It’s changeover time
  |  First Published: October 2006

Warmer water in the rivers and offshore, morning nor’-easters and the odd storm followed by a cool southerly change greet anglers this month.

Out wide the current can start to push as the snapper continue spawning, their fertilised eggs and fry drifting south on the current for a few days before settling on favourable reef and growing into fingerlings. There should still be heaps of snapper traps on the wide grounds, especially off Ballina, but still enough fish to go around. Kings and amberjacks should ply their trade on the deeper reefs as well.

The closer reefs should be tapering off for snapper with schools of teraglin and the odd cobia and kingfish showing up to add some variety to the catches. Those sea breezes should mean that most of the smaller boats are home by mid-morning before the chop becomes too much of a problem. Southbound humpback whales should also be regular sightings this month.

The best of the beach fishing should be early and late in the day with diminishing numbers of bream and tailor being replaced by influxes of whiting and dart. The salmon hung around last year for ages and the hordes are likely to do so again, given current numbers.

Anglers on Ballina’s South Wall early last month reportedly were treated to a rare sight when schools of big salmon bashed the baitfish schools from below and diving gannets worked from above – not so unusual until a few white pointers showed up and started belting the gannets as well, sometimes launching themselves from the water!

Frequent rough seas have meant the breakwall jewfish brigades have scored well at Ballina and sometimes at Evans Head but the ocean should settle down more this month and they’ll have to work harder for the big silver fish, mostly at night.


In early September the coast received unseasonable rain and a fair sort of a fresh pushed down from the Wilsons River arm. What this dirty water will do to the estuary fishing in the medium term is still up in the air. Some fish had already gone well upstream before the rain and I guess those that had made it past the junction at Coraki might be OK. The Richmond at Casino never reached great heights or levels of turbidity so the season should be set up there pretty well.

Fish downstream of Coraki, such as post-spawn bass, bream and flathead, might have to deal with an unexpected influx of fresh water, some of which might be quite low in oxygen after spending time lying in flood drains and on low-lying paddocks. The tannin-stained waters of Bungawalbyn Creek used to be a refuge for the bass but due to extensive forest clearing and tea tree monoculture, the ‘third arm’ of the Richmond system these days is normally murky and not very promising.

On a brief sortie before the rains came I lured up a couple of the whiting that have wintered around Woodburn in unprecedented numbers. After so long in quite poor conditions, these fish were not much more than heads and tails – my whippet carries more meat on his frame – and I’ve hooked plastic bags that fought harder. The emerging theory is that they were caught by the Autumn flooding between two slugs of poorly-oxygenated water and couldn’t run to sea. They’re not worth catching now, let alone eating, and I hope they used the latest fresh to run downstream to better water or they’ll be in trouble.

Down around Ballina this is an excellent month to chase flathead, although their numbers over the cooler season were not what they normally have been. I think the proliferation of soft plastics might be having an effect on flattie numbers because many of the traditional bait-fishing meat-hunters have become converts to plastics while not similarly converting to catch and release. Let’s hope any revised NSW bag and size limits on flathead reflect this and, while they’re at it, also adopt the Queensland system of prohibiting the capture of those big female spawners.

Nonetheless, the big females will be lying with their male harems anywhere from Pimlico Island to the Porpoise Wall this month, sometimes deep, sometimes shallow. Go easy on the big fish and just take the little guys so we’ll have more flatties to play with in future.

School jew should be more prevalent in the Richmond from Wardell downstream this month. As the bait schools and the prawns become more established they’ll cop a hammering by schoolies from 500g soapies up to about 12kg. While the standard technique has been to drift around the tide changes over the deeper holes with live herring or poddies or fresh squid, more people are using plastics on these fish, too. Let’s hope they don’t go the same way as the flatties.

The whiting should also kick into gear on the bigger morning tides this month, although the best run of fish doesn’t seem to be until November. Live bloodworms account for far more fish than any other bait but some of the smaller Gulp worms could well make some inroads on the whiting this season. That’ll be interesting.

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