Jewfish are one of the most iconic fish on the east coast of Australia and can be notoriously difficult to catch. They inhabit a wide range of habitats and can be found offshore and in coastal estuaries, but there’s nothing quite like catching them off the beach or rocky coastal headlands. It’s a challenge like no other.
While chasing Jewfish or Mulloway from the rocks is tough it can, at times, be quite consistent, particularly on the north coast of NSW. Most rocky headlands will hold fish and you’d be surprised where you can find them, but the toughest hurdle for anyone new to this style of fishing is finding suitable fishing locations.
We’re meeting up with local angler, Sam Gilchrist, who is going to show us his favourite spots around the northern NSW coastline. We will also meet up with Hook Line and Sinker's Andrew and Nick and hopefully teach them a thing or two.
Getting to pristine locations is part of the journey in chasing these enigmatic fish and some of the locations we are going to head to can be tough to access. They involve dirt roads, beach driving and a water crossing. We're tackling them in an Isuzu D-Max four-wheel drive.
On the freeway, the D-Max is perhaps not the most well-appointed among the dual-cab ute brigade, but it goes about its business with a minimum of fuss and is reasonably quiet on the road. It is, in fact, perfect for this type of trip.
Our final location is the Yuraygir National Park, just north of Coffs Harbour, where we will try our hand fishing at Station Creek and Pebbly Beach. Even if you're not a keen fisherman, but love hitting the dirt, Station Creek is one of those places that demands a visit. It's a rare hidden gem on the coast.
To get there, head north on the freeway through Coffs Harbour, and keep heading north past Arrawarra. About eight kilometres past the turn off for Arrawarra, is an inauspicious dirt road called Barcoongere Road. Take it and follow the signs towards the Pebbly Trail and you will come out onto the sand south of Station Creek.
From here it is a small trundle up the beach to the creek crossing and north to Pebbly Beach. It is important to cross only at low tide, and remember, it is salt water if you're concerned for your vehicle's welfare.
The bottom is rock, so it is unlikely you will get stuck but always exercise caution. Approach the water at a steady pace, not too fast, or you'll simply spray water everywhere and build momentum through the water creating a bow wave in front of the car. If you're unsure at all, walk it first.
The tough Isuzu D-Max handled this crossing with a camper trailer in tow with no problems at all, aside from having to wait for the tide to drop.
Most of the terrain prior to the creek crossing and indeed that of the beach, is quite hard-packed sand, so it's not crucial to lower tyre pressures too expediently. When towing a camper trailer though, you're adding weight and lowering pressures is recommended.
The track at the north end of the beach does traverse some soft sand, so be prepared. We had two D-Max utes on hand and while the one without the trailer would have been fine without lowering the tyre pressure, the one towing the trailer needed it as we left the beach for the drier sand.
Once across the creek, Pebbly Beach is truly a magical place with camping spots dotted along a track that leads from the south end of the beach to the north. They are literally on the beach, separated by mere metres in some cases from the sand.
There are also a few pit toilets if you need more comforts. The beach is predominately facing north so summer will probably deliver the afternoon north-easter wind straight into your face if you camp at the southern end, but if it's too much head to the creek which is well protected. Snorkelling can be done at each end of the beach and you can surf here, too.
The beach is unpatrolled so keep an eye on any young ones. If you ever wonder why it's called Pebbly Beach head to the north end and walk around on the beach for a few minutes in bare feet. You'll understand within seconds, I would wager.
We were graced with superb weather as we rolled into the first camping spot along the beach. This gave us an excellent vantage point to work out where to fish for the evening. The D-Max equipped with the camper trailer was quickly and effortlessly reversed into position while Nick and Andrew had a rock off to see who got the bed. Clearly these guys were used to the finer things. In any case Andrew won and skipped off down the road in celebration.
The rest of us worked to unload the Isuzu D-Max tub and set up camp. The beauty of tough, knock-about utes like this, is that they can take a load of gear and between the tents, fishing gear, eskies, swags and firewood we had to lug, it didn't miss a beat, nor did we need to leave anything out.
Sam was first to head off up the beach and the southerly swell was running big and hard and made rock fishing a non-event, so he headed up to a small gutter halfway along the beach. He'd only been fishing for a few minutes when I drove up having thrown all my gear in the back looking for a better spot.
The car handled the soft sand along the back of the beach beautifully, floating over softer sections with the tyre pressures lowered. After a quick chat, I made the decision to head to the north end to check the conditions and found an excellent gutter, so headed back and grabbed the rest of the team.
While you can find Jewfish on almost any beach or headland, landing these fish is tough among the surging waters, so carry a gaff or Boga grips so you can secure your catch quickly and safely. It's also imperative that you wear rock fishing boots, or cleats applied to runners, if you plan to fish from the rocks. In areas like this it is preferable not to fish alone.
If you're new to chasing Jewfish, Google Earth is a handy weapon that will allow you to find likely looking haunts anywhere on the coast. Whether you're online or on the ground, you are looking for a few different types of structure.
Beaches are best checked on location and you're looking for a gutter that has two ends open with water breaking over the top. Look for the darker coloured water and areas where waves aren't breaking. They can be either parallel or running out perpendicular to the beach, but the deeper water is the key. The Jewfish will come into the gutter to feed on smaller prey coming off the shallower sandbars beside the gutter. Some beaches will also have rocks dotted along them. These spots are also worth a look.
Rock fishing is easier via Google Earth and you're looking for areas where a rock has separated from the coastline and rises from the bottom forming a wave that breaks into deeper water before reaching the shoreline. These bomboras create gutters that will hold Jewfish as they wait for unsuspecting baitfish.
The second is a deep crack that runs out into the ocean from the shoreline. On the north coast you will find plenty of structure like this as the rocks run in long lines out into the deeper water.
In both of these locations, broken rock and sandy bottoms with good white water cover will be the best producers. In fact the fish can be found in water as shallow as a metre and literally at your feet. In all of the scenarios, look for areas that have good white water over the top. The Jewfish love the cover and I've found the rougher the water, the better.
We managed to find one solitary Jewfish in the north corner hiding under cover of some solid white-water formed as the waves break close to shore. Andrew was the lucky angler while the rest of us caught a mixture of Tailor and other beach dwellers.
Nick seemed particularly proud of his blind shark. Definitely not a desirable species. While the Jewfish was certainly big enough to throw in the back of the D-Max, we elected to release him to fight another day. Let me tell you that didn't go over well with the camp after we failed to convert one more fish after that.
While it may not sound like much, to get this on camera is a feat in itself and both Sam and I were relieved that at least one of us had managed to achieve our mission. Personally, I was a little upset it wasn't me and my beach fishing Jewfish hex continues.
My only solace was watching both Andrew and Nick wade across the creek when we deposited them at the south end of Pebbly Beach the next morning for their flight home. It's not that they wouldn't fit in the D-Max. It has plenty of space for three fishermen, fishing gear and their rather odd looking suitcases which didn't seem to fit with the camping theme we had discussed.
The truth was that the tide was still too high and with a missed flight falling very low on the things to do in Coffs Harbour list, we had earlier elected to leave one car on the other side for such an occasion. Lucky that.