Land based game fishing is undoubtedly one of sport fishing’s ultimate challenges! Tackling huge fish from rock ledges has become hugely popular over the last few decades with some truly phenomenal captures being made from the sand stone ledges around Jervis Bay. But where did it all begin? I will endeavour to trace back the ancestry of land based game fishing specifically at Jervis Bay and Point Perpendicular as this amazing headland truly is a world class location.
But first some reflections of my own land based game fishing history. The last year I spent on the stones was back in 1990, which was a fairly quiet season after what we had experienced the season before. 1989 will be remembered by those who fished it as one of the best land-based runs of yellowfin tuna since the fishery began its dramatic decline. It was an unseasonal run which caught many off guard in early October. The fish varied in size from rats of around 20kg right through to some jumbos as large as 75kg. A number of large fish were never stopped with some anglers completely spooled on 24kg gear!
A recent day trip to Point Perpendicular prompted this story as I just couldn’t believe the changes since I last fished this iconic headland. Not only have the Navy and marine parks closed access to all but a handful of the ledges we used to fish regularly, but there are now 24 hour security gates at the start of the main Point Perpendicular track and stairs leading down to The Outer Tubes! With the only ledges now accessible legally being Big Beecroft, Eve’s Ravine and The Outer Tubes.
While I fished just about every ledge from Mutton Bird Island up at Coffs Harbour down to City Rock and The Pulpit at Green Cape over a period of 12 years, I mostly fished the sandstone ledges of Point Perpendicular. I can still remember being able to drive into ‘The Docks’ to catch yakkas and park nearly on top of the ledge, before then driving across to the lighthouse car park and carrying them in to fish the Outer Tubes, which by the way still had doors on them! Yes, I know I am getting old.
It is a tragedy that our decision makers can’t see the value in restoring some of the former access tracks to the outside ledges on the eastern face of the headland. This would intern preserve their use and protect the heritage of Point Perpendicular as one of the best land based game fishing destinations on the planet.
I think that the anticipation of not knowing what may take your bait next is what keeps you going back season after season, and make no mistake it takes hard work and commitment to attain real success. Today I am still surprised how many people doubt you when you tell them that you fish for marlin and tuna off the rocks.
High-speed spinning with metal lures for pelagic fish is where it all began for land-based game. Thought to have originated in Cape Point in South Africa, this new way of fishing reached Australia in the 1950s. It first became popular at Avoca and Whale Beach north of Sydney where a pioneering few took what gear they had and modified it to suit before Seascape reels and Sportex rods dominated the scene.
In 1961 a budding fishing journalist by the name of Lyn Donohue witnessed someone catch a bonito on a chrome slice from the rocks at Bondi. He quickly adopted the method and began a pursuit of deeper water that would eventually lead him and a group of originals including Jack Erskin, Bill Gordon and Tom Nairne to the towering cliffs of Jervis Bay. This secretive group took shifts casting all day from places like Devil’s George and often had spectacular catches of bonito, kingfish and tuna. Lyn wrote about their success in publications such as the Fishing News and Angler’s Digest though he never let on where exactly they were fishing. In fact he often lied in his articles by suggesting that they were fishing somewhere else!
The pioneering fishing journalist Ossie Emery tracked Lyn and Jack down at a tackle shop where they worked in Rockdale to get to the bottom of this mystery and also to offer his services with a film camera. Lyn however was so protective of his secret spot that it took both Jack and another young fishing journalist Ron Calcutt with the backing of a tackle distributor to talk him into taking them on what would become the adventure of their lives. Ossie and Ron shot their first feature film there called “Spin fishing southern style” which was presented at fishing clubs for all to marvel at the excitement of this new form of fishing.
Northern bluefin or longtail tuna, yellowfin tuna, striped tuna, mackerel tuna, yellowtail kingfish, cobia, Spanish mackerel, and even southern bluefin tuna were landed from southern ledges. All these species fell to lures cracked flat out for hours and days on end by a number of adventurous souls.
In 1971 an article in The Australian Angler by Ron called ‘Mr Big’ really caught the imagination of the Australian fishing public. It covered Tom’s new live bait drifting method from which he had caught a record 100 pound yellowfin. But as Ron had been sworn to secrecy he too couldn’t let on where they were fishing. This resulted in guys drifting baits from their local headland and catching big fish that they hadn’t previously realised were there. So ironically it was secrecy that produced the land-based game fishing boom up and down the coast during the 1970s.
Ron Calcutt, Ossie Emery and Jack Erskine went on to be some of the most recognised names in the fishing industry today. While Tom and Lyn probably deserve the most recognition for their ground-breaking fishing exploits and innovation.
Live baiting is essentially the same method used today as in those early days albeit with some very significant advances in technology. Tackle in the early 70s was still hard to come by, so most cut down the heaviest beach rods they could get their hands on, matching them with the now outdated Penn Senator, Daiwa Sealine or Tatler reels. The fish that came to shore in the hectic seasons that followed through until the mid-70s blew minds.
The first official marlin to be caught from the rocks was taken by Tony Axiak from the Appin Fishing Club. Although the first recorded in Australian history, this was just the largest of five caught in the early weeks of January 1973. It weighed 59lb and was taken on 30lb line.
These fish would start a new age in sport-fishing history. Tackle improved with distributors becoming aware of the specific needs both in rods and fishing reels. Sabre rods became available around the mid-70s, with the 540 still being a popular choice even today. Joe Gospel introduced the Iron Glass series of blanks built to suit the needs of every land-based angler. The GH 14s and 17s, again with a little modification, made great rods.
Reels for the period remained much the same, with most sticking to the reliable Penn senator, while for those who could afford one; Policansky, Penn internationals and Everol’s were the premium options of the early live baiting scene.
In 1977 Dale Young took the second lure caught marlin off the rocks, a lean 16kg black from inside the bay on a 2oz WK arrow. Steve Corrigan of Canberra took a 26lb Spanish mackerel from the inside the bay in mid-February 1979. Fish where thick and crowds could be counted on one hand. LBG had now become a sport in its own right. Fishing in these early years was awesome, with opportunities to tangle with fish that had previously only been in the domain of game fisherman from large boats.
A few anglers took advantage of the fish numbers in these early years with blokes like John Ashley, Simon Cassatari and Wayne Poole pushing line classes to their limits. With more runs and opportunities these anglers dropped their lines classes after landing a number of fish on heavier gear to increase the challenge. The popularity of sport fishing was on the increase with an emergent environmental conscience that moved clubs away from the maximum kill competition format to one that emphasised the skill of the angler. In this context it is no wonder that the NSW division of the Australian National Sportsfishing Association (ANSA NSW) has supported the development of land-based game fishing for its entire history. Jack Erskine was a founding member in the late-60s. Original member clubs such as the St George Sportfishing Club right through to current clubs such as ALBAA have a significant number of land-based game fishing records held by quite a number of legendary members. Still today ANSA NSW and its partners are the leading advocates for preserving access to rock fishing in the state. Perhaps more notably, they have contributed greatly to rock fishing safety by delivering government supported education campaigns and through the establishment of the Angel Rings project which has helped save 56 people from drowning over the past 20 years.
John Ashley of St George Sportfishing Club wrote and rewrote the record books with a string of Northern bluefin (now longtail tuna) and yellowfin to 40kgs on 6kg and 10kg tackle. Wayne Poole pushed 6kg line to its limit and on more than one occasion and his 1979 capture of a 27.4kg yellowfin on 6kg tackle still stands today. I am proud to say that my own personal 8kg LBG record for a yellowfin tuna also still stands today with a 28kg fish landed at Big Beecroft in 1989. Vic Caplucas turned heads in 1986 when he landed a 110kg black marlin after a two hour battle on 10kg tackle. That would be an impressive capture from a boat with an experienced crew never mind from the shore!
Many more anglers have caught notable fish without the publicity. I was lucky enough to have fished with a number of these early enthusiasts, but none were as influential to my LBG fishing as Bob Russo and Ron Bridges (Jock). These two characters where well known and highly respected. Ever present, some would suggest they owned ledges like the Tubes and Gorge (North) back then, as it was rare not to run into them. Dave Mayne was another legend with more ANSA records than you could poke a stick at in the 70’s and 80’s.
Other great characters (a few with funny nick names) of that era were Mark Deeney, John Cabarus, Glenn Beers, Sean Fitgerald, Allen Sutton, Triple Treat Pete, Lash, Jaws, Fossil Smith, Dave “Mr Cool” Anglicass, Angelo Pandol, The Buzzard, Hippie Frank, Rob Pellari, Mario DeBono , Greg Finney, and the list could go on and on and into the next generation and again. These guys were all excellent fishos and all round good blokes.
Land based tackle in the 80’s & 90’s was as good as anything you would see on a professional game boat with many models still popular today. More anglers were buying larger lever-drag game reels such as Penn Internationals, Shimano Beastmasters and TLD-2 models to fish line classes as high as 24kg which were capable of stopping fish in excess of 100kg. Large baits also became more popular with these heavier outfits, frigate mackerel being a favourite along with bonito, salmon and even tailor. Today, Shimano’s state-of-the-art Tiagra range of lever-drags now regarded by most as the bench mark for those serious about their land based game fishing. Matched with lighter carbon/graphite rods, hi-tech guides, quality monofilament lines and fluorocarbon leaders which all ensure that the biggest challenge a land-based angler may have to day is carrying the fish out.
The last few years have seen some truly unbelievable captures with a number of land-based black marlin landed over 120kgs. The current ANSA land-based game fishing record for a marlin on 24kgs is currently an amazing 151kgs caught at the Outer Tubes in January 2012 by Ahmad. Robert Barrett’s 131kg marlin (unfortunately the head was not clear of ground when being weighed) was another exceptional capture and looks much bigger in the photos!
This season has already seen another phenomenal run of big fish from late December 2013 with Nathaniel Boldizs landing what many now regard as being the largest marlin landed land-based to date, although it was not officially weighed. Measurements suggest that it could have exceeded 200kgs!
Of course marlin are not the only land-based game icon of Jervis Bay as it is also the home of proper hoodlum kings. In October 2010 Currarong regular Pete Oberg finally landed a fish over 30kg after landing numerous fish just shy over the years. Usually he would be fishing extremely heavy line on a locked up TLD30-2 and engage in a dramatic tug-o-war that would often end in a bust-off. On this occasion he happened to be fishing for snapper on a 12-foot spin outfit and skilfully managed to bring the big hood to the gaff. This fish is the current length-only kingfish LBG Australian record at 155cm and the 15kg line class Australian record, which will take some beating.
I would like to finish with some recognition and acknowledgement of the social (cultural) and historic values of land-based game fishing and in particular the Jervis Bay region. Government decision making has now closed public access to more than 80% of The Bay’s world famous deep-water game fishing ledges. Considering the history it is staggering how much has been lost.
The places we fish are familiar to us and over successive generations an interesting culture has evolved amongst those who share the same interests and places. We all need to both respect the environment and one another with many of the remaining ledges now being crowed when reports of fish circulate the grape vine. We also need to keep ourselves safe while rock fishing and look out for those who are unfamiliar with the dangers. The best way to stay safe of course is to fish when the waves are low and to take adequate precaution and use suitable equipment. There is ample information available on-line for those willing to take a few moments to educate themselves.
I do not have an answer to the increased numbers of big marlin being encountered over the last 5 or so years as we defiantly just did not experience either the numbers of size of fish back in the 80’s and 90’s. There is also no reason why you cannot release a marlin in good condition once you have landed your first one. The rest of the NSW coast has excellent LBG opportunities. The North coast is probably the most fun for the least effort and you don’t need big expensive gear or super-early starts to be amongst it. In fact a TLD25 and 10kg rod is more than adequate for 90% of your target species north of Sydney. Jervis Bay is the home of truly big fish and Mr Big is what LBG has always been about.
I would like to thank Craig Wilson for his assistance with this article. A great web site for those looking for more history on Jervis Bay and Point Perpendicular and to better understand the cultural significance and vibe of this unique headland within fishing circles, visit http://www.fishingheritagejervisbay.net.au/
It would be great to see this unique headland “Heritage” listed and access to the front ledges made open to fishing from the shore again.