Last chance for a Spanish mackerel
  |  First Published: July 2016

This winter has been in stark contrast to what we saw in 2015. Last year there was practically a five-month extension to the summer season fishing. This year, although the summer fish hung around into winter, the typical cold water fish have come on strongly almost as soon as the first chill crept into the air.

The mackerel were barely on the fade before the kings turned up. There are decent kingfish in the area right through the year, but winter is the prime time for the big kings. There appears to be plenty of them around at present. The areas anglers had caught mackerel on stick baits and live baits from early May have started to produce good-sized kingfish. There are still the odd mackerel around even now, but in the washes and deep reefs the kingfish are dominating. Live baits around the islands or dropped down onto the deep reefs out further has proven to be the most successful technique to net a big fish. Soft plastics, stick baits or the smaller slow pitch jigs are the go-to methods for the medium-sized fish in the washes. There are the odd school of rats around, so if you find them it’s probably time to move, or it’s sometimes worth trying something a bit slower underneath those rat schools. A slow jig or sinking stick bait is likely to find snapper, cobia or bigger kings hanging out under the smaller fish.

As always, the ever-present snapper are on the cards anywhere offshore, but at this time of year large numbers of big reds will be moving into the shallows of the inner reefs, gravel beds and headlands. Whether you’re using bait or lures, stealth is a very important strategy in these shallow water situations. Ensure that you’re not motoring over any ground that you plan to fish. Motor around the area and set up so that you drift over the reef or mark. Berley works quite well if you’re anchored up, but will also attract the smaller fish.

Now is the chance for land-based anglers to target good snapper from the rocks. Headlands like Boambee and Muttonbird Island offer good access to reefy headland with nearby gravel beds where the snapper will congregate. Berley can work well, but will increase the number of pickers that are about. The mulloway have also been caught in good numbers around the headlands. Most are school fish between 4-10kg, but there have been the odd big silver slab captured. Soft plastics are the easiest way to cover the ground and have had the best results on school mulloway. Large shallow diving hardbodies may be a little harder to fish than the plastics, but they have had a better success rate on larger fish.

Tailor have also been in good numbers around the headlands and beaches and have been taking bait and lures. Cubed pilchards combined with a bit of berley trail will have you onto tailor, snapper or mulloway this month.

Along the beaches the gutters have held mulloway, tailor and bream and the odd school of salmon. The same pilchard approach will work well here but if you can locate schools of baitfish via the diving birds, a well-placed metal slug will easily be the undoing of a tailor or a salmon.

The ending of the El Nino and possible development of a La Nina means there’s a little more promise for the odd rain event this winter. The flooding river mouths are always the ultimate condition for mulloway fishing and are an excellent time to try lure fishing for this species. With the water brown and flowing hard you need something to draw a little attention. A lipless crank vibe for fishing deep and a noisy hardbody for the shallower waters are up to the task. These lure types send out a lot of noise and vibration, the very cues the mulloway will be responding to in these visibility-reduced waters. Usually the conditions are windy, wet and cold but those that put in the effort and time are the ones that come away with that fish of a lifetime.

Sometimes winter feels like it’s made for the saltwater angler, as freshwater fishing in winter is not very relevant here on the Coffs Coast. The bass and trout seasons are over and so there’s not a lot on offer, but for those that just want to get out on the sweet water and earn yourself some numb fingers and toes there’s always a trip over the range.

The Murray cod are only about two hours from the coast and have been firing in many rivers and dams. It might be a bit of a drive, and may leave you fending off the frostbite but there’s no reward like releasing a big cod after a massive surface strike and a hectic fight.

Wherever you decide to wet a line and enjoy the cold, I hope you have great fishing and tight lines.

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