It’s all a lottery now
  |  First Published: March 2006

A moderate flood in late January and predictions of more heavy rain to come over the next few months mean fishing in the area could be a lottery this Autumn.

Oceanographers and old hands are talking about a 30-year variation to the El Nino cycle which could mean the start of a period of wetter and more volatile weather similar to that from 1945 to 1975, when there were many floods in the area and elsewhere in the State. With science and local knowledge merging, who am I to disagree? I’m just glad I live on the side of a hill!

From an angling perspective it means plenty of focus on the lower estuaries and adjacent beaches, where more suitable water conditions concentrate fish populations. With the recent flood still gushing out plenty of discoloured water there have been catches of bream, jewfish, whiting and flathead as the tides push cleaner oceanic water back into the lower system.

In the dirty water more aromatic baits such as mullet or chicken gut, strips of mullet or other oily fish or worms or yabbies will work best. Soft-lure anglers fishing the murk would do well to use Berkley Gulp, FoodSource lures or lave their plastics with scent.

As the water clears more conventional offerings will work well.

Plenty of fish have headed for the beaches and reefs where some quite good catches have been made, although the ocean inshore has been a little too discoloured for mackerel despite water around 25°. As it clears further the spotties and Spaniards should move in to take part in the feasting; they were scheduled to arrive in February.

If we get no further heavy rain for a month or so we’ll be set up for an excellent season on these tropical speedsters as well as the billfish, cobia and mahi mahi that have already been passing through for some months.


I’m getting heartily sick of people saying fish kills around here are ‘natural’ events – but here we go again.

A minor to moderate flood in the Richmond River in January has led to more extensive kills. While not quite on the same scale as the disaster of January 2001 in which many tens of thousands of fish died and 30-odd kilometres of river was closed to all fishing for six months, this one wasn’t good.

Initial kills of around 5000 bream, whiting, flathead, jewfish, mullet and other fish were reported around Wardell a few days after the flood peak went through. A week or so later dead fish started rafting up around Woodburn, about 15km upstream. Dissolved oxygen levels in vast stretches of the river were approaching zero, meaning any surviving fish that swam into this water simply asphyxiated.

DPI Fisheries officers have been trying to work in conjunction with landholders to alleviate the effects of flooding on fish but seemingly to no avail. Closed farm drains lined with evil concoctions of sludge are again likely to have accelerated the natural depletion of water oxygen when flooded vegetation decomposes.

This kill follows one in Salty Lagoon at Evans Head in December when several thousand fish died of again ‘natural’ causes. Accelerated oxygen depletion was the major cause but botulism, blossoming in the decomposing carcases, poisoned hundreds of sea birds including gulls, terns, pelicans, sea eagles, kites and ospreys.

The local council, which pumps treated sewage effluent from an antiquated and overstressed plant into the lagoon, conveniently labelled the kill a ‘natural’ event caused by hot weather after heavy rain. Seabird rescuers toiling in knee-deep black sludge would disagree.

Fringed by hundreds of dying trees, Salty Lagoon is an example of a formerly low-nutrient water body being poisoned by nutrients. At the time it spewed out death, similar lagoons not 10km away within the Bundjalung National Park which received similar rainfall remained pristine and healthy.

I reckon anyone who dares call such devastation ‘natural’ should be game enough to eat some of the black sludge, whether it’s in a lagoon or a farm drain.


There seems to be confusion among Byron Bay locals and tourists at where fishing is permitted in the Cape Byron Marine Park, where zonings will come into effect on the rather ironic date of April 1.

David ‘Sput’ Keevers from Byron Bay Bait and Tackle says beach and rock anglers will hardly be affected by the new fishing zones. People will not be able to fish within these areas:

• 500 metres either side of the mouth of Belongil Creek;

• Between Clarks beach and the first point at Wategos Beach;

• In front of the Lighthouse from the Matterhorn to a line directly under the Lighthouse.

• Cocked Hat rocks at Broken Head.

• From the northern end of Kings Beach to Brays Hole, Broken Head Reserve.

“The new restrictions were a sensible result after a long haul of community consultations and petitions,” Sput says. “So all the favourite fishing spots are still accessible, from Gray’s Lane and Belongil Beach to Main Beach and Clarks and from Little Wategos Beach to the Matterhorn, including the Stepping Stones and The Chair, which are all favourite tailor, GT and jew spots. The Wire, Suicide, Groper and all along Tallow Beach to Flat Rock at Broken Head are all within the permitted zone for recreational fishing.”

The North and South arms of the Brunswick River have been mostly closed to fishing, as has the majority of Byron Bay itself to offshore fishos apart from a few sections that are part of a seasonal closure.

An example of a dunal lake system in pristine condition – less than 10km from a similar lagoon, fed by sewage effluent, in which thousands of fish and many sea birds died.

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