Staples and distractions
  |  First Published: February 2014

There is a season for everything. A rainy season, a cold season, a warm season and a dry season. There’s a time for catching this and a time for catching that.

At least, that’s the way it goes in most places. Sometimes it feels different on the Coffs Coast! One of the great things about fishing Coffs is that there are many species where there is no off season. Sure, it changes and moulds around the current conditions, but for the most part there are some consistent residents that can be relied upon for their ability to find their way onto our kitchen tables.

Snapper are the quintessential year-round quarry for any offshore angler in the Coffs region. Even in the middle of February snapper can be caught from the near shore shallow reefs right out to the deep pinnacles and gravel beds. Anglers (especially summer visitors) tend to have their eyes set firmly on the warm water pelagics that visit our region over summer, completely neglecting the possibility of quality reds being found on the same reefs and under the same bait balls.

Mulloway are another of the year-round fish that are even more accessible to almost any angler. Throw a soft plastic or hardbody lure around any wave washed headland at any time of year and you have every chance of hooking onto anything from a small school jew to a 20kg+ fish of a lifetime. Throw a worm, squid or slab bait in a decent beach gutter on high tide and the result could be the same. The ability of recreational anglers to catch a whole range of mulloway sizes from the small to the very, very large is what researchers like Julian Hughes are hoping to utilise in the NSW Research Angler Program’s first phase: The Mulloway Project.

The NSW Research Angler program is funded by the Recreational Fishing Trust (funded by your fishing licence fees) and aims to gather information about the current state of our favourite species using length and age data from captured fish. To enable the collection of this data, Julian and those involved in the program are asking us to donate the frames of fish we have chosen to keep for the table. To donate a frame you will need to include information of the angler’s details, where the fish was captured and when. If you’re donating just the head, you will need to include a total length of the fish as well.

The researchers will use your donated frame to harvest and section the otolith bones (ear bones or ‘jewels’) to estimate the age of your fish. Once your fish has been processed and the data gathered you will be a sent a certificate with the details of your capture, including the age of your fish, a picture of the sectioned otolith as well as details on where your fish fits into the other data.

Recreational anglers can be a huge asset to this research as the commercial catch rarely contains the larger and older fish. Donated frames from recreational anglers have already provided the 4 oldest fish surveyed so far in the project, so I encourage anyone who is keeping mulloway for the table to donate your frames to the project. Frames can be donated at participating tackle stores from the south coast to the north coast of NSW. Fishing Tackle Australia is the drop-off point for this area. To find out about other drop-off points, or general project info, check out www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries/recreational/researchangler.

Please remember that the NSW regulations have changed in regard to the legal size and bag limits of mulloway. The legal size is now 70cm (up from 45cm) and the bag limit is 2 (down from 5). These changes have been made to protect a species that all of us want around for the future, which can only be a good thing.

If not for these year-round stalwarts of the fishing scene in Coffs it may have been a very slow summer. The mackerel have only just started showing up in the last month and the inshore fishery has been plagued by cold, green water in close and a massive number of sharks.

As the water heats up further this month, anglers will become increasingly distracted by the summer pelagics on offer. Mackerel, wahoo, mahi mahi (dolphinfish) and hopefully a run of black marlin will all provide that wanted distraction.

In the rivers the cicadas have been the dominant feature for most anglers. There are plenty of bream well upstream chasing these bountiful insects, and the Tiemco Soft Shell Cicada is as close to a sure bet as you will ever get. Bream and bass mega sessions have been experienced by many anglers over the last month and are set to continue until that constant drone in the trees dies off at the end of summer.

Most fish are keen on the surface this month so if you haven’t tried a cicada lure or a popper on the sand flats, now is the time to give it a go. ‘Strike the iron while it’s hot’ as they say, and in only a month or two it will start to cool so get to it while you can.

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