January here usually starts hot and ends wet, and with another La Niña on the cards we can be pretty well assured of the wet part.
La Niña or no, there’s been a trend in the past five or six years for mild, cloudy weather to dominate the region over the Summer holidays. We miraculously dodged the massive flooding that hit north and south of the Richmond catchment last year but Australia Day usually marks the start of the rainy season and our turn will inevitably come.
So make the most of the sunny days by heading to the beach and when it’s overcast and cool, wet a line.
Whiting are great holiday estuary targets and just superb eating. They just love live worms and yabbies and greedily chase down surface lures cranked fast.
Although they’ve been slow in returning to their Summer haunts in the Richmond upstream of Ballina, there have been good whiting in nearby North Creek and also in the Brunswick and Evans rivers.
Unless you’re adept at catching beach worms you might have to pre-order live worms at the bait shops; they’re in big demand at this time of year.
For a fun-filled, messy few hours, grab the kids, a bucket and the yabby pump and head to the nearest sandflat – apart from the sanctuary zones in the North and South arms of the Brunswick River. The squeals, flying sand and squishy mud make for a memorable time and you’ll end up with some good bait.
Keep yabbies cool in the shade and change their water regularly and they’ll live for 12 hours; store them in a foam container with an inexpensive battery-powered aerator and they’ll last for days.
A live yabby on a No 2 hook cast into the estuary shallows or the surf shore break and will likely last less than a minute – everything loves yabbies. Use them at night, even from the beach, and you’ll be less troubled by bait-stealing pickers and you’ll come home with more whiting, bream, blackfish, flathead and even mulloway.
A lot of regular whiting specialists will be hoping the big fish turn up on the deeper flats in the Richmond from Burns Point to Pimlico, where strong tidal run, heavy sinkers and live bloodworms equate to piles of succulent fillets.
Flathead have been patchy but the smaller male fish should be in sufficient numbers to gather up a feed.
Soft plastics of all sizes bounced and hopped along the bottom, blue pilchards and frogmouth pillies will all do the job.
Occasional or misguided fishos might think there’s some sort of status in bagging a monster flathead and taking it home for bragging rights – nothing could be further from the truth. Big flathead are females and need to be left to get on with making baby flathead.
The big fish will be down around the rock walls at Ballina and the non-breeding school flatties should be farther upstream, between Pimlico and, Say, Woodburn.
It all depends on how much rain we’ve had; if it’s murky on the high tide at Ballina then they won’t be much past Pimlico. If it’s crystal-clear at Ballina then you’re better off launching at the old car ferry ramps at Wardell, Broadwater or even Woodburn
The smaller Evans and Brunswick rivers will have patches of flatties, just look for places where the tide funnels baitfish and prawns into narrow channels and over sandy drop-offs.
There are still some reasonable flatties in the surf gutters, along with increasing numbers of whiting, dart and a few bream.
I haven’t heard of a salmon catch for a few weeks so it might be time to see if there are any tailor harassing the bait schools. A day or two after a southerly change has blown in and started to settle should bring in the bait, especially white pillies.
That’s a good time to be heading offshore looking for mackerel in close, too.
The spots arrived right on cue at Woody Head in November after a southerly but when the north-easters came back and the water cooled and turned over, they left. As long as there’s no brown floodwater out there, the mackerel are a chance as the water warms and the bait proliferates.
In the meantime, there should be some snapper and trag over the inshore reefs and out wider where the current is more reliable, maybe some of those baby black marlin that used to always come through in early January.
Probably the best Christmas present you could have received this year is a Gore-Tex raincoat and it will be an even greater gift if you don’t get to wear it this month!
KEEP ’EM COOL
When keeping fish for the table, take care of your catch from the moment it’s caught.
Kill it humanely with a sharp tap on the head or a spike to the brain, then pop it in a slurry of crushed ice and saltwater (or water and coarse salt if you’re inland). If you don’t have an esky, one of those insulated supermarket bags with as many ice cubes as you can spare can be kept in the shade with smaller fish.Reads: 991