Back to school – back to normal
  |  First Published: February 2016

There is no doubt this summer holiday season was a great success and brought much-needed economy to the area, but for those who set their spare time outside of the peak period, the benefits are enormous. Less crowds on the streets and lake make it easier to do what you want, especially on the water.

February is perhaps the middle of what could be called the summer season. While the calendar may tick over into autumn next month, the fishing and water temperatures are still hot. Fish activity extends throughout the estuary and surface action in the upper reaches is a major attraction for anglers.

The cicadas are still drumming their little bodies off and the bream and bass are only too willing to mistake a Tiemco soft shell cicada for a real one. The bream are thick around the causeway on the Wallamba and Lockett’s Crossing on the Coolongolook River. I’ve even had a few sessions on the upper Wallingat River through the National Park off Sugar Creek road at Tarbuck Bay.

It’s as if the fish have never seen a lure before and the timber and mangrove snags hold a heap of good bream. The shallow water also has plenty of legal flathead if you prefer catching flat fish, but the peace and quiet of this stretch of river is something else first thing in the morning.

Unless you have a small tinny, kayak or canoe, don’t bother with the big boat along the dirty tracks. The dirt ramp isn’t great and isn’t worth the potential damage. Going up the Wallingat from the lake can be tricky with plenty of shallow spots and rock bars, so take it easy and perhaps fish your way up.

The lake itself is fishing well with the growth of last year’s spawned poddy mullet and the influx of baitfish into the system. The flathead have been consistent through the last few months, and it hasn’t been hard work to get a feed.

February and March are prime times to target a trophy flathead, with all the large females hanging around the shallows and channels until the water starts to cool off. Fish of 90-110cm are regularly caught and released with photos doing the rounds on social media. Legal, live whiting or mullet are the best options with a circle hook to make sure you do the least damage to the fish.

Drifting baits or throwing large lures around Tern or Little Tern Island and Tuncurry Channel would be my first stop, and the weed patches on the northwest side of Miles Island are also worth a look. The big fish often slide up into less than a metre of water and conceal themselves in the sand, so don’t discount spots because they are shallow.

The blue swimmers and mud crabs in the lake have not been as good as last season but there are still plenty to go around. One concern I had during the holiday period was the number of people taking 4 kids under 15 years old (some as young as two) out in the boat and having 10 crab pots with them. A clarification from the DPI NSW stated as there is no further definition of ‘person’ in the regulations and provided all the other conditions are met – marking of floats and weighted ropes etc – this is acceptable. I assume it depends on the strength of the child too “…who sets, uses or lifts the fishing gear.” It is one aspect of the recreational fishing regulations that I find needs further clarification.

Nevertheless, blue swimmers around the weed edges of The Step and the channel between Regatta and Bandicoot Islands have been rather plentiful. Mud crabs can be found in holes at the bends of the rivers and the shallow waters around the Islands and bays. The southern and eastern side of Wallis Island is a great spot to try and where possible, I’ll electric over the flats to find an active muddy hole and set close to it.

Early starts offshore are the right idea with morning sessions best done before the nor’easter blows too hard. Good snapper, pearl perch and spotty mackerel have all passed over the cleaning tables along with flathead and mixed reef species.

Bonito and slimies are hanging close to the coast and are easily caught for bait, so there is no excuse for not using fresh or live baits. Trolling livies is a good way to cover large areas of water and prospect for tuna, marlin, mackerel and even the odd cobia.

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