SAFETY FIRST: Rhys Riches 15, of Lennox Head always puts saftey first when fishing off the rocks at Boulder Beach. INSET: Front page
SAFETY FIRST: Rhys Riches 15, of Lennox Head always puts saftey first when fishing off the rocks at Boulder Beach. INSET: Front page Doug Eaton

Big fish are the thrill

FANCY catching yourself a whopping 50kg tuna, a 25kg jewfish, or a 10kg Spanish mackerel, without ever setting foot in a boat?

That's the lure of rock fishing, according to locals who practice the sport - despite its risks.

In the last decade 108 people have drowned while fishing off exposed reefs and ledges in Australia - the second highest number of open water drownings after swimming.

Last weekend two fishermen miraculously survived after being swept off the most notorious rock fishing spot on the Far North Coast, The Peg, off Boulder Beach, Skennars Head.

The Peg is named after the rusted metal rod drilled into the rocks decades ago for fishermen who would tie themselves to it in the face of dangerous swells. No one does that today.

Local Rhys Riches, 15, took up rock fishing near the spot when was 10.

The thrill of hunting the big game fish keeps him coming back.

His record catch off rocks was an 8kg jewfish caught off Broken Head at dusk in December last year.

His next goal is to land a southern bluefin tuna, a tenacious fighter which can take up to 45 minutes to haul in.

He's hooked a few, but not yet landed them - once thanks to a 12 foot tiger shark.

"We had the tuna hooked and free-spooled it so the tuna swam away from the shark, but then, as we were reeled it in, it came up from the bottom and sort of rolled over it and swallowed it whole," Rhys said.

"It wasn't good because we lost a fish, but it was pretty exciting to watch."

Fishing in rough conditions can be a boon for hooking jewfish who feed on the baitfish which become disorientated in the white wash.

"You know not to go out there when you see the waves coming over the rocks," Rhys said.

According to Ballina Angling Club president Brian Wilson, even legendary North Coast fishermen Peter and Don Bortolin refused to fish at The Peg, despite being famous for big-game catches at many other treacherous North Coast ledges.