Start of autumn but still basically summer
  |  First Published: March 2017

For most, March is the start of autumn, but in reality it’s still well and truly summer on the north coast of New South Wales. February is by far our hottest month of the year and that flows on for us for the whole month of March. With such a late start for the pelagics this year, here and all the way north to the Sunshine Coast, we can conceivably expect that this month should be the hottest bite for the year.

Spotted mackerel are the most commonly targeted surface fish around this part of the world. They’re great fun to catch, easy to clean and pretty good on the plate as well. The Shark Bay to Woody Head area is by far the most popular place for recreational fishers to target these fish, with the ease of launching right into the bay, literally metres from the fish. South of Yamba, the north end of Angourie Reef to Freeburn Rock (the bommie) is a little less busy, but no less frantic with fish.

Spend a few hours after first light trolling pink squid well behind the boat. I like to set them 25 seconds back at around 9-10 knots, so they are right at the end of the boat’s bubble trail. Look for the bait schools on your sounder that have been pushed to the surface. After you have found them trolling, set a couple of pillies out on light wires with a float and drift over the area. It won’t take long to get a bag limit of five nice fish each, and that’s a lot of mackerel to eat.

Along with the spotties, March will produce big northern longtail tuna, mahimahi, yellowfin and Spanish mackerel. Be prepared with some heavier gear if the big boys happen to make an appearance.

The wider grounds this time of the year are a real pig in the bag prospect. Fish will be there – that’s an absolute certainty, but you can travel 20 nautical miles to sea to find the current doing 4 knots downhill and it wouldn’t matter if you had a fridge on for a sinker, you are going to struggle. If you are planning to go wide, check some of the websites for a current forecast first. They are far from accurate, but if it’s red on the map, stay in close.

The south grounds from Red Cliff to Brooms Head will be good fishing for plate-size pearl perch and venus tuskfish this month. Drifting in around 40m of water with good flesh baits is the most productive way of getting a feed. Mostly the pearlies will be in a gutter in the reef rather than on a pinnacle, so look for an area where there is a metre or two drop in the reef and you will find fish holding tight to the edge.

The Clarence River has been fishing really well all over summer. I can’t see this changing for March, as it’s not really a change of season here. Crabs (both sand and muddies) have been in great numbers. If the normal February rains are enough, the fresh will push them all down towards the mouth – easy access for us.

Whiting seem to be getting thicker the more they are caught. It’s like you take one out and two come to its funeral. They move about in the system a lot, so it pays to keep your finger on the pulse a bit. Check with your favourite tackle shop on where their punters are getting them before just launching out to the old faithful spot.

This summer has produced some great flathead. Lots of people have come into the shop, who have never caught anything worthwhile, and weighed in big flathead. Average fish have been around the 50-60cm range and anglers are catching four or five at a time. My best advice for March is to find a deep hole close to the middle wall or Freeburn Island and live bait with a herring or poddy mullet.

The surprise with this type of fishing is that every now and then the flathead has been bullied out of the deep hole by a mulloway. Isn’t it terrible to go to all that trouble to set up for nice flatties and have to catch mulloway instead... As a rule, if the mulloway are there you get one or two and then they will spook. It’s better than none.

On the subject of mulloway, under Oyster Channel Bridge two days either side of the full moon in the middle of the month should produce good fish. There will be some great bream there as well. The preferred bait is the humble herring. Fortunately, in the hour before sunset they are usually around the bridge pylons in huge numbers. Have a good live bait tank and fill it up. The big bream (and odd mangrove jack) will feast on them, but the mulloway will almost be a certainty if you stick it out.

On a personal note, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my wonderful customers, both at my shop, Marina Boat & Tackle and on my charter boats. The Christmas/January holiday season was the best ever. I don’t think I had ever been so busy or met so many great people.

Have some good fishing for this month and, as always, if you are heading our way call into the shop and we will try and steer you in the right direction.

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