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Early birds reap rewards
  |  First Published: December 2005



I haven’t really had a long break at Christmas for years but, living where I do, I’ve seen plenty of anglers who have and they’ve experienced enormous variations in success rates.

There is some great fishing around here during the holidays, especially over the first few weeks of 2006, so here are a few tips to help you along.

There are more hours of daylight now than at any other time of year and the best catches of most species will be during the half-light of dawn and dusk. It’s also cooler then and you’ll have the rest of the day to spend with your family or just kicking back.

This applies especially on the beaches and in the rivers, where the vast crowds of holidaymakers will surface mid-morning. So in the hours either side of sunrise and sunset you should have far fewer people to contend with – fewer surfers, less 4WD traffic, and the PWC nuts, yachties and waterskiers will still be sleeping in or having sunset drinks before they go out for the night.

For example, on January 1, 2005, we had the Richmond River at Ballina to ourselves from 4.30am to about 7.30, luring up a nice swag of bream, some big flathead and even a fair mangrove jack. It was also amusing to drift down past houses where the New Year diehard carousers were still at it.

As we were heading home, the boat ramps were packed with those setting out to fish, ski, sail or simply to get badly sunburnt.

Regardless of the bright sunshine, the big tides from December 29 to January 5 this year, and again from about Australia Day to around February 3, should be good for whiting in the Richmond.

The fast-running, deep flats in North Creek, off Riverview Park and Faulks Reserve (both accessible from shore), and along the bottom end of Pimlico Island should be home to some elbow-slapping whiting.

These fish are particularly partial to bloodworms and tubeworms. You may have to pre-order your supplies from local bait shops but you’ll catch far more whiting on these worms than on beach worms or yabbies, so it’s worth it.

Fish with fairly heavy weight to keep your baits slowly drifting along the bottom in the strong run and use a long trace to keep the worms wafting in the current.

BEACHES, ROCKS

Back on the beaches and rocks, you’ll also catch whiting all day if the sea breeze isn’t too strong but the main action should again be early and late.

Chopper tailor are already becoming prevalent and these should really kick in along the foamy gutters provided there isn’t too much swell. Gang-hooked pillies or metal slugs should do the job.

It might be worth checking out likely beach spots during the day so that you know where you’re headed in the pre-dawn darkness. A few distinctive marks dug into the sand above high tide or a hand-held GPS should help.

After-dark jewie trips can also be successful at this time of year and the conditions are usually pleasant enough during the wait between bites. Beach worms are great for the school jew while a live mullet or chopper tailor is tops for the big blokes.

There’s also the strong possibility of a few days of damp southerly weather and big seas at this time of year. That’s a good time to fish the seawalls and the more sheltered rock spots, where the washes should produce bream, tailor and jewfish in fair numbers.

While you’ll still get the best action at dawn and dusk, the overcast days should keep the fish on the bite longer. Best baits are pillies for the tailor and bream, yabbies for bream and whiting and whole fresh octopus, live mullet, fresh cut bait or hard or soft lures for the big jewies.

The same southerlies will push the warm currents close along the coast and the first few days after the blow goes through should produce some excellent tropical water. LBG nuts should have some chances at the tip of the South Wall at Ballina, Goanna Headland at Evans Head and the notoriously unsafe Iron Peg at Skennars Head, between Ballina and Lennox Head.

There’s the chance of baby black marlin, Spanish mackerel, cobia, longtail tuna, mackerel tuna and some hefty GTs with live baits and lures each working at times.

OFFSHORE MENU

Boaties should be heading out early, as soon as they can see the bar breaks. There can be a fair swell at times in January as the first lows of the season build up around Vanuatu and New Caledonia, so it’s sheer madness to ‘hit it and hope’ in the dark on any bar.

Trolling skirts and minnows can cover a lot of territory on the way out to the Byron, Ballina and Evans FADs and there’s the possibility of baby blacks, striped tuna and, of course, mahi mahi. A few live baits in the tank can be worth their weight in gold on the dollies and marlin, so a short stop at the bait grounds can be very worthwhile.

A few mackerel have already been taken locally when the water has been clear and warm so it’s also worthwhile working areas like Lennox Point Pinnacle, Black Head, Riordans Reef, Snapper Rock and Kahors and South reefs. The typical local method is to anchor, berley and lay out live baits under floats, while those who troll lures or live baits will also succeed.

Bottom fishing is usually quite OK in January with a run of smallish squire and the odd knobby red on the inshore reefs along with the usual smattering of teraglin, jew and warm-water visitors like sweetlip. Out on the wider marks the pearlies and snapper should be reasonable and the kingfish should be going well on the deep pinnacles.

From about mid-January onwards there’s usually a bit of a change in the weather as the Coral Sea lows become more prevalent. Conditions often become more unstable and swell can be more of a problem, so make the most of the good offshore days early in the month.

And, as usual, just as the holiday families are heading home to buy books, shoes and uniforms for the new school year – the spotted mackerel will arrive as if on cue!

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