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Yamba - Estuary Fisherman's Pilgrimage


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Reading fishing magazines is something many of us do. From the articles within, often, there'll be one or two that really get our interest. Sometimes they have an influence on our fishing by seeding us with techniques and ideas that look so good we just have to try them. Articles on locations too, lay the same seeds, leaving spots that go onto our "bucket-list" of places to go to, of course with fishing these spots being the goal.

After reading one such article in the old "Anglers Digest" magazine about fishing Yamba's famous Middle Wall, it was on my bucket list of places to go and fish. Might not seem like a typical bucket-list location, with no huge fish, speedsters or tropical water, however as a keen Luderick fisherman, it is one of the places you just have to get to over your Luderick fishing lifetime.

Reason? Being NSW's largest and most powerful saltwater river, the Clarence (known as 'the big river' up north) sees huge migrations of spawning fish move through the lower part of the estuary during Autumn and Winter. The Bream run comes during May, followed by the Luderick in June and most years there are thousands of fish moving into the lower part of the river on their way to their spawning destination of Wooloweyah Lagoon.  

The fish congregate along the beaches and rocks just outside the river entrance and large schools are seen sitting close in to the shore, waiting for whatever their internal trigger is to get them on the move inside. Once inside the river mouth, the majority head for the middle wall, which is a narrow old stone wall that sits out in the middle of the river and is only just above the waterline when the tides are at their largest. The wall stretches out from the uninhabited Freeburn Island on it's upriver side to about 300 meters out off the back-inside of the river's southern break-wall, a distance of around 2km and is only accessible by boat.

After schooling all along the middle wall, the fish then head through one of two purpose-made breaks in the wall (broken for boat traffic accessibility) and head via either Romiaka Channel or Oyster Channel up to the lagoon to do their thing and spawn. The interesting thing is that the fish only sit on the northern side of the wall in big numbers, until they get well along it, fishing for Luderick in particular would be pretty much a waste of time on the southern side lower section.

So with this information in mind, Frank T and I borrowed a 12ft car topper aluminium boat with a 6hp Johnson outboard and the basic safety gear- you weren't required to carry that much in the early eighties if you were fishing inside- and planned a trip to coincide with the June spawning run of the Luderick. From what was in the article from the magazine, the best time was from new moon up until a day or two before the full moon, provided that the moon was full near the end of the month- a later moon would have meant going in July to be "certain" the fish would be running. In years of high rainfall/floods, this is a variable condition.

OK, boat sorted and accommodation booked in at the Blue Dolphin Caravan Park, where we booked the last on-site van that was available- which was a bit of a shock, considering it wasn't school holidays and the middle of a cold winter.

Fishing tackle was 2 x 12ft Luderick rods- the trusty Butterworth GP3145's and 2 x 'back-up' rods- Shakespeare 10ft Luderick specials, these were to be fitted with Avon Golden Eagle centrepins with Alvey side-cast Luderick reels as spares. A light spin rod each with small spin reels from Shakespeare- which were close to top of the range reels back in the late 70's early 80's (Blue Series 2410's)- a few hand-lines and a net with screw on head and interchangeable gaff head. We had plenty of Luderick and Bream gear and I took my entire float collection as we weren't sure exactly what floats we'd be using. Gear sorted and packed in 50 litre boxes.

Bait was also an unknown factor for us, so we spent a couple of days sourcing weed from both the Parramatta River and off the ocean rocks and grabbed both ocean cabbage and also some big sheets of the soft river cabbage for variety. We'd read about the 'black magic' weed that was revered up the north coast, but as it's mainly found in either sugar cane drains or agricultural ponds locally, we thought we'd get some up there if our offerings failed to produce.

We left Sydney on a Sunday night, drove most of the night and arrived at the van park early in the morning. The van we got was a 6 berth and came complete with annexe. After unpacking and taking the boat off the roof, we went for a wander around the park and down to the park's wharf and cleaning table area for a look. Great facilities, with a large stainless steel cleaning table complete with about 4 taps and a 'pontoon' barge to put all the waste on, we found out later that this pontoon was taken out and emptied a couple of times every day.

As we were pretty tired from travel and were there for ten days, instead of going fishing we went up to have a look at the town, grab some groceries and also check out the coast and river mouth. Wow! From up high above the water, you could see dense schools of fish just milling around off the beach and they were all Luderick! A quick drop in at the tackle shop also revealed fresh 'black magic' weed for sale but no green weed anywhere locally- it had all been picked by fishers. We then went to the obvious other good source of info- the pub and got an early counter lunch, a beer and a chat with some friendly locals. The walls were all producing good numbers of fish, but the middle wall was always the standout, as long as there was water movement, the fish were biting, regardless of which tide it was.

By the time we'd got back to the van mid afternoon, our next door neighbours were back from fishing and these two blokes were revered as "the best of the best" Luderick fishers. Bill Brown and his mate Bob (they were mistakenly known as the Brown brothers) hailed from Swansea and had fished the middle wall every year for the spawning run for as long as they could remember. They were top blokes and invited us over for a cuppa straight away and answered question after question from us as to what the go was. In our mid twenties, we were by far the youngest blokes there it seemed and quickly became known as "the young blokes". There were no bag limits in those days and they had caught their 'usual lot' of 2 keepnets full of fish, which they did most days. In fact it seemed everyone fishing the wall was getting plenty of fish and they told us the pulse spot was right at the ocean end to the wall. They told us to get up early for a good spot, but you could catch fish virtually anywhere along the northern side.

Hopes were high and we rigged everything up before launching the boat and hiring a mooring berth from the park, which enabled us to be fully ready for the morning, including making 2 big buckets of burley. We then decided to go to the RSL for dinner and a few beers, but ended up winning a jackpot on the pokies and having more beers than we should have and overslept by a couple of hours, hitting the water at gentleman's hour of about 8am. 

From the park's mooring berths to the wall is only about a 15 minute run around the outside of Dart Island and excitement levels were high as we approached the wall break we were told to go through in the boat. Once through and on the northern side of the wall, we started the run up towards the ocean end where the Brown's had told us to head, but couldn't believe our eyes, regardless that the wall was about 2km long, after we'd travelled about a quarter of the way to the entrance, it was obvious that every position was occupied. There was a boat moored up, nose in to the wall, about every 20-30 meters, the entire length! 

I had no idea there were that many Luderick fishers in NSW and they must have all been here! Literally hundreds of small boats, many with someone hooked up to a fish, were stationed along the middle wall. We decided to go all the way to the end for a look, but there wasn't one spot we could sneak into. The Browns were in their usual spot, right at the end adjacent a small "island" that looked like the last bit of wall had collapsed, leaving it standing alone. There were 4 blokes out of their boat and fishing from this separated section and there were bulging keepnets everywhere.

We waved to them and then went right back up river to where the line of boats finished and we anchored up. The tide was going out and the river fairly swift, so the anchoring technique was to drop your back anchor well back and out in the river and then shoot straight in to the wall and drop your front anchor virtually on the wall. The boat is moored cross current with the nose only out about 2-3 meters from the wall, which drops off quite sharply. We took a couple of goes to get the boat where we wanted it, before finally getting a line in the water.

Fishing our nicest looking weed at a depth of about 10 feet, we each got a fish first drift, before the burley had much of a chance to do anything- there were heaps of fish and they were great sized, straight in from the ocean, big bronzed mouth fish, great fun on our 6lb lines. Netting them while sitting down in the small boat was more of a challenge though and it became pretty apparent that using our normal style of fixed float wasn't going to work very well. As we'd had a look at the Brown's floats on their still rigged rods, we'd taken a selection of similar ones out in the boat and left the rest back in the van, including all the running floats heavy enough for the conditions, so we had to make do that first day, but still got about 30 good fish before deciding we'd head in. We bled the fish and put them back in the keepnets to swim the blood out and then headed in.

On arrival back at the mooring, we left the gear in the boat and just grabbed knives and scalers and a box to put the fish in, but had to line up to use the cleaning tables, as there were stacks of people with big catches of Luderick. We ended up having to wait about a half hour, just to get a spot to clean the fish and the 'fish pontoon' was piled high with frames. Interestingly, there wasn't one bit of Luderick gut there to be seen and the reason was soon revealed- there were a heap of blokes lurking around with containers and more than once we were asked did we want the gut from our fish. The gut is really highly prized as Bream bait and many of the non-Luderick fishers were there every day trying to scrounge whatever gut they could get.

When we finally finished cleaning our fish, we took them to the park office as instructed and were allocated a spot in the freezer room to keep them. That room had boxes and containers everywhere, fish in whole or filleted form by the hundred, apparently we'd picked both a great year and prime time of the season to come.

After showering and washing down the gear (they had told us not to leave anything valuable in the boat due to thieves sneaking over from the opposite side of the river at Iluka) we popped in to the Browns van next door. They gave us heaps for sleeping in and said if we wanted a great possie  we'd have to be out there while it was dark and we decided that the next morning we'd be out there early. We had to put some float runners on some our normal fixed floats to make running floats out of them, then back to the club for another feed (no pokie jackpot this time) a few beers and a couple of games of snooker and then the 20 minute walk back to the van to prepare for the morning.

Next morning we left as soon as it was light enough to see, but couldn't get in close to the front as there were already about 10 boats anchored up. This wasn't a big problem though as the fish were really thick down the ocean end and they were biting their heads off. They loved our Parramatta weed and we got about 40 fish and were back at the cleaning tables before lunch. 

Before leaving Sydney, one of our mates had told us he had a mate now living in Yamba and he'd love to get out to the middle wall for a fish, but hadn't got back to us with his details before we'd left. We again went to the RSL for lunch and were sitting in the Snooker room having a pre-lunch beer and there was a young bloke (younger than us) there having lunch with a girl. Frank and the girl both left the room at the same time and I started chatting with the young guy about the town, just usual banter and then thought I'd ask him if he knew the guy I was looking for. When I asked him if he knew Paul T he started laughing and said "yep, that's me" I nearly fell over, imagine the odds of that!

He was actually working at the club and he and the young lady were both on lunch, and we made plans to take him fishing later in the week. 

Next morning another good bag of fish caught quickly saw us back in even earlier, which was great, as the cleaning table queue got ridiculous later in the day, it really did seem like every retired Luderick fisherman from anywhere all converged on Yamba at the end of June. The one thing that was in short supply was decent weed, as the local black magic wasn't working (usually it's the best they told us) and we saw frozen green weed being sold- which was a first for me. We had brought plenty of bait from Sydney though and could give a little to some of the older blokes who were searching for it. The Brown's didn't use weed, they used the soft sheet cabbage from Lake Macquarrie and had a few sacks of it submerged on their mooring. This cabbage intrigued us because it was so soft we wondered how it stayed on, but they showed us and it was great to learn a new technique that worked so well. The fish had just come in from outside and cabbage their 'everyday food'

After the first 3 Luderick trips we'd caught our target of 100 fish and we still had nearly a week left, so we thought we might give the Bream a go instead, but that's another story in itself and we caught heaps more Bream than Luderick.

Other than learning a lot of invaluable information and new techniques, much of the time that we weren't out fishing was spent either at the pub or club and it was a great trip. We did end up with about 120 Luderick to bring back, but as we stayed with friends at Crescent Head and then Stockton on the way back, we left a few dozen with them.

We returned the next year and had a great time again, if you enjoy caravan-type holidays and Luderick and Bream fishing, give Yamba a go

 

 

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I had the pleasure of fishing with billy browm many times in swansea channel  he was a cut above the pack    he would have twenty to my twelve everyday  good bloke  hard to get knowledge out of  but i gleamed some very handy tricks over the years  been dead for a couple of yrs now

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Gosh, that’s taken me back waza...

We had numerous family winter holidays up at Yamba in the early 70’s.

Not having a car mum and dad would take us 3 kids up by train and bus or taxi out to Yamba for a month.

We always stayed at the Craigmore units and every year dad would go, as you mentioned, up to the pub to get to good oil.

Being limited to walking we always fished the town wall and every holiday got fish.

Some memories include the year it rained the whole month and I ran Pippi beach in thigh deep sea foam.

The time we met a young guy who was an apprentice baker and brought us the best pies I’ve ever tasted.

Another year, there was a big storm and fishermen from Red Rock lost their lives with one washing up on Convent beach.

Buying my own rod and reel and the excitement of catching the first fish on that combo.

Dad always wished he could have fished the renowned middle wall and I still have hopes of doing that for him.

After they retired mum and dad still went north, however shifted to Ilkua for the whole of winter.

Dad eventually became ill in his old age and insisted in one last holiday, where he finally became very unwell and passed away in McLean hospital.

I have so many treasured memories of our childhood holidays in Yamba and thanks to you waza for bringing them back for me,

stu.

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5 minutes ago, Burger said:

Gosh, that’s taken me back waza...

We had numerous family winter holidays up at Yamba in the early 70’s.

Not having a car mum and dad would take us 3 kids up by train and bus or taxi out to Yamba for a month.

We always stayed at the Craigmore units and every year dad would go, as you mentioned, up to the pub to get to good oil.

Being limited to walking we always fished the town wall and every holiday got fish.

Some memories include the year it rained the whole month and I ran Pippi beach in thigh deep sea foam.

The time we met a young guy who was an apprentice baker and brought us the best pies I’ve ever tasted.

Another year, there was a big storm and fishermen from Red Rock lost their lives with one washing up on Convent beach.

Buying my own rod and reel and the excitement of catching the first fish on that combo.

Dad always wished he could have fished the renowned middle wall and I still have hopes of doing that for him.

After they retired mum and dad still went north, however shifted to Ilkua for the whole of winter.

Dad eventually became ill in his old age and insisted in one last holiday, where he finally became very unwell and passed away in McLean hospital.

I have so many treasured memories of our childhood holidays in Yamba and thanks to you waza for bringing them back for me,

stu.

Hi Stu that's the greatest feedback I've had mate! We didn't have a car as kids (or a dad!) and Mum took us all over the place by train too. Never got to Yamba with Mum but as a keen fisher she'd of loved it, she's a bit frail now at 90 to go. Great thing to aim for to fulfil your Dad's wish of fishing the middle wall- you'll love it, it's a fish attracting 'magnet'

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Another great Story Waza and thanks for taking the time to write and post it.

I've never been up that way myself and find it difficult to imagine fish in such numbers, though I can remember reading about it in the magazines. What an experience that must have been.

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Fantastic Tale Wazza,

Thanks so much for the read...... definitely a dream destination to tackle Blackies, only problem will be to figure how many different rod /reel combos to take... will have to be an Alan Knight reel amongst them though !!

Hopefully get a visit in when all this lockdown is over. stay safe all....

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Have a relo up in Casino and he always speaks of Browns Rock up near Iluka on the Clarence. Easter was the gun time for bream.

Jim

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  • mrsswordfisherman changed the title to Yamba - Estuary Fisherman's Pilgrimage

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