As I’ve been living in Bellingen the last few years I’ve taken every free moment to sample the diverse types of fishing up there.I can be casting poppers for wild bass within 5 minutes of home or target bream, flathead, jewfish or mangrove jack in the river only 10 minutes away. For a while I was obsessed with the salt regions of the Kalang and Bellingen rivers, but they are a tricky area to sort out. All it needs is a rain period for a day or two and the resulting cold water can make the mostly shallow systems seemingly devoid of fish. Techniques that were successful in Sydney were not so up here. The bream were more prolific but not as big and they fed more aggressively so faster lure retrieves were needed. Small diving hard body lures and poppers worked better then soft plastics.
Bream on popper, Bellingen River
Bellingen isnt known for its fishing culture but Ive found a small and very dedicated loose bunch of anglers. They know their stuff. They quietly go about their fishy business in the hope others dont find out how good it can be. This is especially so with the Bass fisherman and the Snapper lure tossers.
Trolling near the bar for Tailor.
Id been eyeing off the notorious bar crossing for about a year as locals would be secretly zipping out in the right conditions and coming back with impressive catches or photos, many are into catch and release fishing, its a designated amateur fishery now. The bar seemed frightening to me, on a run out tide the pressure waves could be huge and very unpredictable, the times were all over the place depending on rainfall and moon phase, and the big sign saying 9 people had been killed here was the scary icing on the cake. It was also very shallow in parts.
Sharks also like the SPs
I only have a 4.7 metre boat but others were doing this crossing in much less appropriate vessels, I watched them carefully for ages trying to sort out a plan of attack.
With conditions perfect I followed a friends boat out on a rising tide, we had about 4 hours to fish before the bar became scary again, it seemed easy and that is the misleading thing, one minute great the next not so…
A very dodgy bar.
The snapper were there and they loved the soft plastics we used, whilst the action wasnt fast on that day it wetted my appetite and boosted my confidence, I go out regularly when seas are right, but Im very conservative and would prefer to stay in the river than take any risks. Some of the locals have nearly lost their boats taking that little extra time fishing and coming back through those nasty pressure waves. No fish is worth that!
When it all comes together its totally exhilarating, zooming back through that bar with some fresh fish for dinner.
Releasing another big Snapper off Urunga
Fish this size are quite common.
This 10 kilo snapper dived into kelp.
Catching jewfish on lures is common practice in the river, the breakwall at the entrance can have fish but Ive only landed smallish fish there. The big ones have broken me off on the rocks at my feet, they are either unstoppable or juvenile models. More Mulloway are caught up river on plastics, the big secret being the tides and the dead of night. Ive now landed 4 Flathead near the metre mark, 2 on lures and the others on baits intended for Jewfish.
ollie sniffs a 96cm Flathead caught at the entrance
One Jewfish hotspot is under the Urunga Bridge up river, on a rising tide its best to cast big lures along the edges of the light and shadow cast by the bridge, some fish are unstoppable in these shallow conditions and they hit so hard it almost wrenches your arm off.
Small Jewfish are very common, a good sign of a healthy river.
One from under the bridge
Pearl Perch are common on drifted lures
Moses Perch, related to Mangrove Jack
An average Bello Bass
Im going to do a much more involved article on this as its worthy of a lot of discussion, lets just say at this point that the bass fishing can be amazing. These are wild fish and they grow big and fight hard in sometimes very tricky parts of the rivers. Ive only touched the surface on this subject in Bellingen as its hard to get much info, most has been learnt doing the hard yards.
Upper Bellingen River
I spoke to a friend the other day who had a hell of a time trying to locate access to the river,and also worked very hard for a few fish. He ended up getting lost in the backwaters of the Kalang and was scared by some of the dope growing remote locals. What you need, especially in this area, is local knowledge.
Bass can be caught even in the centre of town
Ive caught bass whilst waiting for a pizza to be made at the local cafe, they can be that easy. Most big fish are caught at night and this is what sorts the keen and not so keen anglers out.
You need a canoe and a head torch as it gets tricky in some parts of the river and dangerous in others. Its an incredible experience though. Having large bass smashing your poppers in the moonlight with a beautiful healthy river system surrounding you is rare and unforgettable.
Bass can feed all day under the shade of the trees
51cm bass on a spinnerbait
Its best not to go at night by yourself, one evening we had a school of sharks attack mullet all around us in waistdeep water, this was well up river and in the fresh.
A big bass that I caught on a popper one night had a whole large mullet in its stomach, it threw this semi digested dinner up on my lap when I was releasing it….blaghhhhh!
The best way to fish these rivers is to have one angler leave their car at the final destination, this is often near the Bellingen Bridge. The other car then takes both canoes and fisherman to the upper river and you can then enjoy the flow for anything from 2 hours to 10. Casting to the snags and deeper sections as you paddle downstream.
In summer large crawler type poppers are great fun, I like the Halcos with the flurescent bibs, mainly because I can see them in any light conditions.
Divers also work but tend to get caught in weed, spinnerbaits are very handy especially small ones.
55cm wild river Bass
The big bass's previous prey