Brock Harmer is a former bream fisherman, but don’t hold that against him. He and his son Braxy patrol the high seas in their tricked-out Sea Fox 236. Equipped with enough fishing tackle to sink a small tinny, we head up the Mid North Coast to do battle with yellowtail kings.
Brock Harmer has done what all us fishos dream of doing at one point or another. He quit his safe, well-paid job in Sydney and linked up with his good mate to run a local tackle store in Toronto — not the Canadian one. It’s called Hot Tackle and they’ve got more followers on Instagram than most influencers — and they sport better moustaches. The Captain has have been trying to tee up a Mid-North Coast escapade with Brock for a while now, but La Niña has had other plans. Just when we finally got a spell of glamour conditions offshore, there was a torrent of floodwater inland. Undaunted, we made the call to go for it and see what species we could rustle up in the dirty water.
CREW FOR THE CHEW
We meet Brock at the boat ramp at 6am. The air is muggy and full of sandflies, but that’s usually a sign that an epic adventure awaits. Also along for the trip is Brock’s son Braxy, seven years old going on 17, judging by how well he casts a stickbait. There’s also Brock’s brother Trent, who’s part-owner of the Sea Fox 236. It’s a real family affair. The boys had a pre-fish the day before we arrived to get the vibe of the area. “We managed to snag a yellowfin and jump off a black marlin in close,” Brock says as we cruise out of the river mouth and into the Pacific. First up, we’re casting soft plastics into the washes in search of snapper.
The boys are running a mixed bag of Clash and Battle reels with 15lb braid and leader. Brock admits straight off that snapper fishing is his kryptonite and he’s never been able to land a big dog. Just as he’s explaining his bad luck, his seven-inch Gulp! is devoured on the drop. There’s a long run, then a donkey snapper head knocks. Brock is shaking like a leaf, the cameras are rolling and now is the chance to finally get that monkey off his back. There’s another big run and then “pop”. Let’s just say the monkey still sits on Brock’s shoulders and young Braxy learned quite a few interesting words that morning. Tails between our legs, we abandon the snapper fishing and fill the Sea Fox’s jacuzzi-style 182L live well with a few dozen slimey mackerel. Our plan B is to rig up some paternosters and drop the liveys down deep in search of bar cod and kings.
We arrive at the wreck in 160m and send the baits down. Brock hooks up instantly and is bricked just as fast. Then Trent hooks up, but is also busted off. “Might be time to up the leaders boys?” we suggest, but it falls on deaf ears as Brock sends down another slimey on the Fathom slim spool overhead. After a couple of whacks, he’s hooked up again. This time, he gets the fish off the wreck and after a long slog to the surface, a nice kingy flops into the boat. It’s the cue for the kings to start coming in thick and fast. Trent even manages to pluck a couple on the vertical jig. But Braxy isn’t having a bar of it. Because of the big leads and deep conditions, he’s been forced to watch from the sidelines, and he’s pissed off. “This is boring! I want to fish topwater. Can we cast stickbaits around the islands? Can we at least go check out the FAD?”
Eventually, we give in to his relentless demands, pulling the pin on the deepdropping. We then hit the FAD, but it’s dead. We cast stickbaits around the shallowwater bommies. Dead. We even slow-troll some slimeys for another black marlin, but there’s nothing doing. It seems like the only way to get a bite is in the deep, so Brock takes us to a spot where Braxy should be able to slow-pitch jig with a Kachi Kachi and a Fathom lowprofile reel. We put in some drops and eventually we’re buckled over again. “A pearly?” Brock shouts. “Oh no, it’s really pulling some drag. Maybe a big snapper?” Finally, there’s a splash of colour and in comes another bloody king. Seems like we just can’t escape them today, but The Captain’s crew is stoked. It’s sashimi time.
PENN OUT OF 10
Although Brock sells all brands at Hot Tackle, when he hits the water he’s a Penn-only man. “They [Penn] are really starting to hit the Aussie market now,” he says. “Over the past four or five years, they’ve been listening to what fishos actually want and releasing a product range to suit our style of fishing. I’ve fished with other brands in the past and spent huge amounts of money on gear. I’ve been through them, broken them — we’ve chased big fish for a long time and it really takes its toll on your gear after a while. I’m also a father of three kids, and in the tackle industry, so I’m certainly not loaded! That’s the beauty of Penn gear, it’s so affordable and it’s good-quality kit. They’re not the Ferraris of the tackle world, but they’re affordable and bloody tough — so maybe they’re the LandCruisers.”
BROCK’S TOP FIVE TIPS FOR FISHING THE MID NORTH COAST
01 Water quality. It pays to find good clean water and by this, I mean blue water, or at least clean water. We’ve struggled in the past with water quality — dirty or muddy water. The Mid North Coast has lots of large rivers and estuaries flowing out, plus big tides can affect the water quality a lot. The moral of the story? Be prepared to do the miles to find the clean stuff.
02 Current. The fishing is always better when there is current. I’ve had days where there are acres of bait and no current — and the fish just won’t eat. The current turns up and it’s like flicking a switch — the fish turn on. Watch RipCharts and FishTrack and plan to fish when and where there is decent run.
03 Bait. Take the time to find and catch good-quality live baits. Slimeys, cowanyoung (jack mackerel) and bonito are best. Don’t be afraid to use a big live bait.
04 Cover ground. If the fish aren’t where you normally catch them, then move. Sometimes it can be 6nm north or 6nm south that proves the difference between a slow day on the water and an amazing one.
05 Well-timed. Use your time on the water wisely and be prepared for anything. The Mid North Coast holds a huge diversity of fish species, so pack a few extra rods and lures just in case. I definitely plan a trip to target a certain species and that’s my main focus. But if things don’t work out, there are a lot of different fishing options, so always have a plan B. On this trip with The Captain, we went to chase mackerel, but the water was mud and the fish were non-existent. So instead of heading back to the ramp or wasting a day and fuel, we went for plan B and ended up jigging and live-baiting deep water and catching a few nice kings.
Brock and Trent have done a great job breathing some life into their 2007 Sea Fox 236. When the guys bought the boat, she was seriously run-down and they’ve been fixing her up ever since. They’ve bolted on a new T-Top and some nice riggers, spruced up the interior, and installed a Simrad NSS12 evo2 running through an Airmar B60 thru-hull transducer. In the tunes department, they’ve got a JL Audio MM50 LCD display with two speakers, a sub and an amp. Powering the 7m hull is a Yamaha 250HP V6.
Brock is smitten with the Sea Fox. “It suits what we do,” he says. “We’re either having family days out on the lake, whacking on the outriggers and chasing marlin at home, or heading north to pop for GTs. It’s a big, stable platform and we roll three swags out on the deck when overnighting. She carries 470L of fuel and 100L of freshwater, so you’ve got awesome range.” She’s definitely no sports car on the water — or head sea hero for that matter — but that big beam and flared bow keeps her dry and comfortable in a following sea. Not to mention that the stability factor is off the charts — just perfect for what these boys use her for.
GTS ARE BIG BREAM
On the way back to the ramp that arvo, we ask Brock what his favourite style of fishing is. “GTs, for sure,” is the reply, but it hasn’t always been that way. A little Captain research reveals Brock was originally a bream fisherman — but then, we’ve all got skeletons in our closet. “GTs are just big bream,” he reckons. “They eat the same, often with awesome bites off the surface, and they feed in similar patterns. I love my topwater fishing and GTs are the pinnacle. I’m addicted.” On this North Coast trip, The Captain unfortunately didn’t get a chance to target GTs, but after seeing how Brock’s eyes light up at the very thought, we’ll definitely be teeing up a North Queensland trip on their fish-busting barge in the not too distant.
When it comes to big fish on topwater, the boys are primarily running Penn Slammers. “I love the Slammers and that fully sealed body,” Brock says. “They’re independently rated to IPX6, which means they can resist high-pressure sprays of water — great for remote trips when you can’t rinse down your gear. I got given one five years ago and was told to try to kill it. I haven’t even serviced it yet, but it’s still going strong.”
Seeing the boys’ passion for fishing is seriously infectious. Brock, Braxy and Trent live and breathe for trips like this. And Braxy’s casting certainly lived up to its reputation. Who knew a seven-year-old could fire a stickbait long-distance to land just half a metre from a small bommie? Beer in hand back at the campground that night, Brock tells us what fishing means to him. “You don’t think about anything else when you’re fishing — it’s an escape.
You’re on the water for 10–12 hours and sometimes you even forget to drink water, you’re having so much fun. It’s the best place to refresh. On our trips up north, we sometimes don’t have phone reception for three or four days. You can’t check your emails or Instagram, you just live in the moment. It’s meditation for me. Well said, mate. The Captain salutes you — and your whole fishy fam.
To follow Brock and the boys, hit up their Instagram @onthechew_australia