A red cure for the cold
  |  First Published: August 2007

As I sit here it’s cold, wet and windy– Winter is definitely on us. So what can you do when the weather’s bleak? Go fishing!

Yesterday I awoke in total darkness to icy westerly winds and rain. And before I had time to change my mind about snapper fishing, my mate Cory was waiting in the driveway. Committed, we were off down to the ramp and across the bar straight to the snapper reefs. With cold rain stinging our faces we soon had four lures out and started drifting the reef.

Sometimes fishing is just that miserable you have to laugh. Our hands were blue and the morning breeze made sure they stayed so cold they barely functioned. But that first snapper hit soon took our minds of the cold and when 4.6kg of solid red broke the surface, I was one happy man.

Cory soon followed suit, landing a nice snapper of 3.6kg. Another couple of solid hook-ups, a few dropped fish, two good snapper caught and released and it was time to head in for a much awaited hot cuppa – short and sweet.

There’s no doubt you can get some pretty miserable days in Winter but on the North Coast this is usually the most reliable time of year to fish. Unlike the Summer run of fish, which are often governed by fickle oceanic currents, the Winter fishery is generally more stable as cool, green water holds solidly on the coast for months on end.

So far this season has been quite productive. While the snapper session above was a little slow compared with most outings, there are some good fish around north and south of the Macleay entrance.

The northern reefs come to life at this time of year and it’s certainly when you get the most consistent run of big snapper in close. By close I’m talking anywhere from 20m to 50m, so there’s plenty of water to choose from.

Heading south is also very reliable, with both Fish Rock and Black Rock holding some nice snapper and those cranky Winter kings. As the water gets colder, the kings usually get bigger.

Come Spring, when the water is pea-soup green and full of salmon, the kings often reach 20kg-plus. I’ve seen 30kg monsters belting 4kg salmon, so expect trouble over the next few months.


Surprisingly, there are still a few cobia around. While we usually get a run in December and again in May, it seems the cobes just haven’t stopped yet and they started nearly two years ago!

While they aren’t thick, it’s fair to assume if you put in a few hours live-baiting the known haunts near the Jail, you’ll more than likely find a fish or two. The last one I heard caught went 28kg, so there are still some thumpers around.

Yellowfin tuna have thickened up, with school fish around 12kg to 18kg running out on the continental shelf. Reports of a few bigger fish up to 50kg have trickled through also. Prime months are July, August and early September; so if you’re keen on yellowfin, get out there ASAP.

The Macleay River is running a little hot and cold. At first I just assumed a lousy seasonal run of bream and blackfish but a quick look at Main Beach in town and it’s not hard to see why we’re struggling to catch fish.


Greedy netters are out in force, and have been for months, running nets around anything that looks like fish. Bream are the highest prized, bringing the biggest money at market, and apparently blackfish the least, and are simply thrown on the sand for the birds to eat.

It’s pretty disheartening, really. You watch TV anglers practise catch and release and occasionally you even see some excited young angler proudly let a good fish go, then you look up the beach and see 2 tonnes of bream ripped out in one fell swoop.

Last year I was feeling quite pleased in having let go 38 jewfish up to 20kg, only to hear the bloody netter pulled 37 right at the river mouth.

I know they’re trying to make a living. I know people want to eat fresh fish. But how long can the onslaught go continue?

Fish stocks are getting smaller each year and anyone who thinks they aren’t is delusional. I’ve got two young kids, 2 and 4, and both thrive on catching fish for fun. It’s my hope as they grow up there will still be a few fish left for them to catch.

The way it’s going the only spot they’ll get to see a real fish will be in the local co-op.

Sorry to end on such a sombre note, but it just cheeses me off that so few greedy netters can take so many, as well as waste so many, quality fish. The average fisho, simply left to sift through the remnant fish stocks, wonders why they’re catching so few.

Sadly, nowadays fish runs are governed by seasonal netting, not by how many fish spawned in previous years.

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