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Fishing at Burning Palms


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Everybody has favourite places that they've been to, whether it's a fishing area, holiday destination or just somewhere that brings a smile to the face when thinking of it. Growing up in Sydney, if you loved bushwalking, camping and fishing, it was pretty hard to beat going down to the Royal National Park. Prior to the park being closed to camping, there were heaps of great coastal spots for both camping and fishing. Marley and Little Marley, Garie and Little Garie, Curracurang, Wattamolla, North and South Era, Burning Palms and Werrong were all good camp grounds, right on the water and offered some excellent rock and beach fishing.

While we were still at school, long before anyone was old enough to own a car, our "go-to" spot for camping was Burning Palms, just south of Garie Beach in the Royal. To get there a train to Central, then another to Sutherland, where you'd change and wait for the old "rail motor"- a two or maximum four carriage diesel powered train- because the electrified railway line ended at Sutherland in those days and the only train servicing the coast was the "motorail", which would wind it's way through the valleys beyond the suburb of Waterfall. You had two choices of Station to alight from to access the coast of the Park; the first being the concrete platform of Lilyvale, (which was removed during the 80's) and the second and most popular, Otford Railway Station.

Once up the really steep hill from Otford station, a few minutes walking and you were at the southern extremity of the National Park and the start of what's now known as the Otford to Bundeena coast track, a very popular and scenic walk, that travels mainly on the high escarpment along the coast. 

To get to Burning Palms, the walk from Otford with a full pack takes about two hours and takes you through some really interesting country, including an area known as The Palm Jungle, which is a coastal rainforest and great to walk through, nothing like it I know of anywhere close to Sydney. After you exit the jungle, with it's enclosing canopy above, you suddenly find yourself out in the open on dry grassland and you pass above the famous Figure Eight Pools, which lie on a really large rock platform down below. These pools have become a major tourist attraction for hikers and are unique, interesting and large enough to have a dip in if the sea isn't too rough. The pools are a "must" when going to the area.

Alternatively, by car, you drive through the park, take the Garie Beach turn-off and about 50 meters in there's a road that takes you to Garrawarra farm and car park, where the walk in is considerably shorter- around 35 minutes down (3km against about 8+km from Otford)

On arrival at the Palms, our favourite campsite was tucked up in the most south-eastern corner about 200 meters away from the beach, not far from the Park Rangers Hut. The ranger's hut is usually only occupied on weekends, mainly during summer and for over 40 years the same ranger would be roaming the area, checking on camping permits and the like. He was a very knowledgeable man and very friendly, loved a chat and filled us in on a lot of the early history of the area, including telling us that our tent site used to be known as "Hotel Depression" and had permanent residents many years earlier. There is still a concrete slab, now covered by grass, up in the corner and was occupied by the permanent residents for some time. Depending on rainfall, there's a small trickling creek between Hotel Depression and the rangers hut and freshwater yabbies are often present also.

After the second world war and previously during the depression, many people that were down on their luck moved into different parts of the park and the "hut communities" were born. Initially, some simple huts were erected, some surviving to this day and all building materials including cement for the floor slabs and glass for the windows had to be carried in on people's backs the 3km from the car park up top, no easy feat. The huts have been modernised and communities have been allowed to remain,  I believe until the existing owners pass, then they'll be removed. They were allowed to remain as they had formed a land-care group and are involved with both preservation and maintenance of the area. Having had the pleasure of staying in one of the huts on two occasions, I can vouch for people living there in the serenity of such a magic location.

Back to camping! Once your campsite had been formed, tents up and fireplace organised (fires no longer permitted) it was straight down for a swim at the beach, often followed by either a beach worming session then a beach fish or alternatively a fish off the southern end's rock platform, known as "Oyster"- as the name implies, plenty of very small but tasty (if you like them that is!) oysters grow naturally on the platform.

The platform at Oyster, although about 3-4 meters above sea level, is very flat and only comfortably fished when the sea is calm. There are 3 main fishing areas-

1) the very front which is the furthest out section and known as "little blowhole" because of a tiny blowhole about the size of saucer. This hole periodically almost closes over with growth, until a few days of bigger seas pressurise water from below, up the hole and clear it. This is a great Luderick spot, drifting your float over the visible dark patches of reef that sit atop a sand bottom. Burley is pushed into the blowhole which ensures it is distributed under the surface, rather than kicking burley in which fails to sink as close. As the drift is quite slow at this spot, side-cast Luderick reels are used in preference to centrepins, as a decent cast out over the dark reef patches is needed for quickest results. Depth under the float is the standard 3-3.5 meters and plenty of cabbage bait is on site.

From the same spot, Bream, Trevally, Groper and Black Drummer are caught and it is also a location known for XOS sized Tailor, which patrol the breaking wave area to the south of the position. If I was chasing a really large Tailor around Sydney, this would be my number one choice of spots, not for numbers, but for size. Spinning with either large poppers or Garfish is the method to use and you need to use 10kg line as the fish need to be lifted- there isn't anywhere to wash them up.

2) To the right hand extremity of the ledge there is a larger blowhole about a meter in diameter, which is a top Luderick spot also, with land-able sized Black Drummer often taking the cabbage baits. Same idea putting burley in the hole for close-in distribution. There is a catch to fishing this spot though- you need a net about 3.5-5 meters long as again, there's no place to wash fish out on the light line.

3) To the left hand side of the platform there is an excellent gutter between the platform and a rock islet (known as "The Tablet") this is a really excellent fishing gutter, with plenty of small Black Drummer during the day and Luderick and Bream in the afternoons when the sun is behind you and going over the high escarpment.. Of all the places I've fished, it's my favourite for catching nice eating sized Drummer (called Rock Blackfish these days)- not generally real big fish, but in the 1kg+/- size range. 

This gutter is only safe to fish on calm days and the last half of the outgoing tide, first part of the incoming, due to a natural and continuous wave-break adjacent the rock outcrop- when the tide is half out and sea calm, there is enough height to fish safely.

 The way to fish the gutter for the Drummer is to use a running bobby cork about the size of a small egg, with appropriate sized sinker to weight it down, which sits on a swivel and about 45-60cm of leader and then hook. As the top bait is cunje and it can be collected both on-site and in amongst the boulders between the beach and the platform, the obvious hook pattern to use is the Mustad "Big Red" suicide (octopus) pattern and either a 1/0 or 2/0 is fine. These hooks are "extra strong" and the same colour as the cunje.

The depth you fish is generally governed by the height of the tide, but 3 to 4 meters is about right and the pulse spot is as close as you can place your cork to the centre of the outcrop opposite where you stand. If you start catching Kelpfish you are fishing too deep, so adjust your depth a bit shallower. There's a small but visible water "drain" on the outcrop (which is also covered with cunje) and with water flowing over it, is a natural place for hungry Drummer to be looking for a feed. As the majority of fish caught at this spot are usually under 1.5kg, line strength in the 6-8kg range is fine and if you use a leader minimally less than your main line, say 5-7kg, in the event of any bust-offs or snagged fish, you only lose your hook or leader at worst. 

I've found that although there are some good Bream present in the gutter, when using cunje at this spot, they don't usually get to the bait before the Drummer do, however, if you take the time to catch a few crabs, they always seem to bite freely on them. Bread, cooked or peeled green prawns and cut crab will also catch fish in this great spot and I've hooked a couple of large "unstoppable" fish in there that I assume were big Snapper, that bolted way out of the gutter at speed and busted me off on the reef outside. Just remember that this location is only realistic when the sea is really calm, like when the westerlies are blowing hard.

The Figure Eight Pools

About 15 minutes walk further around from Oyster, the Eight's are situated on an extremely large platform that can accommodate plenty of fishers. The bottom here has a lot of sand patches and throwing a bait like a Pilchard or Garfish with a large sinker accounts for some good fish on the bottom. Alternatively, the standard Sydney rock hopper's rig of a small ball sinker running between swivel and hook, with prawn or Pilchard tails as bait. Tailor, Salmon, Snapper, Bream, Trevally and Mulloway are all caught off the Eights and in summer it's a great spot for spinning with metals or drifting out a live bait. This was the first place I saw someone using a live Rock Cale for bait and the result was a large Mulloway. We used to take Rabbit pellets here for burley and the fish we caught usually had the red pellet in their gut, showing they are effective burley. Luderick are fished for down in the southern corner, where all the ledge's water runs off.

Between Oyster and The Eights, there is another small ledge that is an excellent Bream and Drummer spot, but again, only realistic towards low tide on calm seas, as there is another natural wave break there and a spray-jacket is also a must as the water splashes up high and showers down on you. The method here is to again use a bobby cork and fish over the dark reef patches with the cork set about a meter deep and unlike the gutter, cunje is really good here for Bream.

Burning Palms Beach

The beach turns on some good fishing at times, with all the usual beach species. There are a couple of patches of boulders close in to the middle of the beach and they are good places for Bream and at times Luderick, fishing on the bottom instead of traditional float rigs. On bigger high tides, there is often a good gutter up at the north end of the beach and there are beach worms present for bait. The beach is patrolled on weekends in summer also.

When going to the Palms to fish, the best time is when the sea is flat and the westerly winds blowing. It's a beautiful and scenic location, with abundant wildlife, including small wallabies, bandicoots, possums and many bird species. There are also plenty of introduced species frequenting the area, including rabbits, foxes and at times quite a lot of deer (there have been several deer culls but they never get them all). When around the hut areas, many of the animals are quite used to people, as they often get a feed and I've shared a really small patch of grass with a wallaby, bandicoot, possum, rabbit, deer and an owl all at the same time, which was really awesome for myself and my good mate Fraser L.

I hope this inspires folks to have a trip down there for a fish or just a walk and swim, it really is a magical place- just remember to take plenty of water as although there are several small trickling creeks, they can never be relied upon for clean drinking water.

 

 

 

 

 

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Another great and informative read Waza, thanks for sharing your knowledge of the area.

I knew a couple of guys that grew up in those huts. One in the 1950's and an older chap was there during the depression of the 1930's. Both virtually lived off the land and had many a fishing tale to tell, particularly of large blue groper caught on cord handlines and huge catches of blackfish.

Edited by Green Hornet
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10 hours ago, wazatherfisherman said:

The huts have been modernised and communities have been allowed to remain,  I believe until the existing owners pass, then they'll be removed.

Some of these 'owners' are now past the 100 mark, if they were still alive.¬†¬†ūü§£

A business lady I spoke to some years ago told me their family owned a hut, and to keep it going, the original family owner is "still alive and kicking somewhere." She also told me a few things that I would not put into print, just to preserve the security of the huts.

I know the huts you are talking about, having walked past a few times over the years to see the 'modern ammenities' included in their build. That's all you can do when you have to lug in everything through the bush. Capturing and storing their own water makes sense.

Another very interesting read. I have spent time in  the park, more so in my younger days, but not visited as many places as you.

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Thanks for the story Waza - I camped and fished down there in the late 70's, hiking in from Otford just as you describe.  Caught my one and only Mulloway at Burning Palms - still have the photos and it looks to be about a metre judging by the 51/2 inch Alvey lying next to it.  Got it off the rocks at the northern end of the beach in the afternoon using the standard pilchard on ganged hooks rig.  I guess I was about 16 at the time and when it took off on its first run I can remember thinking it was headed to Wollongong.  By some minor miracle I managed to land it after walking around to the beach.

Went back there a couple of years ago for a hike - came in from the south, camped ay North Era (the only place where camping is now allowed) and caught the ferry out at Bundeena.   No fishing but still a great walk - the cliffs north of Garie Beach are quite spectacular with miles of inaccessible rock hopping territory.  I remember we would sneak a beer at the Bundeena RSL in the 70's - it was a simple fibro shed with a few photos of diggers around the wall.  Much bigger and glitzier now! 

I guess limiting the camping to North Era makes sense as the city has grown but I felt sorry for todays kids when i walked past spots at Curracurrang and Little Marley where we just stopped and camped back in the day.

From memory I think the NSW government has changed their policy toward the hut dwellers - they did have rule to pull them down when the owners died/moved away but I kind of think they now allow them to pass on to family and friends.  Not 100% sure of this but hope I am right.  As you mention some great Sydney history from the depression years.

Where else in the national park did you fish Waza?  

 

 

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6 hours ago, Green Hornet said:

Another great and informative read Waza, thanks for sharing your knowledge of the area.

I knew a couple of guys that grew up in those huts. One in the 1950's and an older chap was there during the depression of the 1930's. Both virtually lived off the land and had many a fishing tale to tell, particularly of large blue groper caught on cord handlines and huge catches of blackfish.

Hi Pete the whole area is great country for Pigs, Blackies, Groper and Bream, with plenty of food for them. Cunje grows abundantly throughout the area and is accessible to the fish on higher tides and there's all manner of natural bait for the fish.

I'm sure a lot of people survived down there due to the great fishing

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1 hour ago, Dee Why Jim said:

Thanks for the story Waza - I camped and fished down there in the late 70's, hiking in from Otford just as you describe.  Caught my one and only Mulloway at Burning Palms - still have the photos and it looks to be about a metre judging by the 51/2 inch Alvey lying next to it.  Got it off the rocks at the northern end of the beach in the afternoon using the standard pilchard on ganged hooks rig.  I guess I was about 16 at the time and when it took off on its first run I can remember thinking it was headed to Wollongong.  By some minor miracle I managed to land it after walking around to the beach.

Went back there a couple of years ago for a hike - came in from the south, camped ay North Era (the only place where camping is now allowed) and caught the ferry out at Bundeena.   No fishing but still a great walk - the cliffs north of Garie Beach are quite spectacular with miles of inaccessible rock hopping territory.  I remember we would sneak a beer at the Bundeena RSL in the 70's - it was a simple fibro shed with a few photos of diggers around the wall.  Much bigger and glitzier now! 

I guess limiting the camping to North Era makes sense as the city has grown but I felt sorry for todays kids when i walked past spots at Curracurrang and Little Marley where we just stopped and camped back in the day.

From memory I think the NSW government has changed their policy toward the hut dwellers - they did have rule to pull them down when the owners died/moved away but I kind of think they now allow them to pass on to family and friends.  Not 100% sure of this but hope I am right.  As you mention some great Sydney history from the depression years.

Where else in the national park did you fish Waza?  

 

 

Hi Jim I also feel for the younger generation as there aren't many places to camp around Sydney any more, especially accessible by public transport. A "child excursion" ticket was all you needed to get anywhere and they were 30 cents return from memory. 

They used to close all the camp sites I mentioned on a rotating basis- usually for 2-3 years at a time for regeneration purposes, but only a couple of areas at a time, leaving plenty of options for bush camping.

Other spots I fished were Marley ledges, Garie (too crowded), North and South Curracurang, The Gulf, Werrong and twice down the cliff at Eagle Rock- which was a well made fishing spot.

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