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Good news and bad
  |  First Published: October 2007



I couldn’t be happier to report that my prediction last month of a dry Spring was thoroughly hosed down by an unseasonable low-pressure cell that did its thing in mid-August.

It drenched the bushfires and dumped enough rain on the coast and hinterland to cause minor flooding and a welcome fresh in the Richmond river and its tributaries. The rare sight of a chocolate river in Spring was thoroughly welcome and should set up things for an excellent season ahead but there was the usual downside of any heavy rain in the catchment these days.

I can’t remember any time in recent decades when we’ve had such an event in August but, with another low forming off the coast in early September, I guess all bets are off when it comes to consistently predicting weather these days. Although there wasn’t enough rain for destructive flooding in August, the fine days following produced the usual outbreaks of oxygen-stripping black water in the agricultural drains of the mid-Richmond.

The timing was very bad. There were still plenty of spawning bass in those middle reaches and jewfish, bream and mullet working well upstream and there were plenty of bloated carcases floating around.

The local flood mitigation authority which controls many of these drains seems to accept fish kills as a fact of life these days. The same goes for farmers who have control over the operation of other flood gates and the State Government doesn’t seem too excited about doing anything. I’m predicting that nothing positive will ever get done without a class action brought against the bureaucrats and farmers by those who feel the impacts every time there’s a fish kill – commercial and recreational fishers and the businesses that feel the economic brunt of these events every time we get heavy rain. Bring it on, I say.

The Richmond and Wilsons rivers rose around a metre, which should have been enough to allow upstream passage of surviving bass and to clear out some choking weed in the upper reaches.

There’ll be some good bass action as the water clears and warms with spinnerbaits, topwaters, plastics and crankbaits producing as required. Wyrallah, Tuncester and Woodlawn should be good on the Wilsons and Tatham to Greenridge and upstream of Casino will fire on the Richmond.

Bungawalbyn Creek, the southern arm of the system, used to be the jewel in the crown of Richmond bass fishing but ti tree monoculture, widespread drainage and heavy pump irrigation have left it a shadow of its former glory and these days it’s one of the chief culprits in these recurring fish kills.

There are still fish in its turbid brown depths but the days of champagne fishing in water from green to tannin-clear seem to be long gone.

ESTUARY

The fresh brought a great run of jewfish to the Richmond around Ballina. A lot of schoolies that had moved up to Broadwater and Woodburn followed the rise back downstream before the anoxic black water came down. The surviving fish belted the massing bait from Burns Point down to the mouth.

A few bigger fish were also taken from the walls when the big swells lashed the coast.

If this month remains typically dry (I’m tipping nothing now!), the estuary bream and jewfish action should move back upstream as the black water from Woodburn to Broadwater and Wardell dissipates.

Flathead should kick into a strong spawn run this month with increased concentrations of bait and warming water. And while the big females will settle in the last few kilometres of the rivers, flattie action shouldn’t be confined to the lower estuaries despite the fresh. Before the rain there were plenty of school flathead upstream as far as Coraki and those surviving fish will have to eat.

The bream should continue to spread out and they don’t seem to mind too much fresh water, as long as it’s not the evil black water.

What has been a corker of a blackfish season should also continue strongly although those fish are also likely to head up-river and dine extensively on black weed as soon as conditions allow.

SPAWNING REDS

The offshore grounds should continue to be rewarding as those snapper continue their spawning run. An influx of nutrients from the fresh should help the inshore bait schools and early indications after the rain point to some promising snapper action from the shallower reefs.

The wider grounds will have snapper trap floats all over them and there’ll be plenty of southbound humpback whales to negotiate as well as the current picks up and helps them towards their Antarctic feeding grounds.

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