Even though the East Australian Current is never far from shore this month, freshwater is seldom far from local fishos’ minds in February.
If you define an estuary as the tidal part of a waterway, the regular rain the Richmond catchment has received over the past year and the high water table mean the saline part of the river isn’t all that long.
The Richmond at Ballina has produced its usual holiday fare of bream, flathead, whiting and school jew, although anglers haven’t had to go too far upstream before encountering some discoloured runoff water.
At least the vacationers didn’t have to head far upstream to chase flathead, whiting and mud crabs, although the estuary fish can forge upstream a lot farther than most fishos think.
It might taste fresh on top but that denser salt wedge below can still be habitable for normal estuary fish.
However, the more brackish the bottom layers become, the more chance you have of encountering the hordes of dreaded fork-tailed catfish, locally called ‘dogfish’, the word usually preceded by an unpublishable descriptive epithet.
Work a little downstream of the major doggie population or try in deeper water.
That salt wedge under the fresh has sometimes been as far upstream as Coraki, where regular rain in the lower catchment has penned up some bream, flathead and school jew in the deeper holes, while bass have actually been active and comfortable 10km downstream.
From the headwaters to the tidal feeder creeks, it’s been a long and rewarding bass season with some spectacular surface fishing as the bass greedily hunt down herring, shrimps and terrestrial windfalls.
When they’ve been chasing herring, the Lucky Craft Sammy reigned supreme although when they’ve been in a tentative, tail-slapping mood, the new OSP Bent Minnow subsurface walker has been a brilliant follow-up lure.
The soft splashdown of the Tiemco Softshell Cicada has been an irresistible trigger when the fish are more insect-oriented.
All this freshwater fun can end with an overnight this month with a catchment-wide 50mm to 90mm downpour quite possible. All it takes is some onshore wind over that warm current and maybe a dip in the isobars, but there won’t be too many fishos that will welcome it.
The mackerel arrived in dribs and drabs before the January full moon and there’s been enough baitfish in the form of white pillies and the odd patch of slimy mackerel to encourage them to stay. They should do so as long as the bait and the water quality suit them.
It’s only when the vacationers go back to work after the Australia Day holiday that the official local spottie season really kicks off.
Small snapper and some teraglin are filling out the inshore menu, although this month there’s the possibility of some grassy sweetlip, moses perch and other tropical lutjanids over the next few months.
Further out there have been kingfish and amberjack and the FADs off Ballina and Evans have produced mahi mahi and the occasional kingie and marlin.
The FADs don’t get a lot of attention most days because they’re around 8NM off the Ballina and Evans bars, so they can get out in whatever current isn’t disrupted as it comes around Cape Byron.
That’s a fair way out for most of the smaller boats, especially when you have to go past a fair few bottom fish to get there.
Speaking of river bars, it looks like the Ballina bar is going to get some attention at long last. There’s going to be a study into what’s required to dredge it into some less dangerous form.
I can’t imagine anything other than long-term dredging doing any good, because a large part of the problem is that the degraded Richmond has such a high sediment content these days that if you halt the dredging for more than a month or so, the delta will build up again.
That’s particularly so when we get prolonged onshore weather, as is entirely probable this month.
Big easterly swells can carve up the beaches and move around hundreds of thousands of tonnes of sand in a day or so, as we saw here just before Christmas.Reads: 1207