YAMBA is one of the best-kept secrets of the East Coast. Perched at the mouth of the Clarence River, some 20km east of the Pacific Highway, it's far enough away from the main drag to keep the majority of through traffic from coming into town. Just a four-hour drive south of Brisbane, Yamba is the ideal long weekend destination for anglers living just north of the border.
There are well-maintained caravan and cabin parks in the town, catering for family holidays with the kids, and small boat operators can have a field day chasing a variety of species in the calm waters of the Clarence. The lakes and channels that run off the main stream stretch for many kilometres inland, providing even calmer water for canoeists and small punt fishers. The large man-made groins encompassing the seaway provide land-based anglers with great platforms for fishing for rock blackfish, luderick and jew, and there are numerous coastal headlands north and south of the town that provide access to big jewfish off the rocks during Summer.
The following is a guide to the local species, and when and where to catch them.
This species is dominant in the lower reaches of the Clarence, and will take lures, bait and fly. These fish can be caught from the shore, with the best catches coming from the stone walls installed out in the river's shallows to prevent wave surge. The water is often very clear, and the best fishing comes after a flush of fresh has come down the river and dirtied the water. This encourages fish to enter the river from the sea, and to bite during the day in those low light conditions. When the water is crystal clear you will need to be on the water very early and fish till about eight o'clock in the morning. At this point, the sun striking the water from a high angle forces the fish to retreat into their holes in the wall.
Flathead like rocks protruding from the wall. It may only be one or two rocks that fell off the stack when the wall was made, but it's enough to invite the bigger flathead. Cast your baits so that they sink down the sides of these rocks. A skittish, nervous bait means that a predator is close by, and a few taps on the line indicates a potential flathead for the boat. If you catch a large fish from one spot, chances are there'll be only smaller fish left - often the males. If you want a feed, please take the small fish above the size limit and let the big girls go. If you're fishing for a trophy photograph, moving along the wall while trying all the protruding rocks will produce the goods. There are two large rock walls off the bank on the opposite side of the Clarence River at Iluka that are also worth a try for flathead. The prime season is Summer through to April.
Flathead lures include any that are metallic, especially gold. I run them deep so they get down to their depth quickly beside the rocks and, if trolled along the edge of the wall, they kick up a lot of sand. Halco Scorpions are brilliant and so are the Poltergeists, the latter tending to troll with their head down with the large bib ahead of the hooks, preventing the lure from snagging in the structure. A flathead coming from behind is in trouble though, with both hooks exposed to its gaping mouth.
The best bait for flathead is live herring, which can be caught on bait jigs at a couple of locations along Middle Wall. The first spot is the navigation channel toward the western end, which is marked with buoys. On an incoming tide the water races through this gap, and the bait can be found on the fringes of the turbulence on the Yamba side of the wall. An outgoing tide finds the herring on the fringes of the turbulence on the opposite side of the wall. Small boats use this opening to gain access to the upper reaches of the river, so avoid anchoring in the opening.
Another gap is located halfway along the wall to the east. This opening has navigation lights and is used by the ferries travelling between Yamba and Iluka on the opposite side of the Clarence. The Yamba trawler fleet also uses this opening and will be going to sea from about 4pm, returning from first light to 9am the next morning. With so little space it's best to stay well away from the opening of this passage.
You can also collect bait at the eastern end of Middle Wall. With an incoming tide the water boils over the end of the wall, and the bait is a short distance from it. Your sounder will black out with turbulence here, and often the herring will be just in front of the upwellings of current. The balls can be so thick that they too will black the sounder screen out.
Just around the point of the wall is also worth a cast with a jig. The herring will be tight on the rocks.
The southern groin of the seaway is about 100 metres east of the end of the wall, and at that spot there's a rocky point protruding from the main wall that's marked with a navigation marker. The locals refer to this as the ‘T’, and you can also find bait here.
Use a hook rig with extra-long shank hooks tied directly to mono trace, keeping the overall weight at the terminal end to a minimum and allowing the live bait to swim naturally. Mustad’s 4540s have a half-inch extra-long shank, and the fine brown wire in a hook 4/0 to 5/0 will not upset the live bait movement. Another hook worth trying is the Mustad 37753NPNP in a 6/0. This Big Mouth hook can be tied straight to a monofilament trace and will ride neatly over the back of the bait, helping to keep it upright.
Jewies, another Summertime fish, often come into the mouth of the Clarence, especially after a flush of water from upstream. At the east end of Middle Wall, where the incoming tide boils over the rocks, the water depth drops from the surrounding sandy flats (about two to three metres deep) down to 10 metres. Fishing this hole with live herring might produce the goods.
The edges of the groins of the seaway also produce good fish during the dark hours and at first light. The very end of the southern groin is worth a look with a livebait as well, and locals do very well here before first light. You can also jig for herring here to top-up your bait supply.
The locals fish with large lures for jewfish with great success. Some of the fish weighed in at Yamba Bait and Tackle nudge the 30kg mark, so it’s a safe bet that the lures have to be big ones with equally strong rings and trebles! Another option is to use lures and dead baits such as squid and slimeys around on the headlands.
These fish invade the mouth of the Clarence around May each year, and take up residence on the rock walls during the Winter months. The locals love these fish and venture out en masse in hot pursuit.
You can catch rock blackfish using green or black weed suspended under a float and drifted down the wall with the incoming tide. Look for the black weed in the creeks and lakes inland. Weed that is bulky with lots of organisms growing on it, along with sand and mud, is the prime bait. The black weed rather than the green is the superior bait for blackfish.
Both mud crabs and sand crabs can be caught in this system, and the shallow waters along the rock walls off Iluka are often worth a try. The mud crabs arrive at around September and stay in the system until April, moving around the mangrove creeks that feed the lakes. The blue swimmer crabs (sand crabs) have been in attendance for the past 12 months, but they usually follow a season similar to that of the mud crabs.
You can find these fish along the rock walls, and they also hang around the pylons where the trawlers gather in the mooring basin. The usual yabby baits, prawns and small lures will work for bream, but don’t be surprised if you pull a stud mangrove jack from the trawler moorings.
The majority of these fish are caught outside the system. The seabed immediately outside of the seaway is fairly monotonous, but further out – both north and south – the bottom is rocky with bommies and drop-offs that hold the fish.
Water that’s eight to 20 metres deep is often a good place to start, and it’s best to fish with dead baits with the least amount of weight. Quite often your line will be out 50 metres with minimal weight on it, but that’s where your berley will be settling. A running sinker is preferable if you’re using one at all.
Some of the small bommies will attract clouds of baitfish, and many of these are yellowtail. Jigging a couple of these and floating them out the back under a balloon will at best attract a large cobia or perhaps a bonito – the latter being handy to have in the bait box and berley pot. The yellowtail make a pretty good snapper bait when they’re live, but some extra lead is required to get them down close to the bottom.
There are two ramps within a stone’s throw of the caravan parks. One is down next to Moby Dick Apartments and has plenty of parking for boats and trailers between the apartments and the Fisherman’s Co-op. It has a small pontoon and at low water it’s shallow, so driving the boat on the trailer is not advisable when water is at this level. There is a fish-cleaning table located here.
The other ramp is a couple of hundred metres towards town, and is at the eastern side of a double-storey building – the Grafton and District Angling Club camp. This ramp is starting to break up and is shallower than the other one.
There’s an excellent ramp further upstream near Crystal Waters Estate on Gumnut Road, and it features a good pontoon for tying to and excellent fish cleaning facilities.
There’s a large tackle shop in the main street, and some of the other retail outlets such as service stations sell tackle. The BP service station near the two ramps at No. 11 Yamba Road is home to The Bait Place, and these guys have the finger on the pulse as to what’s getting caught and where. They have a full range of gear, including scales to weigh the big one, and it’s the place to pick up your NSW fishing licence if you don’t already have one.
1) A monster flathead taken from the walls on the Iluka side of the Clarence River.
2) The author with a large estuary cod taken on a snapper drop south of the Clarence River mouth.
3) Damien Huckstepp with a bonito taken on a live yellowtail suspended below a balloon float.
4) Small snapper were around on the author’s last trip to Yamba, with the big reds noticeably absent.
5) Damien Huckstepp with a healthy flathead from Middle Wall.Reads: 23413