Evasive action
  |  First Published: March 2011

What was it that the optimist kept telling himself as he fell off the skyscraper? Wasn’t it something like ‘It’s not too bad so far’?

The Richmond-Byron area to this point has dodged the dire eastern seaboard weather and that’s good, but with a few months to go before we’re out of the woods nobody is getting too cocky.

The January deluge in the upper Clarence catchment happened only a few kilometres across the Richmond Range so we dodged a hot bullet with that one.

The minor flood/mega-fresh we did get didn’t even bring any significant fish kills. The comparatively cool weather that followed didn’t get the evil blackwater chemistry going too strongly apart from in a few floodgated drains.

But in such a seriously threatening and unique season as this, it’s almost impossible to believe that our turn won’t come – they didn’t call pre-levee Lismore ‘the Venice of NSW’ for nothing…

In the meantime, the fishable estuaries fluctuate from a few hundred metres to a few kilometres long and the beaches and offshore grounds are at the whim of the weather – perfect one day, pathetic the next.

On its good days, when there hasn’t been significant rain for a week or so, the Richmond River has been fishable up to about Pimlico and maybe even Wardell.

There have been pulses of fresh water coming down for six months, enough time for the fish to become accustomed to these fluctuations and to ride the influx of incoming oceanic salt on the bigger tides and run back out when the new fresh comes down.

Ballina’s rock walls have healthy populations of bream of various sizes – including some seriously good ones – and the river’s dusky flathead population is concentrated densely over the sandbars and drop-offs from the mouth up to about Pimlico.


The school jewfish don’t seem to have hung around, heading to happier hunting grounds off the beaches and the inshore reefs.

Whiting have also been comfortable nuzzling the edges of the beaches and plenty of bream are in the surf as well.

On the days when the swell is down enough to make a beach excursion worthwhile, a pail of live beachworms will usually produce some quality mixed bags. Whiting, bream, tarwhine, school jew and dart are the prime candidates. Even on the marginal weather sessions you should bag a few fish.

As you’d imagine with fish regularly moving to and from the beaches and the estuary, the breakwalls at Ballina, Brunswick Heads and Evans Head have been productive venues.

Evans was particularly good for soapy to small school jewfish, which came as no surprise since 10 or more trawlers were working off Broadwater for school prawns.

The prawns themselves were pretty uneven in size and could have benefited from being left alone for a few weeks to grow out but the local fleet felt compelled to get out there because a heap of Clarence boats were working them over day and night.


With so much onshore weather, the chances to fish the reefs have been irregular but as you’d expect with this intense La Niña, the ocean has certainly been warm enough for any tropical species.

Water quality has been the determining factor for pelagic catches but the bottom fish appear quite happy. When the water is khaki it’s been worth hunting snapper inshore and results have been worthwhile with soft plastics or bait.

Sometimes, after a few days of southerlies, the current has touched the shore and there’s been the odd mackerel and kingfish caught in close and tailor have worked close along the rocks and beaches. But the bait schools don’t seem to have formed up in close much so there’s not been a great deal to hold them and they’ve headed on their way.

The mackerel, wahoo and billfish have ridden the hot water almost down to the Victorian border this season and there’s always a chance we can intercept them on their return journey later in the year.

Some of my biggest Spanish have been caught in June and July and years ago we caught spotties all the way into August. Here’s hoping.

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