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Crabs are a welcome return
  |  First Published: November 2016



I’ve never complained about moving to and living on the Mid North Coast. If I was pressed for a negative I’d have to say there are too many options to fish and too few opportunities to do so at this end of the year. Even the holiday crowds are bearable, because there’s always somewhere you can escape the masses and find a few fish.

As the water warms up and maximum life is restored to the tributaries and lower lake sand flats, the options for a bit of angling fun or a feed of seafood increase. The warm water promotes growth of the winter spawned mullet and other baitfish, while the sand crawls with blue swimmers. The mud crabs are getting more active too, roaming from their winter hideouts and searching for their next meal.

Early season crabs have soft shells, but they’re generally plentiful with a dozen or so crabs for an overnight soak. Edges of weed flats where the tidal flow peters out or the junction of two tidal streams are my early season picks, and they’ve paid dividends. Last year, I also found a lot of blue swimmers up the rivers, especially the junction of the Wallingat and Coolongolook rivers.

It’s a spot I often fish for flathead and one I’ll be looking at, again, for a feed of crabs. Witches’ hats (tangle type snares) are still legal in NSW, but there’s a push to use crab pots or dilly (hoop) nets in their place. The cone of mesh that suspends above the metal hoop and bait of a witches’ hat has the capacity to tangle and drown turtles, birds and large fish. Phasing them out isn’t a bad thing, considering the current two crab traps per person in use or possession.

Leading up to the holidays and the early arrivals, you must remember to mark and set your traps as per the regulations and restriction. There is a no-set zone from Hell’s Gate on the western end of Godwin Island directly across to Tuncurry boat ramp and seaward, also from the eastern end of Godwin Island, opposite Barclays Oysters, seaward along Breckenridge channel.

The reason is the power of the tidal flow and the amount of boat traffic the crab pots can disrupt. I’ve seen crab pots illegally tied to the pylons of the bridge. Use common sense, know the local rules, and observe the signs posted.

From late October to mid-November, a spawning aggregation of sand whiting gathers in the entrance to the lake, and they become great surface targets on lures. A fast retrieved lure like a LuckyCraft Bevy Prop or Berkley 3B Popdog will have the whiting in a frenzy if they’re about. Drift casting on the run-in tide to the shallow edges of the sand flats around the bridge and channels is my first stop after launching at Forster Harbour.

Shallow weed beds too will surrender a whiting or two, along with some scrappy little bream. The clear sand flats should produce the best of the whiting bites. Baits of yabbies and worms fished around the bridge and flats will produce a mix of flathead, bream and whiting, and the best time is the change of tide.

The oyster leases are full of bream as the remaining fish return from the coastal run, so the lure anglers should be happy. All the leases in the lower part of the estuary are worth a fish, and you can fish your way up the Wallamba River or the back of Bandicoot Island.

Bandicoot generally has some big bream in residence and it’s a great place to throw surface lures at the top of the tide. It doesn’t suffer from too much tidal flow, but just enough to manoeuvre lures along the edge of the fixed racks. The shallow floating leases behind the island will produce good bream and even better flathead if you make long casts and fish your lures slowly.

If you want to play big bream lotto, the lower lake flats down toward Pacific Palms should be fishing well this month. The odd big whiting, decent legal flathead and pan-sized snapper are also on the cards in this area. Drifting over the expanse of shallow sand and weed patches is easy fishing and doesn’t depend on casting accuracy. It provides the chance to fill the catch bag. The lower lake is a good spot to set a crab pot too, but be mindful not to set too close to commercial pots. It’s understandable that the crabbers don’t like it, so steer clear and find a vacant area to put your gear.

The Rocks has started to produce small bonito and chopper tailor, which means larger pelagic fish aren’t far away. Big kings and cobia should start to show up and take advantage of the baitfish that are gathering. Groper have outnumbered the pigs this year and both are still valid targets from the stones, if you prefer. The north end of Elizabeth Beach and the south end of One Mile Beach are go to spots for this time of the year, and allow an early morning spin session for tailor or mulloway.

NSW crab trap rules

Keep and use no more than two traps per person at any time.

Maximum dimensions are 1.2m x 1m x 0.5m, or a diameter not exceeding 1.6 metres at the top or bottom.

Minimum mesh size is 50mm.

Have no more than 4 entrances and none on the top of the trap.

Attach a float or buoy labelled with CT, initial and surname, year of birth and postcode of the person who sets, uses or lifts the fishing gear. The minimum height of the float must be at least 50mm above the water with all letters to be a minimum of 15mm and in a colour contrasting to the buoy. There must be a 50g weight attached to the float/buoy line, so that no line is floating on the surface of the water.

The float/ buoy must measure more than 100mm in all dimensions.

Must not be made of entanglement material.

Must not be set to impede the free passage of fish.

Any fish caught, other than crabs, must be returned to the water.

Do not set gear in areas of high boat traffic or navigation channels.

1

Blue swimmers will be a tasty target from now until the end of May.

2

It’s time to collect a bit of cut bait for offshore with bonito active along the coast.

3

A striped tuna of 2kg taken while spinning for tailor on the Tuncurry breakwall.

4

A pair of big bream from the lower lake. A 3B Puppy Dog was their undoing.

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