Cabin fever at Coffs Harbour
  |  First Published: February 2016

This summer has been proof that the wild isn’t as predictable as we’d like it to be. Through the back half of last year, one of the strongest El Nino systems on record was developing. From this we expected to see colder ocean temperatures off our coast and therefore possibly an underperforming season on the summer pelagics.

Fortunately for us, this prediction has not come to fruition so far. The El Nino system is well and truly in place but it has not seemed to affect our season on mackerel, tuna, mahimahi or marlin. The mackerel and wahoo have been in action from well before Christmas. Live baits, hardbody lures and stickbaits have all collected their toothy targets as well as some welcome by-catch of kingfish, tuna and small marlin.

The inshore run of marlin has been more of a trickle than a flood, but hopefully that lends itself to an extended run rather than a ‘tsunami one day and gone the next’ kind of season.

Many anglers look forward to the warmer months and the mackerel for their summer excitement, and rightfully so. They’re aggressive, fight fast and hard and taste great on the plate for those keeping a couple. I love a good mackerel session, especially on the kayak, but I find it hard not to be drawn in by the inshore black marlin. I don’t mind neglecting the mackerel for the first few months in the year and chasing a fish that we don’t see that often.

February is the likely height of the inshore marlin run for us, so if you’ve always wanted to catch a ‘beaky’ but don’t really have the boat or the means to chase the big girls out around the shelf, then this is your chance. The inshore run has been made up of mostly 20-40kg fish.

Marlin love a good live bait but will have a go at almost anything when they’re thick. The key is to find the bait in areas exposed to the current. If the current is running right along the coast, then there’s nothing stopping the marlin swimming right in around the headlands and inshore reef. Once you’ve found the bait, you have a couple of options; one is to stay right with the bait and drift a live bait on top, or the other is to slowly troll your baits around the general area, either on the surface, on a downrigger, or both.

The latter allows you to cover ground, makes your boat into a teaser and hopefully draws attention to your baits while presenting your offering to them in different ways to cover as many bases as possible. If you decide to stay put on the bait, you can drift a live bait out the back while fishing a couple of other methods to target other species at the same time. Both of these methods have landed marlin as well as plenty of healthy by-catch.

Another species that’s denied trends has been the local kingfish. We’ve had larger models hanging around right into the summer period. Marauding packs of rat kings is expected in summer and that’s certainly been the case, but we’ve had welcome numbers of larger kingfish captured from the rocks, islands, washes and out on the deeper reefs.

Sinking stickbaits like the Maria Fully Loaded, Sebile Stickshadd and the Nomad Madscad have all performed well on this front but similar lures will work. You may recall these are the same lures I mentioned in the January issue as very useful on mackerel, so you can double up your targets.

If you’re fishing off the rocks this time of year you never know what you could get. Mackerel, marlin, kingfish, tuna and even cobia are on the cards. Again, stickbaits are the easiest to cover ground and get in their face. The longtail tuna should arrive in numbers this month, so be prepared to have a lot of line disappear from your reel. The battle of late has been getting out in between the wind and high seas.

For those who love the surface action, the estuaries are right up your alley. The surface action has been hot, even in the middle of a hot clear day. Big bream, flathead, trevally, whiting and jacks are all chewing on the top. Whether fishing smaller lures for bream and whiting, or the larger lures for jacks and GTs, everyone seems to be getting a mix of everything. OSP Bent Minnow, Bassday Sugapen and Tiemco Soft Shell Cicada have been standouts in all the estuaries, but any surface lure seems like it will get a reaction at the moment.

I haven’t seen a lot of large jacks caught, but there are seemingly thousands of small jacks willing to tackle lures as big as themselves. Good news for the future of jack fishing!

Surface gazing seems to be the main pastime for the local bass too. Even during the day the surface crawlers and cicada lures have been the most successful. The better fish mostly come during the night though, especially on a dark night before the moon is up. In this scenario, large noisy baits like the Jackall Pompadour Jr, Koolabung Bass Walker and my favourite, the jitterbug are producing the most consistent results.

As you can see, there are options for good sessions pretty much anywhere on the Coffs coast this month. A bit of this and a bit of that is the call of the season, so why not get out and enjoy a month of varied fishing?

Photo courtesy of Better Than Vegas charters.

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