Catching a mulloway: Lee walks you through all his trips, all the heartache and hopefully to success

Recently, I was browsing through a little alternative bookstore in Canberra and a book caught my eye. Titled ‘Shadowing the Ghost of the Estuary: My quest to catch mulloway on lures and how they have messed with my head’, I just had to have it (an upcoming blog will have a full book review). The title encapsulates the enigma of this amazing fish, and how they have started to mess with my head. It’s the one fish I’m yet to encounter in my local haunts, although I know they’re in there. The recent trip up north to the Daly River has reinspired me to commit to catching one. We averaged around 1 barra for every 170 casts and I know that if I add another zero to the end, time my outings effectively and have persistence and confidence, I’ll get a mulloway eventually.

So, this will basically be a running blog about my efforts to catch one and what I learn along the way. Hopefully other anglers out there who find themselves in a similar situation will benefit from it in one way or another. It’s fairly easy to find information about what bait/lures to use, when to fish, where to fish etcetera etcetera, but finding the knowledge of  the intricacies and effort involved is harder. Sol Bannura, who is the author of the aforementioned book, has done this incredibly well in print. As such, I’ll no doubt attribute some of what I say to him. He truly is an incredible authority on the subject and I’d love to meet him one day (better still go fishing with him) to pick his brains about all things mulloway.

Anyway, to begin. I spend most of my time fishing two coastal locations where I know there are mulloway. While not a renowned mulloway fishery, Wallaga Lake on the NSW south coast has reasonable numbers of fish. I know this for a number of reasons. Firstly, I’ve seen some amazing photos of a brace of two metre plus fish taken during the day in some deep Wallaga holes. Secondly, the pro who I see from time to time encounters them. Thirdly, there are an abundance of baitfish. Fourthly, Wallaga has been open to the ocean via a deep tidal channel for around three years now. Fifth, Camel Rock, and Hayward’s beach to the south of the mouth, produce mulloway reasonably frequently. Sixth, I have smelled mulloway (more on this later). Seventh, a friend of a friend’s boyfriend lost something big under the bridge recently. That’s pretty much it…but it’s enough for me to know that they’re in there and if I put in the effort, I’ll get one eventually.

With predators like this in Wallaga, I’m convinced there’s a few mulloway!

The other spot I spend a fair bit of time fishing is Twofold Bay, in Eden, NSW. It’s a really interesting system. I don’t know of too many places where you can catch metre+ dusky flathead and kingfish/tuna within 300 metres of one another (think navy wharf). It’s generally full of baitfish and birds. There is one place in particular, at the mouth of the Towamba River (Kiah inlet), that I think would turn on some seriously good mulloway fishing at times. I’ve heard of planes spotting big schools of mulloway sitting near the mouth, and am keen to focus some more effort here out of Hamish’s 5.5 metre Stacer. The use of the sounder and easy access to livebait gets me pretty excited.

Plenty of mulloway lollipops in Twofold Bay

The gear I’m using is a 6 foot t-curve matched with a Calcutta 100B spooled with 30lb braid and usually 60lb leader. I’ll focus on using big soft plastics and the odd livie out of the boat during the day and tide changes, while I’ll mostly be casting big rattling divers around the bridge at night, or if setting up for a session at the Kiah, a combination of slabs of salmon or mullet, lures and the odd livie.

In Wallaga, I’ve had a few attempts out of the boat so far and one little night session around the bridge. The boat sessions were interesting – I was focusing on the main basin of the lake where the water drops off from around 2 metres down to around 14 metres. There’s good tidal flow and loads of bait. I’ve had some nice touches in the deep stuff, although have managed a few good flathead, so perhaps I can attribute most of the touches to them. I didn’t see, feel or ‘sense’ any sign of fish for my first little night lure session, but I only put in about an hour either side of an 8.30pm high tide. There was a bit of traffic heading over the bridge, so I’m not sure whether a later high tide might be better. Nonetheless, it was good to get a feel for where to cast, how fast the water was flowing and start playing with techniques. If barra are anything to go by, slower is generally better. But I’m not sure if this applies…yet. I suspect the odd twitch with lots of pauses will be the undoing of my first fish.

I’ve been studying the Wallaga Lake bathymetry maps (I don’t have a sounder yet on my tinny) and have noticed some good looking holes. According to the bloke who showed me the brace of fish he caught in Wallaga, they came out of an 8 metre deep ‘hole’. I’ve found two distinct ‘holes’ when looking at the maps, but need to focus on exactly where they are. It can be hard to pin point a spot when looking at a pdf on the iPhone!

Anyway, looks like Hamish and I will be putting in a bit of a night session somewhere around Eden this weekend. We might hit up either the Cannery Wharf, which produces fish from time to time, or perhaps venture down to the mouth of the Kiah with a bottle of Captain Morgan’s Old Spice and see how we go.

Well, since writing that last paragraph Hamish and I did put in a bit of a session at the mouth of the Kiah. We headed out on the boat late in the day and went straight to the Navy wharf in search of bait. After throwing in a bit of bread for berley, we sent the squid ‘pimped’ bait jig down and within seconds it was nailed. The way the rod bent I called it immediately for a trevally, but within seconds a big slimy arced under the boat and was soon vibrating into the boat. We caught about 15 more BIG slimies-I’m talking 35-40cm fish-before heading over to the mouth of the Kiah. We all got a bit of a drenching on the way across and anchored up in an exposed westerly. On arrival, we saw a large school of salmon feeding on the surface, but had bigger fish to fry, so to speak. The temperature was dropping and we were running low on beer. Nonetheless, we dropped a few livies and slab baits over the side in around 8 metres of water and sat back to wait.

It didn’t take long before we started getting some inquiries, and soon one of the rods buckled over and it was all action stations. Headshakes were felt, which was explained excitedly to the occupants of the tinny, but before long a good-sized banjo shark found its way to the side of the boat. Not to be disheartened, it was good to know that the sharks and rays were around. However, after landing the 10th banjo, a port jackson shark and three dog/leopard sharks (not sure of the exact species, but generally small and ‘snakey’), we were starting to think there were no other predators in the vicinity.

After a few quiet minutes of looking at big arcs on the sounder Hamish had a much more promising touch. A fish had picked up the bait swiftly and run about 10 metres before Hamish realised what was happening. A swift strike ensued, but alas, no hookup.

As the cold was setting in and we’d run out of beer we decided to head off. While we weren’t successful on the mulloway, we had a great time, with the highlight probably being catching the bait! The ‘bait’ ended up smoked for lunch the next day, and were absolutely delicious.

Lessons learnt: Bring enough warm clothes, bring enough beer, and PERSIST!

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