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An Interesting Day at Urunga


wazatherfisherman
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When you have mates living at different places along the coast, naturally you get to fish places far away from your regular domain. One such mate- Fraser- until recently, had been living in the Coffs Harbour-Nana Glen-Sawtell area and while on trips up to visit him, I've been fortunate enough to experience plenty of different fishing trips. We've fished the beaches, Bass fished a couple of rivers, live-baited for Mangrove Jacks in the Harbour, tried the creeks for Whiting and Flathead and had a couple of trips using live Mullet off the walls, with mixed success (those Jack's in the harbour are very hard to get the better of!) however, it was a trip to the south wall at Urunga that proved most memorable.

The south wall of the river is pretty 'user friendly' compared to many other river walls on the coast and there are heaps of relatively comfortable spots to fish from. The wall doesn't extend very far out seawards, in fact on this particular occasion there was dry sand off the very end of the wall because there was a large sandspit running north and the river took a 90 degree turn to the north before flowing outwards at the end of the spit. One of the fishiest looking spots you could find, as everything entering the river system from the ocean had to travel this awesome looking channel formed between the spit and the shore.

We'd gone there to drift some live Mullet around under bobby corks, with the target species being a big Flathead. It was early spring and the beautiful clear water looked perfect for floating our livey's around- surely any predators would see them and hopefully be willing takers.

We'd decided to fish the last hour or so of the outgoing tide in the hope that a big Flattie would be waiting for a feed to be carried downriver to where it would be hiding- in amongst the numerous small eddies along the edge of the wall and just before low tide was when we'd had success at other locations using this strategy.

For anyone who hasn't been to the area, two major river systems- the Kalang and the Bellinger meet up a short distance in from the ocean and both are great fishing locations, offering up a great variety of species. There is a fantastic boardwalk that runs from Urunga all the way out to the beach, a return distance of some 2.5-3kms. The boardwalk is wheelchair friendly and travels over the sandflats and shallow waters of Urunga Lagoon, then adjacent the mangroves, parallel to the river's retaining wall and finishing up at the end of the wall overlooking the ocean. Of particular interest to fishers, as the tide rises and covers the flats, plenty of fish can be seen from the boardwalk and no doubt some nice fish are caught over the flats as the tide gets high. It's definitely a tourist 'must do' if you're in the area.

This day we ended up deciding on a comfortable looking spot just before the river took it's 90 degree turn at the mouth and set our live Mullet about 3 meters under bobby corks about the size of a large egg. Rig was just a small ball sinker sitting atop a swivel on 6kg mainline then a leader of about 60 cm of 10kg line and a 6/0 suicide (octopus pattern) hook and the bait pinned just in front of the dorsal fin.

After having quite a few drifts along the edge of the wall- where you try and keep the bait as close to the wall as you can without snagging up- we decided that in order to have a much longer drift, it would be much easier to do if we climbed a bit higher and walked along with the bait, due to the higher you were, the less large rocks to navigate. This meant you could keep a better eye on your cork also as you didn't have to work out a 'path' through the larger rocks and we could walk the bait all the way to the sandspit and in fact follow it right towards the entrance by going down on the spit where it became exposed from the river.

This new strategy saw us cover plenty more area and as the tide slowed right down we were able to get out on the sandspit and follow the bait almost all the way to the end of the spit where the river did another 90 degree turn a flowed straight out to sea. We didn't lose a bait unfortunately and after doing three or so circuits of deploy bait, walk the wall, climb down to the spit and walk out to the entrance, then slowly swim bait back and repeat we thought we'd better try something else.

We moved back to where our gear was on the larger rocks, back near the first 90 degree turn and decided to change rig in order to send the bait out into the channel which had pretty much stopped running out, so the bobby corks came off and a simple running sinker above the swivel put on instead. Fraser got his out before me and remarked that the water had started coming back in- there had only been a really short period of slack water, which is often the case at river entrances. I watched as his line was moving along fairly quickly and decided I wanted to put a much larger sinker on in order to keep my bait in the slightly darker looking water- indicating the deepest spot we could see. Back in the live bait bag went my rigged Mullet while I searched out one of those grapnel sinkers with the wire arms from my backpack. Sinker located and attached, Mullet still seemed lively enough (we only had 6 Mullet when we started) so rather than change it over for a fresh one I stood up and got ready to cast.

As I looked towards the entrance from my slightly higher vantage point, a massive dark shape was visible in the channel and it was coming towards where we were. Was it a tightly packed school of fish? Maybe Mullet? Then as it got close it came up nearer the surface and revealed itself to be an absolutely giant Manta Ray followed closely by a second one. Wow! How cool, neither of us had ever seen one bar on television and here were two of them and they were true giants, about the size of a room- for want of a better description. Then as if on cue, just as the front Manta was slowly swimming right past us, out from underneath ducked a big black fish quickly followed by three more. Fraser yelled "sharks" but I had not long read about American fishers who search out these giant Manta's and cast lures right next to them- as big Cobia are often their travelling companions. "Cobia" I replied but we were so awestruck at the Manta's, even though I had my live Mullet genuinely ready to cast, the fisherman in me gave way to the nature observer and I was transfixed watching the two giant Manta's accompanied by four massive trophy sized fish (all probably 25kg+) just swimming past less than 20 meters away.

We watched as they moved up river and out of our vision before realising that we could have plonked our live bait right on the top of the big Cobia- probably would have got spooled on the 330 meters of 6kg line as they were really big fish, but we were both so genuinely awestruck (I know I keep saying awestruck!) that neither of us did the "fisherman" in us justice and at least had a go at the Cobia- who knows- it was a sand bottom after all! No just kidding, they would have smashed us, they were thicker than one of those 20 litre buckets.

About 20 minutes later, as we were packing up to go and try further up the river, another dark 'blob' started moving in, much like the Manta's had. This time it was a tightly packed school of fish and after at first thinking they looked like Snapper, without getting a real close look, believe they were probably Mangrove Jack coming in from outside to start their 'murderous' spring stay. There are a couple of well known Jack haunts along the lower end of the wall, but we'd just been made look like rank amateurs back at Coffs Inner Harbour when targeting them with gear twice as heavy only a few nights earlier, so didn't even attempt them on 6kg amongst oyster covered walls. Nevertheless, it was really cool to see a good sized 'gang' of them in clear water during the middle of the afternoon.

We ended up trying the live Mullet under bobby corks again, this time in about 2 metres of water after getting off the boardwalk and picked up a couple of nice eating sized Flatties to take home for a feed, but seeing the Manta's, Cobia and Jacks (if that's what they were!) will stay with me forever

 

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Great story Waza. About 35 years ago when my dad was a teen his dad used to take him up to Urunga, he grew up in Dapto, and they would go fishing. I remember my dad showing me a photo of a massive flattie that his dad caught. I will do some digging and try find the picture.

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Another good story.

Many years ago I was on a night time scuba dive just off Jibbon Point in the Hacking. Swimming along the bottom, in the darkness with a torch, when I was aware that something big was above me. I looked up and saw the shape of a manta ray near the surface, and they are big in size. Even though it was dark, there was enough light on the surface to make out what it was.

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Hi Waza -  good to see you back posting great fishing yarns.  I did a bit of fishing in Urunga in the mid/late 70's - I had a mate who knew an old guy who had retired from the Sydney trams and moved to live in a house that backed onto the lagoon about 500 metres south of the caravan park / start of the boardwalk.  I was pretty much a beginner then (not too advanced now to be honest) but the old guy had a rowboat and a yabbie pump he was happy for us to use.  The guys I went with weren't too much into fishing so we rowed around exploring the lagoon during the day and I went out again in the late afternoon with a couple of dozen yabbies and a 6lb handline.

There was another recent post on Fishraider about early experiences that made fishing part of your life.  My holiday in Urunga were certainly part of that for me.  I can remember as clear as day rowing out to find the narrow channel that meandered its way through the lagoon and holes and banks further south away from the town.  I caught plenty of fish - with live yabbies it was probably hard not too - and didnt get anything that would seem special to an experienced fisherman but to a 15 year old novice it was like heaven.  Got the hang of feeling the fish bite, slowly take a bit of line and then accelerate off.  Mostly bream and flathead but got my first whiting, big enough that it took some line (probably 10 feet but it felt like 50) as it cut an arc around the boat heading across the shallows.  

Just before covid I drove up to Coff's Harbour on a golf trip and detoured into Urunga for old times sake.  Walked out along the boardwalk to the beach and up onto the end of breakwater as Waza described.  The Lagoon seemed much shallower than I remembered - there is a section of the breakwater that lets the water flow in and out from the river with the tide but I am guessing that this isn't enough to stop the lagoon silting up.  I hope I am wrong but got the sense that fishing in the lagoon might not be the same.  The lagoon is, however, a great spot for kids to swim and play and the water looked clear and clean.  The town is a little more built up but still has an old time fishing village vibe - worth a visit if in the area and as Waza said the breakwater, river mouth and adjacent gutters on the beach look like prime fishing territory.

Dee Why Jim

 

 

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Great read Waza.

Urunga is a great little spot, we stayed there a couple of years ago on a Nth Coast road trip.

The water was gin-clear on the run in, you could see the fish sitting out of the current behind rocks along the wall.

There were a couple of big rays cruising the wall for us too, though no Mantas and def no huge Cobia.

What a sight that must have been.

 

Cheers, stu.

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