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The Greenback Experience


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As a fishermen who grew up in Sydney's western suburbs, beach fishing was never really something that was practical to do, usually, any trips towards the coast were based around rock fishing. If the sea conditions were predicted to be too rough, then Sydney Harbour, occasionally Narrabeen or somewhere in Port Hacking were the alternative fishing areas that plans were changed to.

Beach fishing wasn't really of much interest for several reasons, mainly, because Sydney's beaches always have heaps of people using them, but also the range of species isn't anything like from the rocks and other than sharks, Mulloway were the only large species to target and they were more of a night time proposition we thought. So for many years, other than a few organised fishing-club competition days, fishing from the sand was something left until trips away from Sydney.

About 25 years ago, John M, one of my best mates, moved to Murwillumbah on the far north coast of NSW and I've been lucky enough to have gone up and stayed with him, most years since he relocated. Fishing has always been high on our holiday agenda and we went all over the area, fishing for Bass at Clarrie Hall Dam, spinning for Flatties in one of the many estuaries, drifting a live bait for Mangrove Jacks and occasionally hit the beaches for Tailor and Dart. Plenty of times, we've had 'trifecta days' where we go out on three trips a day, chasing all the above mentioned species and even a couple of trips trying all four types of fishing in a single day. Great fun if you love fishing!

Beach fishing in the area is totally different to anything I'd done before, most of the beaches we fished had few if any swimmers to worry about, heaps of great beach formations and often nobody around at all. Big beaches like Wooyung- which stretches from Hastings Point up the north end all the way to Brunswick Heads (it does have different names for different sections, but it's all the same stretch of sand)- a distance of some 30 odd km's, have countless fish attracting features and pretty easy access for fishers, even those like us without a 4WD vehicle.

The coast road runs along within about 50 meters of the back of the beach, yet you can still see the ocean for about half the length of Wooyung, making it easy to move along looking for spots to try. In fact, the first year I went beach fishing there, a continuous gutter ran parallel to the beach for many km's. Wide, deep and right in close to the shore for much of it's length, I'd never seen a more 'fishy' location from the sand. Adding to this, there were plenty of holes, both large and small, plus the necessary outlet channels going seaward from the gutter in plenty of places. Pippi's are pretty easy to find and there are plenty of beach worms as well, a really great spot to go fishing.

During the day, Bream, Whiting, Dart and Flathead are the main targets for bait fishing, or spinning for Tailor with metal lures can be really productive, but as dusk approaches and night falls, the focus turns to fishing for Tailor and Mulloway, again with bait. Pre-dark scouting of the beach needs to be done- so you aren't casting blind, and several spots need to be marked to cover areas that the fish are likely to move along at different heights of the tide. Marking the spots on a GPS unit for referencing after dark is really useful, unless there are distinct features on the beach you can easily see once it's got dark. Alternatively, you can use a 'cyalume light stick' to mark a few places to try.

The best spots to look for in these long gutters, are places where there are 'channels' accessing the deeper water behind the main wave-break areas, especially good if there are several of these within a couple of hundred meters, because they allow both the roving Tailor schools and their predators like Mulloway, Spanish Mackerel and sharks to move freely in and out of the gutter. The Tailor come in through one opening searching for prey and often travel along fairly quickly, before moving back out via one of the next channels if no bait fish are found. When Tailor fishing these type of locations, often, only one or two fishers won't get many of these Tailor before they move on and this is one style of fishing that accommodates a bigger number of anglers. With more baits in the water and more excited and battling Tailor, often they'll stay around much longer.

We don't see it down Sydney way, but when the Tailor are 'on' at some of these big beaches up north, at times, in areas adjacent bigger towns and populated areas, there are people standing shoulder-to-shoulder throwing Pilchards and Garfish out and the fish bite for a couple of hours or more each time. It's simple to find where the fish are- just look for the crowd. The large volume of bait in the water keeps the schools stimulated and feeding. The joy of long beaches such as Wooyung, is that for most of the long length of beach, with heaps of likely spots that fill the necessary criteria to attract fish, you can get well away from everyone else and four or five fishers can 'work' a school by keeping a hooked fish in the water, while the other guys land their fish, re-bait and get back into the school. Experienced Tailor fishers get plenty of fish this way.

The bigger Tailor- known as "Greenbacks"- a term derived from the greenish sheen along the top of the fish's back- are fished for in a slightly different manner than the smaller fish. For general Tailor fishing, when targeting the big schools of migrating fish, a whole Pilchard or a Garfish, pinned on ganged hooks and sitting on a short leader of either wire or heavy line-say 40-50lb- below a suitable sized sinker to get the bait out as far as possible, is pretty much standard fare, but for many of the guys who chase the bigger fish, a different rig is often used.

A short wire trace around 20-30cm with only 2 ganged hooks- commonly about size 4/0's or 5/0's- sits below the sinker and instead of using Pilchards or Garfish for bait, 'cut bait' is used. Cut bait? The most popular baits are small pieces of Mullet, Bonito or Tuna, with Tailor themselves also being popular as fillet baits. The really large fish take them readily and they also cast better due to being smaller, which is also an advantage, as many of these larger fish are caught well out from the wave break in the deeper water. A lot of guys frown on using a wire trace, but if using cut bait, these large Greenback's swallow the lot and their sharp teeth can easily cut through even heavy leader line- rather have less bites than lose the big fish.

Every year, usually organised for Queens Birthday weekend in June, there's a large and well organised fishing competition called the "Greenback" tournament, which offers some really great prizes for participants. It's an overnight comp, and all proceeds from the event usually go to the local Lions club. It isn't only Tailor fishing, but the biggest prizes- (usually around $2,500 cash for the largest Tailor), are offered for the 3 largest Tailor caught.

There are prizes for the top three anglers in Ladies, Men's, Seniors and Junior categories, plus largest of species in these same categories for the following species: Bream, Tailor, Whiting, Dart(Swallowtail), Flathead, Mulloway, Luderick (which are also known locally as Black-Bream) and Tarwhine. There are also 'secret weight' prizes included for junior anglers and a large raffle offering prizes in the 1,000's of dollars worth of donated gear and equipment. All fish weighed are also donated to the Lions club and are auctioned off on site at the weigh-in, so even if you don't catch anything, you can still bid on plenty of fresh fish.

The fishing area is pretty much from S/E Qld to about Wooli in NSW, but all fishers need to sign-out from the weigh-in point at Cabarita Beach around 12-1pm on the Saturday and have fish back there by 9am Sunday morning. You can fish pretty much wherever you want to and target any of the above mentioned species, but most people are trying to get a large Tailor for one of the bigger cash prizes. It's also important to note- you can only weigh in 5 fish of each species, so you don't have to catch vast numbers of fish to do well.

John fished the comp one year with some of the local guys and although he only caught one fish, enjoyed the trip enough to want to go again, so plans were made to go the next year and he invited me to go with them.

I arrived in Murwillumbah a few days prior to the event and we decided to go outside fishing, to get some fish to use as 'cut bait'- a common term used up there for fillet baits. A quick trip out to Palm Beach reef in a our mate Wayne W's boat got us plenty of Slimy Mackerel and huge Yellowtail, all caught on small 5-7gm metals, then on the way back we spotted some fish working on the surface and ended up with half a dozen small Mack Tuna as well. Cut bait sorted to add to the Pilchards and Garfish we had already organised. 

Wayne borrowed a long wheel-based Land Rover from his father in law Bill, so we could move around different areas without having to get back off the beach, which gave us the opportunity to move along plenty of times if necessary. We got together and had a couple of drinks early on the Friday night before the next day's sign-off and made our basic plans. With Wayne being the council water engineer and father in law Bill living at Pottsville and regularly driving the beach there, we had a bit of an idea what was going on fish-wise. There were quite a few Tailor schools roving the area, but they were just 'hitting and running'- only staying a few minutes at a time before leaving the gutters via the next exit. There were Dart and also Bream around though, so we were hoping to get a couple of different species.

Saturday morning arrived and we met up at Bill's place at Pottsville to put our gear in the Rover. Wayne and his son Matt had already loaded their gear and plenty of cut firewood- which ended up being a great move. The forecast wasn't very good, with constant rain forecast for the night, but as we all had chest high waders and good raincoats, we weren't too concerned. The important part of the forecast was that there wasn't any wind predicted and it's the wind that can ruin your night on the beach.

Along with Wayne and Matt, we were joined by Matt's cousin Tim and both he and Matt at about 15, were around the same age. They'd be competing as juniors and John, Wayne and I in the men's division. Bill wasn't interested in coming, he said he could go any time and wasn't keen on getting wet for the night. With all the gear, bait and waders sorted, we left to go to the sign-off about 8km away at Cabarita Beach. 

On arriving at the sign-off area, there were probably over 200 people already lined up to register and as the rain had just started to come down, the majority of competitors already had their waders and raincoats on. A small tarped area had "Greenback" shirts, caps and other souvenirs for sale, so after signing on, we grabbed a few souvenirs to mark the occasion, before piling back in the Rover to head to the beach.

As Wooyung where we were headed is in the Tweed Shire council area, Bill buys an annual permit for driving on the beach- as it's necessary to have a permit and during times like comp days, the rangers would be driving the beach sighting permits. They do have someone issuing weekend permits at the sign-off area for anyone who's just there for the competition. A large sign on the back of the beach marks where Tweed Shire ends and Byron Shire begins, and it's important to note that a  permit from Byron Shire is needed if you want to access the beach south of the sign.

As most of the competitors have found a spot well before the 'end of shire' sign, our plan was to go right down there first for a look, as we thought we'd have that end of the beach to ourselves. On the way down towards the sign, we passed stacks of really large and well organised camps, that had obviously been set up for plenty of hours. Some large groups from fishing clubs had got in early and on finding great looking water, set up for the night. The only disadvantage to doing this, is if the fish don't pass by your part of the gutter, it's too much effort to pack up and move, but on these family friendly trips, fishing isn't the only consideration.

When we arrived at the sign, there weren't any other camps or fishers for a long way, so we decided that we also would set up, staying the night in the one spot, as there were several good looking spots all within walking distance. 

By the time we had the camp organised- which was really just setting up a tarp off the Rover, organising a fire pit and unloading much of the gear- a lone fisherman in a small 4WD stopped his car pretty well in between us and the water and ran down with a metal lure and threw in, hooking a Tailor within a few winds of his sidecast. That sent us scurrying down to the water immediately, but we were all rigged for bait fishing, not luring. The guy caught 2 more Tailor pretty quickly, before declaring they'd moved out of the gutter and he got back in his car and moved about 100 meters further north, again stopping and getting one pretty well straight away. We decided to stay put, mainly because walking any distance in waders and full wet weather gear is pretty hard going. At this point I should say that we were using 13ft one piece fibreglass rods and all of us using either six and a half or seven inch Alvey sidecast reels and around 9kg line.

When the next school of Tailor came through about an hour later, we all managed to get a few each, but these fish were only in the 1.2-1.5kg range and we knew they wouldn't be winning any 'largest' prizes, however you can only catch what's there and we were happy to have some fish well before dark.

The rain got a little harder as the sun set and no more Tailor came past our position. Then a very light southerly breeze started pushing along, making it quite cold and the dreaded 'sweep' started up. The 'sweep' is a sideways movement of water along the beach and once it gets a bit of power, it makes fishing really difficult. Your line gets pushed sideways along the beach, eventually coming back in to shore, regardless that you are walking sideways with it. As the tide came in more, the sweep got too strong to keep fishing, so we retired to the camp for a feed of sausages and a hot cuppa. We got a fire going in the fire-pit (open fires aren't allowed on most beaches unless in some type of containment) and nobody was too keen to leave the warmth of said fire to try fishing again for a while. 

Looking north along the beach, the lights of other fires were visible as far as the eye could see, indicating that plenty of other competitors had retired to the comfort of their fire and camp area. 

About an hour and a half passed before the rain eased right up and we decided to go back out for another go at the fish, again concentrating on Tailor. For this second session, we all spread out a bit in the hope of locating another roving school, although after another hour or so, no more fish were caught, but at least the sweep wasn't as strong and we could keep our bait out.

John and I decided to walk further south than we'd tried all night and found a 'wave-less' area- which indicates deeper water- and after casting out, found virtually no sweep at our new location. Within a few minutes, both of us had bites, but not from Tailor, maybe Bream? As we were now several hundred meters from camp, it was a long walk back wearing waders to get the lighter Bream rods and before we left the new spot, cracked a cyalume stick, made a sand mound and placed the glowing stick on top, to indicate where to come on our return.

Having the fire going made it easy to locate the camp, it's amazing how dark it is with no man-made light to be seen for a reference point. As we'd already organised our own signal system for alerting each other to 'come to the light' if fish were found, the five of us met up at camp, grabbed the lighter gear and made the fifteen minute walk back to where the cyalume light-stick was marking the new area. 

The gear we were now using consisted of much lighter actioned 11 and 12 ft rods, fitted with smaller six inch sidecast reels and 4 or 5kg mono, considerably lighter to hang onto for extended periods.

All guys on the beach carry a 'standard' shoulder bag that holds everything you might need so you don't have to make the long walk between spot and camp. A basic array of tackle usually includes swivels, 3 or 4 sizes of hooks, ganged hooks, and 3 or 4 sizes of sinkers, all housed in a small lightweight tackle box, plus pliers, a knife, really small spool of leader line and a small 'secondary' torch- which is a must in case of your primary light source of a decent headlamp failing. Some also carry plastic fish-measuring rulers, but we just make a mark on our shoulder bags to use for measuring fish. Other items carried are a small drink bottle and a decent sized bit of rag to wipe your hands on. By the time you add a decent amount of a few different baits, plus the weight of any fish you catch, these shoulder bags get fairly heavy, so if fishing a long walk from your main camp, it's a good idea to lug a bucket to use as a place to empty your catch into once you've got half a dozen fish.

Once we arrived back at the cyalume stick and spread out along the spot, it didn't take long for fish to start coming in. They were Swallowtail Dart and they put up a good fight for a small fish, battling all the way in to shore. Initially, we were using small pieces of cut bait and Pilchard tails, but as the beach had an abundance of pippies, which continued to 'surface' in our footmarks, we swapped to using them instead. The Dart really love the pippies and it was a simple matter of just picking them up as they appeared. To make a good bait, you need two pippies and you put the first one on lip first and the other lip last- so the 'guts' of the shellfish sit about the middle of your bait, the Dart swallow these baits quickly, as do any Bream around as well.

As the night went on, the rain came down lightly but continuously and regardless we were catching fish, being constantly wet eventually took its toll on all five of us. Somewhere around 1am we decided to go back to camp, more for a rest than anything else. The fire was reduced to a mere glow, but looking north along the beach, only two more fire-lights were visible, meaning that either the other competitors were catching fish or had turned in for the night. 

Taking the weight off our feet was great and after putting plenty of wood on the fire, fired up the gas cooker to reheat some sausages and make some hot drinks. Something as simple as a reheated sausage on a bread roll can really lift your mood when it's bleak and cold and we planned how the rest of the night would go. 

We decided to take the Tailor gear down to the spot where the Dart were, otherwise there was no chance of catching the principle target at all, so after a feed and an hour's break, loaded up with both the Tailor and Dart gear and made the tiresome trudge down in our waders. For those who've never worn waders, walking in them is tiring, but they really are essential for keeping you both warm and dry, on miserable winter's nights like this one. While we were down at the fishing area, a car with a flashing roof light moved down the beach, stopping frequently for a few minutes. We were later to learn that it was a guy known as the 'Arab' and he was dishing out hot food in the form of either stew or a curry- which was given free to competitors, a great idea from the organisers.

No more Tailor were caught and we eventually returned to Dart fishing, which we kept catching until dawn, when we again tried unsuccessfully for Tailor. By about 7.30am, we'd had enough of fishing and returned to clean up the camp area before loading everything back in the Rover and returning to the start point of Cabarita Beach. 

We each lined up to weigh our best 5 fish of each species, and as the rain finally stopped, grabbed a beer and yet another sausage sandwich from the food stall. The weighing takes a couple of hours, before all the fish are then auctioned off to the crowd, and then finally, the winners announced and prizes awarded.

Wayne's son Matt won the junior champion's prize and what a good prize it was. A huge 'ute-boot' fibreglass esky, a 12ft beach rod, Alvey reel, fishing bag full of tackle goodies, plus clothing and several vouchers to use in the local area- a really generous prize and young Matt was wrapped. The rest of us didn't rate on the scoreboard, but having Matt win was just as good as winning ourselves.

The largest Tailor weighed was over 6kg, with plenty of fish caught in the 4-5kg range as well. One guy I saw was trying to pick his largest 5 Tailor from a catch of around a dozen- not one under 4kg. The heaviest fish weighed was a Spanish Mackerel of around 25kg, which apparently grabbed a decent sized Tailor being reeled in from the rocks at Cabarita Headland and there were heaps of quality fish landed from all the eligible species. A Stargazer caught by someone not fishing the comp attracted plenty of interest also when the fisherman asked if it could be weighed just to see what size it was- ugly looking critter it was too.

That was my first of five "Greenback" trips and I really enjoyed doing a type of fishing I couldn't really do in Sydney. The whole event is family orientated and well run and the profits go back into the local community. If you're ever up that way around Queens Birthday weekend in June it's well worth a look- especially at the weigh-in and even without fishing, you can still bid on fish at the auction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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38 minutes ago, JamoDamo said:

Another awesome story Waza! 

Keep up these stories, really enjoying them.

Jamo

Hi Jamo comps like this one aren't organised in the Sydney region. There were only two I can remember- Dee Why lions club organised one and we fished the Mattens and won a couple of prizes and the other was Gosford 'Fun-fish' and we won a boat in that one!

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Hi Waza. I really enjoyed that story as I love my beach fishing and have read about The Greenback Comp elsewhere. Seems very popular with the Alvey sect up that way.

Remember back in the 80's when an extremely popular way to target tailor from the beach was to cast unweighted on lightly weighted pillies on gang hooks and slowly retrieve them mid water. You just don't see anyone fishing that way for them these days. I wonder why that is? 

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1 hour ago, Green Hornet said:

Hi Waza. I really enjoyed that story as I love my beach fishing and have read about The Greenback Comp elsewhere. Seems very popular with the Alvey sect up that way.

Remember back in the 80's when an extremely popular way to target tailor from the beach was to cast unweighted on lightly weighted pillies on gang hooks and slowly retrieve them mid water. You just don't see anyone fishing that way for them these days. I wonder why that is? 

Hi Pete it's a great style of fishing and super popular up north- probably because there's plenty of great areas that still have plenty of fish.

I wonder if not many try it due to the 'change-over' to spinning reels? You don't see many fishers standing well out in the water using them!

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1 hour ago, Burger said:

As always, a bloody good read waza!

Thank you.

Hi Stu I was all 'typed-out' after this one! Beach fishing up in that part of the world is totally different and really enjoyable, with huge spaces between people, wonderful solitude and various types of fish- catching a few is great, but just being there is soul-food

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