The twin towns of Forster and Tuncurry are connected by a kilometre-long bridge and surrounded by some of the best fishing the NSW Mid North Coast has to offer.
The diverse nature of the estuary, ocean and shoreline provides year-round options for anglers.
The centrepiece of the Great Lakes region is Wallis Lake, along with Smiths Lake some 40 minutes’ drive south.
With an area of around 74 square kilometres and with four rivers feeding the lake from the mountains, the estuary habitat changes throughout the expanses of the lake. From shallow sand bars bathed in crystal-clear water to the snag-filled and mangrove-lined tributaries, the estuary fishing is extremely diverse.
Wallis Lake is famous for the plump oysters that are grown in its clean waters and the structure of the leases also provide ample cover, food and protection for many fish species.
Forster is a favourite tournament venue for ABT and similar events, with the area attracting many of the country’s top anglers and large fields of boats. The diversity of the lake caters for every style of bream luring, from surface and weed flats to structure and deep water wall jigging.
The many leases in the lake direct the tidal flow to channels and around islands, creating eddies, backwaters and pockets to throw a bait or lure.
Perhaps the most popular fishing area in the lake is The Paddock, a blend of leases and flats just up from the bridge. The Paddock is a popular bait and lure fishing venue with many big flathead, bream and whiting falling to eager anglers.
Early mornings there also are schools of tailor that invade the deeper channels.
Other significant and popular fishing spots around the lake include Breckenridge Channel, which runs along Little Street close to the Forster CBD, and the area opposite Red Spot Boatshed and the Boardwalk, which is a great flathead area especially on a falling tide when the prolific lake prawns run in the warmer months.
The Boardwalk is a very popular holiday fishing platform and the weed and sand channel holds all manner of fish, from big blackfish, mullet, gar, bream, whiting and flathead to some curiosities like the elongated flutemouth and an aquarium of stripies and more exotic smaller fish under the pontoon.
The Cut is divided by the Wallamba River and a Broadwater of the lake. Shell grit and oyster shells line the banks where the Wallamba Channel allows boat access to the upper stretches. The area is scattered with oyster leases and fishes well at the change of tide.
The Step is a shallow bar of sand that leads into the lake proper and deeper water on the eastern side of Wallis Island.
Fringed by seagrass beds, this area is ideal for setting a few witches’ hats for blue swimmer crabs or dropping a bait for flathead, flounder, bream and whiting.
On the run-in tide, tailor and other species like longtom and pike patrol the drop-off for the schools of baitfish that are swept over the sand.
Hells Gate, at the western end of Godwin Island, is so called due to the rush of water around the end of it. The shallow edge of Godwin Island soon regains depth along the north side, back toward the oyster sheds. Drifting this area will produce flathead bream and leatherjackets and often whiting on the surface during the warmer months.
Tributaries such as the Wallamba, Wang Wauk, and Coolongolook rivers fish well for flathead and surface action on bream and will produce mud crabs too.
From Seal Rocks to the south and Old Bar and Harrington to the north, the rock and beach fishing available is ample and rewarding.
The rocky, broken headlands and intermediate reef outcrops provide often precarious but worthwhile fishing locations. And unlike places farther afield, these spots are close enough to each other to hop from one to another in search of fish.
Each beach is bookended by rocky headlands and tight pockets of water.
Sand Bar is renowned for producing many beach jewfish, especially when the entrance to Smiths Lake is open.
The shallow flats and warm waters of Smiths Lake provide plenty of flathead and flounder with stud whiting and some bream. Part of Smiths Lake is a sanctuary in the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park so make yourself aware at the boat ramp or by visiting the Marine Park’s website, www.mpa.nsw.gov.au/psglmp.html.
Further north of Sand Bar and Smiths Lake are Blueys, Boomerang and Elizabeth beaches which all fish well, though it is more the rock fishing opportunities offered by the adjoining headlands that attract anglers.
Between Elizabeth and Boomerang is Charlottes Head, a great live-baiting platform that has its share of black drummer, groper and bream.
During Autumn silver trevally, tailor, bonito, cobia and longtail tuna are all chances, whether you live bait or spin the washes.
Booti Booti National Park hosts Flat Rock, another of the area’s top live-bait and spinning platforms. It’s a bit of a walk out to Flat Rock so be warned.
At the north end of Seven Mile Beach is Janies Corner, a very popular spot for surfers and anglers. Janies would have to produce the best numbers of big tailor in the area, as well as bream and school jew. Mullet and tailor strips or whole gar and pilchards on ganged hooks are a good starting point.
As winter approaches, salmon can become pests at Janies but they are a great deal of fun.
Bennetts Head is a great close-to-town headland and when the conditions are right, spinning for tailor in the early mornings can be very productive. The broken rocks produce good whitewater and good pig fishing and potholing for blackfish.
Black Head, while a small headland, offers good broken reef whitewater with live-baiting off the front in suitable conditions. Good pigs and some big groper live in the rugged reefs and travelling schools of bream and blackfish frequent the area during Winter.
THE ANGLING CALENDAR
The beginning of May marks the ramping up of the travelling species like bream and blackfish. They gather in the lower part of Wallis Lake prior before heading to the ocean rocks, with many good schools of bream holding around the bridge and nearby oyster leases before moving on the run-out tide under the cover of darkness.
Once travelling up the coast, the blackfish change from pedantic current-fed weed-eaters to grazing masses that once the sun goes down will eat cooked prawns and yabbies (preserved and live) in any rocky crevice that can hold enough water.
‘Potholing’ for blackfish after dark from the ocean rocks is very popular with many locals. It can be done very safely if risk assessments are carried out and not compromised.
Some large tailor tend to show up periodically along the coast and while there is always a population of choppers around the lake, the large greenbacks often turn up from the rocks and beaches at spots like Janies Corner.
The cooler months afford a favoured time to chase tailor, salmon and rock blackfish (pigs) from the ocean rocks.
An early morning spin will produce the results and as the sun gets up and the tailor schools thin, pigs offer a great way to fill a bag. A rising tide and cooked prawn baits flicked around any of the broken reef areas off the headlands will produce fish.
The best plan of attack is to nominate a couple of headlands and if one spot doesn’t fire, move to the next. All the headlands from Seal Rocks in the south up to Old Bar are fishable and all hold good pigs.
Bass fishing builds up from September and peaks in February when the surface action really takes off. Bass can be found in the Wallamba River near Nabiac and of course in the nearby Manning River.
November marks the start of the aggregation of whiting in lower Wallis Lake around the bridge and The Paddock. Large schools of whiting gather and some move out onto the beaches but during this time they are easily caught on a variety of baits including beach worms and yabbies pumped from the many flats around the lake.
Red spot or trumpeter whiting are also schooling in this area. They are smaller with patchy dull spots and deeper colouration.
The whiting are aggressive and are easily enticed by poppers and skid baits ripped across the surface. Catches of 50 legal fish are possible during this period with 20 being the legal limit per angler.
Flathead also start to congregate for spawning with large females moving down into the clear waters, followed by a legion of males from 36cm to 45cm. Metre-plus females are caught and released every year with many found in the Tuncurry Channel opposite the fish co-op.
November also sees small hammerheads swim in on the rising tide and while they are up to 2m long, most people are blissfully unaware of their presence. The mulloway anglers along the walls, however, lose plenty of baits of an evening to the hammers and whalers.
Beach anglers can expect bream, whiting and dart to be the main fare on the sand with some school jew, tailor and, of course, salmon which are often in plague proportions.
As the water warms and the butter prawns grow in the upper tidal waters, the activity in the rivers increases, as does the surface action for bream. The snaggy, undercut banks of the Coolongolook, Wallamba and Wang Wauk rivers harbour the prawns and the bream can be found slurping and chasing them everywhere.
An increase in baitfish activity generally encourages competition and luring for bream and flathead is at it’s peak through this period.
Bream can be found throughout the estuary, from the farthest weed beds near Pacific Palms to the oyster-encrusted pylons of the bridge.
Prawns and crabs are available from the first ‘dark’ of November/December and generally tails off into May. Mud crabs and blue swimmers are available, with the latter far more prevalent due to the vast seagrass beds and relatively shallow waters of Wallis Lake and surrounding shoreline.
The end of March sees a lot of live-bait enthusiasts trying their luck on cobia and longtail tuna from the rock platforms of Booti Booti and Charlottes Head. The time taken to chase these speedsters is often rewarded but the sharks can act as the tax man and minimise the rewards.
School jewfish haunt the beaches as the mullet move along the coast. Large soft plastics or slabs of mullet and tailor are good baits. Late afternoon and evening just after the full moon on a rising tide and you are half a chance.
Offshore, the billfish and tuna have moved down with the warmer water and finding current line wide of the coast is the key.
An I&I Fisheries FAD and fish trap floats attract high-flying mahi mahi.
Closer inshore, the shallow reefs can fish well for snapper to 9kg with pearl perch, flathead, leatherjackets and teraglin common. Trolling around spots like Latitude Rock, south of Forster, will produce tailor, tuna and some kingfish.
SAFE ROCK FISHING
The sloping bedding and composition of the north coast rocks means that they can be slippery, so appropriate footwear is very necessary. Potholing of an evening is very rewarding through Winter but it is vital to do so with at least one other angler.
Keep a careful watch on the conditions and check out spots during daylight hours to become familiar with them.
Holidaymakers take full advantage of the many wharves around the main part of town. Just be sure that the wharf you’ve chosen to fish from is indeed a public wharf, not private property!Reads: 26366