Cover your options
  |  First Published: December 2010

I’m giving up predicting what the fishing will be like based on how the weather should behave. With a strong La Niña in full swing, all bets are off and you just have to cover your options.

I’ve lived in this region 48 years altogether and I’ve seen weather like this only once or twice. But, as a general indication of what I’m expecting, I bought a new rain suit for Christmas.

We’ve had months on end of tedious, cloudy onshore weather when we should have been lounging in the sun, and then there haves been showers and wind when there should have been sunny days and afternoon spring storms – these have been rare indeed.

The offshore grounds have been difficult to access, thanks to winds seldom dropping below 15 knots for even a half a day. The incessant wind and 1.5m to 2.5m swells have been north-easterly to easterly, crashing in on every river bar in the region and building up concrete-like sand bars with tricky waves and narrow channels.

If your boat is under about 7m, it’s been almost unfishable even when you do safely clear the bar.

Early last month the East Australian Current fired up strongly and started to rip south, with the usual December cool upwelling forming right on cue. The current seems to hit easternmost Cape Byron and then peel off seawards in a clockwise eddy, with cooler water sucked from below in its wake spreading from about Lennox Head down to Wooli.

That cool upwelling was a saviour in a way, because the onshore winds were blowing over ocean too cool to produce deluging rain – for now.

What’s the offshore fishing going to be like this month if and when the sea settles? If that current is close enough, there’ll be mackerel and billfish; if it’s too far out and the upwelling still predominates, snapper, trag and kings will be the standard fare.

And they won’t have seen too many baits or lures for a while!

If you’re in the area for a holiday it’s really a matter of making the most of what we have at the time, and that means covering your options.

The beaches, breakwalls and headlands have provided some brighter points at times so if you’re bringing your offshore boat, pack the beach rods as well for when the bar is angry.

Whiting have been the big movers, with excellent catches on many beaches from Brunswick Heads to Evans Head.

Live beachworms are a must for procuring enough whiting for a decent family feed.

You’ll need to pre-order or get in early at the bait shops over the holiday to ensure your supply – or you could learn to catch them yourself.


Worming is an irritating, back-breaking, frustratingly senseless and stupid waste of time – until you finally crack a few.

Then it suddenly becomes a fantastic and inexpensive way to secure for the rest of your life absolutely free supplies of the best bait there is for almost every fish that swims in the surf.

Even not catching worms (but learning from your mistakes) is marginally better than vegetating in front of mediocre cricket or waiting for your turn at the pool table, by which time you’re too pissed to see the end of the cue.

Present the worm with the bait and let it slide between your buried index finger and thumb to munch on the offering, arching its neck as it latches on. You’ll get a few extra nanoseconds when its jaws get briefly stuck in the pantyhose.

If you’ve grabbed the worm just behind the head at the right time and lifted in one motion, it’ll come out of its sandy domain easily amid resounding cheers. If not, you may have ended up with only a worm’s head or a handful of nothing – feel free to cuss quietly and move on to the next worm.

Whiting have been the main surf attractions because there’s been little in the way of the Summer bait schools so far. If that changes then there’ll be chopper tailor, jewfish and bream working the abundant formations carved by the weather on most beaches.


The decidedly damp weather of the past 12 months means that the rivers are mostly fresh water, with only short estuaries.

The Richmond has been fishable not much farther upstream than Wardell, with most of the action well downstream around Ballina. When there’s a week or so of less rain, the fish move up; when the rain gets more frequent, they head back down.

Bream have been quite common and reasonably large around Ballina to Pimlico, while the non-breeding flathead and school jew have been a little further upstream, shadowing the prawn schools.

Breeding flathead, those large females and their harems of attendant males, have been found closer to the mouths of the Richmond, Evans and Brunswick rivers.

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