The fishing is in the laps of the weather gods this month and after the coolest December-January holiday break in memory, it’s hard to say what will happen next.
As is normally the case in January, the water temperature fluctuated considerably to the point where wahoo and marlin were taken not too far offshore, then a day or two later straggler salmon were caught from the beaches. This month the current is likely to kick in far more consistently and 23° to 26° water become firmly established, so many minds will focus on mackerel.
Spotties already have been caught in dribs and drabs from the reefs well south of Evans Head and have apparently surfaced occasionally at Riordans Reef, just off Patchs Beach between Evans and Ballina, promising a rewarding season ahead. A few Spanish were encountered over the pinnacle just off Lennox Head and a few more out wide on their way south.
Now it all depends on inshore water quality remaining mackerel-friendly and that means no heavy rain. Floods early last year and then consistent freshes for months produced an ordinary 2006 mackerel season with the prevailing murky inshore water these fish shun. But this is another year.
If the water stays calm and blue and the bait schools come through, there’s nothing better than a steamy, calm February morning on the close reefs. There’s usually a hot bite on lures, live and dead bait at first light and once the sun comes up, things settle into a wonderful rhythm.
The spots seem to come through in waves with multiple hook-ups common on fish to 6kg or sometimes even 10kg. Then there’ll be a cessation of hostilities for around 20 to 30 minutes until combat is renewed. And if you’ve chosen the right piece of ground to anchor on, in the meantime you can be having fun with snapper, cobia, yellow or red-throated sweetlip and kingfish. Mackerel tuna should also be making pests of themselves, along with a run of longtails.
The same warm water that brings the mackerel can work against anglers when strong onshore winds blow warm and wet onto the coast, bumping up the rainfall stats alarmingly to keep the annual coastal figure around 200cm.
Any significant rain can turn the Richmond estuary, which has been recovering reasonably well from a very wet 2006, into a mess again. At the moment there have been some excellent catches of jewfish, whiting and flathead although the bream seem to have gone AWOL since the February 2006 flood.
Jewfish have been in good numbers from the walls upstream to Pimlico with schoolies to about 5kg very popular targets over the holiday season. Live poddy mullet have accounted for plenty of fish as the tide starts to slacken and soft plastic shads and stickbaits have been highly successful.
There have been a few big flathead around the walls downstream of the Burns Point ferry but the numerous eating-size fish have been farther upstream with the flats at either end of Pimlico Island a popular centre of attention. Soft plastics and white or frogmouth pilchards have been the weapons of choice and although there have been many undersized fish among them, there are sufficient keepers to end up with a good feed.
Pimlico has also been the focus of some handsome whiting catches although bloodworms are essential for respectable numbers, yabbies or worms turning up only occasional fish. The gun anglers seem to prefer fairly large tides and anchor their baits with quite heavy sinkers to allow them to fish fast-running water in about 5m. It works, with bag-limit catches of big elbow-slapping whiting to 40cm the norm.
The beaches have not benefited greatly from the onshore winds over the past few months but there have been respectable catches of whiting, dart, chopper tailor and those lingering salmon.
If the weather stays fine the bait schools should hug the coast on those calm mornings and the quality tailor should turn up in numbers. There have been some good greenbacks about in the surf from Brunswick to Evans but the onshore winds have made chasing them difficult in all but a handful of spots and then the bait has to be there.Reads: 2016