February marks the end of the school holidays and back to normal life for almost everyone (although uni students probably still have another month of holidays!). Over the last month we have been slowly slipping into the summer pattern of fishing. The warm currents have been moving in and out from the coast as the nor’ east sea breezes alternate with southerly fronts. With the warm water, mackerel encounters have been slowly increasing in frequency, as well as welcome inshore mahimahi, tuna, and numbers of small black marlin.
After a period of southerly winds, expect that the current will push right into the coast and the mackerel to become readily available on all the inshore reefs throughout our region. The water will be cold during extended periods of nor’ east winds, so you will need to hunt for the warmer water further offshore.
As per normal, live bait has been the steady performer for mackerel. As the season moves on and the mackerel are a bit thicker on the ground, trolling lures and casting stickbaits and metals at surface feeding fish will be more effective and a lot of fun. Hopefully we’re in for another great mackerel season, as the elusive pre-Christmas mackerel turned up around the place a few times.
Larger kingfish are still on offer around the outer reefs and islands, but further inshore they have been replaced by exceptional numbers of rats. These can be great fun on light gear if you’re keen. Just throw pretty much anything into a nearshore reef or wash and pull it out fast. You should have no trouble finding willing participants.
These smaller kings are also being caught around the headlands, along with good numbers of tailor and bonito. Mulloway are the usual target for many on the headlands, and there have been plenty of smaller schoolies with regular captures of larger 10kg+ fish. Most are being landed on soft plastics and hardbody lures around the broken rocky points.
The mulloway are present on the beaches also. The larger ones have been caught around the river mouths, especially after recent rains when the rivers are running dirty. Whiting are in good numbers on the beaches and in the estuaries. Yabbies are the go-to bait, but the large fish are most consistently coming in on poppers and other surface lures.
One way to know it’s summer is when you see bonefish tailing on the flats in your local estuary. I’ve heard of the odd alleged sighting around here and that they sometimes get caught offshore in deeper water, but this is the first time I’ve seen them in person and in a very catchable situation too. I managed to get a few lines past a couple, but they spooked on the popper I was using and it got dark before I was able to get anything suitable out there. It had to be the only day I didn’t take the fly rod!
Elsewhere in the estuaries, there has been an increasing flow of mangrove jacks, judging by pics on social media and forums. This means anglers are starting to switch to summer mode too. Live baits are the best chance when chasing them in the snags, around bridge pylons, and along rock walls. With live bait though, you can only cover a few snags or spots per session. Lures are also producing good fish by working a lot more ground, so hardbodies and soft plastics, particularly prawn imitations, are well worth throwing around. Bream and trevally are worthy bycatch with this method too.
There are plenty of good flathead up and about, with soft plastics and hardbody lures always the surest bet for covering the territory necessary to find the bigger ones.
While you’re up the estuary, it may be worth throwing a couple of crab pots in. There’s good numbers around, but remember that the legal numbers of pots and dillies per person has now changed to 2 and 4 respectively.
With the recent rain events, the bass should have had ample opportunity to get to their upstream homes. Although there are still a few stubborn ones down low, it’s the far upstream stretches that will be the go-to areas for bass this month. Cicada lures have pretty much been the only option needed in the lure box over the last few months, so I would be sticking with these for the most fish, as well as the most fun.
So no matter whether you’re chasing fish for fun, a feed or both, I hope you find it on the Coffs coast this month.Reads: 408