Can’t step into the same river twice
  |  First Published: March 2017

This summer the searing heat has been nearly unbearable. Waters that have seen some problems have made for hard fishing in our river systems. Luckily offshore, beach and rock fishing has saved us on the days we couldn’t get out on the rivers.

I’m not going to pull any punches this month. The truth is we just aren’t looking after our waterways in this area of the coast lately. The Hunter River has seen a diesel spill in the tidal mid region around Raymond Terrace from a council yard. Luckily this was found sooner than later and was boomed off with water traps. It still affected the area though, and the rainbow of diesel that was going down tide wasn’t a place you wanted to be to take fish of any species.

If this spill had happened at the end of April, the bass population would’ve been in serious trouble. That is the month that most of our big fish move through this area down further to spawn, so we dodged a bullet there. Then we found out the Williams River above the weir has had a blue-green algae bloom, so it’s off limits to some of our really good bass fishing. This could be from the intense heat and little water flow, or drains water polluted by cattle that somehow entered the main river system.

What has a bee in my bonnet is why large stores of fuel can be so close to our rivers in the first place. If a privately-owned company had done this, that business would have been fined severely, but being a government entity, not a lot will happen.

If you consider these two events and what the Williamtown RAAF Base has done to Tilligerry Creek in Port Stephens, you can see we aren’t drawing up a good plan on how we use and store contaminants, especially when they’re close to waterways. There needs to be a change or we could say goodbye to the great fishing we have in this area. I’ve had my spat now. The saviours for us are the other areas that we are blessed with.

The beaches have been the best place to be. This month it won’t be much different. Big sand whiting, tailor, flathead, bream, mulloway and scatters of salmon have kept anglers busy. Most of the fish have been taken on fresh bait gathered on the spot. Worms, pipis and ghost crabs are easy to get on the beach and have been working a lot better than pre-frozen packet bait.

Most anglers I have spoken to are starting to pull into the reputable tackle shops, or the fishing co-op itself. They are keeping fresh mullet, garfish, yellowtail, mackerel, prawns and brined pilchards and they are using them with better results. I can see why this is necessary. Sometimes I cringe at the freezer-burnt offerings that are in the freezers at service stations. It’s a similar story at the bait vending machines that sit in the sun all day. As 40°C is common here at times, you have to ask yourself what sort of bait these machines will dispense. My experience with them hasn’t been good. Nothing can beat live caught or fresh bait that hasn’t been frozen umpteen times.

The best time on the beach to soak a bait has been late afternoon as the tide rises. The gutters have been stocked with decent tailor as well as bream. Many anglers forget that a casting session with a lure can reap benefits on the beach for a multitude of fish. The old days of just setting up a bait on a rod in a beach tube holder are far past. You can wander down the beach from your set lines, cast and hook flathead with slower retrieves of a lure and get onto tailor that are nosing around, but not touching the baits you have out.

On faster lures that cut through the water, chrome lures are the best. The reflection of them twisting through the waves can be seen by fish a long way away. Even stickbaits in numerous sizes can be thrown into the suds. Small red lures will hook whiting and flathead, as the fish on the beach know the worm-red colour in this environment. Experimenting is what fishing is about and it keeps you busy. While you are waiting for a baited rod to go off, other methods can see you take fish you would’ve missed. There is no end to the ways you can fish.

On the rocks, the fishing has been pretty good. Spinning with heavy chrome lures has been taking tailor and bonito. Bait fishing has caught nice bream in the washed areas and green weed has worked on luderick that are way out of season. The numbers of luderick are so high that they are in some areas all year round now.

Small kingfish and school sharks have been a nuisance to the live bait land-based game fishos looking for other large species. The lengths these hardcore fishers go to to get a tuna or huge kings from the rocks is mind blowing, carrying in kiddies’ swimming pools, huge gaffs, 3-4 rods and backpacks that weigh up to 30kg.

It’s usually a team effort to land fish like this and it’s a way to meet other anglers and gather knowledge from their experiences. You’re never too old to learn something new from a fisher that’s sharing a ledge with you. I know some anglers have showed me tricks over the years to make my day more efficient and pleasant.

With the amount of people who’ve drowned in New South Wales since New Years, we need to be very careful rock fishing and around our waterways. Try to fish with a friend and not alone – safety in numbers is a good call.

Outside on the big blue pond, the fishing has been touch and go. Reports have been scarce, but this could be due to the heatwaves we have been experiencing lately. Snapper and squire have been in schools that have been on and off on the Dumping Grounds, the Marbles and the Mudhole. School mulloway have been travelling with them and those reef areas have been holding mulloway up to about 8-10kg. This size has been the norm lately and most fish have been taken on fresh bonito, squid and slimy mackerel fillets.

Smaller prawn baits have been the best for the numbers of morwong that are over the reefs. On late afternoons the surface fish have been showing up. Schools of tailor have been travelling through hugging the coast, so the closer reefs have been better spots to be for them. Large squid have also been caught on the close reefs.

Those few extra spikes on the back of the jigs are just magic and it’s as simple as dropping a jig to the bottom and lifting it a few feet up. Let the rocking of the boat in the swell do the fishing. You just have to watch it bend and you know you have hooked up. Huge squid have come from the reefs of late.

Crabbing has been good in the lower Hunter, with both arms producing blue swimmers. Now until April is the prime crabbing time on this part of the coast, and all the months with the letter ‘r’ in them are the best (September to April). Sometimes, if the current stays nice and warm, the rivers will be warm enough for another month to be added to that season.

Mullet and luderick scraps are by far the best baits for them in pots or dillies, but butcher’s off-cuts or tins of cat food punctured and tied into traps are a good backup.

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