Take a Chance on Pelagics
  |  First Published: February 2014

December and January are traditionally the months when I set my sights on the small black marlin that follow the warm water down the coast.

This last month has been a real hit-and-miss affair when it comes to offshore fishing. On some days the current has been running a warm 24ºC with plenty of bait and associated pelagics, while on other days it has been cold and lifeless. On the good days anglers have had a chance to tangle with marlin, wahoo and mahi mahi either trolling live baits or skirts and hardbodies such as Halco Laser Pros (surprisingly these are actually a great marlin lure when retrofitted with single hooks). Off Ballina the 32 and 42 fathom reefs are the place to be, as the inshore reefs haven’t received enough of that warm water to make them a viable fishing proposition yet.

So far this year we have had several strikes but we just can't seem to get a hook to stick in those hard bony marlin mouths. With a bit of luck this situation will change and I will have a some photos to show readers next month.

In between trolling we have been amusing ourselves catching the small mahi mahi (dolphinfish) and rat kingfish that have taken up residence on the FAD off Ballina. The usual suspects of snapper and teraglin have also been turning up for the bottom bouncers and we have often marked some good schools of these fish on the sounder in mid water while trolling around bait schools.


Due to the cold water lingering in close, the traditional summer species of whiting and dart are yet to make a solid showing off the beaches. This also applies to one of my favourite summer activities, spinning off the rocks for giant trevally.

While we don't get barn door sized GTs around here, there are enough numbers of this hard-pulling sportfish averaging 3-4kg and up to around 8kg to make them an exciting proposition on 6kg spinning gear. I use a 9’ Shimano Shore Spin and one of the new Penn Spinfishers 4500 filled with 20lb braid. If you’re keen to do a bit of this style of fishing, the recipe for success involves spinning the local rocky headlands and pulling a variety of metal and surface lures through the white water.

The tide doesn't seem to make a huge amount of difference; rather it’s all about the change of light, warm water and baitfish. GTs love to ambush baitfish from under the whitewater and you will often catch bonito, tailor and small mulloway (school jewfish) as well.

When the water warms up in the coming months and the inshore run of garfish begins you may be unlucky (or lucky) enough to hook a longtail tuna and you will need every metre of line to land one of these speedsters. The rocks around Cape Byron, the Iron Peg at Skennars Head and Lennox Point are some of my favourite spots for throwing metals.


While the water off the rocks and beaches remains a chilly 22ºC, the same can't be said for the estuaries. The cold water is pushing into the lower reaches and making the fishing a bit slower than normal, but on a recent mission in the Richmond River up to the sand flats around Pimlico Island I was amazed to see it was 26ºC. This is certainly good news for estuary anglers and those prepared to get up early and fish the big morning tides pushing up the river. Most anglers fishing poppers or baits of pink nippers having been suitably rewarded with excellent catches of whiting mixed in with bream and flathead.

If you’re in the mood for a monster flathead, I’ll share a trick with you that I learnt years ago from a canny old whiting fisherman. Simply put the first legal whiting you catch straight back out with a 4/0 in its back and keep fishing for whiting with another rod. If a big flathead doesn't take your whiting you’ll still be able to have whiting for dinner!

As well as good whiting numbers, there has been an abundance of mud crabs lately. If you’re smart enough to drop a few crab traps amongst the mangroves on the way to your fishing spot you should be in line for a scrumptious seafood lunch later in the day.

When not out chasing marlin or whiting, I have been devoting quite a bit of time to chasing the local mangrove jacks. The Richmond River holds quite a good population of these fish, though the Brunswick is arguably the best jack fishing river around here. Over the years I have experienced some monumental bricking while fishing the Boat Harbour there; I vividly remember live baiting there one night and not even being able to stop fish on 50lb braid and 80lb leader.

Locally in the Richmond River I spend quite a bit of time spinning and trolling the rock bars of Emigrant Creek. I tend to use hardbodies predominately as I believe the constant contact with the lure gives me a split second more warning and control before I get driven into the snags by a rampaging jack.

Any type of deep diving barra-style lure that can bang the bottom in 2.5m-3m of water will catch jacks. Personally, I prefer using Mad Mullets and Jackall Squirrels. Using 30lb braid and 60lb leader on an outfit that has a drag of at least 5kg will give you fighting chance.


February will see all the traditional summer species still hanging around in the estuaries, and with a bit of rain (though not too much!) we should finally start to see the bass fishing improve above Lismore.

Once that warm water pushes in close to the beaches the whiting will make their presence felt. South Ballina Beach is without a doubt the best local beach to catch some elbow-slapper whiting and I firmly believe that this due to the abundance of beachworms. If you’re like me and struggle to catch more than a few beachworms I suggest your arrive at low tide near your chosen fishing spot to give you enough time to catch some bait before the tide starts to rise. If you fail miserably at least you can do the ‘Pipi Shuffle’ and collect enough pipis for the session. While they’re not as good as beachworms they are still great bait.

The first week of February is traditionally when the locals start to dust off their mackerel gear. The shallow reefs at Lennox Point, Black Head and the Riodan Shoals will all produce fish, providing the water is warm and running from the North. This should bring the slimy mackerel that these predators seem to crave about all other baitfish.

While trolling lures and dead baits does work, the most effective technique used by most locals is to anchor up over a prominent pinnacle and to fish live baits a few meters under a balloon in a sparse berley trail of pilchards and tuna oil. Most people rig their live bait on a stinger rig consisting of a short (30cm) length of 42lb single-strand wire attached to 4/0 Octopus Hook and a 3/0 treble.

Remember to arrive at your chosen fishing location as early as possible to secure enough live bait for the session, and adjust your bait to sit deeper in the water column as the sun rises. This will ensure more strikes from these light-sensitive fish.

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