This is a pretty good time of year to be on the North Coast, particularly if you’re an angler.
Bath-warm blue water has usually hit the inshore reefs and islands, bringing with it plenty of exciting northern species. The first to show is usually mahi mahi, better known locally as dollies.
Right on cue, these colourful northern acrobats swept in. First port of call is usually anything that floats on the wider reef systems, usually fish trap buoys or the local FAD out on the 60-fathom mark.
Anyone who’s spent much time wandering out in the open sea will realise there are precious few things that float around, so anything even remotely resembling cover is likely to house fish.
Last season one of the best days I had on the dollies was from beneath a fridge floating in 55 fathoms. We were actually heading for the FAD in 60 fathoms but conditions just kept getting worse.
In despair, we turned from home and spotted the Kelvinator bobbing around several miles in. Unfortunately there was no beer in it but around it swam plenty of cranky mahi mahi around 3kg to 7kg which gave us plenty of thrills until another boat spotted us and muscled in on the action.
So from now until late April or early May, if you see something floating out wide there’s a fair chance there will be mahi mahi close by.
Hammerhead sharks are other early-season visitors and this year has been no exception. A few keen marlin fishos have put out livies just off Trial Bay Jail, only to find the men in grey keen for a feed.
Most of these sharks are fairly small, with 30kg to 40kg a good average size, but some years there is a run of tiny hammers.
A few years back I remember the inshore reefs crawling with tiny hammerheads, most lucky to be 15kg. You’d spot dozens as you motored from reef to reef. Needless to say, hitting the berley pot in search of a few reds was out of the question.
Perhaps the most eagerly awaited northern visitor is the spotted mackerel. Locals and holiday makers alike check the ramp almost daily, waiting for someone to return from the northern reefs with tales of unexplained bite-offs while snapper fishing.
Often it’s sharks grabbing the baits but from now on you can never really tell. Spotted and Spanish mackerel, wahoo and sharks all visit the recognised mackerel grounds from time to time.
These northern visitors rely on good water to push them south and if the currents are fickly warm one day and cool the next, these inshore sports fish are often spasmodic and unpredictable.
As the season wears on the water usually pushes hard from the north, ensuring a consistent run of exciting pelagic species.
Perhaps the most reliable fish at present is kingfish. Kings don’t require warm water to fire up; just a steady current push to sweep baitfish past their favourite possies is usually enough to switch them on.
The most recognised local spots are Fish Rock and Black Rock. Both locations usually produce kingfish daily, it’s only the size and number that seems to vary. Some days there are plenty of good fish from 6kg to 8kg, on others only a handful of rats.
But usually if you head south and put a little thought into what you’re doing, you’re pretty well guaranteed to pull a few fish.
Those fishing the Macleay River have found school jewfish and flathead the most willing customers. Both these species are classic warm-water predators so as soon as the ocean heated up, so did the schoolies and lizards.
Perhaps the only disappointment has been the bream. Usually at this time of year there are plenty to be caught as they gorge themselves on a steady run of prawns. Perhaps it’s only early days and the fish will switch on later but as it stands it’s a pretty tough going to catch even a modest bag of fish.
Having said that, there are some thumpers around. Last session out I caught a ripper bream of 44cm. It was one of the best bream I’d seen for years, a classic blue-nose 65mm across the shoulders. As I let it go, I only wished there were dozens more like it keen to clobber my lure.
Bass anglers are plodding along, pulling a few fish here and there. I haven’t heard of any outstanding catches of late but there seem enough fish to warrant a trip into the fresh.
I’ll try again in the next few weeks and see if I can pull a few more on fly. I’ve been getting flogged with only one or two fish per outing but it’s sure fun watching those Dahlbergs and foam poppers disappear.Reads: 465