The Port Macquarie fishing scene is thriving. Located just over 380kms north of Sydney, Port Macquarie sits at the centre of the idyllic northern coastline of NSW. This picturesque seaside town lies at the mouth of the Hastings River, a 128km long system that rises in the Great Dividing Range before meandering through scenic national parks and rural farmland towards the coast. It is fed by several other smaller rivers and creeks along the way.
Commercial fishing in the Hastings River ceased in 2000, and since then the system has thrived to contain good populations of sought after fish species, including excellent numbers of bass in the freshwater and brackish sections, then bream, flathead, whiting, trevally, tailor and mulloway in the saltwater sections. Beyond the estuary, there’s outstanding beach and rock fishing on the coastline in both directions, plus a thriving offshore and game fishing scene that features some highly prized sports fishing and reef species.
Fishing the breakwall and lower Hastings River
Being located along the breakwall at the river mouth, NRMA Port Macquarie Breakwall Holiday Park offers visiting anglers some excellent fishing right on their doorstep. In fact, there’s no other holiday or caravan park in Port Macquarie that is in a more prime location for a fishing getaway, with easy access to breakwall fishing spots, all the prized estuary species can be found here in good numbers, with fish constantly moving in and out with the tide cycle and seasons. Let’s first look at what you can catch here, and some tips on what gear to use.
Anglers fishing from the breakwall can expect to find good numbers of bream in the nooks and crevices. They will often travel along the wall at the junction where the boulders meet the sandy bottom of the estuary, feeding on small crabs, baitfish, shellfish and prawns sheltering in the rocks. Here they can be tempted with either baits or lures, with both methods accounting for plenty of fish. For bream lure anglers, the trusty curl tail soft plastic such as ZMan 2.5” GrubZ are a must. These compact lures wriggle with the slightest rod movement, and have proven themselves again and again for bream anglers as being a reliable starting point for chasing bream. Small baitfish profiles like Slim SwimZ paddle tails are another must-have in the tackle box, and they will also appeal to larger species like flathead. A ‘creature-bait’ such as 2.75” TRD BugZ are another excellent soft plastic option, with their features mimicking those of small crustaceans and shellfish that bream feed heavily on.
As with all soft plastic fishing, using the lightest jighead possible is the key to attracting bream amongst the boulders and rocks. Using 1/16oz through to 1/4oz weights on a #1 or #2 hook is ample, as there’s no need to cast very far to find the bream. Slowly hopping and pausing the lure just above the submerged rocks will attract plenty of attention.
For bait anglers, the standout option would be live nippers or yabbies, live blood worms, and fresh prawns. These can be purchased from local tackle stores, and will appeal to other species besides bream. However, even frozen baits of prawns, whitebait, mullet gut or pilchard pieces will be effective on most Hasting estuary species. The best method is to thaw some of the frozen bait in the water being fished to match the temperature. As with lure fishing, keep sinker weights to the minimum required. This ensure the bait looks as natural as possible, and there’s less chance of a heavy sinker being snagged up in the rocks and underwater structure.
Through the warmer months, various trevally species will be found in amongst the bream, as they seek out the same food sources. These fish can be targeted with similar lures or baits as used for bream, and they put up a good fight on light tackle.
Flathead are also prolific in this area, and they often sit at the junction of the sand and rocks waiting to feed on baitfish and crustaceans that swim by. Using either baits or lures, anglers have a very good chance of finding large flathead in this area, with fish up to and over 70cm fairly common. Fishing with larger soft plastics in the 4” – 7” range will minimise hits from the small species. The range of paddle tails are an excellent option, and have a reputation as a standout flathead lure. Stepping up to the bigger 5” and even 7” versions is advised for anglers wanting to target only bigger fish. Larger curl tails like in 4” and 5” sizes are another proven flathead lure.
With flathead it’s advisable to use a heavier jighead. This ensures the lure is making regular contact with the bottom, where flathead mostly lie in wait for prey. Using a 1/4oz right up to a heavy 3/4oz will most likely be required around the breakwall and lower reaches of the river. There’s also a chance of hooking a mulloway when using larger lures for flathead.
Flathead respond very well to baits, with a half pilchard being an economical and effective choice. Other excellent bait options are strips of mullet flesh or squid, whole whitebait, full prawns, and small crabs. For real trophy sized fish, live baits like a small poddy mullet or herring fished on a light sinker are ideal.
Schools of good quality whiting also patrol the river mouth, usually moving along the sandy flats just out from the base of the wall while searching out crustaceans and worms.
Whiting have become a popular lure target in recent years, with micro soft plastics like or GrubZ worked over sand flats becoming popular. Very small surface lures are another whiting catcher, particularly in the warmer months fished over very shallow sand flats further upstream.
However it’s a lightly weighted piece of live blood worm that is going to consistently attract whiting. Other great baits are live nippers or yabbies, again fished as light as possible.
Schools of small pelagic species like tailor and Australian salmon regularly patrol the rock wall, searching out and attacking the large gatherings of baitfish that frequent the area. Using metal lures like the Hard Core Slug is fun and energetic fishing, with the fast moving schools providing plenty of exciting moments as they slash at every lure or bait in their path.
Mulloway are a prized Hastings estuary species, and they’re present in good numbers near the river mouth. Targeting them at dawn, dusk or after dark around the new or full moon phase increases the chance of finding active fish, as does fishing just after a decent rain event pushes freshwater and baitfish out towards the mouth of the system.
For lure anglers, big paddle tails with lots of vibration and action are proven mulloway catchers. Tails such as ZMan 4” or 6” SwimmerZ have a classic baitfish profile with a large tail that beats and pulses on the move. The long, loopy tail of a 9” GrubZ curl tail is another good option, especially in dirtier water. Jerk baits like the 7” Scented Jerk ShadZ can work well, but require more rod movement to bring them to life.
Standout baits for chasing mulloway are small live fish such as mullet, whiting or herring. Pinned on a circle hook and fished with minimal weight, they are more likely to attract the larger fish. Dead baits like fresh whole small squid or fillets of larger mullet are effective too. Having baits on a long 1.5 – 3 metre drop under a float fished over ledges and structure works very well for mulloway.
Luderick are another prolific species along the breakwall, and they can be targeted fishing with pencil floats and baits of green river or cabbage weed fished 1.5 – 2 metres under a float. They will also take baits of fresh nippers (yabbies), small pieces of fresh prawn or blood worm, and even small balls of bread scented with Pro-Cure.
Fishing further upstream
Moving up the estuary from the breakwall, the town reaches feature more rock walls, jetties, pontoons and bank-side structure which hold good populations of bream. There are also expansive sand flats, interspersed with deep channels in this section. These flats hold good numbers of whiting and flathead, making for relaxing fishing while either wading on foot or floating along in a boat or kayak.
Limeburners Creek peels north off the main estuary, and the mouth features plenty of oyster racks which are known hang outs for bream and flathead. Fishing close to these structures with either lures or bait puts anglers in with a good chance of finding quality fish.
Further upstream is the junction with the Maria River, another excellent waterway for targeting all the species mentioned.
Beyond the highway bridge, the Hastings has very little man-made bank side structure, and it’s best to target the natural drop-offs, sandbanks and channels to find fish. Look for any deeper water next to a shallow bank, and work lures or baits near the transition.
As the river winds west, it starts to become brackish where the freshwater flowing down meets and mixes with the salt water from high tides. This region will still hold plenty of saltwater species, especially bream who chase small baitfish and prawns that inhabit the area. It’s also the start of the excellent bass fishery in the Hastings. Bass congregate in these brackish waters during the closed season from May to August to spawn, and then head back upstream afterwards to the freshwater sections upriver. It’s during the start of the open season around September that the bass are very active, feeding heavily as they make their way back upstream.
Anglers only need to travel about half an hour west from Port Macquarie to find outstanding bass fishing, with many stretches of the river being easily accessible by foot. Alternatively, small watercraft like a kayak or SUP board allow for further exploration, especially along sections that run through farmland. A small tinny can also traverse a long way up the river into bass territory.
Bass are an aggressive fish at times, striking out at just about any lure that swims by. They can often be caught on surface lures like small poppers or Finesse FrogZ during the early morning or late afternoon, particularly on hot, humid and stormy days. Cast into dark pockets under overhanging bank structure and work the lure slowly on the surface. Be ready though, the strikes can be lightning quick and fierce.
Small soft plastics similar to those used for bream in the saltwater will also appeal to bass. Curl tail, paddle tail and creature-baits in the 2” – 4” range are ideal, again fished on light weight jigheads for a more natural presentation. Using a weedless jighead like a TT Lures SnakelockZ will minimise the chance of snagging up, as you need to fish deep into underwater structure at times to attract hits from bass.
Using bait is a great bass option, with live insects like cicadas and grasshoppers easily attracting attention. The good old earthworm is another standout bass bait. Suspending these baits under a float and drifting them along deep banks and edges is fun fishing, as hungry bass drag the float down and head back to their lair.
Adventurous anglers willing to travel will find some outstanding bass fishing as they head further into the rural areas behind Brombin, Pipeclay and Long Flat. Heading west along the Oxley Highway, there’s multiple points where the river can be accessed on foot, and some pristine bass fishing can be found.
Surf and rock fishing
No Name Beach to the north of the river mouth features a long stretch of sandy beach, which presents ample opportunities for beach anglers to find bream, flathead, tailor, mulloway and Australian salmon. This stretch extends into Limeburners Creek National Park, and on to Point Polmer, Goolawah National Park, and eventually Crescent Head, with epic beaches and headlands along the way. Look for deeper gutters close to shore with waves breaking on a sand bank behind it, and fish the area where the crashing waves dissipate into the deeper water. Fish will patrol these areas feeding on disoriented baitfish, and shellfish stirred up by the waves.
To the south of Port Macquarie township, Ocean Drive hugs the long stretch of beach heading towards the mouth of Cathie Creek. As with the beaches to the north, there’s endless opportunities to find excellent gutters holding schools fish.
A North Coast Gem
For travelling anglers, the waters around Port Macquarie offer exciting fishing prospects for some of the most favoured estuary and freshwater species in an idyllic coastal setting. With miles upon miles of estuary and beach to explore, it’s easy to find your own little slice of paradise in this area and catch some top quality fish along the way. And best of all, the NRMA Port Macquarie Breakwall Holiday Park is situated right in the heart of the fishing action!