Fishing Norfolk Island
I FIRST heard about Norfolk Island in my early teens. But it wasn’t until I saw images and read stories in this very magazine of yellowfin tuna and big kingfish that really "put it on the map” for me. So, when the opportunity arose to visit and fish Norfolk, I jumped at the chance!
The tiny fish-rich island lies 1,412 km directly east of the NSW North Coast town of Evans Head.
After confirming my upcoming visit to Norfolk I quickly got to researching the plethora of fishing opportunities. I was salivating at the prospect of fishing the productive rock platforms after making contact with local, Scott Greenwood. After seeing some of the fish he and his brother Tom have landed from the rocks, my heightened level of excitement was justified.
Scott and Tom are full-blown “fishaholics”; I’m talking a chronic case – one for the textbooks! I fish a lot but looking at Greenwood’s Fishing Adventures’ Facebook will leave you with serious fish envy!
I'm a great believer that there's no substitute for time on the water and Scott and Tom Greenwood are the walking embodiment of that mantra. Weather permitting, these two are on the water every day so it’s no surprise that these guys have Norfolk fishing totally wired.
I’m a keen land-based game angler and bluewater lure fisho, so I was well prepared for this trip, already owning what Scott advised to bring and use. Unfortunately, a look at the weather forecast a couple of days out from departure revealed strong 20+ knot south-east winds, and large 3m swell for the week (this was after a month or so of great weather). That’d be right! Luckily, being an island there is almost always a protected side and Scott ensured me we’d still be able to fish the rocks, which was fine by me!
In a sense, the unfavourable boating weather made it a lot easier for me to pack; this trip was going to be all about the rocks and I knew exactly what to take! Two heavy (60-80 lb) 8 feet popper/stickbait set-ups were thrown in along with a lighter 9 feet 30 lb set-up for smaller metal lures and soft plastics. I had no issues at all transporting my 2 m rod tube with Air New Zealand, and it may have even been the easiest check in I’ve experienced flying with fishing rods.
Arriving on Norfolk
After a 2.5 hour flight, my first glimpse of Norfolk Island from the air revealed a very wild and jagged coastline surrounded by deep cobalt blue water. The island is incredibly lush and very green, creating a contrastingly vibrant sight from above. Shortly after arriving, gear was unpacked and a quick study of the map showed a fairly easily navigable island with a few main roads. While the island is quite small, at about 35 km2, a hire car is preferable to get around.
The coastline of Norfolk Island consists of cliff faces. There are no safe harbour facilities on Norfolk Island, but instead low loading jetties at Kingston and Cascade Bay. Weather permitting, local trailer boats are launched from these jetties with a small crane that lowers them into the water between swells.
The inshore waters of Norfolk look incredibly fishy. There is scattered reef and rocks around the entire island with deeper waters kissing the prominent points of the coastline. The slow surging swell, a result of the deep inshore water, immediately reminded me of Ascension Island - another very isolated and productive island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. On reflection, these two islands share striking similarities, with both lying in temperate waters and producing big yellowfin tuna, wahoo and marlin.
I had four day’s fishing on Norfolk Island and dedicated the first day (due to stiff easterly winds) to scoping out the rock ledges and having a look around the place. It didn’t take long before I saw a school of kingfish busting up right in close to the rocks. Shortly after, plans were made to meet Scott and Tom at the top of a cliff the following day, for the infamous descent to the productive “Black Bank” - a narrow low lying rock ledge that has produced some trophy land-based kingfish and yellowfin tuna.
Unfortunately, Black Bank and a lot of other Norfolk Island rock ledges are tide dependent and you can’t fish them over the high tide. Interestingly, Scott and Tom both prefer fishing through the low tide. They believe that many of the predatory pelagics may move inshore to feed on the masses of small baitfish which are flushed out of the many big rockpools and high-water nooks that provide baitfish shelter.
Norfolk shares many of the same species as the temperate waters of mainland Australia. Around the inshore waters of the island there are: bonito, skipjack, kingfish, yellowfin tuna, mackerel tuna and even salmon to name a few. There are also a couple of different types of fish similar to drummer. However, we were solely focused on catching kingfish and yellowfin tuna. Therefore, heavy spin tackle was used to throw medium-large lures such as poppers and stickbaits beyond the wash line.
The boys are always scanning the horizon for hovering birds and “work-ups” of fish. However, blind-casting the deep water cannot be overlooked and we caught quite a few fish this way. Berley is also a crucial part of fishing the rocks effectively on Norfolk. Like mainland Australia, berley will often attract kingfish and make them more willing to take baits and lures. Scott and Tom have even kept yellowfin around the rocks by cubing them bait! Watching what was in the berley trail was also crucial in catching fish there. I recall one afternoon where Scott stirred up a few sharks with some fish scraps and a kingfish around 15 kg popped up to see what all the fuss was about. A few provocative casts with a stickbait had the fish fired up before it decided to slam the lure metres from the rod tip. An epic tug-of-war unfolded and a few screams of a locked up drag had the fish pulled up just short of the reefy bottom before it was thrashing around violently on the surface where Scott was able to wash it onto the ledge. While I enjoy fishing for its serenity as much as anyone else, it’s these periods of manic activity that create those classic fishing memories!
Every cast over deep water at Norfolk is made with a sense of anticipation as you just don’t know what type or size of fish may potentially crunch your lure. Therefore, I preferred to err on the side of caution and fish relatively heavy tackle: 50-80 lb braid mainline with 60-130 lb leader and strong lures and terminal tackle. Halco Roosta and Haymaker poppers are very popular with the locals and catch their fair share of good fish. Metal lures are also favoured and plastics can also be effective for kingfish and red throat emperor. My biggest kingfish was caught on a Fifth Element "Street Fighter" stickbait which also proved to be popular with the locals. Tom informed me that its shape and finish was a dead ringer to the local baitfish called “yaholly”.
My final afternoon fishing on the island was spent casting at large schools of kingfish and manic birds swooping the bait being worked-up. Scott managed to land a nice school-sized fish as the sun was setting before we packed up. On the way out, Scott showed me a dried-out giant barracuda skull perched on the rocks beneath the sheer cliffs, as I leant down to take a photo it created a scene reminiscent of something out of Jurassic Park. I imagined that fishing this place would be similar to travelling back in time, and I was right!
With plentiful fish stocks, the sport fishing opportunities on Norfolk are endless. It’s the kind of place a fisho could easily spend a lifetime on the water - I’m already very keen to get back there. There’s no doubt Norfolk Island should be high on the bucket list for travelling anglers, and I would put it right up there with one of the premier temperate water land-based game destinations on the planet!
Patrick travelled to Norfolk Island courtesy of Norfolk Tourism.