A Winter fish-fest
  |  First Published: July 2007

It’s a Winter fish-fest over the next few weeks as locals finally don the beanies, jackets and waders that those in southern climes have been wearing for months on end.

It’s peak season for bream, blackfish, tailor, big jewfish, snapper, pearl perch and plenty of other fun and tasty fish that cram the estuaries and fringes of the sea for breeding and migration. While the weather might be a bit chilly as night temps go down to single figures, the days are mostly balmy and the winds, apart from occasional icy flurries from the south-west, are usually calm enough to allow some excellent fishing.

The bream in the Richmond, Evans and Brunswick rivers are gathered in the lower estuaries to breed, hopefully with the injection of some new material in the gene pool from stocks travelling up from the south.

Those big blue-nosed whoppers over a kilo that have been wily and wary for the rest of the year suddenly fling off their inhibitions and bite freely, especially for those using flesh or gut baits at night. Lure anglers will do well to catch big fish in clear water during the day but at the bottom of the tide the rivers are often a little more discoloured and the bream less likely to spook.

The bream that have run to sea can be caught on pipis, worms and especially on chunks of fresh mullet, slimy mackerel or garfish. With so much beach to move along, these travelling fish often seek something a little different from the normal beach forage so an aromatic chunk of fish flesh can be just the ticket. Any of the beaches close to river mouths are good spots to try but you could also work the beach between Ballina and Evans Head, Seven Mile Beach at Lennox Head, South Golden Beach/New Brighton and the bits of beach outside the marine park south of Brunswick Heads.

The mullet in the Richmond ran to sea in early June in a couple of large waves and a few adult bream went with them. It was a bit of a joke to read in the local paper about local netters blaming global warming for reduced mullet catches, then a few days later the crews at the mouth of the river netted around 30 tonnes in a couple of days and heaps more in the weeks following.

The blackfish around the Richmond seem to be improving after an early flurry of activity showed some promise which failed to materialise. There have been enough fish about in the usual haunts such as along the Porpoise Wall, Burns Point ferry and the Prospect bridge approach in North Creek. Weed is becoming more available and if some of the travelling schools from down south can get through, there will be a lot of happy float-watchers.

Estuary perch become increasingly viable targets this month as many more are encountered by bream anglers dunking soft plastics around eddies along the rock walls.


Tailor seem to have taken up almost permanent residence on South Ballina Beach, with good catches of choppers to a kilo for several weeks. Elsewhere the fish haven’t been as predictable or prolific, and I’ve not had a good go at the tailor for some weeks.

This month there should be more fish about at places like Black Head, Skennars Head, Lennox Point, the areas of Cape Byron outside the sanctuary zones and up around Seagull Rocks at Brunswick Heads. I’m led to believe it hasn’t been a great season up that way so far but it’s still early days.

As they did in 2006, the mackerel showed up late and didn’t stay over long, although the fleet off Evans Head made hay while the sun shone with some good catches of spotties to 8kg, mainly on live slimy mackerel. At times there were 70 to 80 boats out there, making the bait grounds and favourite reefs rather crowded at times.

As the mackerel tapered off, the snapper started to move inshore so there weren’t too many long faces at the ramps. The reds should increase this month as they move in closer to take advantage of the bait schools and to gather for pre-spawn.

Some of the shallow reefs have been quite productive for quality squire but there have been quite a few hard-luck stories of big reds being hooked on light gear and going straight into the rough reefs and kelp forests. It raises the age-old quandary of whether to fish for increased hook-ups on light gear or bring the fish to the boat on heavier tackle. In heavy kelp areas a heavier leader of, say, 15kg up to 6m long can help.

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