by Wayne Kampe •
When I first visited Iluka the massive sea walls on the mighty Clarence River were still being constructed. Rail lines were carrying huge natural rocks dug from a quarry, as well as man-made behemoth blocks out on the evolving structure, where they were carefully placed for maximum effect. My mate and I would walk out on the gravel and stones between rows of railway sleepers to cast a line, then plod back under the weight of a big mulloway or bag of tailor.
Getting to most of the Iluka fishing areas in those days was tricky, as we had to negotiate rough potholed and sometimes boggy tracks, but our efforts were likely to be rewarded. Fishing pressure was very light but like all shore-based angling, sea conditions governed results.
A love of Iluka evolved that has stood the test of time, and not having enjoyed even a look at this fabulous fishing area for a few years I spent a some days there last month to check things out.
I was pleased to note that the main bitumen road leading from the Pacific Highway (around 30 minutes south of the town of Woodburn and just north of the bridge on the Clarence if you’re heading north from Grafton) into Iluka was improved and the rough tracks to main fishing spots had been sealed. There were also decent parking areas and even toilets and picnic tables to enjoy for family groups as well.
Land-based or launch the boat?
Basically, there’s the mega attraction of the massive Clarence River, plus great bluewater fishing to be enjoyed as well, but as many anglers simply like to fish from the shore we will look at land-based fishing first.
All of these land-based areas are well-signed, easily reached by motor vehicle or on foot, and can produce excellent fishing on the day when conditions are right. By that I mean not too rough or boisterous!
Once you’re off the highway and heading to Ikula, the first hot spot is accessed via the well-signed Shark Bay picnic area. The beach there offers pipis and worms for bait, and you can drive the 4×4 for many kilometres north to look for a likely beach gutter. If the tide is out the Shark Bay rocks offer a wide variety of fish from bream to black drummer, mulloway and tailor. There’s also excellent beach fishing right at, or adjoining, the neat picnic area for whiting, dart and bream as well.
A little further along the road towards town is the Bundjalung National Park Woody Head Camping area. This is my all time, long time, favourite camping area, and if you like camping in a peaceful, ocean side, very clean and well-grassed camping area with ample facilities for young and old, this is the one for you!
If you like to do a bit of rock or beach fishing, or launch the boat into the South Pacific in suitable conditions, or maybe survey a few kangaroos nibbling around the camp sites while a scrub turkey or two are quarrelling over a bread crust, then this is most definitely for you!
The entire Woody Head camping area is unpowered, so there won’t be anything drowning out the gentle ambience of the waves caressing the rocks at night.
The campgrounds are within the Bundjalung National Park and a permit will be required to access the area, obtainable at the park’s office.
There are numerous rock fishing hot spots at Woody Head suited to both high and low tide, with the safest access always dependant upon calm sea conditions.
The main targets will be bream, tailor, mulloway, luderick and snapper, but anglers do catch some quality flathead and whiting right in the small bay near the boat ramp or out front of the picnic tables and BBQ units. Low tide seems to be the favourite all rounder, and it’s quite common to see a dozen or more rods in action on the rocks of a calm afternoon or early morning.
During my recent visit I again employed a sliding bobby cork rig from the rocks and caught bream, dart, tailor and a decent Australian salmon. Over several sessions I did not have one snag.
The next shore fishing locality is the Back Beach area, which adjoins the main Woody Head rock platform on the southern side. A road leads into the car park and this is a very popular beach fishing hot spot, as a hole often forms just south of the rocks. Tailor and mulloway are the main targets.
A few kilometres south of Woody Head, a signed turn-off on the left leads to Frasers Reef, which is a rocks and beach area. From the car park and picnic area there’s a small walk to the beach and a 5-minute walk to the nearby small rocky island, with the main Frasers Reef headland just to the north. Both of these spots offer excellent rock fishing for all the usual suspects, with tailor and bream predominating at this time of year. The main Frasers Reef headland is fairly high and offers some shelter from incoming waves. It’s a great spot to spy on a whale as well.
No visit to Iluka would be complete without a look at the main Bluff area. The view from the top is well worth the climb, and as this area is outside the Bundjalung National Park boundary, a permit won’t be necessary to access it. Again there’s ample parking and lots of fishing area to enjoy on virtually any part of this low rock platform, which can see the rod bending to anything from a luderick to a mulloway or even a blue groper.
It’s also a favourite spot for tailor anglers, with several attractive white water and wash areas holding these scrappers, particularly at low tide.
A very attractive beach stretches between the Bluff and Frasers Reef to the north, and there are worms on hand plus a series of gutters that hold whiting and dart year round.
Main Beach and the Sea Wall
There are several golden kilometres of sand between the Clarence north wall and the Bluff, and fish-holding gutters will likely see rods in action of an early morning or evening. The main northern sea wall is a massive structure extending for a considerable distance into deep water. This is a good place to snag a mulloway on a big lure or live bait as well as a feed of tailor or bream, especially in or behind the area adjoining the wall where the waves are breaking. Sea walls usually require serious lifting of fish, and a long gaff can be an invaluable asset if you’re targeting big ones. It’s interesting to see that in summer many anglers float out a livey or fresh cut bait under a balloon to give the tuna and mackerel a try.
Winter is mulloway time and when a big fresh is staining the mighty Clarence River, a big lure on strong tackle can reap rewards. The river side of the big wall, just where waves are breaking, is also an excellent fishing spot when the river is a bit discoloured, and this is when bream are usually very active. Again, it pays to find a place where the lower rock area is easily accessed.
Iluka Harbour Walls
Iluka Harbour shelters the local professional fishing fleet, and there are several accessible areas of wall. Some of it will be easier to walk on than other sections, and these will allow anglers to cast a bait or lure into the Clarence or alternatively, sections of the harbour. It’s sheltered water fishing, with bream and luderick the favourites at this time of year. The fish are certainly there, it’s merely a matter of finding a section of wall that suits the angler.
Take the Trailer Boat
My advice is that if you can, you should. There are several launching ramps into the Clarence at Iluka and the river walls are famous for bream and luderick during the day, and mulloway at night, with flathead around shallower areas.
Blue water anglers can either head out of the Clarence River or alternatively launch at Woody Heads ramp and head out from there. Excellent snapper fishing is par for the course in this neck of the woods, and trolling can also bring rewards.
Shark Bay, adjoining Woody Heads to the north and west, is a renowned area for spotty mackerel in summer and autumn. Fish to 6kg+ are often taken. As an aside, my wife and I caught our first spotty mackerel on fly in Shark Bay on our recent trip!
Rock fishing tactics
Before looking at places to stay in the Iluka area, it might be smart to have a think about rock fishing if it’s not something that you have previously undertaken.
All rock fishing depends upon being able to access the chosen spot in safety, so it pays to survey the scene for a while and keep an eye on wave action. Dry rocks should be OK, wet ones should only be accessed with great care, and while carefully watching the incoming swells.
A rising tide means that dry rocks will soon likely become wet slippery rocks, and if you are there at that time you will be wet as well! While the opposite occurs when the tide is ebbing, it’s still good practice to be alert for rogue waves. They usually come in sets of three, so be warned. Proper footwear is important too, and there needs to be plenty of tread to maintain a good grip on terra firma. I like plastic sandals, but neoprene dive boots are very good as well.
Where to stay at Iluka
Although Iluka is still a small township, there are houses and other places to rent in the area. Visitors that enjoy camping are also pretty well catered for. Heading off the highway there are two caravan parks at the Woombah locality, these being the Bimbimbi Riverside and Woombah Woods parks, which are handy to the adjoining section of the Clarence.
Next would be Woody Heads, then in Iluka township proper there’s the Iluka Riverside Tourist Park and the The Anchorage just to the west of the town centre, with the Iluka Clarence Head park to the east, en route to the sea wall and Main Beach area. All offer excellent accommodation and a couple of them are pet friendly as well.
In all, Iluka offers not only great fishing but a degree of unspoilt ambience that is sadly missing in our modern way of life. It’s hard to fault a stay there, and even if the weather is not what it might be there’s always somewhere sheltered to enjoy some fishing. The possibilities are endless.