Take Shelter

TROY Noonan is the co-owner of Lennox Head restaurant “Shelter”. The prime real estate sits waterfront on 7 Mile Beach overlooking one of Australia’s most iconic right-hand point breaks. He took on the business seven years ago and has put all of his eggs into one basket, completely dedicating himself to the success of the business. Ensuring that every punter is well looked after, he even does a shift or two each week on the floor. Every staff member was keen to spin a yarn and seemed to shoulder the same respect for the business that Troy has cultivated. This establishment has a great community vibe, open for breakfasts, lunch and dinner depending on the day. Make sure you swing in on your next roady to give it a crack.

Troy was born in Kyogle and has been fishing the Northern Rivers since he was a pup. His old man initially put him under his wing to spark his passion for wetting a line. Nowadays, Troy repays the favour by taking him out on his 4.2m Quintrex Renegade. Recently putting his dad onto a PB 83 cm snapper at the local.

Troy recalls memories from last year’s devastating floods. He says it took over six months for the colour to somewhat return to the oceanic water as the runoff from one of Australia’s most poorly managed river systems, the Richmond flowed out to sea. During this time he caught a few snapper, but struggled as a whole to find any bait or fish. The river had fish kills and even cattle were being washed up on the beaches. The snapper that he landed had ulcers and were in poor condition. An indication of how widespread the damage of the floods was to the Northern Rivers ecological diversity. Troy was one of the members of the “mud army” who rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in to help clear the deluge post-flood. Absolute legend!

When Troy isn’t at the restaurant or with the wife and two kids he is on the water. His newly fitted-out Renegade is his church and solo fishing is his favourite sermon. The boat is perfectly set up for a one-man show with everything he needs at arm’s length. When the kids are old enough to head out the Ballina bar he may need to upsize. But for now, he cannot get enough of the challenge of fishing with Pat Malone. The fanatic demands of running a restaurant/accommodation are dampened by the security that soon enough he will be on the other side of the coastline zenning out to the slow roll of the fishing boat.


Our objective for the session is to find ourselves a large specimen of a jewfish or snapper. To be able to showcase to audiences how to look after a table fish of this size in order to maximise the yield. Demonstrating a “tip to tail” cook-up where everything is utilised in a variety of recipes will ensure that people regret discarding parts of the fish that could be used to create a masterpiece in the kitchen.

Troy has just the spot for us to pursue our quarrel. He has fished it his whole life and has refined his technique to a fine art. Confidence is at a premium as we launch the boat pre-dawn at the Ballina Sailing Club.

There was a fair bit of swell at the bar. Life jackets on and approaching with caution, we observed the conditions for 10 minutes or so to ensure we were in rhythm with the swell and tide. We were out to the bait grounds before the sun has made its presence known.

Having top-notch baits in a variety of presentations was essential to our success. Troy went to the trouble of purchasing some high-quality pilchards to use from the Northern Rivers Seafood company and vac-sealed salted yellowtail “yakkas” from a previous fishing session. These will be our dead baits to butterfly and feed down our berley trail. Live baits are what he gets most of his success on. A few strings later on the Gamakatsu Sabiki rigs and we have a strong mix of live slimy mackerel and yakkas.

We head back in towards the cliffs to find the 10m contour on the depth sounder. He has two pinnacles that produce quality fish this time of the year. Beanies on and keeping a lookout for the last of the northbound whales on their annual pilgrimage remind us we are in the thick of the winter snapper season.

Pinnacle 1 is where the jewfish tend to congregate conveniently located within 100m of pinnacle 2, the snapper honey hole. It is amazing how simple differences in the reef’s structure can define the inhabitants. The first pinnacle’s gradient is steeper, the mulloway generally hold tight between the base and the wall. Usually sitting leeward in the current. The snapper are more likely to sit on the pressure edge trying to grab any bait fish that float within range.


We put together a well thought out spread of baits. The objective was to cover the water column in a variety of offerings. The main setup in the arsenal are Atomic Arrowz rods with 30lb Majorcraft Dangan X braid spooled to 5000 PENN Slammers. A 8/0 livebait Gamakatsu hook is tied straight to the fluorocarbon with a mix of sizes of ball sinkers.

The boat was positioned north of the reef with a downhill current. Instead of the use of an anchor Troy has the Minn Kota electric motor GPS locked on the money upcurrent of the reef. If we need to chase a fish pulling an anchor up is one less thing to worry about.

Our baits would float back into the strike zone. The baits were staggered and the cube trail of pilchards commences to draw in any wayward fish. We threw out an Atomic Real Baits mullet in 130mm that will sit midwater with the paddle tail wagging in the current.

What’s on the chew

Earlier in the week Troy sent me a video of a humpback whale that had washed up onto Lennox Head Beach. Unfortunately, it could not be revived and was buried on the beach. The talk of the town seems to be about the impact of added scent in the water potentially attracting sharks to the region.

Sure enough within 15 minutes of setting our baits a huge surface boil and screaming drag suggests that our butterflied bait had been engulfed by something toothy. A prolonged fight ends with a snipped leader and a few profanities. Another shark breaches completely out of the water. This tells us that if we do manage to hook our target species our drags will need to be tight to avoid any hungry Noah’s Arks.

If the jewfish are holding on pinnacle 1, Troy tends to get a bite within half an hour or so. The prime low light bite time is starting to dwindle, we turn to pinnacle 2. Time goes on with not much luck. The sun is up and we are another two hours from the high tide change. Our confidence has taken a hit. Just before we decide to try drifting instead of anchoring on the mark a bait goes off and a small snapper is netted and released. Then another. We decided to stick with the plan. Luckily we did.

A live yakka that is sitting on the bottom gets smashed and the Arrowz rod is buckled. Big head shakes and fast runs indicate that this is the fish we need to land to achieve our goal. It doesn’t give up easily putting all of the equipment to the test. There’s something about big fish in shallow water that gets the nerves running hot.

Colour. It’s red!

Hoots and hive fives all round. 80cm on the dot, a magnificent snapper in anyone’s book. We act quickly to avoid damaging the fish. The net is important to use to land the fish so that it doesn’t bruise itself by flapping on the deck, introducing blood contusions into the meat. A few happy snaps whilst the fish has its colour. The fish is spiked in the brain for an instant dispatch avoiding unnecessary build-up of stress hormones. The gills were removed to comprehensively bleed the fish and retain the purity of the fillets, blood can taint the flesh. Finally submerged in ice to avoid bacterial growth and allow the fillets to firm.

We have a little play around with some tuna on Atomic Semi Hardz vibes as a victory lap right at Lennox Point. Time to head back to scale and gut the fish at the ramp. Troy only ever takes enough for the family, but this time staff at the restaurant will be in for a treat.

A photo is sent through to head chef Pete Townsend communicating that it’s time for him to sharpen his knives and come up with some special dishes. The pressure moves from the fisherman to the chef! We will leave it in the cool room overnight to allow the meat to set for filleting.


When landing a fish of this calibre it is easy to become overwhelmed when breaking it down into edible fillets. Fillets are great, but there are plenty of other nutrients in the bones, wings, head and rib cage that often get left at the filleting station. Especially when there is all of this prized shoulder meat on offer. Well, some of the juiciest and fattiest meat lies in these commonly overlooked sections. Finding the right recipes to incorporate these cuts is the key. Head Chef Pete Townsend was thrilled to accept the challenge of cooking up Troy’s big red from “tip to tail”. He rose to the occasion and truly enjoyed the experience, which is probably why Troy and Pete make such a good team. The good times kept on rolling.

Try not to be overwhelmed by the names of dishes and techniques. I have added in easy replacements for elements that might be difficult to understand or replicate in the kitchen. Or simply to take away some of the jargon that chefs get off on.

Dish : Grilled wing salad, Nahm Jim and grilled bread

Pete grilled the wings and ribs over the coals. He picked out all of the meat closest to the bones and added them to a chilli herb mix that sat on top of housemade made flatbread. A great way to introduce fish to someone that shies away from fishy flavours. Those hard to reach meats are the most flavourful. Respecting the fish means going to the effort it deserves. For a fish of this size, there was enough meat to feed a family.

Dish 2: Fillet, Yuzu Kosho Beurre Blanc, radish and cauliflower

An amazing dish that is currently on the menu at Shelter. Pete gave us some tips on how to achieve golden crunchy skin.

The perfect crispy skin tips:

  • Pat dry the skin before cooking with a paper towel to remove any surface moisture
  • Heavily salt the skin side
  • Scoring a fish when cooking it whole is essential. Skin shrinks when placed into a hot pan. Fish have 2 layers of skin, the scoring does not need to go to the bone, just below the second layer. This will allow heat to penetrate to the inside on the meat without burning the skin.
  • Place the pan on a high heat
  • Use a fish weight to ensure that the skin cooks evenly. Scoring will also help to ensure that the edges of the skin don’t bunch which can leave soggy folds that detract from the light crunch of perfectly cooked skin. If you don’t have a fish weight a small saucepan will do the job.
  • When the fish is visually halfway cooked through, instead of flipping the fish, finish it off by cooking it in the same pan in the oven. Skin remains down.
  • If basting the fish for extra flavour, perhaps a herby butter. Avoid leaving the fish soaking. Tilt the pan so that the butter runs off the fish and pools at the bottom of the pan. Spread the sauce over the fish with a spoon until satisfied.

Dish 3: Pan-roasted tail, green peppercorn snapper head sauce

Before filleting Pete removed any fins from the fish so that it would be more user-friendly. He then placed the head, fins and offcuts into the oven to roast. Once browned they went into a stock pot with fennel and celery. Roasting the bones before adding them to the liquid created a more robust flavour, known as a brown stock. He added some port and red wine reducing the sauce until it tasted like a rich gravy, just like Nana’s homemade baked dinner. Except made from our fish off cuts. My favourite element of the entire cookup. Inventive and resourceful over wasteful. Fish stocks are commonly avoided when they are very versatile. Add fish stock to your next pasta, muscle broth or seafood chowder for a show stopping flavour profile.

Thanks to Troy and Pete for putting so much energy into this project. The fishing and cooking reflect the care that went into meticulously planning out every step of the way.

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