Wattle it be? Snapper?
  |  First Published: August 2001

Wattles in bloom can only mean one thing – snapper time!

If you get to go to sea off the Clarence Coast only once a year and you fancy catching a snapper, August would have to be the month.

Over the past few years there only ever seems to be one reliable month of weather here and this is this month – cold mornings with a slight sou’-wester give way to almost glassed-out days and the reds are as close to the coast as they get all year.

Fishing lightly weighted soft plastics in 6m to 15m is a great way to tangle with a big fish and, as a bonus, the pearl perch are with them. Throw in the odd trag and tuskfish and the inshore reef scene doesn't get any better than now.

Last month’s column was headed ‘shaping up well’ and trumpeted the arrival of some clean water to the river. I had no sooner emailed my report when yet another east coast low turned up.

Fortunately for the Clarence River, the majority of the rain fell on the coast so any flooding was very local – unlike our neighbours down the coast, who copped another battering.

Just before the rain the best run of snowy bream in years had showed up around Maclean and were forced back down river just as quickly when the fresh hit.

However, the headlands are now fishing well for some very big bream.

The luderick were also just starting to crank it up in the lower reaches of the river. Now the southern end of Woody Head has enough to even make the most avid luderick fisherman not complain about the price of hooks or the quality of the floats available today, or the colour of your weed, The fishing is truly that good!

The tailor have been very disappointing so far, probably more to do with poor water quality on the coast that anything else, but what we have lacked in tailor we have made up for in Australian salmon – well, sort of.

There is no doubt the salmon seem to get a little thicker each year and every year they seem to head up river a bit more.

This Winter they have been thick around the Yamba Tavern, the Oyster Channel bridge and Browns Rocks. Everybody will whinge about them but they sure are good fun on little lures and light tackle, and that's just in the river. Out on the coast they are 10 times thicker.

Mulloway fishing on the main breakwalls is going through a real resurgence at the moment, so much so that the car park at the wall is nearly overflowing with vehicles around the dark of the moon.

Fisheries officers lately have decided that they will no longer turn a blind eye to ‘snigging out’ a few mullet for live bait (jagging), so many anglers have turned to fishing large soft plastics, both on the river and the ocean side, with great results.

This is the time for XOS mulloway. Don't be caught short with tackle too light for the job; big fish will do you at your feet so 24kg gear should be considered the norm.

Too many anglers come into the shop and relate stories of big fish lost fishing too light.


Andy Warhol might have said that everybody will have their 15 minutes of fame, but this was not on 13-year-old Drew Hall's mind when he came into my shop on Saturday afternoon for a few last supplies for a trip to sea with his Dad and Mum the next day. Drew's Dad, Steven, is a local plumber and Mum Karen has the pet shop in town.

With work commitments and bad weather they had not been to sea for some time and with a forecast of flat seas and no wind, the young fellow was chaffing at the bit to get among a few decent reds.

They did one short but successful drift on a patch of reef just inside the north-east corner at Brooms Head when they noticed a few whales in the area and were keeping an eye out for them as they moved to a new spot.

Drew was sitting in the stern looking intently at the sounder while Dad was driving back up-current to restart the drift.

What happened next will haunt Karen and Steve forever. A very large whale that was probably basking just under surface must have been startled, breached and brought its massive tail straight down on top of the boat’s windscreen.

Drew was lifted from his seat at the stern and somehow thrown to the front of the boat. Miraculously, his Karen and Steve were unharmed.

They quickly realised Drew was in serious trouble, though, and the fear was still very evident in Karen’s face as she relayed the story a day later.

Drew was unconscious and did not seem to be breathing and they could not find any sign of life. For three minutes or more they thought their boy was gone.

Then, when Drew finally started coming around, Karen said utter despair turned into instant euphoria. Steve jumped on the radio and an ambulance met them at Yamba and relayed him to Maclean Hospital.

Remarkably, Drew survived the ordeal with concussion, a broken collarbone, plenty of bruising and a barnacle graze.

And the name of their boat? Fish and Tales, and in small print underneath ‘More tales than fish’!

You’d think after an ordeal like that another fishing trip would be far from your mind – not so for Drew, he was expecting to get paid by a magazine for his story, allowing him to buy more fishing tackle. Maybe a chain mesh suit would be a better buy.

Already extremists have been attacking the Halls, accusing them of venturing too close to the whales. But, as anyone who has spent time at sea over the past few winters will attest, the whales seem to be getting more curious every year.

Whether it is to do with the amount of whale watching boats or just the sheer number of whales travelling up and down the coast, I am not sure.

But I do know that for some reason the whales often turn and head for your boat. I have had to start the outboard on my drifting boat and retreat a number of times.

One thing is for sure: With the growing number of curious whales, the Halls will not be the last to have an encounter like this.

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