Exciting Easter estuaries and late mackerel run
  |  First Published: April 2017

Good rains at the end of February and early March should have stirred things up a bit for this month. The continual dry weather and northeasterly winds will not be missed. The change in weather patterns will bring calmer seas offshore and hopefully a lot of hungry fish. While the estuary gets a nice drink of fresh water upstream, this should push the fish to the lower reaches of the system.

The estuary has fished really well this summer, with great bass all the way from the gorge to the mouth of the mighty Clarence. The big dusky flathead just kept coming. A few of my regular customers coming in the shop reported that they released up to three big girls a day and still got a good feed of 50cm fish. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Whiting have been around, but not in the numbers they were earlier in the summer. There are still some good fish amongst them but bag limits are rare. The shortcut between Hickey and Dart Islands is always worth a try for these fish; popping late in the afternoon and changing to live nippers as it gets dark gets me a feed most times.

Crabs are still sensational throughout the river, with reports of nice muddies upstream to Grafton. Those crabbing between Lawrence and Maclean have had some great success. Remember, if you intend to crab this stretch of the river you are only allowed the use of hoop nets or dillies (no crab traps upstream of the old ferry ramp in Maclean). For those closer to the mouth, Oyster Channel and the run up to the lake will get you a feed.

For those anglers out there who like to ‘stick watch’ (and I’m one of them), the luderick are around in reasonable numbers with plenty of fish pushing the 1kg mark. Cabbage seems to be the flavour of the moment, although some anglers are getting fish on weed flies pretty consistently.

Mulloway will love this colour change in the river, which brings with it the schools of mullet. Oyster Channel Bridge will hold nice school-size fish. Some nicer mulloway are being taken on the Zerek 70mm Live Shrimp, fished close to the surface. Bigger fish will as always be taken from the breakwalls.

Speaking of our magnificent breakwalls, for those who like the land-based gamefishing, this is a great time to try and crack a big Spanish mackerel or northern longtail tuna off the wall. It’s always amazed me how many of these big ocean predators cruise the seaside of these walls. I have seen cobia, yellowtail kings, mackerel and even manta rays come right up to the wall over the years.

Offshore the water will still be nice and hot with the usual suspects out there for the taking. Spanish mackerel are quite often best in April and May, and with the late arrival of the spotties I think the water’s going to be alive with mackerel. The first week of March gave us the hottest bite of the season, with bag limits trolled up by 8am in the morning.

I’ve mentioned this before – this is the latest start to mackerel season I can remember and not just here. North and south of Yamba they have been a pain in the neck. That’s now over, thank goodness! Along with the macs is the other fun stuff: yellowfin tuna, mahimahi, striped and mackerel tuna. All of the above are fish we take daily on your basic 6” pink squid trolled at around 9 knots at the back of the bubble trail of the boat. That’s cheap tackle that doesn’t break the bank when you get cut off, and it’s easy to make yourself.

April also means snapper are moving from the wide grounds to the more accessible grounds closer to shore. I like the grounds off Shelly Headland in about 14-16 fathoms (24-30m) of water. The reef here has no real high pinnacles, but you will find bumps of around 2m and a lot of areas with underwater caves. I quite often find the snapper holding tight on the south side of these rises, with the predominant north current flowing over them.

Anchoring in just the right spot is vital. If you don’t get it right, pull the anchor and do it again until you do. Sitting 20m from a good fish is no better than staying at home. Berley heavily at this time of the year and try to float lightly weighted cut baits down the trail.

With the water so shallow you will often see snapper right at the boat working up the berley trail. Mutton birds can be your undoing though, as they have their last feast before the big migration back to the artic. To combat this problem, try berleying with prawns or prawn shells. Snapper love them, for some unexplained reason the mutton birds won’t eat them, and they sink fast.

While chasing the snapper in the shallows you are in line to catch a huge range of exotics this month. By-catches will include pearl perch, venus tuskfish, Maori cod and Moses perch to name a few. This shouldn’t cause you much stress.

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