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Budget fishing and bait tips for the New South Wales Great Lakes and Coffs Harbour regions

15 Dec 2017

We talk to a New South Wales Great Lakes fishing expert from Tuncurry about bait and his Australian fishing tips.

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Luke from Great Lakes Tackle

Luke Austin has tackle on the brain. He runs Great Lakes Tackle in Tuncurry, New South Wales and has been fishing for as long as he can remember.

“Fishing is my life. I grew up here in the local area and it’s just a part of me. During school holidays, we’d literally swim up the lake carrying a bait pump and some hand lines. We’d use it to catch worms and yabbies then spend all day fishing. We didn’t care about sunburn or the time.”

Now, fishing gear is his livelihood. Bait (plastics and live), rods, reels, nets, lines… he sells it all. You have to in an area with such a smorgasbord of fish up for grabs.

“Most tourists fish for flathead, whiting, tailor, flatfish, and jewfish. Forster Keys is a good area for mud crabs.”

The Great Lakes region offers rock fishing, beach fishing, and offshore fishing, too. Snapper, bonito, tuna species, salmon and sharks. 

“Most people fish early or late, but it’s more tide. You fish the tides more than the time.”

It’s all great for business. Tourists swamp the area during summer and Luke is quick to add you’ll need to get a licence if you plan to fish in New South Wales.

“They’re vigilant in checking but it’s easy enough to get. You can see me or go online.”

Luke is adamant that fishing gear doesn’t need to send you broke.

“You can fish really cheap,” he says. Cheaper than the movies, really.”

First timers with nippers in tow need basic kit.

“Get a cheap little rod. As cheap as possible. It’s going to get wet and it’s going to get sandy so $19 ought to get you started.” He smiles.

“Fish light. A light line and light sinkers. The fish around here are pretty cluey. They know what’s going on. If you’re fishing with kids, fish with small hooks. Make sure they’re catching fish. That will keep them interested and they’ll go on from there.”

Knife-wise, don’t get one you need to work on to keep a sharp edge.

“A Cuda six-inch is budget-friendly. You can get three of those for $20. If it loses an edge you don’t have to worry about sharpening it, you can just get another one. Bait depends on the time of the year. Prawns and worms are popular. Mullet fillet is really popular as well. If you’ve got a bait pump, you can pump your own yabbies or nippers. They’re probably the best baits.”

After many years on the water, Luke prefers artificial bait.

“There’s oodles of different plastics. Once you dedicate yourself to using artificial bait, whether it’s soft plastics or hard bodies, you’ll catch more fish. I reckon it’s because you’re looking for the fish instead of waiting for them to come to you. There’s definitely an art to it. The biggest mistake people make is they fish too hard (so they fish too fast). Slow it down and you’ll get the fish.”

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Credit: Destination NSW. Pic: Paul Foley

Luke owns a tinny and makes use of his father-in-law’s boat when he needs something bigger. “He’s got a super comfy Surtees. It’s always nice to know someone who’s got a big boat so you can use theirs when you need to.”

He laughs. Luke’s favourite fishing spots are on home turf but if he was to travel to sink a line, he’d head for the south coast.

“There, the deeper water is pretty close to the coastline and you’ve got a shorter distance to get to big tuna. It’s also still a great place to get really good bream, flathead, and that sort of stuff down there, too.”

On the North Coast, he suggests Coffs Harbour where you can cast a line into the surf from the beach (Jetty Beach and Park Beach are great) or rocky shore, fish for bream, whiting or bass in the sheltered waters of a wide estuary. Boambee Beach is a hit for beach and river fishing and is 4WD accessible. Heading out to sea and spending a day fishing on the continental shelf is also an option. Fishing charters Cougar Cat or Game Striker do the organisation for you if reef, deep-sea, sport or game fishing is your thing.

“Coffs has really good offshore fishing, not so much river fishing. The snapper and kingfish is all really good. Further north from Coffs you get wahoo and mackerel. We get mackerel here [at Forster] and wahoo but only for two months or so a year whereas they get them for a bit longer.” 

Or, head for Bundagen Headland, Tuckers Rocks and the River Mouth between Raleigh and Urunga. It’s where the Bellingen and Kalang Rivers meet the sea and encounters with drummer, snapper, jewfish, luderick, bream, whiting and tailor fish are likely. Repton Rail Bridge and Repton Hole are good for deeper water fishing. Think mangrove jack, school jewfish and bream. If you’re a serious angler, head out to Split Solitary Marine Park for beach, rock, estuary and deep-sea fishing. The continental shelf is 20 kilometres offshore.  

Once you get your haul home, Luke says to cook it simply, especially flathead.

“Fillet it and cook it simply: flour, salt and pepper, on a hot pan or barbecue. Don’t overcook it. As soon as it changes from clear to white it’s done. Put a bit of lemon on it and away you go.” 

He says snapper, mackerel, jewfish (mulloway) are also tasty.

“Dolphin fish is really nice. It’s also known as mahi-mahi and is a really good fish for people who don’t really like fish. It’s not too fishy.”

More often than not though, he returns his catch to its home.

“Especially bream. I like to let them go. They’re an old fish, for the big guys you’re looking at a 30 to 40-year-old fish. They all go back now. You’ve got to respect them. Fishing is our passion and if we kill everything we catch, we have none of that passion left. People who fish for the kill are not really fishermen.”

Want more? Luke recommends watching Lee Rayner’s Fishing Edge. “Fishing World is an old-time favourite fishing mag. I’ve read it forever.”

Want to know about fishing? Read our article here.

WATCH Discover the joys of fishing from some local News South Wales experts. Watch video below:

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