With a very mild autumn the chilling westerly winds that arrived at end of last month sent many local anglers scurrying to pull out the winter beanies and tracksuits. I got the shock of my life when I rose early one morning to chase some mackerel off the rocks to discover it was 6ºC outside. This was several mornings after I had arrived back from a trout fishing trip to the North Island of New Zealand, and I had to rub my eyes several times to convince myself that I still wasn’t in the land of the Long White Cloud. The temperature definitely felt the same!
While theses winter temperatures may require anglers to put on a few extra layers it don’t stop the fishing from hotting up. Old salts refer to this time of the year as the ‘travelling season’ as several species all congregate to spawn in the lower reaches of the estuaries and off the rocks and beaches. This predominantly includes mullet, blackfish and bream in the Richmond River and off the rocky headlands and beaches, as well as tailor migrating towards Fraser Island to spawn and big knobby headed snapper as they head towards the inshore reefs.
Targeting these spawning snapper has to be one of my favourite forms of fishing as I am not a big fan of bottom fishing with heavy leads and winching up snapper from deep water. Using a 6-8kg spin stick on a fast tapered 7’ graphite rod really allows you to get the best out of these great sportfish.
Strangely enough, while throwing soft plastics like the popular 7” Berkley Gulp is a popular technique, it seems to have decreased in effectiveness over the last few years on the local snapper population – especially the bigger older fish. We’ve gone back to basics these last few seasons and our regular technique now is to anchor up on a prominent pinnacle or around bait schools and floatline fresh baits down a berley trail. We regularly use pilchards in the berley trail but prefer fresh squid or a piece of slimy mackerel at the end of our hooks. The trick is to weight the bait so it floats at the same speed as the pilchard berley, so the snapper don’t smell a rat.
We still prefer to use braided line for this type of fishing as the smaller diameter helps with the sink rate in strong current. To fool the wary snapper we simply use a long trace, generally at least 3m of 6-10kg fluorocarbon.
Constant berleying is an integral part of this method’s success as you aim to draw fish out from structure and across the reef to your bait. This means arriving at your chosen location close to dawn and preferably berleying for at least an hour and a half before calling it quits. While you may get a fish as soon as you throw a bait in the water, it often takes quite a bit of time for the berley to work, especially if the water is dirty or if there is a bit of current running. It also pays to have a big live bait sitting on the bottom as well as this often results in the form of a decent mulloway or cobia.
he effectiveness of this technique means that if used correctly you will see some thumping big snapper landed this winter. Please bear in mind that these fish are breeding future of the species so keep the smaller ones and let the big breeders go with just a photo to prove the capture to your mates.
As well as species intent on spawning, this month also sees a last ditch effort of our tropical estuary and offshore pelagic species feeding up big before either shutting down over winter or migrating towards warmer waters. For boaties this means not discounting mackerel, especially if the water manages to hover around the 23ºC mark for the next few weeks. If you can get your hands on a big chopper tailor you very likely will be rewarded with a big mackerel as this is the time of year when the average size is 15-20kg.
We should also see an increase in mangrove jack activity over the next month. While the water in the river remains fairly warm mangrove jacks and to a lesser extent trevally will throw caution to the wind and feed voraciously before the cold water really arrives. That’s not to say there won’t be a few monster jacks pulled from the south wall by anglers fishing live mullet for mulloway this winter, but now is the time to really get out and try to catch a few on lures before they develop a case of winter lockjaw.
Speaking of mulloway, while there have been a few small fish caught in the river the last month they haven’t really entered the system yet. The mullet are certainly starting to build up in the lower reaches but not in the numbers that will attract the big jewfish yet. It seems to take time for the big models to travel from the offshore reefs and headlands into the river, and while they will be a viable option next month this coming month I like to target them from the beaches, intercepting them as they travel into the river.
For my money you can’t beat a strip of fresh squid on two 8/0s as dead bait or a live tailor if you can get it. I generally pick up some fresh squid from the local co-op the morning before a fishing trip and plan to arrive at my chosen gutter about an hour before sunset to try to secure a few live tailor. These are normally kept alive in a large wading pool and even if I don’t get any I’m not too concerned as fresh squid is still an excellent bait, especially if you can smear the ink sac all over your squid strips. This acts as berley and sometimes the bait is taken as soon as it hits the water.
I tend to look for a gutter that preferably runs out to sea instead of running parallel to the shore. These gutters act as a big fish highway and under the cover of darkness and a big high tide mulloway will travel through them to feed on beachworms on the sandbanks on either side of the gutter, and any unfortunate fish that they can find. Bearing this in mind always cast your baits to the shallow water on the side of the gutter as this is where the baitfish, and hence jewfish, will be found. You often just seem to catch sharks and rays if you fish the deepest sections.
Before I sign off this month I want to encourage you to take your children out fishing over the coming months. Summer often sees scores of young children pumping nippers and fishing for whiting and flathead in the Richmond River but they tend to drastically thin out over winter. With a bit of rugging up and careful planning this doesn’t need to be the case.
There are still plenty of fish to be caught, especially some of the thumping big aggressive bream at this time of year. A trip in the Richmond River armed with a herring jig can keep the kids occupied and having fun for hours. A lightly weighted herring fillet in a bread and tuna oil berley trail was the undoing of countless big bream for me when I was younger, and it still works today. As an added bonus, if the bite is slow the kids can keep themselves entertained jigging herring and you might even manage to snag a school jewfish on one of those herring fished live on a long trace to fool those wary fish during the daytime.
Good children-friendly spots from the bank include the RSL Jetty, Riverside Park and the section just up from the swimming pool. Bring some snacks, drinks and rod holders in case the kids get bored, and remember to convince your better half that you’re not technically going fishing, you just want to spend time with the kids. Good luck, and until next time tight lines.Reads: 727