Blue water pushing in
  |  First Published: February 2014

It’s called garden envy. You know the situation: you sneak a peek over the neighbour’s fence to discover lush, beautifully manicured lawns, beds full of flowers and vegetables, maybe even a water feature or a pool. Meanwhile, your garden looks like a weed-infested bomb site.

It’s the same situation with Coffs’ game fishermen. We’ve been looking ‘over the fence’ to our Queensland neighbour’s ‘garden’ a lot of late, jealously wondering when we’re going to get our share of 800lb blues, inshore blacks, and tasty mahi mahi to while away the hours between billfish bites.

Well, it’s finally happening, albeit slowly.

For over a month now, a putrid green band of water has been trapped against the coast from Smoky Cape to Byron, with a strip of even more unappealing black water delineating the 100 fathom line. This has finally been scoured away though, and the blue water has pushed in as shallow as 40 fathoms, bringing with it a bevy of summer fun fish.

There has been a sprinkling of little blacks along the blue/green colour change, and while not totally unheard of in such warm water, a flurry of striped marlin bites between Christmas and the New Year was a bit of a surprise. Most of this activity came from around pilchard schools in 50 fathoms, and the crew of local boat Bear estimates they saw around 25 stripes on one memorable morning — hooking 2 and tagging 1. The fish were tailing on the surface, totally obsessed with smashing bait balls, and the crew didn’t score a bite until they dropped down to really small feather lures to match the size of the bait. Unfortunately, the boat was on its way to Port Macquarie for the Golden Lure Tournament so the crew couldn’t hang around – and the further south they fished, the worse the water became.

Wider, the blues are a bit hit-and-miss, with some boats finding them and others not, but a pulse of freshwater working its way down the coast is traditionally the key to better bites. The sizes have been an eclectic mix ranging from 70kg to 300kg (the latter lost, worse luck).

Mahi mahi numbers have remained strong and help to break the day up nicely. Wayward trap floats, timber pallets – in fact any floating object has been as good as money in the bank recently, and live baits trolled around the trap floats up near the Hole (and probably elsewhere) have produced some quality fish.

Oddly, the green inshore water has been holding a number of early spotted and Spanish mackerel, with a few of the spots topping 5kg. They’re fairly spread out, from the Patches to South Solitary and into Split, so it might mean dashing about a bit to find their location on any given day.

Those anglers that have put in the time trolling live slimy mackerel inshore (and for once the bait has been biting cooperatively), have also been bedevilled by hammerhead sharks — you remember, the species that are supposedly endangered in NSW waters? There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of them if you spend time actually on the water rather than skippering a desk.


Finally, there’s some good news regarding Coffs Harbour’s appalling boat ramp. Funds have been made available through the Better Boating Program, and work is expected to commence very soon, with the duck pond being expanded to reduce the surge.

Whether the engineers get it right or not remains to be seen, and it’s inevitable that there will be a user-pays boom gate access arrangement some time in the future. Nobody should have a problem with that, provided the facilities warrant it. Of course, there’s a convenient escape clause worked into the release stating that “some surge may remain”. We await the final outcome with interest…

Sadly, every silver lining has to have a cloud. In this instance, the Crown Lands Department is proposing to make the entire parking area down at the harbour from the hardstand south of the co-op through to the slipway, either 2-hour or 30 minutes’ duration.

The 2-hour restriction is a real slap in the face for charter operators, be they fishing, whale watching or diving, commercial fishermen, mechanics, shipwrights, full-time marina residents – basically anyone who wants to spend more than 2 hours on their boat.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Crown Lands want to drive tourists away, which the lousy boat ramp has successfully done for so many years. Just when that particular issue appears to heading towards a satisfactory resolution, this happens.

A paltry 65 all-day car parking spaces is simply not enough, especially on Sundays when the markets are in full swing. The 44 spaces that will become 2-hour adjacent to the North Wall are needed to maintain a balance between all-day boat users and visitors.

The lack of long-term parking will also have implications for people who leave their boats at the marina for the Coffs Harbour GFC’s Hot Currents tournament, the Solitary Islands GFC’s Heavy Tackle Challenge, and the Dave Irvine Memorial Snapper Competition — 3 big tourism dollar generators. Good luck finding a car parking space without getting a ticket.

The window for public consultation has closed, but not before many of us had our say. Hopefully our input will have made a difference. However, knowing how these so-called ‘public consultation’ periods work, it’s fair to assume it’s already a done deal.

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