninitiated, tarwhine might look like bream but the head is much rounder, there are about a dozen faint longitudinal stripes along the body and, when you clean one for the table, there’s the dead giveaway of a black gut cavity lining similar to a mullet’s or a blackfish’s.

You might only catch one or two tarwhine in with the bream but they definitely add variety and, when combined with an occasional luderick, spotted hind or school jew, it’s possible to go home with a nice mixed bag of quality fish.

Of course, fishing the rocks isn’t only about catching fish, there’s just being there, especially at night. If you’re alone on a rock platform in the early hours of the morning, quiet, dark and cold, you may experience a strange sort of feeling that you could be almost anywhere and that there may not be anyone else around for miles. It’s a very satisfying if somewhat dangerous at times way to fish.


Fishing the rocks at night is only for the very experienced and you should probably never do it alone. I only do it alone because I don’t know anyone mad enough to come out with me at that time on a cold Winter’s night and I’ve been fishing the rocks of a night alone for around 20 years.

Still, I’m always careful, never complacent, and always ready to go home if my pre-fishing check shows there’s too much swell running or if the swell comes up while I’m fishing.


So, you’ve driven all the way to Iluka to go fish this great location. Here’s a game plan that could help bring success.

• Go see Dizzy at his shop and suss out the good oil.

• Pump a big bucket of yabbies (ask Dizz for directions if you need to)

• Select a tide hitting low around 4am or 5am and fish two hours either side

• Do a check of the fishing site the afternoon before and monitor swell size/direction and location layout ie, become familiar with the rock platform – it’ll be much easier and safer when you get there at night

• Take your bream gear and a heavier stick (solid 10kg spin outfit) in case you stay all night and want to have a spin for a tailor, jew or trevally around daylight. (Take some heavy red and white feathers with a 10/0 hook in them for the jew.)

• The yabby rig: A 1/0 long-shank hook, chemically sharpened; 30cm trace of fine 6kg line (I use Platypus Platinum) below a swivel and a ball sinker about as big as your thumbnail.

• Cast out and hang on!

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