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Yamba - Bream


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After a few successful Luderick sessions fishing Yamba's famous middle wall, we decided to give the Bream fishing a go. Based on the amount of guys hanging around the cleaning tables scrounging anyone's unwanted Luderick gut, there must have been some Bream around, but different to the Luderick mob, they seemed to be a secretive lot these Bream fishers, as not once in quite a few days had we seen anyone cleaning any Bream at all. Still, the 'word' getting around the caravan park was that 'they' were getting some good ones of a night.

From reading an article on how the wall was commonly fished for Bream, we knew that the most favoured method was to fish the usual 'ball on the hook' rig and cast forward of your boat as you drifted the wall. This rig is very familiar to anyone who fishes the Sydney rock scene, as it's used almost exclusively to catch all manner of species, so we were well versed with the feel of a lightly weighted bait moving in the flow.

Bait for the Bream should have been the obvious choice of Luderick gut, however we'd given all ours away each day and didn't have a bit to try without going for another Luderick session. We did have a Striped Tuna, a Bonito and a few Pilchards that we'd brought frozen, to which we added some local prawns and a few live worms from the tackle shop. Burley wasn't really a thing of consideration, due to the constantly moving boat and never being in the same spot for more than a few seconds each drift down the 2km long wall.

As 'they' had been getting the Bream of a night, we had a lazy day and prepared everything we thought we'd need for a night session. When fishing in a small 'sit-down' sized boat, both the gear you decide on and placement of said gear is really important, as you just don't have much room and only necessary items are included on board. First items put in were of course our two 7ft spin rods with Shakespeare 2410 spin reels loaded with six and a half pound Tortue mono, these outfits were our go-to set ups for Bream fishing around Sydney from a boat. Next in were a 10lb and a 15lb handline each, small tackle box, torches, a lifejacket each to sit on, the bait and a large fish box for the catch.

We had an early dinner and headed off about an hour before it got dark, making our way out to the northern side of the wall via one of the two purpose-made breaks in the old stone wall. The wall itself is pretty narrow and only just above the waterline during the highest of tides. You can get out of the boat and fish from the wall itself if you like, but it's far more comfortable to stay in the boat, as much of the wall is made up of smaller stones up top and footing isn't that good- especially after dark, besides, keeping moving was the technique with the lightly weighted bait.

As we approached the lower section of the wall towards the ocean end, there were two other boats both employing the same cast forward of the boat technique as we were going to try, but the water flow during the last part of the outgoing tide was making them really fly along and it became obvious to us, without even putting a bait in, that it wasn't the place to be on this tide. The boat furthest down started up and cruised over close to us, offering the advice that it was "too quick, you're better off going up closer to the island- where the wall joins the land"- good and friendly advice, so back up the wall before darkness descended.

After travelling back up the wall until we got to the second break, which isn't too far down from the uninhabited Freeburn Island and the end of the southern side of the wall, we decided to go back on the inside to get out of the strong tidal flow. In my previous post I said that the majority of Luderick stay on the northern side of the wall, in the main part of the river, however, their access to the spawning destination of Wooloweyah Lagoon is via the Oyster Channel- which is like a large creek-is only possible if the fish come through the break and travel across, bringing them close to where the wall meets the island. We hoped the Bream would also follow this type of upriver route and there'd at least be some up in the out-of-current corner of island and wall.

The old fishing article which inspired the trip in the first place, had a couple of hand drawn, simple maps, like the ones you see in some boating/fishing magazines. These were the type of maps that used a circled symbol to illustrate where species were likely to be found and our map had both a circled "BL" and "BR" indicating both Blackfish (as they were called before Luderick) and Bream found in the very corner we were heading to. We found out later that the spot is known locally as "learners corner" and is where many novice Luderick fishers go to try their luck in the less flowing waters of the corner. On our map there was also a marking denoting 'old coal wharf', but all that was left of it that we could see were a few pylons and a couple of large beams on water level; still it looked a likely spot for Bream and time was against us scouting around anywhere else, so we anchored up, using an anchor each end.

As we were now out of the main tidal flow, we started fishing with the rigs we already had on our rods- small ball sinker about the size of a pea running freely between swivel and 1/0 suicide hook, on about a 45cm leader. In the days before new leader materials were invented, it was common practice to just use your main line as leader also, especially when fishing lighter lines, so our 'leader' was initially just a piece of our 6lb line. In the event of a snag or break-off, generally you only lose your hook (and sinker of course) and at worst add 45cm of line and very occasionally your swivel.

Baits on and cast parallel to the wall, we waited for the first bites. There's a decent sized eddy up in the corner of the wall and there were heaps of good sized Mullet milling around on the surface, swirling tails and some noisy splashes as every now and then they were spooked by something big. Straight away we suspected a big Mulloway- the whole area is famous for both the number and size of it's Mulloway population- but when you're sitting in a small boat, only really able to stand safely to stretch your legs, the last thing you do is stand up to have a look. A few splashes in quick succession and then the unmistakable "chomp" noise of whatever the large unseen fish was, as it launched into the tightly packed Mullet school and probably grabbed a victim. I say probably because after that "chomp" everything went quiet and the Mullet although still milling around, certainly stopped their flighty splashing, so predator fed and gone.

We suspected that the big fish had spooked everything, but decided to wait until the tide started to flow back in before calling it a night, at this stage we hadn't lost a bait. 

As the tides were really big near the approaching full moon, it wasn't too long before there was water movement again, but still no bites, so we decided to use the old fisherman's trick of getting out our only food for the trip- a single sandwich each. Over the years it's never ceased to amaze me how often, when things have been really quiet, has the sandwich 'trick' worked and action has happened before you manage to finish whatever it is you've started eating. Don't know if it should be called "Murphy's Law" as that applies to things going wrong and action when fishing is pretty much the opposite. Whatever it is, I'm sure it happens to all fishers at some time or other and once again it happened- before the sandwich was even half eaten the bites came.

We landed a few of nice fish in the pound and a quarter- pound and a half range, but were busted off plenty of times by good fish that we couldn't stop with the 6lb line, they just headed straight into the wall and cut us off on the oysters- I should have mentioned that the majority of the wall in encrusted with oysters and not a friendly environment for anyone thinking 'sports-fishing'. The next approach was to go to the handlines and we both opted for the 15lb as we needed to stop the fish making it back into the wall and freedom, besides, the other handlines were only 10lb- good for quieter fishing and fish biting timidly, but a bit thin for the heavy handed approach that presented itself.

The heavy handlines did the trick and we started getting virtually every fish that ran off with the bait. I've actually always loved handline fishing, probably a legacy of childhood, fishing out of the family boat on Lake Illawarra. You can simply feed the line to the fish with them feeling next to nothing and Bream lend themselves perfectly to this style of fishing. A few of these Bream were getting close to the magic 3lb mark and they pull like mad on the handlines without a rod to cushion the fish's lunges.

As the tide got stronger, so did the bite and we were putting plenty in the box- no bag limits in those days. Then suddenly the Mullet in the corner went showering everywhere, the big 'thing' was obviously back again.  Bream bites stopped and only the sound of the spooked fish splashing nervously on the surface could be heard. As happened earlier the "chomp" sound again and all quiet.

This time it seemed like everything had taken fright, not another bite for over half an hour, but as happened earlier, all of a sudden the Bream were back and we started getting them again. After not having fished with handlines for a long time, other than for John Dory in Sydney Harbour, both of us were getting our hands cut and roughed up, add to this we'd both been spiked plenty of times by fish fins and we came to the conclusion we'd need a day or two off fishing to give our hands a break, so we may as well catch plenty of fish this night and then have a couple of nights off, regardless of how good the fishing was. 

Towards the top of the tide, a cold breeze started blowing from the east, changing the position of the little boat considerably and we had to throw our handlines towards the beams of the old coal wharf, which was slightly shallower water. There were beams hidden under the water also and we got snagged on them a few times, it seemed the little ball sinkers were rolling into the timber and getting stuck, so we ended up changing to just a hook and a small piece of pinched-on sheet lead for weight. This rig worked out really well, if we did get a snag, we could just leave it there and a fish would come along and take it off the beam anyway.

When the box was nearly full of fish, the big predator came back and spooked everything again, but this time revealing itself to us- it was a big dolphin and it seemed to be able to come and take a fish with ease, whenever it wanted to. The air being expelled from the dolphin's blow-hole actually frightened hell out of me when it surfaced really close to the back of the boat, as I had my back turned to it and the rest of the river was almost silent barring the Mullet some 15 yards away from us. Always a bit disconcerting when something big surfaces close to a small boat in the dark.

We decided to stay until dawn, as cleaning a heap of fish in the darker area of the caravan park cleaning tables wasn't appealing. As it began to get light and we could see down into the water, the Bream were clearly visible milling around in their hundreds, a sight I'll never forget. 

Before we left, the dolphin came back yet again and we were able to see it in the early morning light, it was massive, still the biggest one either of us has ever seen up close, that of course signalled time to go and we made our way slowly back to the van park.

On arrival back at the cleaning tables, the task of gutting and scaling a full box of Bream looked pretty tiresome indeed, however as luck would have it, a couple of the early morning walkers, who were non-fishing retirees offered to lend a hand for a couple of fish each- great! When the job was done, we gave the two helpers half a dozen each and they were more than happy and offered to help us clean any more we got during the rest of the week.

After a few days off from fishing we took our new mate Paul T from the RSL out for a Bream session and it was pretty much a repeat of the first night, except we didn't go out quite as early, same spot, same huge school of Bream there on light in the morning and same two helpers to clean all the fish.

While at the cleaning tables, we got chatting to plenty more fishers and were happy to tell anyone interested where to go and try for the Bream. Two blokes asked us why we hadn't had a go for the Flathead that were also around in numbers, but a bit further up the river near Maclean, however after revealing the size of our little boat, they said it was probably too far to go by water. They'd been getting big bags of good sized Flathead using Whitebait and "yo-yoing" and interestingly, the big schools of Flatties only moved around 100-200 yards each day. These guys were also retirees from Walgett and they said they did the same trip every year, but their focus was on the Flathead.

So if estuary species like Luderick, Bream and Flathead are on your list of fish to chase, you would find it hard to beat a fishing holiday at Yamba and that's without mentioning the Mulloway there either!

 

 

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Another great read Waza.

There certainly were some huge catches back in those days.

Personally around my local area, I feel the bream and blackfish numbers haven't changed all that much since the 70's and 80's, just modern day bag limits prevents fishos from mass captures. 

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Hi Pete a lot of guys that were fishing Yamba were from inland country towns and the fish they caught on those annual trips lasted them for ages. We had no real idea of conservation of fish stocks, no bag limits and definitely no possession limits in those days.

I know all the fish we caught were eaten pretty quickly by family, friends and relatives.

The numbers of fish I witnessed at Yamba was just mind-blowing for someone who lives in Sydney and we weren't even there during 'Bream time' of May.

What was more concerning was the next year I was there and the beach haulers were getting them before they even got into the river, although it's always been a 'pet hate' of mine there was nothing wrong with them doing that, other than the piles of fish just left on the sand after every available box had been filled and the fishermen had left, which was really sad to see.

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Another gripping yarn waza!

I too grew up fishing handlines and the feeling of direct connection to a fish can't be beaten.

cheers, stu.

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14 hours ago, psycho sardine said:

Yet again .. Fantastic Wazza..... BUT....dont leave us hanging.... you have to mention the Mulloway now !ūü§£

Hi psycho sardine- sadly I never personally landed one at Yamba, had a couple on but didn't have the right gear bar a 50lb handline and only got a really big black stingray in on that. We did have another trip planned but it never ended up happening due to the river flooding

Did see 2 beauties caught at the 'T Piece' by locals, but we were only watching as we didn't take the gear for doing that sort of fishing. On the right nights, during the Mullet run, stacks of big ones get caught there on the south wall and I have friends that occasionally go to Iluka on the other side of the river and they get some beauties off the wall, especially when the water is filthy from a big rain event.

Bill Brown the next caravan neighbour got one before we arrived and he lost another one while purposely chasing them. He was a top fisherman and said the bait to use is obviously whatever is migrating at the time, in his case a Luderick 'front half' of a good sized fish. 

They fish the baits in really close to the wall and under a cork on the slack tide (which is never very long on the big river)- when the Mullet are running you just keep your bait on the outside of the Mullet mass about 6ft deep. I can only pass this info on as it was told to me by the 'right' fisho's- so sadly no Mulloway story of my own from Yamba

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Hi Wazza,

Im definitely going to have to try fishing handlines for a bit of fun, reckon the stingray or a Jew could really be a challenge!

Looking forward to a trip to Yamba whenever all this lockdown ends, and funny you mention the Luderick as bait, chatting with one of the locals near me some time ago said it used to be his go to for Jewies off the rocks as a livie under a float.....could be the perfect time to give it a go ... and the guts as Bream bait, thanks for all the tips will give them a whirl and let you know how it goes.

Cheers Sardine.

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3 hours ago, psycho sardine said:

Hi Wazza,

Im definitely going to have to try fishing handlines for a bit of fun, reckon the stingray or a Jew could really be a challenge!

Looking forward to a trip to Yamba whenever all this lockdown ends, and funny you mention the Luderick as bait, chatting with one of the locals near me some time ago said it used to be his go to for Jewies off the rocks as a livie under a float.....could be the perfect time to give it a go ... and the guts as Bream bait, thanks for all the tips will give them a whirl and let you know how it goes.

Cheers Sardine.

Hi Sardine if you want to give handline fishing a go, the best lines to look for are the 'dullest' ones, which translates to not as highly polished and shiny. Reason for this is they are easier to hang onto when your hands get slimy (especially when using gut) and they won't cut into your fingers like the super slick variety of high-polished lines.

In the past it was very hard to go past Weiss Perlon (like nylon) as Weiss made a "2nd grade" which was basically the same line as "1st grade" but hadn't been polished (which produces both a slicker surface and complete uniformity of diameter) very much. It was really dull and almost rough to feel, but fantastic to hang onto.

Also when you consider breaking strain, the thin mono's, although attracting more bites are more destructive to your hands and will easily cut into finger joints, so if lighter line is necessary for the bite, then add a swivel and lighter trace.

Today's mono's that are more suitable would be some of the cheaper brands, including some of the real cheap mono available from big chains. Just look for 'dullness', a bit of stretch is OK also. Of the better brands, Tortue, Schneider and the old Fisherman brand are all good.

Last few times I fished for Flathead outside I used an old 35lb "2nd grade" handline and absolutely loved it for feel.

If you use Luderick gut for bait, when their intestines are chock-a-block full of weed/cabbage is when it makes the best bait- my rock fishing 'mentor' Wally used to consistently catch some genuinely massive Snapper using it fishing a 45lb handline and it was his preferred bait for them.

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Thanks so much Wazza,

A mine of information...will definitely sort some handlines out with the line you recommend and give it a whirl

next time i'm out on the Hawkesbury and the Luderick gut is coming home next time too !!

If I get some good catches will let you know how it goes.

Thanks again

Sardine.

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39 minutes ago, psycho sardine said:

Thanks so much Wazza,

A mine of information...will definitely sort some handlines out with the line you recommend and give it a whirl

next time i'm out on the Hawkesbury and the Luderick gut is coming home next time too !!

If I get some good catches will let you know how it goes.

Thanks again

Sardine.

Hi Sardine the best Bream handlines used to be the old cork cylinders because you could put a bit of water in a bait bucket and just leave them in there, when you got a bite (if you weren't hanging onto it that is) the cork could turn with relatively little pressure and more importantly next to no noise if it flew out of the bucket.

I'm still kicking myself for using the last lot of those corks to make big bobby corks and probably only have one left in storage. There must be stacks of them tucked away in sheds and old tackle creels as they were the go-to handline before the plastic 'hand-casters' came on the market.

Also the other real good part of the gut is the 'onion' which is the fleshy white part (looks like an onion heart) which stays on really well and the fish love it.

Good luck! Handline fishing is a dying art these days, but VERY effective- just ask Yowie!

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Thanks fot the heads up @Waza. Dad had some old hand lines in a fishermans basket. I Have them some where, I will have to see if I can find them.

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I'll always remember my Auntie and Uncle living right on the water at Illawong, just upstream of where the car ferry used too land back in the 1960's.

They always had a cork handline deployed through the kitchen window and left the cork in the sink. As soon as a fish ran with the bait, the cork would rattle around in the sink raising the alarm.

I always fished with line wound onto a coke bottle as a kid. The good thing was I could keep spare hooks and sinkers in the bottle with a small cork plug and it was compact.

I used to travel to school by boat and would fish off the wharf waiting to be picked up. The bottle would fit neatly in my bag and the teacher would let me leave my bait in the fridge while I attended class.

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