Like a kid in a candy shop – that’s how you’ll feel when visiting the Forster Tuncurry (FT) area. These coastal towns, situated only three hours north of Sydney, are blessed with clean beaches, uncrowded rock ledges, top class bluewater game fishing and, the jewel in the crown, Wallis Lake, a pristine world class fish heaven. As a local, I might sound a little biased, but I truly believe it is that good!
As mentioned, FT is situated an easy drive north of Sydney – and that drive is getting shorter and shorter as the Pacific Highway undergoes constant and much-needed upgrade work. Taking the turn off the highway near the small town of Nabiac will soon have you entering the twin towns. As you come across the iconic dipping bridge, your eyes will light up and your mind will go into overdrive at the fishing potential. Wallis Lake is quite large, covering 99 sq kms with an average depth of five feet, meaning it’s pretty shallow. In fishing terms, that translates into plenty of flats full of flathead. The lake is also one of NSW’s biggest suppliers of Sydney rock oysters, which means it holds incredible lease structures – home to some of the biggest bream anywhere on the east coast. Then, as you glance out the other side of your car – trying not to crash into the oncoming traffic – just past the frolicking dolphins you'll spot two breakwalls, both of which are outstanding fish attracting devices (especially for large jewfish) and provide a safe bar for easy access to the big blue.
FT is also just north of Pacific Palms, a popular tourist destination, with great surf beaches and fishing opportunities. Not even an hour’s drive to the south is the sleepy fishing village of Seal Rocks with its lighthouse sitting proudly up on the hill. Beaches protected from southerlies on one side and the nor-easter on the other make this place well worth the drive for a daytrip sightseeing with the family, but you should maybe just pack an outfit or two just in case!
Forster’s biggest industry is tourism (oyster farming is second), meaning there are plenty of accommodation options ranging from caravan parks to luxurious high-rises with awesome views.
From bream to bonito, black drummer to black kingfish, the stones around the FT area can provide incredible opportunity. Consistent catches can be found along the generally uncrowded rock ledges. When the warm water pushes down the coast from February through to April, pelagics are a popular target. Although a little unpredictable, red-hot sessions happen annually to those committed enough to put in the hours. Plenty of mackerel and bluefin tuna are caught each year along with cobia, big kingfish and the occasional small yellowfin. I’ve personally been smoked by kings which I just could not gain an inch of line back on. But if 12-hour stints chasing a bite from a rampaging pelagic don’t tickle your fancy, then you’ll be glad to know all the popular bread & butter species are plentiful. Drummer, bream, tailor and groper are very common captures off the FT rock platforms – early morning starts are recommended for best results. Admittedly, the best land-based options are just to the south of Forster. Reconnaissance on Google Earth may pay dividends, but a look at both ends of Seven Mile Beach is a bit of a local hint.
The breakwalls back in town offer more rock fishing opportunities. Whitebait fished with little or no weight in the eddies close to the rocks result in great bream fishing virtually all year round. Most bites will happen right at your feet amongst the snags, so there is no need for big casts – but you do have to be prepared to sacrifice some tackle through fish wrapping you up on the rough terrain. The biggest attraction for experienced anglers is the elusive jewfish. Large fish are common off the wall and true trophy fish over 70lbs show up once in a while, although they do seem less common in recent years. Livebaiting with pike or large yellowtail on the run-out tide is the preferred method but the livies don’t come easy with keen anglers often having to spend many hours catching bait for a session. That said, if you’re lucky enough to be on the wall when there’s plenty of bait around you’d better make sure you’ve tied your knots well because action of the bent rod variety might not be far away.
As always, extreme care must be taken while fishing the rocks. Check the swell forecast, assess the conditions, wear proper footwear and clothing and, above all, respect the power of the ocean.
Although this article is on Forster Tuncurry, I’m obviously also talking about the surrounding areas. Beach fishing is another great option, and the twin towns are book-ended by Nine Mile Beach to the north and Seven Mile Beach to the south, making for 16 miles of uncrowded beach fishing potential. Both beaches have 4WD access with a local council permit required. This can be purchased for a week or a year. All of your typical east coast species can be experienced with plenty of big whiting, bream, tailor and salmon. Beach worms are plentiful and can be fun or frustrating to catch, depending on your level of ability to grab hold of these slippery little suckers. Pippis aren’t too hard to find either, but be wary of the bag and possession limits. For those keen enough, long stints into the night with large slab baits or big balls of beach worms can result in good catches of jewfish. Although fishing is one of the more popular options off the beach, surfing is another massive attraction and our local pods of dolphins will often also put on a show for those wanting to take a leisurely stroll along the shoreline.
The towns of Forster and Tuncurry are separated by a bridge over Wallis Lake. Where the lake meets the sea is a safe entrance to the Pacific Ocean. The bar is protected from any weather from the south, giving a reasonably safe passage (in the right conditions) to target anything from reds on plastics to an assortment of pelagic species.
There are small patches of reef just to the south of the entrance that are appropriately named the “Bait Grounds”. A quick stop here will fill your tank with small slimies and yakkas. Through the months December to May, NSW Fisheries deploys a FAD (get the GPS co-ordinates at the Fisheries website), which attracts massive numbers of dolphinfish and kingfish. Casting poppers at these fish is an exciting way to spend a few hours. I recommend you stay away from the FAD by a good 100m to find the bigger dolphinfish. Also try dropping a livie down deep to get it away from the dollies in hope for a large kingfish. To the north, off Blackhead Headland, there's plenty of shallow reef for snapper fishing with plastics or floating baits in a berley trail. Out in the bay there are heaps of gravel patches to drift for a feed of tasty flathead tails and plate-sized snapper.
Latitude Rock and The Graveyard to the south are great places to livebait for tuna and cobia during the months of February to April when the warmer currents push down the coast.
The continental shelf is about 20 miles east from the bar with great seasonal tuna and marlin fishing opportunities for those who wish to venture wide and deep in search of a real whopper.
There are plenty of marine parks in the Forster area so it pays to have a look at the charts before heading out on a mission.
Wallis Lake is an incredible waterway – just ask anyone one who’s spent any time fishing it. It’s the main attraction for visitors to the area, a playground for the adventurous who like skiing, snorkelling and exploring. It's also a great place to relax with the family.
Many bream fishing tournaments are held here annually and every weigh-in is full of horror stories of massive fish destroying anglers in the unforgiving oyster racks. I recall one such event when between three boats a total of 50-odd surface lures were lost to the blue-nosed monsters that call these racks home. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think the current record for a yellowfin bream in these tournaments was a 1.99kg whopper caught by well-known tournament champ Chris “Slick” Wright.
Although it fishes well all year, the months of February to April are probably the prime time in the lake. There are still prawns running which have all the fish looking up and the surface fishing for bream, flathead and even lizards can be red hot. As mentioned, there’s plenty of shallow water in the lake so throwing the kayak on the roof racks if you plan to visit the area isn't a bad idea. You can sneak into places the boats just can’t get to. The size of the fish you’ll find in a foot of water is amazing. If you hook up to one of the local croc-sized lizards from your ’yak, it will literally pull you around and make for a session you’ll never forget. Apart from the great boat and paddle-powered fishing available in the lake, there are plenty of other, less physical ways to wet a line. For instance, there are heaps of wharves to fish from and endless islands to walk around.
Fishing options galore is what will greet you along this part of the coast. Isn’t it about time you scheduled a visit to the Forster Tuncurry region? Once you've taken the plunge, you might very well make it an annual pilgrimage!