Kayak fishing spots in south east NSW – 3 of the best (in one long weekend)

The poor kayak has been neglected of late. In fact since we purchased Tudo (our 4m estuary boat) last year I can probably count the number of kayak trips on two fingers.  Unlike the kayak, Tudo allows me to fish with someone else (more social), to control the drift around snags and structure with the electric (more effective) and to glide along under the power of a Yamaha 4-stroke (a lot less effort!).

But with the boat scheduled for a service and the insatiable desire to go fishing, my mind turned back to the Hobie. Rather than simply swap the boat for the kayak and continue to fish our favourite haunts (more slowly, less effectively and with a LOT more effort) I came to the fairly obvious conclusion that the kayak is the perfect vessel to explore systems that the boat can’t get into, or are at least are more difficult to navigate. And what a cracking long weekend it turned out to be with three different systems to explore in three days – I’m sorry I ignored you Hobie … Will you forgive me?

Lake Meroo

Featured lures: Storm Gomoku (4cm Orange Head) & Atomic K-9 walker (6cm Ghost Pearl Tiger)

This small system near Ulludalla has no boat ramp and requires several kilometres of 4WDing to get a vehicle close enough to  launch a kayak. Lake Meroo is nearly always closed to the ocean, opening only during heavy floods. I’ve fished this lake on a few occasions and only ever seen bream and mullet – and the occasional freshwater eel. My guess is that flathead, whiting, tailor and the other common estuary fish require more saline water or more frequent access to the ocean to breed (feel free to add a comment if you know). The good thing about the lack of toothy critters is that you can really hone your gear and techniques to the resident bream population. If you were ever nervous about casting $20 lures on 3lb line, fear not, this is one place to do it.

As I pushed off and started exploring, the first thing I noticed (apart from the cool scenery, water birds and someone’s pesky drone) was that the lake had changed. The deep holes down the front had filled with sand and there was nothing deeper than 2-3 metres. No doubt this will change again the next time the sand bar burst opens … The sun was high and the wind was dead calm. As a surface lure addict I started throwing poppers over the weed beds. As it spurted and sputtered along, the popper seemed crude in these glassy conditions, and the fish seemed to agree, so I switched to a more subtle surface walker. As the stickbait twitched across the weed beds small prawns fled in panic, and as it cleared the weeds and into some adjacent deeper water it suddenly boiled from underneath <Sip> fish on!

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First Meroo bream for the day. This fish was sitting in the timber just waiting for something to stray out of the weed beds

Before long, the clouds rolled in and the wind picked up. Like a switch had been flicked, bream started sipping prawns or possibly small fish off the surface all around me <Psst> <Psst> <Psst>. This was the cue to switch back to the popper. In these conditions the popper tracks straighter and produces more commotion – both handy traits when the surface is choppy. The next couple of hours I had a ball drifting from one side of the lake to the other (it’s not very wide) with the wind behind me firing the popper out in all directions. The best retrieve was a fairly slow but consistent bloop bloop bloop. Most of the strikes were on the split-second pause between bloops but occasionally a fish would hit the lure and miss. On this occasion, letting it sit and giving it just a little twitch seemed to work wonders.

All said and done, about 8-10 bream came to the net of which 3 or 4 were really solid fish. Being such a small and enclosed system however, my preference was to let these fish go again for next time.

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As the clouds rolled in and the wind picked up, the popper produced the goods

Clyde River (above shallow crossing)

Feature lure: Rapala Rippin Rap (5cm GCH)

The Clyde river is renowned as one of the best fisheries along the NSW South Coast. 102kms long with no dams and no major industries or agriculture, it is essentially pristine.  And since commercial netting was stopped around 2007 the fishing has only gotten better and better. But unlike the vast tidal sections towards the ocean where a powered boat is a huge advantage, it is the freshwater sections above shallow crossing where the kayak is king. This is Australian bass country.

There are a number of access points to the river from which to explore including shallow crossing, Yadboro flats, Clyde Ridge Road, Blue Gum flats and any number of smaller roads  – just respect those that are on private property.

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The stunning upper reaches of the Clyde river. This is Platypus and bass country

Kayak fishing the mid and upper reaches of the Clyde is a delight as it is alive with birds, wallabies and platypus. The river is highly changeable though and varies from fast flowing rapids to seemingly endless long pools. Kayak gear junkies might struggle as navigating through the fallen logs and low-hanging branches down the rapids with sounders, rod holders, out-riggers or any other bolt-on accessories is a recipe for disaster. Even the Hobie Mirage drive is best removed until through to the other side.  Best to keep it simple in this environment and just enjoy the ride.

As with any bass fishing, casting accuracy is key. The most productive spots were those slightly deeper sections of the river where a fallen branch or large rock could act as an ambush spot. Small spinnerbaits, soft plastics or diving lures will all work, but my favourite is a small lipless crankbait in a gold colour. It gets a lot of hits on the drop or after just one or two cranks of the handle next to structure.

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A typical bass from the upper reaches of the Clyde river

Durras Lake

Featured lures: Atomic K-9 walker (6cm Ghost Pearl Tiger) & Storm Gomoku (4cm Orange Head)

The third stop on the ‘Hobie weekender’ was Durras Lake. Durras is a medium-sized system, certainly bigger than Meroo, but less than half is able to be fished under the Batemans Bay Marine Park zoning. This limits fishing to 3 bays and the river channel. And while there is a boat ramp and all of the lake is technically accessible by boat, it’s been our experience that there are lots of shallow areas to be aware of and it pays to watch the tides and go slowly.

For the kayak angler it is possible to launch next to the boat ramp or where the lake nudges the highway. For the latter be prepared to carry or roll the boat down to the water and lots of sticky grey mud when you get there. The small effort is worth it however as there are some cracking flathead in Durras with catches of 90cm+ fish relatively common. In addition there are bream which patrol the weedy edges and fallen trees, and whiting zooming around the tidal flats.

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Bream on surface walkers; fallen trees, like the one on the far shore are a great place to start looking for fish

After fishing for flathead for an hour or so on this occasion without so much as a touch, we turned our attention to the big fallen Eucalypt trees that spill out into the lake. The water is relatively shallow around the edge (1-2 metres) so while very lightly-weighted soft plastics may have worked, I opted for a surface walker to explore these snags – what can I say, I’m addicted to surface lures! Casting close to underwater branches that hold fish is a good technique, but something I learned on this trip was to cast beyond the best looking parts of the snag. The surface lure floats of course, so there is little chance of getting snagged at this point. It zig-zags for a metre or two on the far side of the branch, passes over the top and then starts back to kayak in clear water.  Those first few zig-zags are a bit nerve racking, as a strike at this point would probably end tangled in the tree, but it seems it takes the fish a couple of metres to notice the lure and then to give chase. So on this day – it worked beautifully. Watching two bream from opposite sides of the snag chasing down the lure and smashing it in clear shallow water is something that I’ll remember for a long time.

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Crunched!

There are however only so many casts you can make at a small number of snags before you need to move. Plus the wind had really sprung up and finesse fishing, especially from a kayak, is always hard when it’s blowing. So it was off to the tidal flats for an exploratory cast. Similar to Meroo, it was proving hard to use the walker in the choppy conditions so I returned to the trusty popper.

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Parked on the flats in 10cm of water. Looks can be deceiving. Wind gusts up to 30-40km/h were whipping along the lake every few minutes.

The first cast with the popper was greeted with an enthusiastic explosion from a bullish whiting around the 40cm mark. The next few casts were chased by several fish who seemed to be as interested in each other as they were in the lure – breeding season perhaps? The best spot was a deeper channel (1-2 metres) flanked by sand bars on either side.

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Orange head! The popper, not the angler, that is.

As the wind continued to blow, the fish continued their antics, although the shallow water produced much smaller fish than the deeper channels. The best retrieve was different to that when targeting bream. Fast and furious seemed to work best. If I paused the lure the whiting would often lose interest and swim away. One of the benefits of the kayak is that it floats in around 10-20cm of water. So it could be positioned at the top of the drift and floated across the flats firing casts in all directions. It allows lots of water to be covered and lots of fun to be had!

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This second nice whiting also came home for the dinner table.

So there you have it, three of the best kayak fishing spots all within an hour or so of each other on the NSW south coast.  Of course there are many more spots that are often overlooked because they are small or don’t have a boat ramp. But what a great excuse to get away from the masses, leave the tinnie at home and go exploring.  After two nights of camping and three days in the yak I was ready for a shower and a change of shirt however. Pedaling the kayak is certainly a lot more work than turning the throttle on the boat. But the fishing was so great and the isolation so appealing that I’ll be thinking long and hard about whether to take the boat or the yak on the next trip.  I suspect the yak is going to win out a lot more than twice in 2016!

Happy kayaking

Graham

 

Disclaimer: Rapala VMC are sometimes nice enough to give me stuff. Which is cool. In return I am sometimes nice enough to mention their products – if I like them. It’s only a casual relationship so I am under no obligation to do so. I don’t mention products I don’t like or don’t think are suited to our local fisheries.

flickandflyjournal.com

Hamish Webb, Dan Firth, Graham Fifield and Lee Georgeson have been fishing the south-east Australian region since 1987. Since then they’ve become avid sportfishermen who are constantly looking for new ways to challenge themselves. They are all scientists and conservationists who are passionate about the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem in which they live. They promote understanding and appreciation of the complex socio-political, economic and environmental issues surrounding fish, fishing and fisheries, while never losing sight of the various motivations that keep them coming back. In English, that means they love all things fishing and have a damn good time on the water, and that’s all that really counts in the end!

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