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What went wrong?
  |  First Published: April 2006



Talk about getting our hopes up! Mid-Summer showed plenty of promise for a great inshore game fishing season with reasonable numbers of baby black marlin, a few sails and cobia in near-plague proportions but it seemed as soon as the good blue water arrived, most of the game fish left.

As it stands, this is officially the worst inshore game fishing season I’ve witnessed since moving to The Rocks 13 years ago.

So what went wrong? Why did the marlin show briefly and disappear soon after? Buggered if I know.

There was plenty of bait (rippling slimy mackerel schools everywhere), nice warm water (didn’t drop under 24°) but for some strange reason, the fish that arrived early simply fed up and headed south, leaving us with little more than a promise we might find a few on the return run. But I doubt it.

It was a blinder of a cobia run and a shaky start to the mackerel season, but I suspect both species will fire again any time now. Mackerel on this part of the coast tend to hit full swing around March and April and the cobia (assuming we’ll get a return run) should increase in numbers again in April and May.

So we’re basically at the start of the cobia / mackerel season and let’s hope it’s more consistent than the dud marlin run.

Out to sea there are some good snapper and pearlies being caught wide of the mackerel grounds off Grassy Head in around 40 metres.

This is where the local charter fleet often heads and by drifting with paternoster rigs sporting squid or pilchards, these guys seem to consistently catch a feed for the punters. Every so often a nice jewfish takes a bait, adding spice to the outings.

Heading wider again, there are plenty of mahi mahi around any FAD or fish trap float. Unfortunately most are small (with 1.5kg about average) but they still fight well on suitable gear and taste good if bled and put on ice right away.

While most fish are fairly small, you never really know when a bigger bull mahi will make a pit stop around the floating structure. Fish from 6kg to 12kg can be fairly common, responding well to live bait, but there’s a lot of water out there and crossing paths with the bigger fish takes a little more luck.

RIVER FAVOURITES

To avoid frustrating, largely fruitless marlin sessions I’ve been fishing the Macleay River, chasing old favourites like bream and bass. All those failed sessions just off the Jail soon faded away after a few good sessions flicking small poppers around the weed beds near Kempsey.

We haven’t been writing any record books but catches between six an 12 fish per session are quite common and certainly good fun of surface lures.

In the saltwater reaches, pretty good numbers of bream have kept the lure boys happy. One session last week scored 33 bream and 17 flathead for John Grant and Jamie Robley, a pretty good outing considering how tough the fishing has been of late.

My last trip towards Smithtown produced around a dozen nice bream, again a welcome relief from the painfully slow billfish sessions.

I guess if you’re going to chase bream in the Macleay at present, consider heading up to about Jerseyville and even as far as Smithtown. Red weed in the lower reaches has been a problem and by heading up-river, you get to fish clean, weed-free water.

It’s been a tough month here at South West Rocks and there are plenty of travelling fishos who booked their much-awaited holidays smack in the middle of an oceanic shut-down. I’d say many won’t bother heading this far north again next year, looking to chase billfish at Port Stephens or Bermagui, both of which fired compared with SWR’s doldrums this season.

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