Imagine yourself standing up on a high rock ledge, beautiful cobalt blue water flowing past the rocks beneath you, clear bluebird skies and the harsh Australian sun beating down on you from above. You’ve got a rod at the ready and your eyes are focused, scanning the water intently for any signs of tuna. A bit of movement two hundred metres away catches your eye and demands your full attention. At first, all you can see is some dark shapes but as they move closer you quickly realize you’ve just spotted a school of what appears to be over thirty large black torpedoes swimming just under the surface and they’re heading right towards you.
Quickly making a prediction of their path, you lead them with a long accurate cast and then begin the retrieve, skipping your lure across the surface of the water right in front of the entire school. Now shaking with adrenaline, you watch the lure just disappear in an explosion of whitewater as a massive longtail tuna erupts on your lure and proceeds to head straight for the horizon.
My name is Matt McCulloch, I’m from Queensland, Australia, and that series of events I just painted in your mind is why, the second the opportunity arose, I left behind everything and moved over five hundred kilometers north of all my family and friends. It was back in January of 2017 when I first cast a lure into the warm tropical waters surrounding the town of Seventeen Seventy, beginning my love for arguably one of the most mentally and physically challenging styles of fishing: targeting large pelagic fish from the rocks.
The big decision to move was made at the end of my third unsuccessful trip to the area. I had lost some big fish that weekend but was finally given a taste of what it was like to connect with powerful pelagic fish from dry land and was hooked.
Living on the Gold Coast at the time and only having limited funds at my disposal made the relocation a logistical nightmare. Quite a few sacrifices had to be made but I was determined to make it happen. I have now been chasing my dreams in paradise for nearly a year and in that time I’ve accomplished many goals, met some truly incredible people, learnt a ridiculous amount and even managed to land a few quality fish.
Rolling the clock back and delving into my early days of fishing isn’t too easy and I wouldn’t have the slightest clue where to begin. I’ve had a rod in my hand longer than I’ve had teeth in my mouth and I’ll still have a rod in my hand when they are all falling back out again. From winning champion junior angler in a big game fishing tournament with my dad, to baiting up with some old cheese and catching bream after bream while doing homework after school, all of my early childhood is packed full of fishing memories.
For as long as I can remember, I have had the kind of dedication to nearly all aspects of fishing that most would deem obsessive, although it was when I was invited to do work experience on an offshore charter boat off the Gold Coast that I began to start taking it pretty seriously and have been pushing myself to keep progressing ever since. I soon found that I got the most enjoyment from figuring out how to catch new and difficult species on lures, with most of my teenage years spent chasing the most elusive and hard to catch fish my hometown had to offer. Tarpon and giant herring were always favourites and it took me quite a few years to crack their code and start catching them consistently.
The town of Seventeen Seventy owes its unusual name to an interesting piece of early Australian history. On the 24th May 1770, Captain James Cook and his crew aboard the HMS Endeavour landed on the banks of what’s now known as Round Hill Creek, making them the first Europeans to ever set foot on Queensland soil. Fast forward over two hundred years and that same location began making history yet again, only this time for a very different reason. In the early 2000s (and likely much earlier) a few switched on and very dedicated anglers stumbled upon and began fishing a rock ledge that extended out into deep water off the main headland in town.
The incredible fishing they discovered there, the knowledge they earned over those early years and the tales of epic proportions they left the rocks with laid the foundations for future anglers at what is now known as the ‘Catwalk’ – one of the most consistently productive and well know rock ledges along the entire east coast of Australia. The now almost infamous name was coined due to the narrow rubbly trail that winds its way around and across the cliffs of Round Hill Headland and then down onto the rock ledges below.
The list of species this one ledge can lay claim to hosting is honestly astounding: Spanish mackerel, yellowfin tuna, longtail tuna, mackerel tuna, bonito, yellowtail kingfish, golden trevally, giant trevally, bluefin trevally, diamond trevally, both school and spotted mackerel, barracuda, queenfish, cobia, even billfish such as sailfish and the mighty black marlin have all been successfully hooked and landed off this ledge.
There’s an old saying that goes ‘nothing worthwhile is ever easy’ and, if that’s the case, land based spinning for pelagics with lures has to be one of the most worthwhile things you will ever do. Although spending day after day, week after week, repeatedly casting expensive bits of plastic and metal into the ocean with heavy spinning gear is enough to drive just about anyone crazy, as one of the early pioneers in the sport Ron Calcutt said, ‘The angler who has his lure in the water the longest, usually catches the most fish.’
Despite how mentally and physically grueling land based spinning for large pelagic fish can be, I can’t even begin to describe the incredible feeling you get standing there while still pumped full of adrenaline, holding a fish of a lifetime in your arms having invested such a ridiculous amount of time and effort.
Setting a goal, putting your mind to it, applying yourself and dedicating the time and effort required to actually pull it off, then having it all finally culminate in one epic moment is one of the most transcendent endeavours a fisherman can experience.
Of all the species on offer, there are definitely three that seem to stand out above all others: the elusive Spanish mackerel, the surprisingly powerful longtail tuna and the resident GT’s that like to make short work of undergunned anglers. Spanish mackerel rank high on many land based anglers’ bucket list and for good reason: they love to hit lures at incredible speeds, often launching themselves high into the air. They fight fast and hard, rank highly as a table fish and can get really big, often growing to over 30 kg.
Longtail tuna are the species that started the addiction for me. More than anything else it was the allure of sight casting to a big tuna off the rocks that kept me down on the ledge day in, day out. It was nearly two months of hard fishing before I finally got that first hookup. I had already seen plenty get caught and thought I knew what I was in for, but nothing prepares you for actually experiencing it firsthand. It was easily one of the most intense and exhausting fights of my life but that feeling, sitting there with a fish I had been dreaming about for years in my lap, arms too tired to even lift it up, is going to stay with me for the rest of my life.
Giant trevally and I have a long history (one that I’ll save for a later time) but they are another species high on many a land based fisho’s bucket list and I’m sure these brutes need little introduction, having attracted an almost cult following among many sports fishermen.
For anyone keen on targeting these species land based, the best advice I can offer is to research, research, and then research some more. It is surprising the extent of the knowledge freely available from just a quick search online. The value of spending plenty of time before your trip to educate yourself and truly get prepared should not be underestimated.
You need to know what species you intend on targeting, what location you intend on fishing and how many months of the year those fish are even at that location and targetable from shore. You also need to have the right equipment, know the right lures and understand the correct techniques to use. Many hours and often even multiple days can go into just a single hookup, so making sure you’ve got everything in order is paramount to avoid some serious heartache.
Safety is another major concern. With rock fishing being statistically among Australia’s most deadly sports, it is imperative that you take the time to learn how to keep yourself out of harm’s way. Over half the rock fishing fatalities along our coastline can be attributed to anglers being washed off by wave. Learning how to read the swell and forming the habit of looking beyond the waves immediately in front of the rocks will go a long way to keep you from becoming another statistic. The further out you spot a large swell coming, the more time you have to react and get yourself out of there before it’s too late and the wave is already breaking on top of you.
In future articles I will begin delving into specific species in much more detail, covering rigging, tackle, techniques, locations, tips, and everything in between. Hopefully sharing this knowledge will inspire a few people to get out there and experience this style of fishing. Despite catching fish my entire life, nothing has ever come close to the adrenaline rush generated by the screaming first run of a big fish hooked from dry land. This style of fishing is usually incredibly difficult, both mentally and physically draining, but can be indescribably rewarding. It’s something that needs to be shared and made accessible to anyone dedicated enough to put the time and effort in required to be successful in their land based pelagic pursuit.