Last cast from the Richmond River
  |  First Published: March 2015

This month is the best time of year to hook a pelagic from the local rocks. If you have your sights set on catching a tuna or mackerel with your feet firmly anchored on solid ground, then you will be seeing a lot of sunrises. If you put in enough effort though, you will be rewarded.

I know the local boaties will be haunting the shallow reefs this month with a single-minded focus on mackerel, but there is something very special about catching the same fish off the rocks.

Local hotspots include our north and south walls, Iron Peg, and the platforms of Broken Head and Cape Byron. Goanna Headland at Evans Head is also a popular spot. Be warned though; many of these ledges are closely guarded secrets and you will need to do a bit of exploration — both on foot and with Google Earth — to find appropriate spots to fish.

The inshore garfish run is the catalyst for these pelagics coming within casting range, and by the time you read this it should be in full swing. Depending on the amount of time I have up my sleeve, I prefer to live bait, but if I can only squeeze in a quick session I am happy to high-speed spin. This isn’t complicated, and involves throwing a variety of stickbaits, poppers, metal lures and hardbodies about. A spin outfit of around 10’ rated at 10-15kg, with a suitable reel holding at least 300m of 15kg braid is perfect. Make sure your reel has a fast retrieve; 6:2:1 is standard. I rarely use wire as this can put the tuna off, and rely on the length of the lure to protect my 30kg mono trace from a mackerel’s sharp teeth.

Live baiting is by far the most effective technique. I prefer to fish a rising tide up until a high early in the morning, and with enough bread berley in the water you can often attract schools of garfish without a problem. I simply use a size 10 bait jig with a fixed bobby cork above it, and a pea-sized sinker to sink it under the water a bit. Baited with pieces of peeled prawn, it is a simple and very effective method of securing a few live baits.

I generally keep about half a dozen live garfish in a small inflatable wading pool, as overcrowding can lead to the death of all your baits. For tuna and mackerel, these are fished under a small fluoro bobby cork with about 3m of 30kg trace. Garfish aren’t strong enough swimmers to be able to tow larger torpedo floats, but rigged this way with a 5/0 for tuna or twin 5/0s and 18kg wire for mackerel, they make an excellent bait.

If you’re not keen to chase a pelagic, there should be some bigger mulloway starting to poke around on the walls and headlands in anticipation of the start of the mullet run next month. Obviously live mullet or tailor are great bait, but they will also be taking slabs of fresh fish, octopus and squid. Big hardbodies and soft plastics are also reliable producers. Just remember to take a long gaff (14’) and somebody to help you use it. A local fisherman took a nasty fall on the north wall several months ago while trying to gaff a fish by himself, and had to be carried out on a stretcher by the ambulance service. Rock fishing is a dangerous sport and a good pair of rock boots, a long gaff, and even a flotation device for your own safety is a wise investment.

In the river there has been good numbers of whiting taking live worms and nippers, with surface lures occasionally producing a few fish. If you’re looking for a feed, good numbers of bream and school mulloway have been taken up-river around Pimlico Island and right up to Rileys Hill. Live herring, mullet and small soft plastics have been doing the damage.

Flathead have been strangely quiet lately, with only whispers of the odd successful fishing trip, but the mangrove jacks have certainly been playing. A good mate and myself experienced multiple bustoffs in North Creek lately. The red devils are often super active this month, as they look to put on condition prior to the onset of winter.

On the offshore scene I’ve been surprised about the lack of small mahimahi around the FAD this year. Last year they were in plague proportions throughout summer and right through to June, but this year there is a distinct lack of small 2-4kg fish, with just bigger specimens of 8-15kg turning up for boats trolling for marlin with lures and live baits.

While the majority of boaties will be focusing on mackerel this month, there is still good pan-sized snapper on the 32 and 42 fathom lines, pearl perch are also available if you can find those triangle-shaped schools on your sounder, and kingfish on the wider grounds when the current isn’t raging.

On a personal note, this will be my last monthly report for the Richmond River area. I have been lucky enough to land my dream job, working as the Executive Officer for the Amateur Fisherman’s Association of the Northern Territory (AFANT). The organisation is the peak body representing the interests of recreational fishermen and maintaining the quality of the sport in the NT. It has been a pleasure writing this column and I would like to thank all the friends I have made and the fellow fishermen who have gone out of their way to communicate with me during this time. May there be many tight lines for you in the future.


A blow-up pool full of live garfish. These are tuna lollies!


The offshore fisho's prize this month; a thumping Spanish mackerel.


When the swell gets up, find a safe spot and spin the walls for mulloway.

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