In stark contrast to the early months of the year, with autumn now well and truly upon us, the pelagics off Ballina have become a lot more specific in their feeding habits and very wary when it comes to clumsy angling attempts.
A prime example of this is the ever present mahi mahi found on the local FAD at the 32 Fathom Reef. At the start of January these fish would eat anything you threw in their direction, I reckon some days you could have even caught them on a bare hook they were that voracious! However as the months flew by these fish have become more and more wary and harder to hook, on the plus side they have been growing in size too with the average fish now around the 80cm mark with only the occasional 50cm midget.
For our boat this success has involved scaling down our tackle and predominantly using smaller hooks and lighter trace. Our standard rig now consists of two meters of 20lb fluorocarbon down to a 3/0 circle hooks on a 6-8kg snapper outfit. Nothing beats a fresh struggling live bait and if we can’t get live slimy mackerel, which have been few and far between this year, then a small yellowtail does the job nicely.
While some people may be worried about how light our trace is we haven’t lost a fish yet and often we seem to be getting hook-ups when other boaties are staring at us with puzzled looks on their face. I even saw one checking us out with binoculars the other day! In saying that I’m sure that one of the big kingfish that often call these FADs home will teach us a lesson sooner or later.
As well as the mahi mahi, the mackerel have simply stopped taking trolled lures, even without wire. Our normal tactic of trolling various sized Laser Pros, skirts and bibless minnows has been totally replaced with slow trolling or drifting live baits around structure and reef edges. And by live baits I am not talking about yellowtail, which are so prevalent on the inshore reefs off Black Head and Flat Rock, rather I am referring to bonito, tailor and small mackerel tuna that you need if you want to get a big Spanish mackerel.
Pike are also an option if you are prepared to put in the time to anchor up and fish on the bottom with a small long shanked hooks and pilchard strips. This can be quite time consuming and our favourite method simply involves trolling small minnows or casting metal slugs around the schools of yellowtail until a bonito is hooked. This bonito is then quickly attached to a live bait rig consisting of a 5/0 through the nose and a 3/0 stinger treble with about 20cm of wire between the hooks, no wire in front of the 5/0. This is the ultimate stealth mackerel rig and commonly a good fish is hooked within 15-20 minutes. The hardest part about this technique is catching the live baits.
Don’t be afraid to use big live baits as a mackerel will happily eat a 5kg tuna if it can get its jaws around it. For this reason we always have several live bait rigs in a variety of sizes rigged and ready to go. As the season progresses the mackerel only get bigger and with a bit of luck they will stay around until about June.
If you’re getting frustrated with the mackerel there are plenty of longtail tuna around at the moment as well. A live yellowtail or garfish floated out behind the boat on the inshore reefs will almost guarantee a screaming run and with the average size around 12-15kg they provide a lot of sashimi and barbeque quite nicely as well. Similarly to the mackerel, these speedsters hang around to late June and only get bigger as the season progresses.
In between chasing mackerel I managed to spend a lovely Sunday in Mobbs Bay with my partner catching some tasty whiting on pink nippers. Now strangely enough not a single one of those whiting went home with me and into a frying pan, the reason for this is that we were competing in the 2014 Pirtek Fishing Challenge, which is a strictly catch and release event.
While we didn’t win any prizes we did manage to account for about a dozen whiting around legal length with several of these fish being submitted in the hope of winning the mystery prize. I don’t ever need an excuse to go fishing but the fact that all the money raised goes towards prostate cancer research was an extra incentive for me. I since have spotted several other anglers wearing their Pirtek Fishing Challenge cap that everyone received upon entry and from all accounts the competition was a huge success with more than 8500 anglers participating Australia-wide. I would have loved to see mangrove jack as a target species as I have been catching some thumpers around the rock walls lately, I guess there is always next year!
This coming month should start to see the westerly winds blow, which for me signals the start of the mulloway season. Traditionally, Anzac Day is seen as the start of the mullet run and it’s these tasty little mulloway lollies that bring the big fish off the inshore reefs and towards the rocks, beaches and estuaries.
While I plan on writing a comprehensive piece on catching big mulloway next month, for now I’d just like to highlight several important points that will improve your odds.
Firstly, if you find bait you will find mulloway. Ideally you want either mullet or tailor; plenty of mullet schools can be seen moving along the beaches and through the estuaries in the coming months during the day. If you can find a seaward running gutter or a deep estuary hole with a high tide after dark you will increase your odds substantially.
Secondly, one live bait is worth 10 dead baits. Take the time to catch live baits before you start fishing. This can be mullet caught on bread in the estuary or tailor from the beach prior to the sun setting. Mullet can be kept alive for a long time in a 60L drum with an aerator and, while not as hardy, taking a blow up baby pool down to the beach allows you to keep half a dozen tailor alive with water changes.
Lastly, keep your rig and gear simple. For live baiting I prefer a 10kg Alvey outfit off the beach and a heavier 15kg outfit when fishing the less forgiving rocks and breakwalls. A running sinker down to a decent rolling swivel and 50cm of 60lb trace to a 8/0 Octopus style hook completes the outfit. My advice to anyone starting fishing for mulloway is to catch at least a dozen fish on live baits before you start using lures because it’s a much more effective technique.
While it may seem the case, I’m not totally fixated on catching mulloway over the coming months. This time of year known as the ‘travelling season’ is also a great time of year to target other species that move down to the estuaries and along the coast beaches to spawn. This includes tailor from the rocks and beaches (did I mention they are great mulloway bait?), big thumping bream and the often under-valued luderick.
Those westerly winds often inspire me to forage up some red rock crabs and go hunting the many groper that live around the rocks of Skennars Head. These beautiful fish pull like freight trains and they are more common than most anglers think. I don’t mind keeping the odd smaller red female for a feed either. Until next time, tight lines!Reads: 1203