Freshwater, saltwater estuary, or offshore sportfishing, there?s every style of fishing for the enthusiast in the Great Lakes Region of the NSW central coast.
Fishing maps, offshore GPS coordinates, best fishing time tables,
for this region, at the bottom of this page.
In this special report, Forster-Tuncurry resident, mad keen fisho, and regular TBF scribe, Max Frost, tells us how, when, where, and why to go fishing in this fabulous waterway.
The early morning calm was shattered by an exploding shower of water. One of the Great Lakes older residents? one metre of flashing, lure swallowing Lizard had engulfed the minnow I was working quietly over a weed bed. Big flathead like this lady of the lake, work the early morning shallows for mullet and other prey. My light tackle was no match, so she exists to fight another day. Next time it could be you on the end of the rod!
Welcome to the Great Lakes area of the Mid North Coast of NSW. Forster/Tuncurry are the twin towns that guard the entrance to Wallis Lake, its estuary and rivers and the fish we seek.
Once just a quiet holiday spot for keen anglers and their families, Forster/Tuncurry has now become a prominent tourist destination. Facilities have grown like the twin towns themselves, and all the comforts for a trailerboat holiday are now at hand.
What makes Forster/Tuncurry such a desirable destination ? Is it the beautiful clear waterways, the easy access to them, the variety of options to water users, or just that get away from it all feeling that this water wonderland offers ?
First surveyed by Captain James Cook in 1770, the coastal area was called ?Cape Hawke?, after the then, First Sea Lord, Admiral Hawke. Early expeditions into the area by the Australian Agricultural Company in 1869 were to test the area?s fishing potential.
The northern side of Forster was renamed Tuncurry in 1875. ?Tuncurry? is a local aboriginal word meaning ?many fish?. Boat building, oyster farming and professional fishing were early industries, with some of the founding family names still carrying on their traditions today.
From the 1880s to the mid 1930s, large regattas were held over many days, with a great number of visitors attending. In 1959, the construction of the concrete bridge that links the two towns, and the extensions to the breakwalls, greatly improved the area as a modern day tourist destination.
The Great Lakes is a wonderland for amateur fishermen, but its waterways are also very important to the local professional fishing and oyster farming industries.
Forster/Tuncurry is one of the best oyster producing areas in the world. Not only does this industry provide income and jobs, it also provides anglers with the holding grounds for the majority of fish that pass in and out of the estuary.
The beautiful, clean, clear shallow waters that improve quality and growth, also produce a lot of natural food for the fish we love to chase. The professional fishing industry provides the local and Sydney fish markets with a large supply of quality fish?including crustaceans. Prawns and crabs are abundant in the area.
State Fisheries have a marked enclosed area around the estuary mouth that has been left for amateur use and is not fished professionally. With the tonnage that is caught, it?s pretty obvious that the majority of fish exist further into the vast complex of waterways that comprise the Great Lakes.
Upgrading of Port Facilities
The NSW Government ?Ports Improvement Programme?, undertaken by the Public Works Department, has greatly upgraded facilities in the Port of Forster in the last four to five years. The Forster Marina provides visiting boats with safe, first class moorings and a top class boat ramp and jetty. The latter is on the ocean side of the bridge at Forster and is accessible by road through Forster Beach Caravan Park. Berths are arranged through the park caretaker. There are moorings available on the Tuncurry side as well (some through the Fisherman?s Co-Op).
As the Great Lakes waterways are by nature, very shallow, it is extremely important to take care when travelling any distances. Soaking up the beautiful scenery around the lakes is hard to pass up, but it?s still important to keep your wits about you to avoid running aground, or running into some other snag. The sand bars change position regularly, so charts date very quickly. It is a good tip to take your first trip at low tide when the bars and channels are exposed. Always run with your motor?s trim unlocked as a safety precaution. One danger that you will find on most coastal rivers are rock bars. When navigating upstream, be wary around bends and especially as you enter narrow sections of the rivers. Fortunately, rock bars can be a blessing as well as a curse to trailerboat fishermen. The rock bars are a favourite haunt for several estuary fish species.
The MSB Waterways Authority has been very active over the past few seasons. Most of the channels are now well marked. Their office is at, Shop 10, Forster Towers in Wallis Street, Forster, and is now staffed on weekdays. NSW fisheries have an office in Palm Street, Tuncurry.
Offshore anglers will find the Forster Marina an excellent launching location, giving quick access to the sea. Bar conditions, like most NSW coastal entrances are prone to the effect of run-out tides and northeast winds. Plan your trips to work with the tides and use the vantage points of Forster beach and Second Head to observe the prevailing conditions and trends before setting out to sea. The best way out through the bar is to keep as close to the Forster wall as you can and run straight out. Bar conditions can change from season to season. If in doubt, watch others going out before trying it yourself. Once outside, you will find live bait (yellowtail, slimy mackerel and bonito) plentiful around the headlands. All are excellent baits. There?s a variety of fish species available to anglers within a few nautical miles of Cape Hawke. You can drift for flathead, work the reefs for snapper, chase marlin, or jig for kingfish on the popular ?Pinnacle? reef.
Inside the estuary, the options again vary from peaceful drifting for those who just like being there, to spinning for flathead and bream around the oyster leases and shallows.
Pack a cut lunch and explore the vast waterways, the four rivers that feed the estuary and the solitude of Wallis Lake.
Working the upper reaches of the rivers over the summer period?right up into the freshwater?can be a lurecaster?s dream.
Forster is one of the few places where an angler can go for a beautiful scenic day?s drive into top bass and stream trout country?and on the following day, be offshore hooked up to a marlin or yellowfin tuna. All of this from a family four wheel drive and a good trailerable runabout!
The Great Lakes
This comprises a series of lakes from the northern shores of Port Stephens to Forster. They are the Myall, the Smith and Wallis Lakes. The latter is fed by four rivers. These are the Wallamba, Wang Wauk, Coolongolook and Wallingat. Al1 of these rivers eventually wind their way out to sea, through the estuary mouth, between the twin towns of Forster/Tuncurry.
It amazes me that such a vast and beautiful expanse of waterways, sees so little use. I have seen mangrove jacks, emperor, giant herring - and caught up to eleven species in one day without seeing a single other boat!
Boat ramps are an essential part of a successful trailerboat holiday. The Great Lakes boast many ramps, from the first class facility at Forster Marina, to the narrow earth ramps tucked away along its river banks.
Listed below are some of the better facilities:
At Forster Beach Caravan Park. Four lanes, all weather access, ample parking, cleaning tables and weigh station.
Tuncurry Boat Ramp
On Point Road, Tuncurry. Caution at low tide for Iarge trailerboats. Ample parking, cleaning tables.
Little Street Forster
Near baths small boats, shallow at low tide. Minimal parking.
Elizabeth Parade, Forster Keys, Into Pipers Creek
One lane, shallow.
Access at Darawank, Shalimar Ski Lodge (free), Failford and down stream of the township of Nabiac.
Fuel is readily available at service stations and on the water at most hireboat outlets. Out of season, service stations tend to close early so fuel up the day before an early start.
OMC, Mercury and Volvo Penta service is available at Graham Barclay Marine, Kularoo Drive, Forster.
Evinrude and Yamaha service can be found at Boatland, Tuncurry. Suzuki sales and service at Paradise Marina, 51 Little Street, Forster. Bait and Tackle supplies are available at Great Lakes Tackle, Manning Street, Tuncurry (065) 54 9541, with basic supplies at most boatsheds and the Fisherman?s Co-op.
Before heading out to sea, be sure to log on with the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol. This organisation operates from the Forster beach surf club, a terrific vantage point as it looks straight out across the bar.
There is an abundance of accommodation available in the Great Lakes Region. From basic tenting to first class high rise. Most trailerboat fishermen will prefer a place with boat parking facilities such as the Great Lakes Caravan Park, tucked away off Point Road, Tuncurry. It is a beautiful spot right on the lake with its own ramp that leads into some of our best fishing territory. This park is just one of several high standard Caravan Parks around the town. A call to any of the real estate agents in town will soon have your accommodation requirements sorted out.
Contact LJ Hooker, phone 54 6188; Lyle Hooper, phone 54 8830 Nationwide, phone 54 6699.
If your fishing luck is down and you have to buy your seafood, then Lobby?s Seafood Restaurant (opposite the Forster post office) will supply you with an excellent variety of fresh seafoods and takeaway. The most beautiful spot in the coast to have lunch would have to be Tudor House, overlooking Forster?s Main Beach. To top off your holiday and make up to the wife for all the times you came back late from fishing, Manuel Damian?s Little Snail Restaurant in Wallis Street, Forster, will offer you second to none seafood cuisine.
Bait And Tackle
Great Lakes Tackle, Manning Street, Tuncurry Most boat sheds on the water will have bait and tackle including live worms when available.
The Great Lakes covers a vast spectrum of nature?s offerings. There?s idyllic lakes and backwaters, rainforests, national parks and beautiful beaches, walking and cycle trails, etc. Scenic lookouts like Bennett?s Head, Cape Hawke and Sugarloaf Point, all offer breathtaking vantage points to one of the greatest waterways in the world. l have travelled all my life and can assure you there?s no better place in the world to come home to!
How To Get There
By road, it is now becoming a comfortable four hours (trailering, with the family) from Sydney. l will point out, however, driving from Sydney after a stressful day?s work has led to far too many fatal road accidents along our part of the highway. Please take your time and take a break. We?d like to see you here in one piece, not in pieces. From Bulahdelah, you can take the scenic winding route past the Great Lakes, (slowly), or further up the highway, turn off past Nabiac.
From Brisbane, it?s around 650 km. Turn off the highway about 12 km past Taree at Rainbow Flat.
The key to a successful holiday is relaxation. If this is your aim, then there is surely no other place on earth that can offer so much for the trailerboat fishermen. Trailer your boat and family to the Great Lakes and I guarantee you will be back. For it is impossible to explore and enjoy what this area has to offer in one holiday.
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